15 Best Things To Do In Point Reyes National Seashore

Find out what attractions and activities you should do when visiting this park.
April 7, 2024
An example of a thing to do in Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a magical place with plenty of opportunities to enjoy some top-notch nature. From the mesmerizing lighthouse to the Cypress Tree Tunnel, this is a place that you’ll be able to enjoy time and time again.

This guide goes over some of the best things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore, and what makes these attractions to special. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be itching to head out there and explore for yourself!

1. Stop By The Visitor Centers

The Ken Patrick Visitor Center in Point Reyes

Starting off by checking out the visitor centers is always a good idea. They’ll provide you with useful tips and help you get oriented, so you can learn about the area and plan the rest of your trip.

We recommend starting at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. Here, you’ll uncover the park’s roads, trails, and history. It’s a treasure-trove of information and serves as a great way to get a lay of the land. There’s also a bookstore, perfect for those of you who want to delve deeper into the park’s history. As a bonus, they have an audio driving tour. While some audio tours can be a bit lackluster, we thought this one did a great job of highlighting what Point Reyes National Seashore has to offer as you go along.

Venturing further inside the park, you’ll find the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center at Drake’s Beach. Next to the ocean, this center is a great place to get some coffee and snacks. It’s an ideal spot for warming up if the ocean breeze is chilly, and recharging before exploring more things to do in the park.

Lastly, we can’t forget the Point Reyes Lighthouse Visitor Center (more on that later). This center gives historical context about the lighthouse, and is located near the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center.

2. Point Reyes Lighthouse

A view of the Point Reyes Lighthouse from above

Another classic thing to do in Point Reyes National Seashore is to see the lighthouse. The Point Reyes Lighthouse is a historical beacon that offers a unique blend of maritime history, stunning views, and wildlife. Constructed in 1870, this lighthouse served as a lifeline for mariners for 105 years, warning them of the perilous Point Reyes Headlands. It’s not just a lighthouse, it’s a monument to maritime safety, now preserved by the National Park Service.

The Point Reyes Headlands stretch 10 miles into the sea, creating a significant navigational hazard for ships traveling between San Francisco Bay and northern locations. When you’re there it becomes clear just how important the lighthouse was for ensuring the safety of the ships passing through.

Perched atop a rocky outcrop on the western-most point of the Point Reyes Headlands, the lighthouse is reached by descending roughly 300 steps (access to these steps is sometimes closed during times of high winds). If stairs aren’t your thing, there’s also a visitor center and observation deck at the top that offer panoramic views.

The observation deck isn’t just for admiring the ocean. It’s a prime spot for whale watching. We were lucky enough to see these magnificent creatures during their migration season, and it was really something to behold.

In short, the Point Reyes Lighthouse is more than just a stop on a sightseeing tour. It’s a journey into history, a testament to maritime safety, and a wildlife viewing platform offering stunning views. That’s why it’s one of the best things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore.

3. The Cypress Tree Tunnel

The Cypress Tree Tunnel in Point Reyes National Lakeshore

The Cypress Tree Tunnel is another classic Point Reyes attraction that everyone needs to see when they visit. It transports you back in time, surrounded by a picturesque landscape that’s not just beautiful, but also rich in history. The tunnel is made of Monterey cypress trees that were planted in the 1930s. These trees are highly adaptable and able to handle the potentially high winds and varying weather conditions that run through Point Reyes National Seashore.

There’s no denying the tunnel’s remarkable beauty, which has made it a favorite among photographers (you’ve probably seen plenty of pictures of it on Instagram). There’s no parking allowed directly along the tunnel, so it’s usually fairly easy to get a good shot without anyone in it. If someone else is there, just wait a few minutes and it will be all yours!

The tree tunnel leads to the historic Maritime Radio Receiving Station. This Art-Deco style building was constructed in 1929, and was integral to ship-to-shore Morse code and telegraph communications in the 20th century.

4. Chimney Rock Trail

The view from Chimney Rock Trail

If you want to get out of the car and do a little bit of hiking, Chimney Rock Trail is an absolute must. This 1.9-mile roundtrip trail provides excellent rugged coastal views along the Headlands. It’s also not very challenging, making it a great option for families and hikers of all skill levels to enjoy the scenery.

