Autumn by the Sea: Point Reyes & Tomales Bay, CA

Genie Davis October 21, 2010 No Comments


After we left Bodega Bay, stuffed with fresh crab and carrying kites with our luggage, we weren’t quite ready to return to urban life, even if that brought us to the wonderful cable cars and chocolate shops of San Francisco. 

Point Reyes National Seashore Pacific Ocean

Point Reyes National Seashore Pacific Ocean


Instead we headed for Tomales Bay and the Point Reyes National Seashore just about 1 hour north of San Francisco. We rented a small cabin near the town of Point Reyes Station, and enjoyed a quiet night near the marsh lands and oyster farms that dot the area. The marshes look quite different from the bovine inhabited rolling pasture lands we’d been seeing; swampy and shifting from dense and grassy to damp enclaves of sand and tidal waters. We had a taste of the oyster crop from these marshes at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company where you buy your oysters, and grill them, fresh from the bay. The kids stayed at the community picnic table area while I tackled the grilling; possibly not the simplest operation but a delicious treat. In the small town of Inverness we enjoyed browsing shops which offered ice cream, yarn, and fishing gear along with paintings and pottery. 

Then it was on to the main attraction, the Point Reyes National Sea Shore. Our goal was the lighthouse at the farthest tip of the park, but we made several stops enroute while driving  over Inverness Ridge and through the meadow land. We swung out to the elephant Seal Overlook near Chimney rock, and took an easy eighth of a mile walk to Kule Loklo. A path from the visitor center takes you to a  replica of a Coast Miwok Indian Village with interpretive signs describing the culture, history, and buildings. An equally easy, brief, and pleasant walk was Woodpecker Trail. The short loop trail led us through forest and meadow, signs described plants and the birds and animals we might have seen, but didn’t sight this trip.The favorite short trail: the earthquake Trail. Less than half a mile, this paved loop circles the San Andreas Fault; the geology is fascinating.  

Point Reyes lighthouse view of Pacific Ocean

View from lighthouse, Point Reyes, CA


After these side trips, we headed for the lighthouse, stationed at the end of the sprawling, marsh grass and sea view lined road at the Point Reyes Headlands. The Lighthouse Visitor Center is open Thursday through Monday, and has displays of shipwrecks and whaling. The kids enjoyed the touch table, with items from whale bones and baleen to shells, marine fossils, bird feathers, and drift wood. It was a good background to touring the  lighthouse itself, which is a stroller accessible, easy, paved walk from the parking lot. But here’s the hard part. Once you have the lighthouse in view, you must traverse three hundred and eight steps to the lighthouse. And its sometimes a windy climb. We made it easily on the downward trip; but carrying your toddler is advised.There are view points along the way with benches to rest on; the hardest part is the return trip. The up close and personal lighthouse view at the bottom is lovely; but do make sure that you’re in shape to carry the kids on the return journey. Even older kids tend to ask for a lift on the upward climb. It’s great exercise, and made it a no-brainer for me once in San Francisco and considering a massive hot fudge sundae at Ghiradellis: I’d already worked off those calories.  

Before we left the park area we made one last stop at  the Pierce Point Ranch and Tule Elk Reserve. Structures and posted signs told us the history of dairy ranching in the park. A short walk led us right into the preserve to a viewing location where we easily spotted some of the over four hundred free roaming tule elk. These magnificent creatures were amazing to watch and the kids spent a long time observing them. 

Heading into San Francisco, be warned that Highway 1 gets an exceptionally corkscrew layout; if your kids are prone to being carsick you may want to head onto 101 instead. 

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Point Reyes Lighthouse


However, if you head into the big city, it would be a shame to miss a stop in Marin County at the John Muir Woods, for another look at the magnificent redwoods that rise along the coast and inland along the Avenue of the Giants in northern California. Proclaimed a national monument by President Teddy Roosevelt, the woods are aptly named for the conservationist who loved them. Muir Woods is a shady sanctuary with paved trails, fallen logs for even the littlest traveler to enjoy scrambling through, and plenty of natural beauty. There are six miles of level, paved trails in these woods. Half hour, hour, and ninety minute loop trails all which offer great views of the trees. Ferns and mosses are everywhere, and the kids also saw a bumper crop of banana slugs. These harmless big yellow creatures clung to bark and leaves and lay on the ground. No, we did not take one home as a pet, despite much pleading. We also saw several beautiful blue Steller’s Jays and wrens in the park. Although this is a popular, close to the city attraction, Muir Woods was a restful stop, and the crowds were not daunting.   

Point Reyes Headlands Flowers

Driving to the Point Reyes Headlands - wild flowers en route


Nearby you’ll find sweeping coastal views at Muir Beach, a part of the coast where Redwood Creek reaches the sea. Marsh land, a lagoon and bluffs with great views mark the overlook area.Driving into San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge was our final stop. At the overlook on the Marin County side of the bridge, San Francisco was awash in the last of the afternoon’s golden sunlight, clouds of fog sailing in. We were able to point out many of the city’s landmarks while boats slipped across the bay. The bridge itself was the cause of great excitement, picking up that last sunset glow before the city end disappeared into a cloud of fog.We saved exploring more beaches – Ocean Beach with its barking seals and the grassy shoreline visible from Chrissy Field for a more clement weather and morning.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

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