Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Point Reyes, CA

  • Published 2022/02/26

Point Reyes, also known as Point Reyes National Seashore, is a prominent cape tucked away on the coast of California.

Point Reyes (Spanish for ‘the Point of Kings’) is located in Marin County, just an hour north of San Francisco, and is among the best-hidden getaways in the state.

At Point Reyes, you will come upon sprawling golden hills, shoreline wilderness, scenic beaches, forested ridges, miles of trails, a rugged coastline, glimpses of wildlife, a charming little town, and rich history.

There is a wealth of things to discover on the Seashore, home to several cultures over 1000 years, with many species of animals and plants thriving in its sanctuary.

At Point Reyes, find outdoor adventures, explore charming communities, seek culinary pursuits, see bountiful wildlife, exert energy on excursions, and relax in nature’s beauty.

If you’re excited to whet your adventurous spirit at Point Reyes, here is a list of the best things to do here:

Descend to the Point Reyes Lighthouse

Ladder steps leading down to Point Reyes Lighthouse.

Yaya Ernst /

The marvelous Point Reyes Lighthouse is one of the most famous lighthouses in California, which was built in 1870 to warn the ships of the Point Reyes headlands jutting out to sea for 10 miles.

It was a beacon of warning for 100 years, amidst shipwrecks and thick fog, and was active until 1975, when a more modern light was installed just below.

Aerial view of the Point Reyes Lighthouse and the vast waters behind.

AnSuArt /

Walk uphill to the Lighthouse Visitor Center, admiring the leaning trees on the way; take in the staggering view from the observation deck at the center; and then descend the 313 steps leading to the lighthouse.

At the Visitor Center, view exhibits about the park’s coastal and marine life and the lighthouse’s history.

At the lighthouse, find the exhibits and explore its history further and have a peek at the Fresnel lens and clockwork mechanism in its main chamber.

The setting sun peeking behind Point Reyes Lighthouse.

Genaker /

Glimpse the Early Days at Pierce Point Ranch

View of the Pierce Point Ranch and its landscape.

Sundry Photography /

California has no shortage of historic ranches, having introduced cattle to the region as far back as the time of Franciscan missionaries.

Pierce Point Ranch at the northern end of Point Reyes is a throwback to the early ranching days, established in 1858 and operating until 1973.

Pierce Point Ranch once excelled in producing fine quality butter and was recognized as the most successful “butter rancho” in the Point Reyes township.

Exterior view of the Pierce Point Ranch's main house.

AlessandraRC /

It was the largest ranch in operation on the peninsula in the 1800s.

You can still picture the olden days as you stroll the ranch complex with its unaltered buildings, interpretive signs, main house, schoolhouse, blacksmith shops, carpenter shop, tank house, barns, and dairy houses.

Pierce Point House is probably the least modernized, least altered physical complex of ranch buildings in the peninsula, retaining its integrity as the oldest surviving ranch house in the region.

View of the Pierce Point Ranch houses.

AlessandraRC /

Trek on Tomales Point Trail

Sign post of the Tomales Point Trail.

Sundry Photography /

There are plenty of trails to hike at Point Reyes, and Tomales Point Trail, atop a coastal bluff leading to Tomales Point, is one of the most scenics.

It runs over rolling hills, peaks and valleys, and flower-scattered fields and has astonishing views of the sunset sinking into the sea, the pristine beaches below, and vistas at the tip of the point.

It also has jaw-dropping panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Bodega Bay, and Tomales Bay.

The walkway of Tomales Point Trail.

Sundry Photography /

The trail is probably at its best when the sun shines in winter or spring, and the ocean and hills turn brilliant colors.

Tule elk almost went extinct from Point Reyes in the 19th century, and as an effort at conservation, two males and eight females were introduced at Tomales Point.

The herd has since grown and at a fenced part of Tomales Point is Tule Elke Reserve, home to several hundred majestic elk.

