What I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Point Reyes National Seashore


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Point Reyes National Seashore, along the California coast, offers rugged cliffs, rolling hills, and pristine beaches.

My sister and I stumbled upon this gem during our 2023 Pacific Coast Highway road trip.

As a kid, my dad loved road trips—from San Diego to San Francisco only.

Meanwhile, my mom’s frequent “Are we there yet?” questions revealed her dislike for them, and eventually we ended them at my mother’s request.

After exploring this enchanting seashore, I realized a little preparation would have enhanced our adventure.

In this post, I’ll share insights to help you make the most of your visit for those interested in visiting this place. 


Point Reyes National Seashore Directions

Seal Lion Overlook at Point Reyes National Seashore.

The journey from downtown San Francisco to Point Reyes National Seashore was approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes for my sister and me when we first visited this place.

According to Google Maps, it was about 36 miles away.

To get to Point Reyes National Seashore from downtown San Francisco, you can take two main routes:

US-101 to Sir Francis Drake Blvd:

This route involves taking US-101 North and then exiting onto Sir Francis Drake Blvd in Marin County.

Follow Sir Francis Drake Blvd westward through the towns of Larkspur, Fairfax, and San Anselmo, and continue until you reach the Point Reyes area.

I-580 W to Sir Francis Drake Blvd:

If you’re starting from the eastern part of San Francisco or the East Bay, you can take I-580 West.

From here cross the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and then continue on Sir Francis Drake Blvd to reach Point Reyes.

The shortest route for us was going through the US-101.

This route offers stunning coastal views as it winds along the Pacific shoreline.

We passed many little towns we’d never heard of along the way.

Tips We Want to Share from Our Experience:

Go by Car:

The best way to explore this national park is by car. Having your vehicle allows you to access various points of interest and enjoy scenic drives.

We rented a car using DiscoverCars for this trip, and we’ve used their services several times in the past – without having any issues.

If you’re interested in learning more about DiscoverCars, check out our Resources Page.

Fill Up Your Car:

Driving along the roads of Point Reyes.

Before you head to Point Reyes National Seashore, make sure to fill up your car with gas.

There are no gas stations within the park, so it’s essential to be prepared.

Be Aware of the Reception:

When my sister and I explored Point Reyes National Seashore for the first time, we encountered limited cell reception at certain times.

This includes the drive from San Francisco downtown via US101 to reach the national park.

A similar experience while visiting Big Sur for the first time – except Big Sur was no reception at all in that area!

To navigate effectively, we recommend downloading Google Maps ahead of time – we explain this in our Big Sur visit.

Warm Clothes:

Even during the day, the coastal weather can be foggy, windy, and chilly. Pack a jacket or long sleeves to stay comfortable.

Comfortable Shoes:

You’ll be doing some walking, so comfortable shoes are a must. Whether you’re hiking the trails or strolling along the beach, good footwear ensures an enjoyable experience.

Hydration and Snacks:

Keep yourself energized with water and snacks. Exploring the natural wonders of Point Reyes can work up an appetite, and having provisions on hand is essential.

Don’t be caught off-guard like many others. Equip yourself with our Top Favorite 5 Essential Beach Must-Haves and avoid common beach pitfalls! 🏖️🌞🌊

1. YETI Wheeled Cooler: Keep your drinks and snacks chilled under the sun.

2. Kelty Tent: Seek refuge from the sun with a lightweight, easy-to-set-up beach tent.

3. BeachBub Umbrella: Stay cool and protected with a durable, stylish UPF beach umbrella.

4. Trailhead Chair: Sit back and relax with a comfortable and sturdy beach chair.

5. CGear Sand-Free Mat Sand Blanket: Keep the sand at bay and stay comfortable with a sand-resistant blanket.

Where to Stay While Visiting

When planning a visit to Point Reyes National Seashore, it’s important to consider your accommodation options.

The park itself offers several campgrounds for those who enjoy camping and wish to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the area.

However, if you hate camping you’re in luck for there are a few accommodations inside this park that we noticed.

Tips We Want to Share from Our Experience:


Camping is only allowed at four designated campgrounds within the park: Coast, Glen, Sky, and Wildcat.

You need to obtain a permit before you can camp, which can be booked through the Recreation.gov site.


For those who prefer more traditional accommodations, there are a few hotels located just outside the park.

Options include the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore and Limantour Lodge, which offer comfortable lodging and easy access to the park’s attractions.

Point Reyes National Seashore Parking

Parking lot in North Beach at Point Reyes.

Parking at Point Reyes National Seashore is generally available at various spots throughout the area, including the visitor center, beaches, and trailheads.

When my sister and I first visited, we found ample parking at most locations.

However, some spots can be more challenging, especially at popular destinations like the Point Reyes Lighthouse.

Due to its popularity, the lighthouse parking was crowded, and we had to park on the side of the street.

It’s important to be cautious in these situations, as cars are constantly passing by.

This reminded us of our experience at Bixby Creek Bridge, where everyone was parking on the sides of the road.

The heavy overcast made it difficult to see, so we had to be extra careful when crossing the street.

Tips We Want to Share from Our Experience:

Arrive Early:

To secure a parking space, especially at popular spots like the Point Reyes Lighthouse, it’s best to arrive early in the day.

Drive Slow:

While navigating through the national park, drive slowly to ensure the safety of wildlife crossing the roads, pedestrians, and other vehicles.

Be Cautious in Foggy Conditions:

The weather can be unpredictable, with fog often reducing visibility. Extra caution is advised when driving in these conditions to prevent accidents.

