Road trip: Point Reyes

Vera Smirnova 0 Comments

Among all of Mother Nature's wonders which California presents to her visitors and locals, the weather is definitely worth mentioning. Especially for visitors, who oftentimes descend from their plane wearing shorts or a sundress and at most carrying one or two warmer garments in their suitcase. I would blame that on the expansive amount of Hollywood films and shows which portray only warm weather, sunny beaches and tan, slim blondes. In fact, the Pacific Coast can be very chilly even in the summer, especially in Northern California. For my beach trips I always pack a lightweight down jacket right next to a swimsuit: you never know which you'll end up needing the most.

That said, there are a few climate zones with very distinctive weather: at any one time, the temperature may be in the low sixties with strong wind in coastal areas, mild or hot weather - around 80°F - or even more in the Bay Area, an easy 100°F and above in Central Valley and around 50°F up in the mountains (for example). And all within a 4-hour drive!

So when we suffer from the 90 degree heat here in the Bay Area, we head out to the ocean to cool down and enjoy the view.

Our destination today is Point Reyes National Seashore.

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Point Reyes is a large peninsula, separated from the mainland by the long (15 miles) and narrow (1 mile) Tomales bay. The bay is quite deep, and is situated right over a submerged portion of the famous San Andreas fault. Last time its tectonic plates moved significantly was during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. And who knows, maybe one day Point Reyes will become an island... But no worries, so far it’s firmly attached to the mainland, and easily reachable by car.

Tomales Bay ©Vera Smirnova

There are two ways to get to Point Reyes from San Francisco: you can either drive on state Hwy 101 North up to Petaluma and then make it through the soft rolling hills to the bay, or you can take the scenic Route 1 shortly after Golden Gate Bridge. I personally prefer Hwy 1 for its ocean views and easy access to beaches, but please be aware that it’s a very winding road and at times also very windy. If you feel comfortable with tight turns and a no-shoulder road, then go for it and you will be rewarded with stunning vistas!

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There is also a famous redwood forest on the way: John Muir Woods National Monument, a very beautiful grove known as the birthplace of the United Nations. In May 1945, shortly after the surrender Hitler’s armed forces in Europe, San Francisco held the first assembly of the United Nations organization. California’s “Save the Redwoods” league had proposed that all participants of this conference come to one of the most beautiful redwood forests near San Francisco. The idea behind it was to gather all the world’s representatives under the canopy of ancient trees which was seen as the sacred “place of peace”

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Due to its high popularity, reservations are now mandatory for visiting this place. For more info and reservations please visit

Our first stop was at the Muir Beach overview vista point. We did not go to Muir Beach itself, but rather went a mile or so further and made a left turn at the sign. There is a medium sized parking lot complete with restrooms, picnic tables and a short trail (very short, indeed) to a small platform at the end of a natural ridge which juts out into the ocean. There is no ocean access, as it is very high and the cliffs are very steep, almost vertical. Nevertheless, even from up high, the view is incredible!

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Another fifteen-minute drive brings us down to sea level and we are now able to walk on the clean white sands of Stinson Beach. Despite the strong wind, it’s warm enough when you find a low spot to lay down to enjoy the sun and watch some brave kite surfers.

Stinson Beach ©Vera Smirnova

Twenty minutes more to the next stop at Olema's Tavern and Market for a skillfully brewed cup of espresso goodness. Coffee makes life a bit easier for those who are prone to motion sickness, and Olema marks the end of very tight curves - hooray! Revived, we jumped into the car and headed to Inverness.

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Honestly, the local geography often amuses me! We were standing in the town of Inverness on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in front of a Czech restaurant. It's like being in several cities at the same time!

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There is also an old fishing boat's wreck, a very popular photography spot in a short walk from the parking lot across the street.  

Inverness ship wreck ©Vera Smirnova

Up the hills, past the grazing cows, wandering coyotes, and pecking wild turkeys, we approach Cypress Tree Tunnel. Park along the road and walk under the cypress arches to the Marconi maritime radio receiving station. For those who are interested in learning more about the history of the Point Reyes radio station, visit this park's page:

The Tree tunnel is a perfect spot for a photo shoot!

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Unfortunately, due to the whole pandemic situation, the historic Point Reyes lighthouse is closed right now, along with the visitor center and facilities. Some hikes are restricted, and there are expansive roadworks on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. deeper in the park, so we did not make it to the lighthouse this time. At least it saves something for the next visit!

Tomales bay is famous for its oyster farms. This is where Northern California oysters come from! There are several seafood restaurants that serve fresh, out-of-the-sea oysters both raw and barbecued. That was another reason for our trip up North. The only thing we did not know beforehand was that almost all of those places were now open only four days a week: Thursday through Sunday. Of course, we choose Wednesday for this outing in order to avoid traffic. Just like we planned, the roads were clear, but...  Everything has a price. As it turned out, there is almost no place to eat out Monday through Wednesday! We went back to the other side of Tomales bay, drove up to Marshall and found one open restaurant: Nick's Cove.

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It made our day: the oysters were perfect, as well as the crab cakes and clam chowder. Nowadays,  in 2020 with COVID-19 restrictions, people have to be creative, and these guys put their tables all the way along the pier to an old boathouse. It's even more fun than eating inside, for sure!

Very soon it started to get dark, so for the way back home we chose a shortcut leading through the hills to Hwy 101.  It was a prefect trip and definitely a much-desired relief from Bay Area summer heat!