The view of the Pacific from Tomales Point Trail.

yhelfman /

Go Kayaking at Tomales Bay

An empty yellow canoe at Tomales Bay.

Pascalipatou /

Perhaps you want to see what the Point Reyes experience is like from the water?

Tomales Bay has scenic and calm waters for your needs, with launch locations for stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking.

It is a 15-mile long, 2,645-hectare tidal water body, the largest unspoiled embayment on California’s coast bordered on the west by Point Reyes.

The waters and rocky shore of Tomales Bay.

Vanessa Larson /

It is the best place to go kayaking in Point Reyes for its protected and lovely nature scenes.

Here, you can paddle your kayak, search for wildlife and birds, bask in the beautiful weather, and picnic at a cove only accessible via water.

While kayaking, search for critters such as moon jellies, seals, and planktonic bioluminescence found in the nighttime.

For a well-rounded experience, pack sleeping bags, tents, victuals, trash bags, and other necessities and go boat-in camping on the shores west of Tomales Bay.

A house on stilts at Tomales Bay's shoreline.

Sundry Photography /

Eat Delicious Seafood at Hog Island Oyster Co.

Hog Island Oyster Co. is a 160-acre intertidal farm on Tomales Bay that has been around since 1983 and features many different types of oysters that they grow and harvest.

Tomales Bay is home to the sweet and clean plankton-rich waters where their oysters grow plump and tasty and carry this flavor in every bite.

The company has a full-service café, an ‘oyster window’ for takeout, and a ‘shuck your own picnic table’ at their outdoor area where you can bring some complimentary wine and cheese and barbecue oysters while looking out at the bay.

They carry delicious oyster varieties like the classic smoky Hog Island Sweetwaters, delicate Hog Island Atlantics, mild and briny Earthquake Bays, meaty French Hogs, and succulent Hog Island Kumamotos.

They serve these oysters as a labor of love, harvesting them seasonally and as a special treat to visitors looking for simple and delectable pleasures.

Marvel at the Beauty of the Cypress Tree Tunnel

Sunlight coming through the Cypress Tree Tunnel's end.

Pat Tr /

Monterey cypress trees are a cherished wonder on the central coast of California, and here you have one of the most stunning sights at Point Reyes.

In 1930, these cypress trees were planted as part of the historic KPH Maritime Radio Station entranceway.

They have grown into a tunnel over the road along the way out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse.

Majestic view of the Cypress Tree Tunnel.

Raymond Stiehl /

They have become some of the best-beloved subjects for photographers in the Bay Area, and you shouldn’t miss a stop here to make memories.

For beautiful photographs, take snaps on foggy days when mist drifts through the branches or arrive during sunrise or sunset, the golden hour when the rays pierce between the trees.

You will feel like you’ve walked straight into a fantasy novel or speculative television show as you stroll under the canopy of trees and their entwining branches meeting overhead.

Empty way of Cypress Tree Tunnel.

SDClicks /

Taste Cheese at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company

If you love cheese, visit this farmstead north of the town of Point Reyes Station on the east side of Tomales Bay.

It is a family-owned business, formerly a dairy, that the owners transitioned into a farmstead artisan cheesemaking facility.

They practice sustainable culture on their farm, conserving water, maximizing carbon sequestration, using erosion control on nutrient pastures, and installing robotic technology for cow comfort.

They take care to put just the right passionate touch to achieve the delicate balance of texture and flavor in their cheeses, producing richness detectable in every bite.

Their Original Blue raw milk cheese is created exclusively from Holstein cow milk at the farm on Point Reyes.

Their Toma, Bay Blue, Gouda, Quinta, and pasteurized cheeses are crafted in Petaluma, where they source milk from California dairies who match the high standards for milk quality and practice sustainable farming.

Gaze at the SS Point Reyes Shipwreck

Old and falling apart SS Point Reyes Shipwreck at the shore.

yhelfman /

At a sandbar in Tomales Bay in the town of Inverness, this rusty, weathered boat draws photographers and visitors to witness its ancient and crumbling charm.

