Exploring Point Reyes Peninsula

Harshita Kasera
Digital Global Traveler
7 min readNov 15, 2022

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Point Reyes Peninsula is a beautiful stretch of land located on the coast of California just north of San Francisco. This coastal wilderness provides habitat for a wide variety of flora & fauna and thus is protected as a part of Point Reyes National Seashore by the US National Park Service.

Point Reyes Illustrated Map (Photo Credit: Created by author using Canva)

My husband and I visited Point Reyes Peninsula on a day trip from South Bay, twice at different times of the year (winter & summer). We loved exploring it both times. If you are looking for a day trip destination from the Bay Area, this is a perfect choice.

Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent. 😮😮

According to the NPS site, during the summer months, the visibility is particularly very low. Winter season offers a clearer view and hence is a recommended time to visit this region. You will also have more chances to see wildlife during this time of the year.

The drive from San Francisco to Point Reyes is quite gorgeous. Crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, driving onto the windy, gorgeous mountain drive on the Pacific Coast Highway, and passing by the cute little towns on the way, adds an additional magical element to the drive.

Stop #1 : 🌲 Visit the Cypress Tree Tunnel

Google Maps Link

Cypress Tree Tunnel is a great stop on the way to the Point Reyes Peninsula. This tunnel is a popular spot for photographers and you might have seen its pictures online.

Cypress Tree Tunnel (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena, included with permission)

If you are an early bird like us, try to come here before sunrise. As the sun rises, the sun rays shine through the gaps in the leaves, forming the Tyndall effect, which is truly surreal! Sunset is a great option too but it gets really busy in the evening with the photographers.

You can park on the shoulder of the road, just make sure it is pulled all of the way off of the road.

Stop #2 : Drakes Beach

Google Maps Link

Point Reyes National Seashore has 3 visitor centers.

  • Bear Valley Visitor Center
  • Lighthouse Visitor Center
  • Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center

Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center is located at Drakes Beach. We drove up to the Drakes Beach parking lot. It was quite early in the morning and hence the visitor center was closed when we reached here.

Just near the visitor center, there was a lookout point where we could see the elephant seals from a safe distance. Please remember to keep at least 100 feet away from all marine mammals at all times. The beach access was restricted in order to protect the seals. You can read in-depth about the activity of elephant seals in this area on the NPS website.

Elephant Seal at Drakes Beach (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena, included with permission)

On our other trip to the peninsula in the summer this year, the beach access was not restricted and we spent some time exploring this pretty beach.

Drakes Beach (Photo Credit: Shot by author on Pixel 6 Pro)

Stop #3 : 🪨 Chimney Rock Trail

Google Maps Link

Chimney Rock Trail is an easy 1.9-mile round-trip hike. The trailhead is right at the parking lot.

We enjoyed the amazing rugged coastal views on this hike. We also packed us sandwiches and ate them on the bench at the end of this trail. It was quite a delightful experience and honestly, I was really hungry by then!

Checkout the AllTrails Link of the hike here.

Chimney Rock Trail (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena, included with permission)

Stop #4 :🦭 Elephant Seal Overlook

Google Maps Link

The Elephant Seal Overlook is a short 0.2-mile trail where you can see and hear the elephant seals below on the beach. The trailhead is at the same parking lot as Chimney Rock. At first from the overlook, we couldn’t figure it out as the seals were not at all moving. I guess they were just having a lazy day!

AllTrails has a combined trail for Chimney Rock and Elephant Seal Overlook. Check it out here.

Elephant Seal Overlook (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena, included with permission)

Stop #5 : 🌊 Point Reyes Lighthouse

Google Maps Link

Once you park your car in the parking lot, you need to walk a bit in order to reach the lighthouse. It is a 1.3-mile out-and-back trail back to the car park. This includes access to the visitor center, observation deck, and the lighthouse.

Check out the complete path on AllTrails here.

The walk is actually really pretty. Due to the strong winds in the region, you can notice the trees are leaning in this area.

Leaning Trees near the lighthouse (Photo Credit: Shot by author on Pixel 6 Pro)
Deer near the lighthouse (Photo Credit: Shot by Antriksh Saxena, included with permission)

Access to the lighthouse needs you to climb down a lot of steps. There is a passport stamp that you can get at the visitor center which says “313 stairs I did it”. I thought it was quite funny!

If you don’t like the idea of climbing down the steps & back up, the visitor center and observation deck are actually located at the top without stairs.

Access to the lighthouse is often closed during strong winds. Check the NPS website before visiting. Late September to early November are often clearer but you never know with the weather here so be prepared!!

Point Reyes Lighthouse (Photo Credit: Shot by author on Pixel 6 Pro)

The picturesque lighthouse is definitely one of the major highlights of the trip.

We also saw a few spouts 🐳 in the ocean while gazing into the ocean standing around the lighthouse. This whole peninsula offers one of the finest spots to view the gray whale along the California coast if the weather permits.

You can also spot harbor seals lying on the rocks near the ocean shores.

Harbor seals lying on the rocks (Photo Credit: Shot by author on Pixel 6 Pro)

Honestly climbing back up was a bit challenging but it was totally worth the view. While coming back up from the stairs, we again spotted some whale spouts.

Be on the lookout on the drive out to spot interesting birds. My husband captured a Red-tailed Hawk perfectly posing for us.

Red-tailed hawk, Point Reyes (Photo by Antriksh Saxena, included with permission)

Stop #6 : Tule Elks at Point Reyes

Google Maps Link

Another highlight of the visit to Point Reyes National Seashore is the opportunity to see Tule elks. Tule elks are an ecologically critical part of the landscape of Point Reyes.

The Tule Elk are the smallest of all the elk species in North America and they are endemic to California, which means they are found nowhere else.

Based on the NPS site, there are three different areas to view them. The best chance to see tule elk is at Tomales Point. This is accessible via the Tomales Point Trail. It is a 9.4-mile out-and-back trail. We were tired by this time so we skipped this trail. We drove our car a short distance into the preserve and turned back from the McClures Beach Parking. Lucky for us, we spotted them on this drive.

Tule Elk, Point Reyes Peninsula (Photo by Antriksh Saxena, included with permission)
Tule Elks, Point Reyes Peninsula (Photo by Antriksh Saxena, included with permission)

I recently got to know that there is an ongoing battle over Point Reyes’ Tule elks with the ranchers in the area.

This national seashore is one of a small percentage of sites in the national park system that allow cattle grazing within its boundaries to conserve history. However, that is the very reason for this conflict. Ranchers are often inconvenienced by the challenges of ranching with the wild. NPS is struggling to come up with ways to balance the needs of wildlife and domesticated livestock.

I hope this gets resolved in a way that the seashore’s pastoral as well as wilderness zones can coexist peacefully. Read here further for more details.

That was all for our trip to Point Reyes this time.

📸 More Photos

My husband Antriksh Saxena captures amazing photos from his DSLR. Check out some of his photos of our trip at https://antrromet.com/point-reyes.

🚗 Explore!

This peninsula boasts a picturesque lighthouse, scenic hiking trails, sandy beaches, and charming cypress trees and offers fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities. No wonder why we keep coming back here.

Point Reyes awaits your exploration. If you haven’t yet explored it, go check it out!

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