The best things to do in Point Reyes to explore all that this Bay Area hideaway has to offer.
With 100 square miles of coastal wilderness, 80 miles of undeveloped shoreline, 150 miles of trails, and a rich history to boot, there’s a lot to love about Point Reyes National Seashore.
Located only about an hour north of San Francisco, this tucked away park is a popular day trip for anyone looking to explore a place that feels miles away from the city.
It’s also a popular stop on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip since it’s right along Highway 1.
Point Reyes is a lot bigger than most people realize and it can be overwhelming when you visit it for the first time, which is why I wanted to put together this full guide to the park.
As a Bay Area local who has visited multiple times, these are my top things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore.
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Learn More About the Park’s History at Bear Valley Visitor Center
One of the best things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore when you first arrive is to head to Bear Valley Visitor Center.
Bear Valley is one of the most informative visitor centers I’ve been to in California, featuring a number of exhibits about the park’s natural and cultural history.
This is where you’ll learn about the wildlife you might come across in Point Reyes as well as the history of Sir Francis Drake, a ruthless European explorer who landed in Point Reyes in the 1500s.
And you’ll learn about the indigenous Coast Miwok Indians who called the Point Reyes area home for 5,000 years.
The visitor center is also a good place to pick up souvenirs, fill up your water bottle, use the restroom, and chat with a ranger about current conditions and closures at the park.
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Have a Picnic on the Beach
The most popular Point Reyes attractions are those that are near the water and the park’s beaches are no exception.
Although Point Reyes is often foggy, if you happen to visit the park on a sunny day (or you have an hour or two of sun), a picnic on the beach is a fun way to take in the park’s beautiful scenery.
Three of the most popular beaches to visit include Drakes Beach, Limantour Beach, and the Great Beach (aka Point Reyes Beach).
With their long stretches of sand, these three beaches can get windy so it’s good to bring a beach tent or find some dunes to sit behind if need be.
If you’re looking for something more secluded, you could go to Kehoe Beach, which is on the northern side of the Great Beach.
Or, any of the Tomales Bay side beaches are much calmer and slightly less crowded, such as Heart’s Desire Beach, Marshall Beach, and Indian Beach.
One of the best things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore to really experience its natural beauty to the fullest is to go for a hike.
Hiking in Point Reyes allows you to immerse yourself in the rugged atmosphere of the park, including its scenery and wildlife.
It allows you to see sights that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to see from your car, like Tomales Point, Chimney Rock, and Alamere Falls.
There are a variety of different hikes in Point Reyes for all different levels of hikers, but these are some of my favorite hiking trails.
- Chimney Rock Hike (1.75 miles) – Although Chimney Rock isn’t much to look at, this short hike around the Point Reyes Headlands is scenic enough to make it worth the journey. Along the way, you’ll walk by wildflowers and the historic Chimney Rock Lifeboat Station. Before you turn back, you’ll have ample bird watching opportunities around Chimney Rock and plentiful Pacific Ocean views.
- Laguna Trail and Coast Trail Loop (6 miles) – This relatively flat hike gives you a good overview of the Point Reyes landscape and terrain, including meadows, a ridge with nice views, and the ocean. This is also a good trail for spotting wildlife so keep your eyes peeled for deer, rabbits, and coyotes.
- Tomales Bay Point Trail (9.4 miles) – Located on the northern side of Point Reyes, the Tomales Point Trail takes you past hidden beaches, the Tule Elk Reserve, and the Historic Pierce Point Ranch until you get to Tomales Point. Along the way, you’ll enjoy views of Tomales Bay, Bodega Bay, and the Pacific Ocean.
- Alamere Falls Hike (11 miles) – Probably the most popular hike in Point Reyes National Seashore, the hike to Alamere Falls can be done a few different ways. The most popular starting point is from the Palomarin Trailhead. Make sure to time your hike for low tide since there’s a section of the trail that walks along the beach. Before you turn back, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of Alamere Falls, one of the few waterfalls in California that flows directly into the Pacific Ocean.