Despite its name, the fishing boat named Point Reyes is not strictly a shipwreck, but a vessel dragged ashore by the owner who intended to fix it up and never got around to the project.

A storm battered the boat and washed it onto the sandbar where it has remained for decades.

View of the  SS Point Reyes Shipwreck during night time.

yhelfman /

A wetlands restoration firm once tried to remove the boat, but it was left alone thanks to the photographers and tourists who gave it attention.

It is 380 feet long and over 100 years old and somehow complements its environment, its rusty shape rising amidst the golden hills in the background.

See the old-fashioned draw of the abandoned boat: its rusted engine covered in cobwebs, twisted wires, and burnt, collapsed stern.

Side view of the old SS Point Reyes Shipwreck.

yhelfman /

Buy Dairy Products at Cowgirl Creamery

Cheese rounds at the Cowgirl creamery.

Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Marin County is notable for its dairy locations, and Cowgirl Creamery is one of the best-known foodie spots around, carrying some of the most famous cheese from California.

Visit their barn shop and cantina at the town of Point Reyes Station, featuring rich and yummy cheese, tangy sweets, and lunch fare.

Cowgirl Creamery has a great passion for the dairy industry and sources its cheese from the extraordinary milk in Marin and Sonoma county.

Different cheeses at the Cowgirl creamery counter.

Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Founders Peggy Smith and Sue Conley renovated their historic hay barn to fulfill their dream of showcasing local food producers, dairy production, and traditional cheesemaking.

Their cheeses include the best-selling Mt. Tam, glistening Red Hawk, herbaceous Pierce Point, luxurious Crème Fraiche, and buttery Devil’s Gulch.

They also have the silky Hop Along, nutty Wagon Wheel, versatile Cottage Cheese, bright and briny Inverness, and sunkissed Fromage Blanc.

People ordering at Cowgirl creamery.

Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hike along Chimney Rock

Scenic view of the chimney rock.

King of Hearts, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Chimney Rock trail on the Point Reyes headlands is about 1.75 miles long.

It leads along the ridge crest on a narrow peninsula, featuring spectacular ocean views, sweeping sights of the coastline, and an abundance of wildflowers in springtime.

The Elephant Seal Overlook can be reached by a short 0.5-mile roundtrip from the Chimney Rock trail and has one of the best viewing spots to see and hear the elephant seals below.

Trail view of the Chimney rock.

King of Hearts, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These animals can be rather messy and smelly but are always very adorable, and you can catch them hauled out on the beach with their pups during breeding season – take a zoom lens or a pair of binoculars with you for the best views.

Then there’s the historic Chimney Rock Lifeboat Station, which gives a glimpse at the jobs of rescuing passengers and crew from ships that run aground on the wild coastline.

Sunset view from Chimney rock.

King of Hearts, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Gain Information at Bear Valley Visitors Center

Bear Valley is one of California’s most informative visitor’s centers, touting many exhibits about the history of Point Reyes.

It is a great first stop, providing you with an orientation of the park’s trails, roads, and human and natural history.

Here, acquire information on the status of the trails and roads, including weather-related closures.

View the exhibits and learn about the ecosystems in Point Reyes and the local flora and fauna that thrive here.

Learn the history of Sir Francis Drake, a formidable European explorer who landed in the area in the 1500s, and know of the Coast Miwok Indians who stewarded the land for 5000 years.

Find natural history cards, books, and posters for sale at the bookstore, refresh yourselves at their facilities, speak to rangers and prepare for the current conditions of the park, and get yourself ready for the trip ahead.

Have a Beach Day at Drakes Beach

A seal on the shores of Drakes Beach.

Xavier Hoenner /

Drakes Beach is a remote, beautiful beach, one of the beaches on Point Reyes’s 130 kilometers of shoreline and reachable after a scenic drive.

It was named after Elizabethan seafarer Sir Francis Drake who may have paid a visit to Point Reyes in 1579.

