San Francisco has long been a top US tourist destination, with its celebrated food, architecture, nature, and cultural scenes. And while I love a visit to the Golden Gate City, what I love even more is crossing the bridge and heading north along the rugged coastline to Point Reyes National Seashore. Travel just around 40 miles north of San Francisco, and you’re transported into an entirely different world—a world of beaches, wildlife, rolling hills, small towns, and seafood shacks.
I’ve been visiting Point Reyes and Marin County for years, usually in the slower winter months, and am continually surprised by it — in the best way. In fact, after visiting nearly every major US National Park and hundreds of National Park sites, it is always on my list of top recommendations for domestic travel. Here is what to do, where to stay, eat, and drink while you’re there:
WHAT TO DO AT POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE:
Walk Under The Insta-Famous Cypress Tree Tunnel
If you’ve been on Instagram lately, or… ever, you’ve undoubtedly seen a photo of the Cypress Tree Tunnel at Point Reyes. Arguably the most iconic spot in the park, the nearly 100-year-old Monterey Cypress tree tunnel is a must-stop photo opportunity.
After you grab some cool shots, be sure to walk the length of the tunnel to the historic Point Reyes Receiving Station and back – the road is closed to cars, so you can meander down the road at whatever pace you’d like. Parking is on the shoulder of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. I recommend visiting early or later in the day for the best light and hopefully fewer crowds.
Observe Elephant Seals at Drake’s Beach
If I’m being honest, I mainly keep returning to Point Reyes National Seashore in the winter months to observe elephant seals. While northern elephant seals can be found throughout the year on the Point Reyes coastlines, the peak season for activity is during the winter months when they arrive onshore for birthing and mating.
Drakes Beach is the main spot for observation, where you’ll find barricades and volunteer docents on hand to answer questions. Depending on where the colony settles and the time of year, the entire beach can be closed for some time (like this year — currently, you can only access the parking lot from 10 am to 4 pm and stay behind the barricades leading to the beach), and access can be limited. If that stymies you, head to the Elephant Seal Overlook for a view from above. Just don’t forget your binoculars.
Hike Or Backpack
With around 150 miles of hiking trails, Point Reyes has many options. From day hikes to backpacking routes, there is a trail for any experience level. The most popular trail is definitely the expansive Tomales Point Trail, which has breathtaking coastal views. Chimney Rock is a much shorter option with the same incredible views; just be sure to arrive early, as parking is limited.
Have A Relaxing Beach Day
With 80 miles of shoreline, Point Reyes National Seashore is an underrated California beach destination. While some beaches are unsuitable for swimming – with dangerous surf and low-temperature water, there are plenty of accessible spots to dip your toes in the warmer months or relax in the sand year-round. Hike into seven different beaches, with trails from 0.6 miles to Kehoe Beach to a five-mile trek to visit Kelham Beach.
The four most popular beaches are easily accessible by car – I prefer North Beach, for what it’s worth.
Visit The Point Reyes Lighthouse
The crown jewel of the National Seashore is undoubtedly the historic lighthouse. Built in 1870, the Point Reyes Lighthouse was constructed in response to the myriad shipwrecks along the treacherous coastline – there have been more than 70 to date.
Visitors can trek down 313 stairs to the lighthouse for a gorgeous, unobstructed ocean view, wildlife sightings, and an up-close look at the historic structure. Parking here is extremely limited, and the road is narrow, so plan ahead and get there early.
WHERE TO STAY:
Point Reyes has a bit of a reputation as a day-tripper destination from the Bay Area or a stop in a Highway 1 roadtrip – both of which are fantastic ideas. But there is something – for lack of a better word – magical about waking up in this peaceful part of the world without a commute. Unfortunately, the magic and non-commercialization of the area mean there aren’t many places to stay, and you definitely won’t find your favorite chain hotels.
That’s why I was more than excited to visit the new Lodge at Marconi, just down the road from Point Reyes National Seashore and overlooking Tomales Bay in Marshall.
