Are you looking to explore some of the scenic and historic Pacific Coast just north of San Francisco? From the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, head up the Shoreline Highway (California Route 1) through Stinson Beach. There are points where you would swear you had your toes in the water, the road really is “shoreline”. Take advantage of the pull-offs that invite some out of car photography. You want to slow down and savor this drive. This is the San Andreas Fault zone, and the Olema Valley Trail parallels the road to your left. Pass Five Brooks and continue on to Olema. Olema is small and picturesque, with several shops, a couple of restaurants, a lodge, and some bed and breakfasts.
Bear Valley Visitor Center
Your first destination is the Bear Valley Visitor Center, a quarter-mile from Olema, on Bear Valley Road. The visitor center offers an excellent introduction to your visit to Point Reyes National Seashore. Here you can find exhibits, books, indoor picnic tables, and a Morgan horse ranch, outside. Families will enjoy the interactive displays. At the center, you can also find out about special events, beach access, and trail conditions. The Rangers will probably point out that drivers are in luck at Point Reyes, because you can take your car almost on to the sand, at Drakes Beach, Limantour Beach, and the Great Beach (a fantastic 11 miles of unspoiled beach, accessible from the North and South Beach parking lots). Pet lovers are in luck as well, since pets are permitted on portions of Kehoe, Limantour, and Great Beach; just keep them on their 6-foot leash at all times.
Pierce Point Ranch and Point Reyes Lighthouse
Leaving the visitor center, follow Bear Valley Road to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, heading first toward Pierce Point Ranch and then toward Point Reyes Lighthouse. The drive will take you along Bear Valley Road to Boulevard, and then along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to Inverness, where Tomales Bay runs along the San Andres Fault. You will see beautiful water and gorgeous California Cypress in these impressive surroundings that are home to songbirds and birds-of-prey. Consider exploring more at Tomales Bay State Park. Drakes Estero is famous for birding, hiking, and beautiful scenery. Among the wildlife that frequents the area are bat rays, seals, egrets, and eagles.
Continue along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard as it winds northwestward. Take the right-hand road at the Y intersection, which is Pierce Point Road. Follow Pierce Point Road all the way north to Pierce Point Ranch, enjoying the magnificent sweeping views as you go. You will probably see the California sub-spices of elk, called the Tule-Wapiti.
Fort Piece Ranch
You will come to Pierce Point Ranch, a dairy ranch dating back to the 1860s. From here you can take Pierce Point Road to the end parking lot and hike all the way out to Tomales Point, the northernmost point of land. Tomales Point offers stunning views in every direction. This is an enjoyable out-and-back day hike, of about nine and a half miles, and while the landscape is sweeping and windswept, there are always other hikers around. It takes you through the Tule Elk Reserve.
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Follow Pierce Point Road back to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and turn right, continuing toward The Point Reyes Light House. Park your car and take the 308 steps down (remember you will be coming back up those same stairs) to the 1870’s vintage red-roofed Point Reyes Lighthouse. After you see the lighthouse, go to the Chimney Rock Trail Head, and hike out to Chimney Rock. On your way back, turn right onto Drake’s Beach Road to see the Sir Francis Drake Quadricentennial Plaque and the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center. Drake’s Beach is a great swimming and strolling beach, with nice flat sand and big impressive cliff formations.
From there, return to the visitors center via Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, stopping if you wish at the Oyster Farm and Estero, then follow Limantour Road down to Limantour Beach. Highlights of this drive include access to much more trailheads if you are interested in doing more hiking.
Hidden at the southern end of Point Reyes National Seashore is the town of Bolinas, perhaps the loveliest best-kept secret town in all of California. Their residents like to keep it that way – and the sign to the city mysteriously disappears from time to time. A place that time forgot, with a quiet beach and surfing vibe, Bolinas is not for those who like to shop (there are only a few stores) nor is it a restaurant mecca, but people with a poetic sensibility will love its quaintness.
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