It is a seasonally wide stretch of beach backdropped by the dramatic view of white sandstone cliffs, rather like a smaller version of the Cliffs of Dover.

Dusk skies reflecting on Drakes Beach waters.

Matthew Connolly /

The sand of these cliffs on Drakes Bay was deposited 10-13 million years ago in a shallow sea, compacted, and then uplifted, today displaying striations on the cliff faces caused by erosion.

Stroll the scenic beach and snap photos of the wild coast; explore the cove and play in the waves; beach comb or paddleboard; spread a picnic blanket and dine on beach-friendly victuals; and be on the lookout for dolphins, seals, and other wildlife.

Sea gulls walking around the shore of Drakes Beach.

Joanna K Drakos /

Drink Mead at Heidrun Meadery

A glass of mead at Heidrun Meadery.

Sarah Stierch, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A neat discovery just outside Point Reyes Station is Heidrun Meadery which makes mead, a fermented beverage made of honey, water, and yeast.

They produce naturally sparkling varietal meads using the traditional French Methode Champenoise, and they also have a beekeeping operation onsite and a horticulture program focusing on bee forage.

They cultivate flowering plants at their greenhouse, pastures, and gardens to produce natural and healthy year-long forage for the honey bee colonies.

They source honey for their monofloral varieties from beekeepers throughout the country and worldwide.

Their unparalleled Champagne-style mead is delicate, light, and refreshing, carrying subtly exotic aromas and flavors found in honey and appealing to the public’s wine palate.

Bring a picnic blanket and sit under the willows or walk among the olive trees and into the gardens as you sip delicious mead.

Make the Journey to Alamere Falls

Beautiful downstream of water of Alamere Falls.

Radoslaw Lecyk /

Alamere Falls is a rare tidefall or a waterfall that cascades directly into the ocean; it is one of only two waterfalls in California to follow this flow.

Do note that it takes a long hike to get to the falls, stretching to a round trip of 13 miles or more, so dress appropriately and bring plenty of snacks and hydration on the way.

Palomarin Trailhead is the most popular route starting at the south end, following the Coast trail past Bass Lake, and finally descending to the beach.

Scenic daytime view of the Alamere Falls.

Radoslaw Lecyk /

One can also hike to Wildcat Campground and walk south on Wildcat Beach to reach the falls at low tide.

Alamere Falls makes for a glorious and dramatic sight, tumbling 30 feet down onto Wildcat Beach, and at moderate to high tide when waves touch the bluffs, it falls right into the Pacific Ocean.

They afford a breathtaking view, and you will find yourself in the presence of one of the loveliest waterfalls in California.

Water flowed out from the Alamere Falls.

Radoslaw Lecyk /

Unleash Your Inner Bookworm at Point Reyes Books

Point Reyes Station has a rich history of bookselling, with this store opening its first incarnation, Point Reyes Books, in 1969.

Over the years, it has been patronized by many booksellers and has borne various names.

Owners Kate Levinson and Steve Costa rechristened it to Point Reyes Books in 2002 and wove the bookstore into the daily grind of community life.

For 14 years, they made the bookstore beloved, nationally known, and a central hub of the West Marin community, eventually passing it to a new set of owners.

Current owners Stephen Sparks and Molly Parent are fueled by years of seeing the bookstore as a valuable space for exchanging ideas and connecting worlds.

Search for great reads at this iconic bookstore which focuses on literary fiction, poetry, nature, and environmental writing; holds book clubs with inspiring conversations; presents special events with writers and translators; and brings book launches to eager readers.

Final Thoughts

For many travelers, Point Reyes is a landmark, one-of-a-kind destination on California’s foggy and windswept shoreline.

If you’re headed for its shores, make sure to pick up this list for a primer on the best things to do there.

Point Reyes is a destination for stunning natural spectacles and scenic escapes, so pack your bags and get ready for a grand time on the coast.

© All rights reserved.