Chimney Rock overlook

Explore the Wonders of Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore offers breathtaking scenery and is a quick day trip from San Francisco. It is the only national seashore on the West Coast, and only 10 are in the United States. Soon after leaving the city, you’ll feel like you’re in the wilderness.

The park offers much more than beaches, including grasslands and forests. It is home to 1500 species of plants and animals, including the Tule elk and elephant seals.

At this National Park unit, there’s something for everyone, from observing the land to animal watching, hiking, and camping.

While I only spent a day here, you could easily spend several. I’ll share all the great things I did during my day trip and other things you can do. I enjoyed my time here a lot.

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Start your trip at the Bear Valley Visitor Center

Make the first stop of your trip at the Bear Valley visitor center. It’s on the way into the park, and the rangers can give you lots of information about the visibility, wind conditions, and trail conditions on that day. On the day I went, several down trees were on the trails, which the Rangers told me about.

The rangers are happy to share their knowledge of the park and help you plan your trip. The Bear Valley visitor center also has interesting exhibits about the parks, ecosystems, and wildlife.

While at the Ranger Station, you can get your passport stamped, collect a trifold for the park, and get extra hiking maps for the trails. Learn more about National Park Passports in this article

The park has three visitor centers. However, Bear Valley is the only one that is open every day.

There is a visitor center at the lighthouse, which is only open on the weekends, and one at Drakes Beach, which is also open on the weekends.

Bear valley Visitor Center
Bear Valley Visitor Center

Entrance Fee

It is free to visit Point Reyes National Seashore!


Point Reyes is known to be one of the windiest and foggiest places on the West Coast. The clearest days for visibility are in the fall, from September to early November, with the heaviest rain in the winter. Summer is the worst time for the fog. I encountered every kind of weather, from the sun shining to pouring rain, but one of the constants was gusting wind so much that it could almost push me over at times. Be sure to dress in layers. Carry a coat and a stocking hat; I’m sure glad that I had mine. The weather hovers around 40 to 60° year-round.

Cypress tree
Wind Blown Cypress Tree


There are many opportunities to hike in this park, from leisurely strolls to longer, more strenuous hikes. I only did a few hikes on this trip but want to return and do more. Always take your day hiking pack, even for short hikes.

Earthquake Trail

Point Reyes is on the San Andres Fault line. On this trail, you can witness the 16 feet of land displacement caused by the 1906 7.8 earthquake, which caused massive destruction. Here, you can see the effects of the shift in tectonic plates in person. From the trail, you will see a fence that seems to stop abruptly until you turn your head to the right and see it continue with the 16-foot gap in between.

The trail is easily accessed from the Bear Valley Visitor Center and is an easy 0.6 mile loop.

Chimney Rock

March to May is an excellent time to potentially see grey whales; sadly, I did not see any on my trip. The road to the trailhead is a one-lane road, so be careful when driving there. The dirt trail is 0.9 miles each way and uneven in some areas. Overall, it’s a relatively easy hike. It is very windy. You can see a mile from this viewpoint on a clear day, including the Farallon Islands. I could see some elephant seals on the beach from out here on the right-hand side as I began my return to the start of the trailhead. There were some wildflowers on this hike. Even slow and recovering from an injury, I was able to complete this hike in an hour comfortably.

Chimney Rock | Courtesy of King of Hearts

Elephant Seal Overlook

The overlook is just to the left of the Chimney Rock trailhead and can be accessed from the same parking space as Chimney Rock. Check out this spot, especially if you visit between December and March when the Elephant Seal pups are on the beach.

Tomales Point

Tomales Point is an excellent hike to see the Tule Elk, the bay, and the Pacific Ocean. Stay on the trail to protect the plants and animals in the area. Some cliffs are unstable and can give way with people on them, so hikers are encouraged to stay away for safety. I’ve been told the wildflowers on this trail are amazing in spring. Pierce Point Ranch offers a glimpse into what ranching was like on the peninsula in the early days.

Get there early in the morning or late afternoon due to limited parking.
The trail is about 9 miles, but you can see the main highlights in about 2.5 each way, so about a 5-mile hike.

Elk at Tomales Point
Tule Elk | Courtesy NPS

Cypress Tree Tunnel

The Cypress trees were planted in 1930 and now form a tunnel over the road. The trees are fairytail-like and a popular place for photography. I missed the turn-off to visit here, so I will have to make this stop on my next trip to the park.

Cypress Tree Tunnel
Cypress Tree Tunnel at KPH Maritime Radio Receiving Station | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


They are abundant a little later in the spring than when I went, but I got to see some blooming.

Iris Chimney Rock
wild flower on trial

I was truly amazed that these flowers could grow and thrive in conditions I would perceive as hostile. These photos were taken on Chimney Rock trail where the wind was blowing so fierce the grass was laying sideways. 

Point Reyes Shipwreck

While this spot has been a popular photography spot for many, it is not recommended to go here now. Due to changing tides, storms, and a photography stunt gone wrong, the ship has suffered much damage and is falling apart. A recent Smithsonian article describes the damage and plans for removing the boat.

