There are many perfect day trips from San Francisco for the local and visitor, but a day trip to Point Reyes National Seashore and surrounding areas offers dramatic coastlines, historical pleasures, wildlife on a massive scale (whale watching!), and succulent oysters.
Here are several highlights in the area and helpful links to plan your own perfect San Francisco day trip to Point Reyes.
Get Started at Bear Valley Visitors Center
The park headquarters is the place to start with a welcoming elephant seal and friendly rangers. They (the rangers, not the seals) offer helpful tips on where to hike and get the best park experience. For example, if it’s a clear day, they may tell you that Limatour Beach is the best place for the sunset. Pick up a map and head back out towards Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. A good first stop: Chimney Rock Trail – the route to the Lighthouse and Drake’s Bay.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse
This lighthouse seems small from the viewpoint at the top of the 330 stairs down to it. At the bottom, there’s a small museum that hints of the lighthouse keeper’s lonely life and impressive duties. Park docents share the optical engineering of the 6000-pound lens that illuminated the rocky shores from 1870 to 1975. Regardless of the warning light, there were many shipwrecks along the coast.
If climbing down and up is not on the itinerary, then stay at the top for a chance to see one of the migrating blue whales between the months of January to April. The Lighthouse is rumored to be one of the best places to whale watch as the nautical monsters make their annual migration to Alaska. If it’s a weekend, check in at the visitor center to see if the shuttle is running.
Elephant Seals along Drake’s Bay
One can hear the elephant seals before seeing them because they sound like shrieking children. The noise hints at more obvious activity than is actually occurring along the Drake’s Bay beach. The two-ton males heft themselves to nursing females, their signature proboscis flopping with each effort. Mostly though, it’s hundreds of tubes resting and squawking as they break from their long migrations – females to Hawaii and males to Alaska. They return for a few months each year to this beach to mate.
The Drama at South Beach
There are waves and there are waves, these waves are viewable from high atop Sir Francis Drake Highway with in the park and only hint at the drama seen at shore. This less crowded beach – compared to nearby Drakes Beach – offers solitude and contemplation with the endless pounding rhythm of the Pacific Ocean.
For Lunch: Oysters!
The best oysters in California, perhaps the world (if I may be so bold) grows in these Pacific waters and is harvested for eating pleasure daily. Within the park, one can find oysters for sale and shucking at Drake’s Bay Oyster Farm. Venture further north for the famous Hog Island Oyster Company experience in Marshall.
The popular thing to do: bring your own equipment and accoutrement and have an oyster picnic. For those less inclined to do all the work, head to the Station House Café in Point Reyes Station for miso-butter soaked or BBQ oysters. The menu is California cuisine and features more local seafood (and probably the best fried calamari I’ve ever had).
On the Way to Point Reyes: Stinson Beach
You’re already had that spark of excitement in seeing the ocean through the valley en route and now you’re heading right for it! The first town along the route is Stinson Beach. It’s a surfer town with the appropriate vibe and a great stop to marvel at powerful waves and feel that ocean vibe flow.
Getting To Point Reyes
Get a rental car or fill up the tank in your own and head out on highway 101 across the Golden Gate bridge. A quick hop off the highway to Highway 1 at Mill Valley and you’ve left the urban jungle for the lush green hills and spectacular rock cliff vistas.
- According to the national park service, Point Reyes is the one of the windiest and foggiest destinations in California so bring layers and rain gear. Sturdy hiking shoes on the wet stairs to the lighthouse are a must.
- If one day isn’t enough, there are plenty of bed and breakfasts in the town of Inverness. For the more budget minded, there is the Point Reyes Hostel, a member of the Hostelling international network.
- The drive on Hwy 1 is worth all the curves for the views, but after the full day, fatigue sets in and maybe all you want to do is take a hot shower. I recommend heading back towards San Rafael and taking the 101 into San Francisco. If you depart from Point Reyes station, you even pass through Lucas Valley, home of Skywalker Ranch.