wildflowers accent the scenery at Point Reyes
National Seashore, as hikers look out on Drakes Bay.
REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE, Calif. — You’re in San
Francisco and need a break from clanging cable cars and
overpriced hotels? Break for the beach. Point Reyes is an
hour and a world away.
leaving home, sign up for a plein-air pastel workshop with
an overnight stay in a historic former Coast Guard
lifeboat station hanging over the azure bay where Sir
Francis Drake anchored in 1579. It’s just one of dozens
of regular offerings by the park’s Field Institute.
Awake to sea lions barking just a belly-flop from your
in spring, when wildflowers turn oceanfront headlands into
a garden of blue and yellow lupine, starburst Goldfields
daisies, purple Douglas iris, creeping blue-blossom and
to see the rare Tule elk or bobbing coveys of quail,
spectacular views of ocean and sky, and the 1870
lighthouse that helped guide ships down the coast toward
the Golden Gate.
just go to decompress.
get to Point Reyes and it’s so spread out, with 70,000
acres, you can be right next to one of the great
metropolises on the West Coast and still get a sense of
wilderness," says Tyler Vaughn, who directed the
Field Institute for Point Reyes National Seashore
Association, or PRNSA, the park’s nonprofit educational
partner, when I visited last spring.
at the park’s hostel or bring a backpacking tent and
really go wild with an overnight at one of four hike-in
campgrounds, called Sky, Glen, Coast and Wildcat.
guided me on a day tour of the park, which was established
under President John F. Kennedy in 1962 not long after he
signed into creation Cape Cod National Seashore. Some say
Point Reyes was Kennedy’s offering to West Coast
constituencies in return for saving the beach in his own
Reyes was worth saving. This giant semicolon of land,
right on the hinge of the North American continent where
the San Andreas Fault runs through narrow Tomales Bay and
the nearby Olema Valley, is home to lagoons and bluffs,
historic ranches and salty estuaries. Roughly 150 miles of
trails crisscross the pasture, chaparral ridges,
California-laurel valleys, meadowlands and windblown
forests of Douglas fir and rare bishop pine.
like Brigadoon, it just sort of rises from the mist,"
says Donna Faure, PRNSA’s associate director, who lives
in the point’s adjoining bayfront village called,
point is known as an island in time," Faure says.
"It’s on a different tectonic plate," with
different plants and animals than you’ll see a couple
led me through the old lifeboat station with its
scarlet-red roof, edging Drakes Bay in the shadow of
Chimney Rock. In 1927 this facility replaced an earlier
lifeboat station that operated in the late 19th century on
the ocean-beach side of the point, the site of many
mishaps caused by wind and pounding surf. Drakes Bay was a
more protected location, where a 36-foot motorized
lifeboat was launched on a long marine railway. The
station closed in 1968 after improved navigation reduced
the number of shipwrecks.
participants in overnight field trips can sleep in bunks
in rooms with creaking wooden floors, some of the original
old signage such as "Radio Room," and old paned
windows looking out on spectacular saltwater views.
a walk on the park’s Earthquake Trail for some education
about California’s shaky ground. A line of blue posts at
one point delineates where the earth split open along the
path of the San Andreas in the famous 1906 earthquake.
is where the Pacific and North American continental plates
meet. The Point Reyes peninsula rides on the eastern ridge
of the Pacific Plate, which advances northwestward. That’s
why rocks of this craggy coast match rocks in the
Tehachapi Mountains, more than 310 miles to the south.
don’t wait too long to visit, or Point Reyes will end up
in Alaska, fans of tectonics like to say.
Reyes National Seashore
Reyes is about 30 miles north of San Francisco on Highway
and field studies
Reyes National Seashore Association’s Field Institute
offers classes and outings year-round. A sampling of
upcoming offerings, with nonmember costs:
the Natural Wonders of Point Reyes, Nov. 4-6, $320,
including accommodations at Historic Lifeboat Station.
Reyes Waterbirds, field studies, Nov. 11-13, $180,
including accommodations at Clem Miller Environmental
Autumn, colored-pencil art workshop, Nov. 19, $100.
Shower Kayak Adventure, on Tomales Bay, Nov. 19, $130.
Camp at Point Reyes National Seashore, guided outings,
Nov. 25-27, $200, accommodations included.
Print Holiday Cards, workshop to carve and print with a
simple woodblock inspired by nature, Dec. 3, $90.
Caves & Hidden Beaches, guided walk, Dec. 11, $60.
rooms for three or fewer guests start at $105/night at HI
Point Reyes, the Hostelling International hostel inside
the park. Dorm beds are $14-$35. norcalhostels.org/reyes
Reyes National Seashore: nps.gov/pore
Reyes National Seashore Association: ptreyes.org