Join a Ranger-Led Program or Lecture
If you’re looking to learn about the park on another level, one of the more educational things to do at Point Reyes National Seashore is to join a ranger-led program.
The great thing about the ranger-led programs is that they’re free and don’t require reservations.
There are a bunch of different programs offered throughout the year on a variety of topics, including local flora and fauna, Coast Miwok Indians, environmental science and earthquakes, and more.
Additionally, there are usually seasonal programs about elephant seals, gray whale migration, and the Historic Point Reyes Boathouse.
You can learn more about current weekend and weekday ranger-led programs here.
Kayak Around Tomales Bay
If you’re looking to experience Point Reyes from the water and you’re up for a workout, renting kayaks or going on a kayaking tour can be an ideal way to spend an afternoon.
Tomales Bay is the best place to go kayaking in Point Reyes for its protected and scenic 15-miles of nature.
And for an even more unique way to experience the water, you can go on a nighttime kayaking tour to see the planktonic bioluminescence that’s common in Tomales Bay.
Tomales Bay Expeditions and Blue Waters Kayaking both offer nighttime bioluminescence kayaking tours in the Point Reyes area.
Visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse
Located at the western tip of the Point Reyes Headlands, the Point Reyes Lighthouse is one of the most scenic lighthouses in California and a popular Point Reyes attraction.
Built in 1870, the Point Reyes Lighthouse was a beacon of warning for over 100 years in an area prone to shipwrecks and heavy fog.
It takes a while to drive down to the Point Reyes Lighthouse from the entrance of the park but the view from the observation deck is well worth it.
This is also the windiest place on the US Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent, which is quite the feat with how foggy the West Coast can be.
Walk Through the Cypress Tree Tunnel
One of the top places to visit in Point Reyes National Seashore for photography, the Cypress Tree Tunnel is an easy stop to make on the drive down to the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Monterey cypress trees are a beloved sight on the Central Coast of California and these trees located a little further north in Point Reyes are no exception.
These particular cypress trees were planted in 1930 as part of the entrance to the KPH Maritime Radio Receiving Station.
The historic station, which can be found at the end of the tunnel, was where ship to shore morse code communication happened in the 20th century.
To visit the Cypress Tree Tunnel, look for signs for “North District Operations Center” off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
There’s no parking lot here but you can park on the shoulder as long as you’re completely off the road.
See the S. S. Point Reyes Shipwreck at Golden Hour
Another historic sight and popular photo spot to visit in Point Reyes is the S.S. Point Reyes Shipwreck, also known as the Tomales Bay Shipwreck or the Inverness Shipwreck.
This “shipwreck” isn’t actually one of the many real shipwrecks that happened on the shores of Point Reyes. Instead, it was a fixer-upper project that was abandoned by its owner.
The only reason why it’s still here is because of the local photography community that protested its removal.
The mostly intact 380-foot cargo ship is over 100 years old and somehow blends into its surroundings with its rusted exterior that matches the golden hills nearby.
It’s best seen at golden hour for the most beautiful photography. You’ll find the shipwreck on the west side of Tomales Bay, behind the Inverness Store.
Seek Out the Wildlife
One of the coolest things to see in Point Reyes National Seashore is the wildlife.
There are over 1,500 species of plants and animals to discover at the park and plenty of different wildlife experiences to enjoy.
These are a few of my favorites that shouldn’t be missed.
Tule Elk Preserve
Although tule elk can be found all over the park, one of the best spots to see them is at the Tule Elk Preserve at Tomales Point.
In the 19th century, the tule elk had all but disappeared from the Point Reyes area.
Thanks to reintroduction and conservation efforts throughout the last century, Point Reyes now has one of the largest tule elk herds in all of California.
You can usually spot quite a few elk as you drive through the preserve but you can also walk by them on the Tomales Point Trail (just make sure to give them ample space).
The best time to see the elk when they’re at their most active is August through October during their rut season.
Elephant Seal Overlook
Northern California elephant seals can be found all over the northern and central California Coasts, Point Reyes included.