From April to August, you’ll be treated to some of the most stunning wildflower displays in the area. The trail is open year-round, but this makes it one of the most popular times for people to visit (although dogs aren’t allowed unfortunately).

Walking the Chimney Rock Trail usually takes about 40 minutes, so it’s something you can usually squeeze in even if you have a lot of other things to do in the area. It takes you onto the narrow peninsula ridge crest and provides rewarding views of Drakes Bay and the southeastern coastline.

Birding enthusiasts love this trail, and there’s also a great chance to see elephant seals nearby as well. And if you walk down to the Chimney Rock Lifeboat Station, you’ll get a glimpse of the area’s maritime rescue history.

Author Note: When we went to the Chimney Rock Lifeboat Station there were a number of elephant seals about 20 feet away. There were rangers nearby as well who were able to share some interesting tidbits about these massive (and strange looking) animals).

5. The Elephant Seal Overlook

The Point Reyes Elephant Seal Overlook

Another popular thing to do in Point Reyes National Seashore is the Elephant Seal Overlook. This spot offers perfect views of Drakes Beach and the elephant seals that are hanging out there. It’s an easy and short stroll from the parking lot on a relatively flat dirt trail, with clear signs that guide you to the overlook.

The prime viewing season falls between December and March, which coincides with the seals’ mating and birthing season. It’s not uncommon to find over 600 elephant seals by early February, and it’s a sight that’s nothing short of spectacular. But don’t worry if you can’t make it during this time, it’s quite common to see the seals here all year long.

The overlook offers a unique opportunity to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. We’d recommend bringing along binoculars (sometimes a ranger or docent will have some you can borrow as well) for a closer look at their behaviors, such as pup births, sparring battles, and social interactions. You’ll also see plenty of seals sleeping!

Author Note: When we visited we saw a large male chasing another and rearing its head back to strike downward with its tusks. Even though they were hundreds of feet away, we could still hear the sound of the impact.

The Wildlife Docents are usually there on weekends and holidays from late December to March. They can offer insights and answer questions about the elephant seals. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation and learn more about these fascinating animals!

6. Walk Down To Drakes Beach

Drakes Beach

Venturing down to Drakes Beach is an incredibly scenic spot known for its natural beauty and geological significance. This beach’s dramatic sandstone cliffs, reminiscent of Dover’s white cliffs, left an indelible impression on Sir Francis Drake. These cliffs’ striations tell a fascinating geological tale of sands deposited millions of years ago before being compacted, uplifted, and then eroded.

The beach offers a wide stretch of sand with fairly calm waves (compared to the west-facing beaches) from Drakes Bay, making it a popular spot to relax (especially for families). The seasonally wide beach is also backed by these magnificent cliffs. Out of all the beaches in Point Reyes National Seashore, it’s one of the easiest to access as well. There’s a parking lot, visitor center, and picnic tables you can use.

These days, certain parts of Drakes Beach are a popular spot for elephant seals to gather during their mating and birthing seasons. Going here gives you a great chance to observe these massive animals up close, as long as you keep a safe distance! Occasionally certain parts of the beach will be closed to protect the wildlife, so keep an eye on the signs when you arrive. 

7. Point Reyes Station

Point Reyes Station

Point Reyes Station is another great thing to do that’s near the Seashore. It’s a destination that combines history, culture, and dining options for park visitors. It’s a lively little town that’s conveniently located just outside the park, and is the perfect place for a stopover if you need to grab some food, rest, or fuel up.

You’ll find a number of bakeries and eateries, particularly along the Shoreline Highway. The Palace Market Deli is a great place to pick up a sandwich or snag some food to bring on a hike.

Point Reyes Station also has a rich history dating back to the late 19th century. Originally known as Olema Station, the town owes its development to the railroad that once operated here. You can still see aspects of this railway heritage around the town. For instance, the old depot (now a post office) and the old engine house (a burnt-red structure near the highway), are remnants of the town’s railroad switching yard.

You can also see some architectural highlights like the Grandi Building which was built in 1915. This imposing structure once housed a grand hotel and general store. Another noteworthy structure is the Point Reyes Emporium, dating back to 1898. A beautifully preserved wood-sided building, it adds to the town’s character.

