Standing shopside in the little town of Point Reyes Station, population 350, it’s hard to feel like you’re really on the coast. No water in sight, mountains rise to the east and west, and miles of grassy meadows surround the town.
But here in West Marin County, located 40 miles north of San Francisco and 97 miles west of Sacramento, the coast looms large. Some 15 bumpy miles west of Point Reyes Station—the town is the undeniable hub of activity in the region—Point Reyes itself juts out into the raging Pacific Ocean, and the historic, wind-battered lighthouse that kept watch over this stunning stretch of coastline for 105 years still stands.
Point Reyes National Seashore is packed with opportunities for visitors who wish to explore scenic trails, waterways and beaches and soak in some knowledge at its visitor centers. Bring a camera, your binocs and your wallet. There’s plenty to do.
Bear Valley Visitor Center (1 Bear Valley Road, Olema) Pick up maps and catch the lighthouse weather report before venturing further about Point Reyes. At the visitor center, rangers keep tally of whale sightings called in from the lighthouse and help visitors choose how to spend their day. The .7-mile Earthquake Trail here runs alongside the San Andreas Fault; gape at the 20-foot fence gap caused by the 1906 earthquake. Also, a short uphill trudge takes you to the on-site Morgan Horse Ranch. Heed the signs—horses may bite—and watch for deer and wild turkeys.
Point Reyes Lighthouse (off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard; closed Tuesday and Wednesday) Travel through the teeny town of Inverness, alongside Tomales Bay, past the Drakes Bay oyster farm (open to the public), through the cow pastures (hold your nose) to the tourist-jammed lighthouse parking lot some 30 minutes from Point Reyes Station. Bring your jacket and your sturdiest legs—308 stairs descend to what can be the windiest, foggiest place on the planet. Standing on the lighthouse deck on a sunny spring day, you feel like you’re at the edge of the world.
Tule Elk Reserve (Pierce Point Road, Tomales Point) A herd of huge hoofed beasts lives in the preserve on Tomales Point, a 15-plus-mile drive north from Point Reyes Station. Once you spot the elk—they’re grayish-beige, many with impressive antlers—pull off the road and break out the binoculars. Mating season starts in the summer; roll down the windows to the buglelike bellows of bulls calling.
McClures Beach (Pierce Point Road, Tomales Point) Walking shoes required: From the parking lot to the walk-in beach, you’ll drop 300 feet in a half-mile, flanking a creek frequented by tule elk. On the beach, angry surf hisses ashore and tide pools beckon with starfish, anemones and sea snails.
Heart’s Desire Beach (Tomales Bay State Park, Pierce Point Road; $6 day use fee) Heart’s Desire, lapped by Tomales Bay, a coastal estuary, lures families seeking serene, lakelike surf and kayakers who enjoy the brief haul from roof rack to water’s edge. Walk the half-mile trail through the woods to Indian Beach, where wooden teepees stand and a hillside of billowing grass and thistle punctuates the white-white sand.
Toby’s Feed Barn (11250 Highway 1, Point Reyes Station) An art gallery, yoga studio, recycling center, espresso bar, grocery store, gift shop, nursery and feed store, Toby’s sits smack in the center of town and hums with the West Marin vibe. Organic fruits and vegetables line the doorway; inside, find homespun wool hats, handmade soaps and candles, olive oils and jams, organic cotton T-shirts and a CD collection sure to induce calm. Marin County artists’ works line the walls and, on Saturday mornings during the summer, the Point Reyes Farmers Market draws folks seeking local, organic ingredients.
Cowgirl Creamery (80 Fourth St., Point Reyes Station) Bearing a sign that says Tomales Bay Foods, this little side-street cheesery lures foodies from far and wide. With stacks of pricey, Marin-made cheeses, local Brickmaiden breads and produce from area farms—plus a deli counter serving fancy premade salads and sandwiches—the bustling Cowgirl Creamery is a prime spot to stock your picnic basket.
Cafe Reyes (11101 Highway 1, Point Reyes Station) Although Point Reyes Station has several notable restaurants that serve fresh, inventive cuisine (The Station House Cafe, The Pine Cone Diner and Rosie’s Cowboy Cookhouse, for example), the rustic, friendly Cafe Reyes shines with its burgers, tacos and burritos, and thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pizza baked in an 800-degree wood-fired oven. Grab a seat on the wildflower-laden patio and enjoy a local brew—coffee or beer, you choose. (Your well-behaved dog is welcome out here, too.)
Get there in two hours or less: Take Interstate 80 west to Highway 37 West/San Rafael. In Novato, pick up U.S. 101 north and exit at Atherton Avenue/San Marin Drive. Turn left on Atherton Avenue, which becomes San Marin Drive. Turn right on Novato Boulevard. Turn left on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, then continue right on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. Turn left on Shoreline Highway (Highway 1) and continue until you reach Point Reyes Station.