About an hour and 15 minutes from Walnut Creek is Point Reyes. You take a winding road through Lucas Valley, a redwood grove, and a little town called Nicasio with a photogenic church and a local cheese stop. Eventually, you will weave your way to Point Reyes Station.
This is a great stopping point to explore the town of 500 with no free WIFI. Check out the Palace Market for picnic items or their swirl gelato ice cream cones. Before standing in line at the back of the meat counter, go to the cash register to pay for your ice cream, then get in line.
From there, head over to Point Reyes Peninsula, which is separated from the mainland by a narrow linear valley that includes Tomales Bay. This valley lies directly on the San Andreas Fault and the Peninsula rides on the eastern edge of the Pacific Plate. This area is what cause the 1906 Earthquake when the peninsula lurched 20 feet northwestward in less than a minute, compared to the average rate of yearly movement of about two inches.
Just past Inverness, we stopped by Tomales Bay State Park (no charge) and had a picnic on the beach while watching small sailboats in a regatta. Tomales Bay is a warmer and less windy spot to enjoy a warm day versus the wind, potential fog, and open face of the Pacific Ocean. Another beach on the bay is Heart’s Desire Beach, however, there are many to explore (some you drive to and some you walk in).
The next stop was the southwest end of the Peninsula, where you can find the lighthouse and visitor’s center. After parking, you get a breathtaking view of the 11 miles of Point Reyes Beach (also known as Great Beach). We even spied some blacktail deer eating along the hillside.
On this particular day, the fog swirled in and then slightly retreated. What would the Bay Area be without its famous fog? We took a leisurely stroll past cypress trees toward the visitor’s center. The lighthouse is then another 300 steps down. The observation platform gives you expansive views toward Stinson Beach and the Farallon Islands (unless, of course, there is fog – and then the foghorn will blare its warning).
The California Gold Rush transformed San Francisco, but navigating the currents, foggy conditions, jagged cliffs, and off-shore rocks of the California coastline for arriving ships was a daunting proposition. In 1853, the first lighthouse was constructed on Alcatraz Island. After the gold rush, Point Reyes became the chief supplier of dairy products and hogs to San Francisco, carried by schooners that sailed to the city from Tomales Bay and Drakes Estero.
As the importance of Point Reyes came to light, it still took more than 20 years and $100,000 to build this lighthouse, which began operation on December 1, 1870. During this time, about $1 million of shipping losses were sustained in the waters offshore of Point Reyes. It remained in operation until it was decommissioned in 1975 and was replaced by an automated beacon located in a separate building below the lighthouse, which was working loudly as a warning signal the day we explored the area.
The history and area are fascinating. I have been there three times now and there is still so much more to explore. There is a Tule Elk Reserve on the north side of the peninsula, Chimney Rock, where elephant seals breed and give birth in the winter, Abbott’s Lagoon, Bear Valley Visitor Center, hiking trails, and more hiking trails; not to mention Hog Island Oysters (see previous post), and the Cheese Trail.