8. S.S. Point Reyes

The S.S. Point Reyes wreck

Among the many things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore, the S.S. Point Reyes is particularly unique. You can find it behind the Inverness Store in a rather unassuming spot, and it’s easily reachable. All it takes is a quick stroll from the store’s parking lot! The ship serves as a haunting tribute, reminding visitors of the many lives and vessels that were claimed by the treacherous waters of Point Reyes over the centuries.

The S.S. Point Reyes was left to decay on the shore, and it has become a source of inspiration for artists and photographers. Its decaying beauty, whether partially submerged or fully exposed (depending on the water level) makes it quite the compelling subject. The reason it’s still here today is the voice of local photographers who fought against its removal during a wetlands restoration project.

If you want to hang out for a bit, there are picnic tables nearby for you to use. While many people like to walk up to the wreck, it’s recommended to avoid getting too close or climbing on it. The wood is old and rotten, so it’s not exactly the most stable vessel anymore!

9. See Alamere Falls

Alamere Falls in Point Reyes National Seashore

Alamere Falls is a mesmerizing place, with the 40-foot  waterfall cascading directly into the ocean. And in our opinion, this is one of the most underrated things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore.

The journey to the falls is an adventure in itself. We’re talking about a 10 to 14 mile round-trip hike, depending on where you start. It’s a moderately challenging trek with some steep stretches.

The main trailhead, Palomarin, is in Bolinas, about a 30-minute drive south of Bear Valley Visitor Center or an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge. We recommend arriving early to get a parking spot, especially if you’re going on a weekend or during the summer.

Timing is important for safety reasons. We recommend using a high and low tide chart (there are plenty of them online) so you can get there when the tide is low. This will allow you to access more of the beach and enjoy the falls, and also lower the risk of getting caught in rising tides while you’re exploring the area.

10. South Beach Overlook

View from the South Beach Overlook

The South Beach Overlook, rewards you  with breathtaking views of Point Reyes Beach and the surrounding coastal landscape, making it another top spot to visit in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Just a short walk from the lighthouse parking lot, the path to this overlook is sandy and easy to tread. It begins on the northwest end of the visitors’ parking lot, leading to a cliff-side vantage point that’s nothing short of spectacular.

But the South Beach Overlook offers more than just great views. It’s also a prime spot for wildlife viewing. We recommend bringing a pair of binoculars to get a closer look around. If you’re lucky, you might even spot gray whales playing in the surf, particularly during the winter months. Keep an eye out for the spouts when looking for them!

11. Laguna Trail Coast Trail Loop

Laguna Trail Coast Trail Loop is a scenic hike that has definitely earned its place in the must-do activities in Point Reyes National Seashore. This 5-mile loop is relatively easy and traverses through coastal scrub, grasslands, and eye-catching coastal views. You’ll be able to enjoy the diversity of the landscape, and even extend the hike down to Limantour Beach.

The trail can be quite exposed to the sun and wind, so it’s a good idea to bring hats and layers to account for the weather. You’ll start the hike at the Laguna Trailhead, which takes you on an upward journey to a 400-foot-high ridge with views of Drakes Bay before descending to the Coast Trail near Coast Campground.

There are additional beach access points on the trail and the multi-use option for part of the route, so it’s possible to bike some of it as well. Once you reach the Coast Campground you’ll continue along the Coast Trail which meanders along coastal bluffs and follows a stream. You’ll finish by heading along Laguna Road.

Author Note: A lot of people typically do this loop by heading clockwise, but you can always go the other way if you want.

12. Hike Over To Sculptured Beach

Sculptured Beach

Another rewarding hike in Point Reyes National Seashore is walking to Sculptured Beach, a spot known for its combination of breathtaking ocean views, unique rock formations, and tide pools. With several accessible starting points like Limantour Beach, Laguna Trailhead, or Coast Trailhead, you can pick a route that fits your level of fitness and available time.

Walking the stretch from Limantour Beach (or further if you start at other trailheads), you’ll be treated to stunning views of sheer cliffs and vegetation. It’s not uncommon for hikers to bring lunch and set up for a meal midway through their trek.