Lodge at Marconi
Lodge at Marconi, within Marconi State Historic Park, just unveiled the beginning of its multi-million dollar renovation this fall, opening its 40 hotel rooms with plans for a restaurant, historic cottages, event spaces, spa, and wellness center all in the works.
The history of the Lodge at Marconi is as fascinating as the renovation is sleek. What began as a place for staff of The Marshall Receiving Station to stay, inventor Guglielmo Marconi – the “inventor of the radio” – commissioned the hotel and building on the property in 1913. After the military briefly took over the property, the rehab-turned-cult Synanon took over residency until 1984, when the state of California took ownership. The Oliver Hospitality group is now breathing new life into the historic property with amazing attention to detail, sleek ’70s-style design, and immaculate branding.
I stayed in a Deluxe King Loft room looking out over Tomales Bay, with one King bed and a twin up in the loft. The tall ceilings, earthy colors and textures, retro, unique design – and lack of TV – made it truly restful. I loved the outdoor fire pit in the heart of the property, where guests gathered each night, and the stylish lobby full of guests hanging out (a sure sign of a great hotel) when I enjoyed complimentary wine tasting after check-in.
The location here is unlike anything else you will find in this area — directly in the middle of the serene and otherworldly 62-acre Marconi State Historic Park. With hiking trails straight from your door, this property is truly unique and the definition of a respite.
WHERE TO EAT:
The Marshall Store
Blink, and you might miss this unassuming seafood shack on Tomales Bay, just a few miles up Highway 1 from Point Reyes National Seashore – but I recommend you don’t. The Marshall Store, named one of the 50 best restaurants in the United States by the New York Times in 2021, is the sort of place you’d hope to find in a quiet, coastal enclave.
Known for its oysters, the family restaurant has a large menu of tasty seafood, great views, and plenty of vibes. During my visit, I tried the daily special crab cakes cooked to perfection and generously portioned. They’re only open 11 am-4 pm Friday – Monday and Thursdays are raw oyster day from 11-3 – be sure to make it in time.
Just below Lodge at Marconi on Highway 1 lies Tony’s Seafood, a relaxed Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient on the shores of Tomales Bay. A part of Hog Island Oyster Co., Tony’s serves up oysters (of course) along with a varied menu of fresh seafood, sandwiches, and salads. I enjoyed fresh fish tacos and a glass of rosé with a bay view during my trip, where the service was friendly, and the crowd was lively.
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese
Point Reyes has a long history of dairy farming and is the site of some of the first large-scale dairy farms in the state of California. Farms dot the landscape in and outside the park, and opportunities to taste some of the best cheese in the United States are around every corner. The market at the woman-owned Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. is a pastoral stop, offering tastings and farm tours.
If you don’t want to dine in, grab some fresh cheese – I recommend TomaTruffle – and snacks to nosh on the gorgeous outdoor space looking out over Tomales Bay.
WHERE TO DRINK:
Heidrun Meadery in Point Reyes Station is a must-stop on your coastal travels. The meadery started in 1997 and is a staple in the area, serving various sparkling meads made in the traditional French Methode Champenoise style on a bucolic piece of property. With many of Heidrun’s mead varietals composed of honey from the beehives they maintain, their sparkling meads are unique and perfect to enjoy on the property or with some bottles from the farm store.
Point Reyes Vineyards
After spending the morning hiking and lounging on the beach, there is nothing quite as refreshing – to me, anyway – as a glass of wine enjoyed outside. Bonus points if the outside is a gorgeous rolling hillside vineyard and farm looking out over a cape. Point Reyes Vineyards hit all the boxes — plus great wine. The vineyard is a labor of love from a third-generation family that planted grapes in 1990 – the first commercial wine-tasting room in Marin since the 1930s.
The tasting room is eclectic and friendly, with many wines to taste, take home, or enjoy on the large patio.