Whales, Tule Elk, Elephant Seals and Sir Francis Drake; it’s Pt. Reyes National Seashore!

Shoreline surf from Pt, Reyes National Seashore looks north towards Bodega Bay and Jenner.

Elephant seal snoozes at Drake’s Bay, oblivious to beach-walkers; such animals can reach 2,000 lbs.
Drake’s Bay, looking west, is the point where Sir Francis Drake beached his ship, Golden Hine in 1579 for more than a month for repair and re-provisioning, while claiming the land for Queen Elizabeth
Pt. Reyes lighthouse looks west to an azure Pacific Ocean

Where can you watch whales, tour a spectacular lighthouse on the Pacific, see Tule Elk and elephant seals and walk the beach where Sir Francis Drake claimed California in 1579 for Queen Elizabeth – just three hours from Stockton?  It’s Pt. Reyes National Seashore, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge!

Sir Francis Drake sailed into the gorgeous, wind-swept bay named for him on June 17, 1579.  He had risen from poverty to become a hero in the English courts by piloting ships and raiding the Spanish colonies in the 1560s, plundering gold and riches beyond imagination. He became a favorite in the court of Queen Elizabeth.

Drake set sail in December, 1577 with a fleet of five small ships from Plymouth, England. He sailed across the Atlantic and around the Horn of South America and turned north up the Pacific Coast.  He lost all of his ships except the Golden Hind.

Sailing north along the South and Central-American coasts, he captured riches of huge value. One ship, the Cacafuego, carried 26 tons of silver, chest of silver coins and 80 pounds of gold – more value than Queen Elizabeth  would earn in a full year’s tax revenues.

With his ship leaking and overloaded, Drake turned south and landed at Drake’s Bay on June 17, 1579, where he would remain for 36 days patching and re-provisioning his ship.  After a number of friendly interactions with the Coast Miwok Native Americans, Drake set sail for the two month trip across the Pacific, returning to England almost three years after the beginning of his world voyage.

We found Drake’s Bay along the southern shore of the long peninsula which is the Pt. Reyes National Seashore.   It’s a three hour drive from Stockton, but well worth the spectacular vistas that await the inveterate traveler.  We stopped first at Drake’s Bay’s informative visitor center and Just down the beach we happened upon a huge northern elephant seal, snoozing and paying no attention to our presence.  These animals reach a length of 12 feet and upwards of 2000 pounds!

We continued further west along the Point Reyes Peninsula, eventually reaching the Point Reyes lighthouse at the very tip of the peninsula.  Open for tours (though closed Tuesdays through Thursdays), the lighthouse offers incredible views in three directions.  Looking south, one can see the Farallon Islands through the sea haze, about 20 miles away.  In late February through mid-March, whales can be spotted just off the lighthouse point.

From the lighthouse we backtracked to the town of Point Reyes Station, passing historic farms that date back to 1859, set amidst green rolling hills and stunning shoreline views. The wind was howling that day, but sunshine and blue skies made for a tremendously rewarding trip. Bring binoculars – we saw numerous coastal deer and Tule elk along the drive on these bucolic roads.  The Drakes Bay Oyster Company is along this highway, a place to buy oysters at a very reasonable price.

We stopped at Point Reyes Station for lunch and were headed to the highly-touted Butcher Shop Restaurant, known for its goat burgers and other interesting fare. We found it closed on Wednesday, so we made our way to the Pinecone Café, where I had a delicious fried oyster sandwich!  This is a cute little town, worth the three block walk along its historic storefronts.

How to get there: From Stockton, we drove I-5 North to Lodi and went west on Hwy 12; then west on I-80, then northwest on I-580 to San Rafael; south on Hwy 101 and west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.  It’s about three hours from Stockton.

What’s nearby: The towns of Pt. Reyes Station and Inverness are quaint and very walkable.  Mt. Tamalpais State Park is close-by, and offers campgrounds and many hiking options, along with fantastic views of both Pt. Reyes and the San Francisco Bay.  San Rafael is the nearest large city.

Where to stay: Pt. Reyes National Seashore offers a host of year-round backcountry campsites, some of which can be accessed by mountain bikes.  The only lodging within the National Seashore is the Pt. Reyes Hostel. The nearest campground for mobile campers is privately-owned Olema Campground,  415-663-8106.  The surrounding communities have a host of motel, hotel and bed and breakfast accommodations.  These same towns have many restaurants, delicatessens, bakeries, grocery stores and other places to get food in the surrounding communities.

What to bring: Binoculars and camera, of course.  Since the wind frequently blows, bring warm clothing and a wind-breaker.  And, a rain-coat should ocean squalls roll in!

For more information: The National Park Service’s fine web site offers a wealth of information on the park, hiking, camping, lodging and more: http://www.nps.gov/pore/.

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