A stunning California coastal territory managed under the National Park Service, Point Reyes National Seashore comprises the majority of land on the Point Reyes Peninsula as well as the surrounding near-shore Pacific waters. Protected against development risks under National Seashore status since 1962, the Point Reyes coastline remains a pristine habitat and a haven for wildlife that also draws many human visitors to its shores.
The geography of Point Reyes has been shaped by tectonic shifts. Point Reyes Peninsula split from the California mainland along the San Andreas Fault, which caused the sinking of land that now runs beneath the length of Tomales Bay. The entire protected area consists of 71,000 acres that runs northwest from Bolinas Lagoon up to Tomales Point, and west from Tomales Bay to the eastern tip of Point Reyes.
The seashore has an interesting navigational history. The eastern tip of Point Reyes juts out to sea as much as 10 miles, and it is often enshrouded in fog. In pre-radar days, Point Reyes was the cause of many shipwrecks for vessels entering and leaving the port of San Francisco. The historic Point Reyes Lighthouse was constructed in 1870 to mitigate the danger, but shipwrecks continued to occur. A lifeboat station, now included on the National Registry of Historic Places, was constructed in the calmer waters of nearby Drakes Bay near Chimney Rock to rescue shipwrecked mariners from Point Reyes' rocky shores.
Wildlife on the peninsula is diverse, and the chances for spotting large sea and land animals is good if you know when and where to look. Local wildlife includes various marine mammals, sea birds, and one of California’s largest herds of tule elk that inhabits the grasslands near Tomales Point. Trumpeting elephant seals can be heard for a mile away from their colony near Chimney Rock during the winter months. From February to April, whale watchers visit Point Reyes Lighthouse in hopes of spotting gray whales on their annual migration between Baja and Alaska. Marine life thrives in the waters around Point Reyes. This rich marine ecosystem, part of the Gulf of the Farallons, supports one of the largest populations of great white sharks in the world, which is something to consider before taking an ocean swim.
Point Reyes is home to many scenic and expansive beaches that are regularly ranked as the cleanest in the state. Popular beaches include Palomarin Beach in the south, Limantour Beach on Drake’s Bay, McClures Beach near Tomales Point, and the Pacific side’s 12-mile long Point Reyes Beach, also called Great Beach (Kehoe Beach makes up the northern section of Great Beach).
A wonderful network of trails exists throughout Point Reyes, and there are excellent trail options for day hiking and backpacking that traverse the coastline, forests, and uplands of the peninnsula. Outstanding day hikes include Chimney Rock, Tomales Point, and the Palomarin-Alamere Falls trail. Take the Coast Trail from Palomarin into Wildcat and Coast Camps for a popular multi-day trip. Many other custom hiking loops can be made on the large network of trails within the seashore. Spring hikes offer fantastic displays of coastal wildflowers.
The Point Reyes National Seashore Headquarters is located at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, located near the town of Olema. The visitor center is also a major trailhead, and it is a great starting point to get your bearings along with up-to-date park and wildlife information. In general dogs are not permitted within the seashore due to sensitive wildlife and habitat concerns. A couple of on-leash exceptions are made at Kehoe and Point Reyes' Beaches.
Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the most scenic coastlines in northern California, but it can often be foggy and windy. If you can time a visit during a high pressure weather system with clear weather, you'll be greatly rewarded.