Point Reyes National Seashore Marin County, Calif. Visited: June 20, 2005 NPS Site Visited: 208 of 353 NPS Website
WHAT IS IT? An 100 square-mile peninsula located to the northwest of San Francisco whose western border is the Pacific Ocean and eastern border the San Andreas Fault Line.
BEAUTY (8/10) What is your vision of a perfect weekend retreat? Sandy beaches? Walks through a sun-bleached prairie or along a bird-filled estuary? Perhaps you prefer a secluded forest campground or Sunday drive through pastures and fields. Point Reyes NS manages to fit all of these options into its boundaries.
There is so much diversity in Point Reyes that calling it a Seashore hardly seems to do it justice. Tule elk roam its northern regions. Miles of inland trails traverse ridge tops and duck into valleys. The Point Reyes Lighthouse looks familiar because it graces the cover of more than one California tourist guide. Point Reyes NS showcases why people love California.
“Isn’t this an Idyll**?” a fellow camper asked us as we hiked into the Sky campground. Well, yes, we stammered. Neither of us had ever heard that word used in conversation before. We now have a visual.
**A scene or event of a simple and tranquil nature.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (3/10) Famed English sailor, Francis Drake, landed his ship, The Golden Hind, along the Point Reyes coastline in 1579. He found the landscape similar to the famed white cliffs of Dover and named the land Nova Albion. Neither he nor the name stayed.
Drake briefly encountered the native Miwok Indians. The Miwoks subsisted through gathering berries, fishing for salmon and hunting elk. By 1579, they were one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer people in North America.
The peninsula received its name from 17th-century Spanish explorers. By the late 1800’s, the Point Reyes lands had been parceled into dairy farms and were known to produce some of California’s highest quality butter. The epicenter for the 1906 San Francisco earthquake occurred within walking distance from the park’s Bear Valley Visitor Center.
CROWDS (7/10) Point Reyes NS’ proximity to San Francisco and Marin County means large crowds on the weekends and decent crowds during the week. Make camping reservations ahead of time if you want a weekend trip. Bed and Breakfast Inns dot the Park’s exterior. Other lodging options are scant. The campsites are spread apart and provide a great deal of isolation.
We were very impressed by the large group of middle school-aged girls staying overnight at our campground. They were lined up in a row, spending the night under the stars in sleeping bags without tents. Those girls are much more hardcore than us.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) The Point Reyes NS’ twisty two-lane roads, decidedly rural environs and lack of most modern conveniences lull you into the belief that you are far, far away from any population center. Its four campgrounds are hike-in only and free of any artificial sounds; its hikes reveal no modern housings or industry, just farms, rolling hills and the Pacific Ocean.
What you forget is that the Point Reyes NS Visitor Center is only 36 miles from downtown San Francisco, 20 miles from San Rafael and U.S. Route 101. A few sinewy roads traverse from east to west, from the prime real estate of Marin County, over the Bolinas Ridge Mountains and to the Park. The main roads are, from south to north, the Shoreline Highway (Route 1), Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road and the Tomales-Petaluma Road.
The Park is large and the roads to its highlights do not connect. Fill up on gas before you get here. You are going to put many miles on your car.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5) Nothing too notable. The Point Reyes NS bookstore cannot help but be dwarfed in comparison by the reading choices at its neighboring site, the Golden Gate NRA.
COSTS (4/5) Park entry is free. A night at the Park’s four hike-in campgrounds costs $15.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5) The Park has three Visitor Centers, all stocked full of Rangers.
TOURS/CLASSES (6/10) The NS runs a number of Ranger-led programs every weekend during the summer. The Bear Valley Visitor Centers has an informative museum that focuses on the Park’s interior. The Museum is noted by its many stuffed representations of the Park’s wildlife. We are suckers for museum taxidermy.
The Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center spotlights the Park’s oceanic section. Fish tanks are filled with aquatic life and touch-me displays allow you to handle whalebones. Exhibits discuss the history of European landings, from Sir Francis Drake to Don Sebastian Vizcaino.
The Park’s most wonderful learning opportunity is found at its southern tip, at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. The Observatory is not a part of the Park Service but remains a can’t-miss destination. More on it later.
FUN (8/10) Point Reyes NS offers so many different opportunities for an incredible and fun experience. You will see an astounding array of wildlife. Tule elk herds, sea lions, harbor seals, elephant seals, whales and milk cows.
If you would rather eat your wildlife than just watch it, the Johnson’s Drakes Bay Oyster Company operates within Park boundaries. They give tours of their facility and sell some of the world’s tastiest and most prized oysters at affordable prices.
The Point Reyes NS is one of America’s best and most famous places to watch birds because of its landscape diversity and central location (for migration patterns). Every morning, you can go on mist net runs with workers from The Point Reyes Bird Observatory. They do fascinating and important research and studies regarding the area’s bird populations. If you have any avian interests, come here! Did you know that the Wilson’s warbler has minute black whiskers? We do because we saw that bird cupped in a worker’s hand. The tiny yellow songbird was less than a foot from us. Amazing stuff.
Hundreds of miles of hiking trails wind up down and around the peninsula. The Point Reyes Lighthouse offers incredible vistas of the whipping Pacific Ocean. The Site is a National Seashore, you know, and there are ocean beaches and bay beaches just begging for exploration and relaxation. The hard part about Point Reyes NS is not finding something to do, it is figuring out how to fit everything in.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10) Point Reyes NS is a stellar Pacific Coast destination, whether you live in the Bay Area or are vacationing along the California Coast. The Park offers breathtaking coastal views without the constant murmur of cars speeding along Route One. At Point Reyes NS, you can enjoy the Pacific at your own speed and in relative isolation. If you are a bird watcher or a Marin County resident, then this Park is already on your radar; you are aware of a unique place where the Pacific Ocean surroundings actually live up to its serene name.
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