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Things To Do On Your San Francisco Vacation: The Point Reyes National Seashore
The Point Reyes National Seashore: An Island in Time
The Point Reyes National Seashore is a 111 square mile peninsula in west Marin County, an hour drive north of San Francisco. The peninsula is separated from the mainland by the San Andreas fault and is inching its way northwest to one day truly become an island.
Originally settled by the Coast Miwok over 3,000 years ago, Sir Francis Drake was the first European explorer to come ashore in 1579. Spanish explorers claimed the land for Spain, but when Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, California was divided and given to land grantees who established ranches and traded tracks of land without permits.
In 1851 California became an American state and ater years of litigation over the Point Reyes Peninsula, much of it was awarded to the law firm of Shafter, Shafter, Park, and Heydenfelt. The lush grasslands of the peninsula became home to California's new gold: butter and cheese to supply a growing San Francisco.
The Shafter brothers established Home Ranch and sub-divided the peninsula into 30 tenant dairy ranches. Despite the boom in dairy production (an estimated 3,500 dairy cows on 17 working ranches by 1868), most access to the Point Reyes peninsula remained by sea and The Point Reyes Lighthouse was built in 1870. The North Pacific Coast Railroad did build a train line in 1875 that terminated in the new town of Point Reyes Station. However, easy land access to the peninsula didn't happen until 1930 with the opening of Sir Francis Drake Highway that connected to the freeway from San Francisco. As a result, the peninsula remained relatively untouched despite the population explosion of the greater San Francisco Bay Area.
Because much of the Point Reyes peninsula is still in its pristine natural state, it was declared a "National Seashore" by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. It is covered by beaches, sand dunes, grasslands, waterways, forests, and pastures. It is home to much of the organic dairy farming that makes California a leading dairy producing state. Fourth and fifth generation families still run its dairies and farms. It is rich in history, full of interesting outdoor activities, and a heaven for foodies. It is well worth spending a day or two of your San Francisco vacation exploring the Point Reyes National Seashore. Included here are the top things to do on your visit to the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Tour the Point Reyes Lighthouse
The Point Reyes Peninsula has always had a close association with the sea and ships. The primary means of getting to and from the area was largely by boat well into the 20th century. Because the headland of the peninsula juts out into the Pacific from the mainland by 10 miles, it is the windiest location on the Pacific Coast and second foggiest in North America. As you can imagine, Point Reyes has a close association with shipwrecks as well.
The lighthouse was built in 1870 and remained in continuous operation until 1975 when the Coast Guard replaced it with an automated light and fog signal. It is situated 300 feet (approximately 35 stories) below the top of the cliff to ensure that it was below the level of the fog. There are 308 concrete steps that descend to the lighthouse (which means 308 stairs to ascend after your visit), so it's not for the faint of heart. The Visitor's Center is open 10:00am-4:30pm Thursday through Monday and offers exhibits on the lighthouse, the life of lighthouse keepers, shipwrecks, as well as whales, sea lions, and other wildlife. The Lens Room of the lighthouse is open from 2:30 pm to 4 pm, Thursday through Monday from mid-April through December, and a Park Ranger is on hand to give you a tour of the lighthouse history and function.
Go Hiking, Camping, or Wildlife Viewing
The Point Reyes National Seashore contains over 150 miles (240km) of hiking trails each with its own stunning views and vistas of the area. A map of the area with trails is available from the National Park Service web site for Point Reyes. Horses are allowed on most trails, and the Five Brooks Stables offers a variety of activities and services, including guided trail rides. Dogs, however, are not permitted on the trails. Sorry.
Whether you are up for a long and strenuous hike or just a spot to watch the local wildlife (of which there is plenty), the Point Reyes National Seashore is sure to please.
Eat: Dairy, Oysters, and Organic Vegetables Abound
Given the Peninsula's rich history with dairy, oysters, and farming, it's no surprise that local produce is aplenty. Aside from the high quality local products, the area's farmers and producers are leaders in organic farming and animal husbandry. As such, Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the few places in the world where the food found in its restaurants and shops is both local and organic. The magic combination.
In addition to several great local restaurants such as Nick's Cove (Marshall), Osterina Stellina (Point Reyes Station), The Station House Cafe (Point Reyes Station), and Drake's Bay Oyster Company (Inverness), you can eat the Bay Area's favorite oysters right at the farm at the Hog Island Oyster Company. If oysters are not your thing (or even if they are), tour and sample the cheese of The Cowgirl Creamery.
Visit Tomales Bay: Boating, Kayaking, and Beach
Sailing on this part of the Pacific Ocean is not for the faint of heart as the shipwreck history that you can tour at the lighthouse will attest. On the eastern side of the Point Reyes peninsula is Tomales Bay. Tomales Bay is the most popular place for kayaking in the National Seashore.
With 80 miles (130km) of shoreline, there is plenty of opportunity to visit the beach. However, as experienced West Coast folk know, the waters of the Pacific in this part of California are often too cold to comfortably enjoy the water without a wetsuit and the undertow is fierce. Tomales Bay, on the hand, offers warmer and gentler waters.