Many shipwrecks have occurred at Point Reyes, given the dense fog, dangerous waters, strong currents, and high winds. This led to the building of the Point Reyes Lighthouse for safety and better navigation.

sw richfield shipwreck
SW Richfield Wreck Point Reyes | NPS archive

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Lighthouse Trail is 1 mile in total, half a mile each way out and back, with views of the peninsula and the lighthouse. It’s paved and easy to walk on, with some hills. It was very windy on the path. Be aware of that, and make sure that your hats are secured. It’s an excellent place to try to spot a whale, and it gets very crowded on the weekends. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Bear Valley Visitor Center.

The lighthouse visors center was closed on the day I visited, so be sure to stop at Bear Valley to get information about the park, what’s open, and maps of hikes.

The lighthouse is open Saturday through Monday, but it closes for winds over 40 miles an hour. There are 313 stairs down to the actual lighthouse, and you must be able to climb back out if you go on a day that the lighthouse is open. It is built so low because it had to be low enough to get under the typical fog layer. Initially built in 1870, it is now a museum.

Lighthouse at Point Reyes
Point Reyes Lighthouse

Tule Elk

Point Reyes is the only National Park unit with Tule elk, which are only found in California. After they were almost hunted to extinction, a rancher in Bakersfield saved them. In 1978, the NP system introduced them to Tomales Point as a refuge. There are now three herds within the park. The elk can be viewed from the Tomales Point trail. If you are not into hiking, you may still be able to see some elk from Pierce Point Road.


The beaches are very popular, and four can be reached by car. However, seven beaches are only accessible by trail if you want more seclusion. The ocean can be frigid, around 50 degrees, and there are sneaker waves (which can grab you and pull you out to sea). Swimming can be dangerous and shouldn’t be attempted.

Beach Closures

Beaches can be closed from March through July for harbor seal pupping season. Elephant seals on the beach can also cause closures from December through March. Very small Western Snowy Plovers on the beach can sometimes cause closures. Their breading season is March through September, during which they lay sand-colored eggs on the beach. Always check the National Park Service website and visitor’s center before going.

Drakes Beach

This beach is accessible from the parking lot, and you can see baby elephant seals from December to March. I was able to talk to the Park Ranger, who shared a lot of information about them. They are very close to the parking lot on the beach, and you can see them easily with your eyes; there is a fence and rangers to ensure no one gets too close. The pup closest to me was only six weeks old. A full-grown male will get up to 5000 pounds, and the size of a Volkswagen isn’t that crazy?

When the beach isn’t closed for Elephant Seal pupping season, it is open for a stroll down the beach to dramatic views of sandstone cliffs and crashing waves. Seeing the baby seals was pretty awesome, though!

Elephant Seals at Point Reyes

The left image is of a six-week-old Elephant seal, and the Right image is of a male elephant seal. Elephant seals make the strangest barking sound and are impressive to see in person. 

Point Reyes Beach

The area offers 11 miles of beach and views of the Pacific Ocean shoreline. To get the best view of the entire beach, look to the right while walking up the lighthouse trail for an aerial overview.

Take a walk and enjoy the wildlife and scenery of the beach, which is accessible via parking areas at North Beach and South Beach.

Point Reyes Beach
Point Reyes Beach

Limantour Beach

Here you will find four miles of beach, where the waves are less intense and more family-friendly. The estuary is a bountiful wildlife area. This beach can be driven too.

Tide Pools at Sculptured Beach

Reaching this beach requires a two-mile hike from Limantour Beach to Sculptured Beach, recommended at low tide. In the winter months, two creeks create a steam that flows through the path, requiring you to get your feet wet to cross. If you are interested in tide pools, this is the place to check them out.

Dog-Friendly Beaches

Many National Parks do not allow dogs to protect the land and animals that inhabit the area. That said, there are places within the seashore that do allow dogs.

Point Reyes Beach is dog-friendly if your dog is on a six-foot leash.
Limantour Beach dogs are allowed on a two-mile stretch of this beach.

Beach Bonfires

Many beaches allow visitors to have fires on the beach. The fires must be below the high tide line. You must get a permit at the visitor center on the day you want to have them; they are free. Fires must be out by 11 pm. Sit back, listen to the waves crash, and stay warm with a nice fire.

beach fire
Beach Fire | Courtesy of Klearchos Kapoutsis

Where to Eat

There isn’t much food in the park, so bring food and plan ahead. After hiking, I stopped at Inverness Park Market, which has a general store and several food options, including vegetarian options. I had a decent portabella sandwich and garlic fries. This was one of the only places I found open for food on the day I went.

Another potential issue to note, there was no accessible water beyond Bear Valley, as the water station on the peninsula was having a problem at least when I visited. So be sure to bring extra water.

Inverness Park Market

Where to Stay

There are few options in the park. If you plan to stay within the park, you should make reservations in advance.

Limantour Lodge

This lodge, the former Point Reyes Hostel, is the only lodging available within the park boundaries. There is no cell service, so take advantage of the time to unplug and enjoy nature.

While other hotels aren’t inside the park, there are options nearby.

Book Here


The next option to stay within the park is to camp. If you choose to camp within the park, please note that only hike-in and boat-in camping options are available, and there are five campgrounds to choose from. Reservations should be made in advance for the sites. Take screenshots of your reservations and permits before entering the park because there is no cellphone service.

Explore more parks in and around the San Francisco area

There are 11 National Park sites within two hours of San Francisco and state parks in addition to the 11 National Park sites. About half an hour south is Muir Woods National Monument and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. With so many options, there is something for everyone. If you are looking for more city-type activities after spending time in nature, San Francisco is the place to find them.