The Elephant Seal Overlook is located near the Chimney Rock trailhead on the southeast end of the park.
From there, you can see elephant seals on the beach in the distance. They’re usually pretty far away, however, so I’d recommend bringing a zoom lens or binoculars.
The best time to see elephant seals in Point Reyes is during their breeding season from December to March.
At this time, you might have to take a shuttle bus from Drakes Beach to access the overlook since they close down Sir Francis Drake Boulevard when it gets too busy.
If you’re looking for more wildlife spotting, Drakes Estero is a good place to spot harbor seals.
Another popular wildlife activity in Point Reyes is birdwatching. With around 490 diverse bird species, Point Reyes is one of the best spots for birdwatching in North America.
There are a few prime areas in the park that are great for birdwatching, including Abbotts Lagoon, Drakes Estero, Five Brooks Pond, Giacomini Wetlands, and Olema Marsh.
Popular birds to see at Point Reyes include waterfowl, sparrows, hawks, osprey, egrets, herons, and, if you’re lucky, golden eagles and peregrine falcons.
The best time for birdwatching at Point Reyes is the fall and winter during the fall migration and winter layover.
Just make sure to bring some good binoculars!
As one of the westernmost points on the California Coast, whale watching is another one of the most popular things to do in Point Reyes.
From January through early May, gray whales make their annual migration and swim alongside the shores of Point Reyes.
One of the best spots to see whales is from the Point Reyes Lighthouse, but you may have to take a shuttle from Drakes Beach during peak migration times.
I’d also recommend trying to hop on one of the ranger-led programs that are offered December through April to learn more about grey whales and where to spot them.
And although gray whales get most of the attention since they’re the most commonly seen, there’s a chance you might also see humpback, blue, fin, minke, or sperm whales, or pods of dolphins.
If you’re wondering where to go in Point Reyes National Seashore to get up close and personal to the sea life, head over to the colorful tide pools.
The best tidepooling in Point Reyes can be found at Sculptured Beach, just make sure to time your visit to be around low tide for an optimal experience.
Just outside of the park, Duxbury Reef in Bolinas is another good place for tidepooling, especially if you’re traveling with children.
If you plan to explore the tide pools, make sure to wear proper footwear, don’t touch any of the sea life, and be mindful of sneaker waves.
Do a Backcountry Adventure
Backpacking in Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the best ways to see the park.
It allows you to get off the main tourist route and really connect with the landscape in a unique way.
And at 71,028 acres, there’s plenty to see with a backpacking adventure in Point Reyes.
The park’s size and length of trails is especially perfect for beginner backpackers or those who are looking for an easy backpacking trip.
Backcountry campsites include Wildcat Camp, Glen Camp, Sky Camp (currently closed due to the 2020 Woodward Fire), and Coast Camp. You can book them via Recreation.gov.
Just note that backcountry campsites book up quickly so you’ll want to book around three months in advance if you can.
Explore the Small Towns Near the Park
One of the rare non-nature things to do around Point Reyes National Seashore is to explore the small towns just outside of the park.
The first time I visited Point Reyes, I was surprised by the amount of residents who live in the park and the amount of small communities to explore nearby.
If you have some extra time, it’s fun to just walk around these small towns or communities to poke your head into shops, grab lunch, or a drink from a local bar.
A few places to visit near the park include “downtown” Inverness (if you blink, you’ll miss it but it’s still a cute area), Olema, Point Reyes Station, Marshall, and Tomales.
If you’re looking to eat after exploring them, I’d recommend the following places for foodie spots:
- Saltwater Oyster Depot (Inverness) – Right next to Tomales Bay.
- Due West (Olema) – One of the best spots to grab food before heading into the park
- Cowgirl Creamery (Point Reyes Station) – One of the most famous foodie spots in Marin, featuring delicious cheese, sweets, and lunch fare.
- The Marshall Store (Marshall) – One of the most popular things to do near Point Reyes is to eat fresh oysters. If you want ready-made cooked oysters, The Marshall Store is the place to go.
