Most commonly visited as a day trip from San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore is a heavenly spot for outdoor lovers and photographers alike who are after a day in a lovely California hot spot. From the abundance of wildlife, both on land and in the water (even the air!), to the scenic coastal views, welcoming beaches, and charming towns, Point Reyes is worthy of far more than just a day trip.
With so many things to do in Point Reyes, it’s recommended you spend at least a night for a weekend from San Francisco or as a stop on a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. This windy area will get you on your feet across trails, visiting pieces of history, basking in the sun like the elephant seals, and enjoying delicious cheese. What’s not to love about nature, pretty scenery, and yummy food?
What to Do in Point Reyes
These are just some of the Point Reyes attractions and beyond with things to do in Tomales Bay which neighbors Point Reyes, enjoy these highlights of this coastal stop, but of course, there are plenty more hikes to do with over 150 miles of trails available!
But first: Don’t miss all of the other guides, itineraries & things to do in California that I share too!
Visit Drakes Beach
One of Point Reyes’ best beaches and also with easy access, Drakes Beach is a top choice for a relaxing morning or afternoon to bask in the sun, take a dip in the ocean, or enjoy a picnic. The dramatic sandstone cliffs offer a scenic backdrop and the vistas looking out over the ocean are a true California treat.
You can use the picnic tables close to the parking lot, where you’ll also find a bookstore. The beach is just off of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, the main road through the park, on the appropriately named road, Drakes Beach Road. Be mindful of the waves here though, while it is a swimmable area, rip tides are still here.
Take in the view of Cypress Tree Tunnel
Not to be missed and conveniently on the way to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, you’ll find every photographer and Instagrammer’s star attraction, the Cypress Tree Tunnel. An alluring treat for the eyes, this road reminds me of the one from Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland, where the trees from opposite sides of the road create a picturesque tunnel. Expect crowds and be mindful of others and their time too as this Point Reyes sightseeing spot has become quite popular.
Stroll down to Point Reyes Lighthouse
An iconic Point Reyes attraction, and one of the most famous lighthouses in all of California, the Point Reyes Lighthouse is certainly not to be missed! Built in 1870, it guided ships to safety for over 100 years in one of the windiest and foggiest spots in all of North America.
Today the lighthouse is no longer in service but you can still visit after driving the winding road and walking down 308 steps. The view is well worth it though. But to avoid disappointment, know that the lighthouse is only open to go in Fridays through Mondays. It is also possible for the stairs to be closed, this is for the safety of visitors as it means that the winds are extra strong (more than 40 miles per hour!).
Look up for bird watching
Whether you like birds or not (personally I’m terrified of them but love to admire them from afar), you’re bound to spot more than a few in Point Reyes. This area of land attracts wintering and migrating birds, which means the best time to see the most diversity is through the winter and is home to almost 500 different species. Keep your eyes peeled for some unique kinds on land and over the water which can include gold eagles, hawks, sparrows, quails, owls, and many more.
Watch wildlife at Elephant Seal Overlook
Elephant seals may be massive (about 1000 pounds), can be smelly, and quite noisy, but they’re certainly intriguing! Elephant Seal Overlook is just one spot where you can spot these tubby animals along California’s northern and central coasts which is where many of these seals call home. You’ll have the best chances of seeing them in large numbers during their mating and birthing season which is between December and March, but you’re likely to see some any time of the year. Head to the Chimney Rock trailhead parking lot and enjoy the 0.2-mile stroll to the viewpoint where you can see them on the beach in the distance.
See the Historic Point Reyes Lifeboat Station
From Elephant Seal Overlook, you can hang a right to keep on the trail and venture further to the lifeboat station. Though now it is decommissioned, you can still visit in the spring when it’s open. You’ll also have the chance to see elephant seals and sea lions basking in the sun along the beach that’s here for a chance at a closer look. Don’t forget to respect wildlife and keep your distance.
Hike Tomales Point Trail
If you’re only going to do one of the hikes in Point Reyes, let it be Tomales Point Trail. While the full trail is 9.2 miles (14.8km), even walking a shorter distance of this trail will offer rewarding views of the ocean, past beaches, bring you across Historic Pierce Point Ranch, spotting tule elk, and to the tip of Tomales Point.