At low tide, you can explore the beach’s tide pools. But remember to keep an eye on the tide and surf so you don’t get yourself into trouble.

At some point you’ll hit the Coast Campground which is a handy spot for a pit-stop. There are vault toilets and potable water available to those passing through.

13. Look For Elk

A few elk in Point Reyes National Seashore

Looking for tule elk, a native species that made a remarkable recovery from near extinction, is definitely something we recommend to any visitor at Point Reyes. The presence of these creatures is a genuine conservation success story. Thanks for targeted conservation efforts, the population of these elk was able to rebound from near oblivion in the 1870s.

Now, the park hosts three separate herds of these creatures. The Tomales Point Herd, introduced in 1978, is usually the easiest to see. It’s not uncommon to spot them from the road or while hiking the Tomales Point Trail. The Drakes Herd can be seen along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard towards the Point Reyes Lighthouse, Drakes Beach, or Chimney Rock. The Limantour Herd is the most elusive, ranging from Drakes Estero to Coast Campground.

Point Reyes National Seashore goes to a lot of trouble to make this viewing experience safe, but it’s important to manage these encounters wisely. Maintain a respectful distance from the elk, and use binoculars to help get a closer look without disturbing the animals. If you’re a photographer, sticking with your telephoto lens is recommended as well. If an elk shows signs of distress or moves away, that means you’re too close. Stick to the official trails, move slowly, and speak quietly.

And remember, no feeding!

14. Kayak Or Paddleboard In Tomales Bay

A guided tour preparing to kayak in Tomales Bay

Kayaking or paddleboarding in Tomales Bay is another fun thing to do in Point Reyes National Seashore. There’s nothing quite like experiencing the area’s breathtaking scenery and tranquility from the vantage point of the water.

One of the great things about Tomales Bay is the waters are sheltered, making it an ideal spot for both beginners and experienced kayakers. We’ve seen people of all skill levels thoroughly enjoy their time on the water. The conditions are just right to make everyone feel comfortable and safe.

Tomales Bay also offers fantastic opportunities for wildlife viewing while you’re out on the water. It’s not uncommon to see birds and seals, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a sea otter or two.

If you’re worried about equipment or don’t know the first thing about kayaking or paddleboarding, don’t worry. There are several companies in the area that offer kayak and paddleboard rentals, along with guided tours. They provide all the necessary equipment and instruction to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable outing. All you need to do is show up!

15. Birdwatching

A bird in Point Reyes National Seashore

For birdwatching enthusiasts, Point Reyes National Seashore has a lot to offer. The park boasts a diverse avian population and unique geographical features that make viewing fun. Point Reyes is home to nearly 490 species, with more than 70,000 acres of varied habitats like estuaries, grasslands, and forests, teeming with bird life.

Point Reyes’ national recognition as a birding spot is well-deserved. It consistently records high tallies during the annual Christmas Bird Count, which makes it a hotspot in the birding community. Prime locations like Bear Valley, Giacomini Wetlands, and Limantour offer a spectacular array of land birds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and birds of prey. Bolinas Lagoon (protected by the Audubon Canyon Ranch) serves as a haven for cormorants, pelicans, and kingfishers, among others. Five Brooks Pond, Abbotts Lagoon, and the Estero Trail offer sightings of herons, ducks, raptors, and owls. Not to mention, the Lighthouse Rocks and Cliff Areas are ideal for observing pelagic species, including the rare tufted puffins and peregrine falcons.

While birdwatching, everyone is encouraged to adhere to the Leave No Trace principles in order to protect the sensitive species and their habitats.

Wrapping Up

So, there you have it! From exploring visitor centers to kayaking in Tomales Bay, there’s no shortage of activities and things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore.

Whether you’re a nature lover, a hiking enthusiast, or just someone looking for a relaxing getaway, this place truly has something for everyone.

So why wait? Pack your bags, hit the road, and get ready to make some unforgettable memories!

Don't Miss

Views you can get on a road trip from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon National Park

Phoenix To The Grand Canyon Road Trip: 17 Best Stops

We have been lucky enough to experience the car ride
A view from the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook

Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook: A View You Can’t Miss

Visiting the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook is something that everyone