- Hog Island Oyster Co. (Marshall) – If you’re looking for raw, unshucked oysters to take home with you, this is the sister establishment to The Marshall Store.
- Nick’s Cove (Marshall) – A historic restaurant that serves up fresh oysters and other seafood dishes.
Tips for Visiting Point Reyes
- There’s spotty cell service – Point Reyes National Seashore really makes you feel like you’re at the edge of the world and that’s especially the case with spotty cell service. Be prepared to be without service and make sure you download maps and figure out what you want to do ahead of time. You can always head to the visitor center as well to pick up physical maps and ask rangers what to do for the day.
- Point Reyes is one of the foggiest places in North America – If you think San Francisco is foggy, just wait until you get to Point Reyes. Because of its foggy nature, it’s a good idea to bring layers, especially a warm jacket. Even if the day starts out sunny, there’s a good chance the fog will roll in at some point during your visit.
- It’s a large park, plan accordingly – Point Reyes National Seashore not only covers 71,028 acres, it also has a lot of narrow and winding roads and reduced speed limits. So even though there are a lot of things to do in Point Reyes, realistically, you should plan to only explore one side of the park in a day. You’ll probably need at least 2-3 days to explore all corners of the park. To give you an idea, it’s a 40-minute one-way drive to get from the Bear Valley Visitor Center to the southend of the park. And that’s without any traffic.
- Be Aware of Woodward Fire Closures – In 2020, the Woodward Fire swept through the southeast edge of Point Reyes National Seashore. There’s still a good chunk of the park that’s closed from that fire so it’s a good idea to check current closures ahead of time.
How to Get to Point Reyes
Located about an hour north of San Francisco, Point Reyes is a popular day trip from the city.
To get from SF to Point Reyes for a Point Reyes day trip, you can take either US-101 North (or I-580 West to US-101 North depending on traffic).
Then, simply hop on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard until you get to the entrance of the park.
Best Time to Visit Point Reyes
Although there are plenty of things to do in Point Reyes year-round, if you’re looking for a particular experience, you may want to plan your visit for certain times of the year.
If you’re after wildlife viewing, the best time to visit Point Reyes is in the fall, winter, and early spring.
If you’re after wildflowers, the spring and summer are the best times to visit.
Otherwise, for the best weather and less fog, I’d recommend visiting in the spring or fall.
What to Pack for Point Reyes
- Windbreaker/puffy jacket/poncho
- Reusable water bottle or hydration bladder
- Hiking pants/leggings
- Cozy socks
- Hiking boots or Comfortable walking shoes (depending on how much hiking you plan to do)
- Picnic fixings
- Beach blanket
- Pop up tent for the beach
- Bathing suit if it’s warm and you plan to have a beach day
- Hair ties/headbands to put up your hair when it gets windy
Where to Stay in Point Reyes
If you’re interested in camping in Point Reyes, there are a number of hike-in and boat-in campground options.
Backcountry hike-in campsites include Wildcat Camp, Glen Camp, Sky Camp (currently closed due to the 2020 Woodward Fire), and Coast Camp.
There are a number of boat-in campgrounds on the west side of Tomales Bay. You can find the full list of options here.
There are no car camping or RV options within the park, although there are a few just outside of it. You can find a list of nearby campgrounds here.
The only lodging that’s technically in Point Reyes is HI Point Reyes Hostel, which offers dorm-style accommodation and a few private rooms.
However, the Inverness area on the west side of Tomales Bay also has a few accommodation options.
Outside of that, your best bet is Olema, Point Reyes Station, or Marshall for accommodation.
Here are a few recommendations:
- Motel Inverness (Inverness)
- Olema House at Point Reyes (Olema)
- Nick’s Cove (Marshall)
- Point Reyes Country Inn (Point Reyes Station)
If you’re looking for a home away from home, Airbnb also has a few places near Point Reyes.
These would be my recommendations:
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
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1 thought on “15 Things to do in Point Reyes (From a Bay Area Local)”
very helpful information!