There’s no shortage of beautiful foliage or wildlife on this trail too, with wildflowers blooming in the spring and summer, elk roaming the area between May and August, and whale spotting in the winter and spring months. Not to mention tons of birds who flock to this spot for the winter.
Stroll through Point Reyes Station
Point Reyes Station is a small town just outside of Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s a great place to stop for lunch, dinner, or to pick up some food to enjoy for a picnic later on in the day. Its main street is full of charming cafes, shops, and bakeries where you can dine outside or treat yourself to something sweet or fresh oysters. Notable stops here include Cowgirl Creamery (hello cheese), and Palace Market. Be sure to fill up on gas here or take the opportunity to rent paddleboards or the like!
Venture to S.S. Point Reyes Shipwreck
A hot spot loved by photographers (especially at golden hour) is the S.S. Point Reyes Shipwreck that sits on the shores of Tomales Bay behind the Inverness Store. You can park in the parking lot and from there it’s a short walk to this shipwreck. Don’t let the name fool you though, despite this area being known for its high winds and treacherous waters, this “shipwreck” was actually a restoration project that a local decided to take on but never got around to. It washed up onto the shores and local photographers asked to keep it around. Either way, it’s still one of the more popular things to do near Point Reyes.
Wander the Tule Elk Reserve
Point Reyes National Seashore is home to quite a significant amount of tule elk (thanks to a conversation effort) so no matter where you are in the park, you’ll have high chances of spotting them. One of the best places to get close, but also keep your distance, is at the Tule Elk Reserve which is at Tomales Point. The Tomales Point Trail is lengthy, but you can cut it short whenever you like to enjoy the elk and the wildflowers which you can spot in their colorful peak from May to August.
You will also have high chances of spotting elk on Pierce Point Road, perhaps on your way to visit Pierce Point Ranch which is in the same area of Tomales Point.
Admire Alamere Falls
Hikers and waterfall lovers rejoice, the picturesque views of Alamere Falls that you’ll have at the end of this hike are utterly spectacular. This waterfall is one of just two tidefalls along California’s coast so it’s a rare sight. When the tide is high the water plunges directly into the ocean below but during low tide you can watch the water falling onto Wildcat Beach.
Come prepared for this hike though, at 14.6 miles (23.5km) round trip, and with plenty of challenges, it’s not an easy hike. But for those who are ready for a few hours on the trail, the views are truly rewarding. There are several trailheads from where you can depart including Bear Valley, Palomarin, and Five Brooks, with Palomarin offering the shortest route.
Visit Historic Pierce Point Ranch
For a spot of history, check out the Pierce Point Ranch which was in operation for over 100 years. Cheese is quite famous in this area as dairy farming is pretty common. This historic ranch offers a look back to the early 1900s as a dairy farmer, offering a peek into how this now touristic area once was back in the day.
From the ranch and on your way to it you’ll likely spot some deer and maybe even some tule elk. From here it’s possible to hike to Tomales Point (3.7 miles/6km) or even less to Windy Gap (2 miles/3.2km) across the Tule Elk Reserve which is a great option to skip from the much longer hike mentioned earlier!
Spot the bent cypress trees
Last but certainly not least, don’t miss the photo opportunities by pulling over to the side of the road to see nature at its coolest! Point Reyes National Seashore is notoriously windy and the trees here know how to handle it. Over time they’ve grown sideways, offering a unique opportunity to see how Mother Nature herself adapts to her own extreme conditions. You can spot some along Sir Francis Drake Blvd, on your way to the lighthouse with one of the most popular trees closest to the visitor’s center.
Take a beach walk
While there are numerous beaches around Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Bay State Park, one of the most relaxing beach walks is from Limantour Beach to Sculptured Beach. It’s a quiet area that has very pleasant views and is also an ideal spot for a picnic so that you can take in the views of the rock formations and cliffs. It’s one of the few areas in the park where dogs are allowed so venture over here if you have your furry friend with you for running time for them!
Where to Stay in Point Reyes
If you’re looking to stay directly in Point Reyes National Seashore, your options are camping or a hostel that offers dormitories and some private rooms.
Campsites in Point Reyes
- Coast Camp
- Wildcat Camp
- Sky Camp
- Glen Camp