Journey to Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes National Seashore for an exciting day or weekend trip!
Where can you see Elephant seals, Tule elk, watch whales, stroll the beach where Sir Francis Drake claimed California for Queen Elizabeth in 1579, tour a spectacular Pacific lighthouse and gorge on freshly shucked oysters – all just 2 1/2 hours from Stockton? It’s Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes National Seashore!
Explorer Drake set sail in December, 1577 with a fleet of five small ships from Plymouth, England, sailing across the Atlantic and around the Horn of South America, turning north up the Pacific coast. Along the way he plundered riches of immense value; one captured ship, the Cacafuego, curried 26 tons of silver, a chest of silver coins and 80 pounds of gold – more value than Queen Elizabeth would earn in a full year of tax revenues. He lost all of his ships except the Golden Hind, which he sailed into the gorgeous, windswept bay named for him.
With his ship overloaded and leaking, Drake landed at Drake’s Bay on June 17, 1579, where he would remain for 36 days re-provisioning and repairing his ship. After 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.
To reach Drakes Bay, we first passed the lovely southern reaches of Tomales Bay, a long narrow estuary framed by Marin County and Hwy. 1 on the east and Point Reyes on the west. Drakes Bay lies along the southern shore of the long peninsula which is the Pt. Reyes National Seashore, with the final half-hour snaking along scenic roads lined with views of the ocean. Stop first at the Drake’s Bay’s Visitor Center; 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!
Continuing further west along the Point Reyes Peninsula will take you to the Point Reyes Lighthouse at the very tip of the peninsula, open Fridays through Mondays, 10 AM to 4 PM. The lighthouse offers incredible views over 270 degrees; looking southwest, one can see the Farallon Islands through the sea haze, about 20 miles away. In February through March, whales can be spotted just off the lighthouse point.
For a late lunch, we backtracked to the town of Point Reyes Station, passing historic farms that date 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.
In Point Reyes Station we made our way to the Pine Cone Diner, where fried oyster sandwich and shell fish dishes are highlights! The Osteria Stellina, 11285 Hwy. 1, Pt. Reyes Station, is a highly-rated Italian restaurant for pastas, shell fish, salads and fine wines. This cute little town is just right for a four block walk along its historic streets with shops and galleries.
Tomales Bay is one of the highlights of the trip; fishermen return to the bay in late morning to early afternoon loaded with freshly-farmed, live oysters, with diners eagerly awaiting a world-class feast. Several oyster farms offer a hands-on experience, and the little town of Marshall on Hwy. 1 offers more traditional indoor-dining experiences like next Nick’s Cove and the Marshall Store.
Tomales Bay Oyster Farm, 15479 Highway 1, Marshall, (415) 663–1243, allows visitors to tour the operation and buy oysters raised there. Take your fresh oysters to nearby parks like Tomales Bay State Park, a marvelous place to dine on raw or grilled oysters and admire the late afternoon sun’s hues on the waterfront. The Hog Island Oyster Farm, 20215 Shoreline Hwy., Marshall, (415) 663–9218, offers diners an outdoor oyster restaurant with raw and barbecued oysters along with snacks like bread and cheese and libation. Oysters and shellfish can be bought at the restaurant, and outdoor grills allow diners to barbecue their own dinner. It’s a popular place, reservations recommended.
How to get there: From Stockton, we took 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. Pt. Reyes Station is about 2.5 hours from Stockton.
Where to stay: Pt. Reyes National Seashore offers a host of year-round backcountry campsites; Tomales Bay State Park and Mt. Tamalpais State Park are close-by, offering campgrounds. The only lodging within the National Seashore is the Pt. Reyes Hostel, (415) 663-8811. The nearest campground for mobile campers is privately-owned Olema Campground, (415) 663-8106 and communities like San Rafael and Petaluma have a host of motel and bed and breakfast accommodations.
What to bring: Binoculars and camera, of course. Since the wind frequently blows, bring warm clothing, a wind-breaker and a rain-coat should ocean squalls roll in!
For more information: Pt. Reyes National Seashore, the National Park Service’s web site offers a wealth of information on the park, hiking, camping, lodging and more: nps.gov/pore/, (415) 464-5100; for Marin County, visitmarin.org; (866) 925-2060.