Things to See: Visitor Center(s), Point Reyes Lighthouse, etc.

Bear Valley Visitor Center at Point Reyes.

Point Reyes National Seashore offers a wealth of experiences for visitors.

Here are some highlights and things we did and recommend to make the most of your visit:

Visitor center(s)

There are 3 visitor centers at this national park: Bear Valley Visitor Center, Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center, and Lighthouse Visitor Center.

My sister and I visited all 3:

Bear Valley Visitor Center:

Jeanette at the Bear Valley Visitor Center at Point Reyes National Seashore.

If you’re visiting then the first place worth checking out is this one!

Here you can find bathrooms, picnic tables, camping, pay phone, as well as visitor center staff who can guide you in planning your visit.

We had a lovely lady named Sharon who volunteers here and gave us a map of Point Reyes National Seashore and recommended the top things to explore.

We also got to learn about the history of this place with there exhibits located inside the place.

You learn about the Native American culture that used to live here and the wildlife that makes this place what it is today.

Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center:

Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center at Point Reyes.

The Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center is located on Drakes Beach.

This visitor center was named after park ranger Kenneth C. Park who was killed while working at Point Reyes National Seashore.

When my sister and I first arrived here it was, unfortunately, closed.

They had closed by 3 pm, and we got there at 4 pm.

Memorial rock of Kenneth C. Patrick at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Looking through the window you could see they had a little snack shop with a few snacks you could buy as well as a bookstore.

Restrooms were located here with an outdoor shower along with picnic tables.

Lighthouse Visitor Center:

Lighthouse Visitor Center at Point Reyes National Seashore.

This place is a smaller visitor center than Bear Valley Visitor Center, but very popular due to its location next to the Point Reyes Lighthouse.

This place is closed from Tuesday to Thursday.

Here you will find restrooms, exhibits of the history of the Point Reyes Lighthouse, visitor center staff, a small shop that has books on the history of this place, and breathtaking views from this visitor center.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Jeanette walking down the Lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse, perched on a rugged cliff at the westernmost point of Point Reyes National Seashore, is an iconic beacon with a rich history.

My sister and I learned from reading the placards located inside that it was built in 1870 and played a crucial role in guiding ships navigating the treacherous waters off the California coast.

The keepers of this lighthouse often led solitary lives, and we were fascinated to discover that women also played a significant role in its history.

Lighthouse at Point Reyes.

To reach the lighthouse, visitors must descend about 300 steps from the Lighthouse Visitor Center, a journey that offers breathtaking views and a sense of the isolation experienced by its keepers.

There was a park ranger present when we visited that was answering questions.

Tips We Want to Share from Our Experience:


The Point Reyes Lighthouse is not wheelchair accessible. The steep descent of over 300 steps to reach the lighthouse can be challenging for those with mobility issues.

Additionally, there is only one entrance and exit, so visitors must be prepared to climb back up the same way.


The coastal fog at Point Reyes can be unpredictable and may obscure views of the ocean.

When my sister and I first explored this place, a park ranger informed us that we were fortunate to arrive around 3 pm, as the fog had cleared and the sun was shining brightly.

Earlier in the morning, visibility was limited due to the fog.


McClures Beach at Point Reyes.

Point Reyes National Seashore boasts many unique beaches, each with its charm.

During our visit, my sister and I didn’t get the chance to explore all of them since we only went for the day, but we did get to see a few.

We caught a glimpse of Drakes Beach, located near the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center, where we were thrilled to spot a northern elephant seal.

We also had the opportunity to visit McClures Beach and Limantour Beach.

Tips We Want to Share from Our Experience:

High Tides:

Most of the beaches we visited had strong waves coming in.

The few people at the beach were not swimming, and for good reason.

Most were instead sitting and enjoying the scenery.

No Lifeguard Presence:

There are no lifeguards present at these beaches, so please be cautious and avoid swimming alone.

Drakes Beach at Point Reyes.


If you’re lucky, you can spot wildlife at these beaches. Keep an eye out for sea lions, birds, and other marine life.

Limited Amenities:

Some beaches have a few amenities, such as restrooms and picnic tables, which are typically found near the beach parking lot.

Point Reyes National Seashore trails

Chimney Rock Trailhead at Point Reyes.

Point Reyes National Seashore boasts over 150 miles of trails worth exploring, offering hikers a chance to immerse themselves in diverse landscapes, from coastal bluffs to dense forests.

Unfortunately, my sister and I only had limited time to visit this beautiful area, so we could only hike a few of the trails.

Among them, the Bear Valley Trail stood out with its gentle terrain and lush surroundings, leading to the stunning Arch Rock.

Tomales Point Trailhead at Point Reyes.

The Tomales Point Trail was another highlight, offering breathtaking views of the ocean and a chance to see the majestic Tule Elk.

Despite our time constraints, the trails we explored left us with unforgettable memories and a longing to return and discover more of Point Reyes’ natural wonders.

Tips We Want to Share from Our Experience:

Trail Types:

Be prepared for different types of trails, from easy walks to more challenging hikes.

Wear the Right Attire:

Comfortable shoes are essential for hiking. Ensure your footwear provides good support and traction.

Pack Well:

Bring plenty of water and protein snacks, as there are no food places on the trails.


Some trails allow pets, but make sure you bring water and food for them as well.


Northern Elephant Seal at Point Reyes.

Point Reyes National Seashore is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, offering a diverse array of habitats that support a wide range of animal species.

One of the most iconic residents is the Tule elk, which can be spotted roaming the grasslands and hills, especially in the Tomales Point area.

(Quick Story, as my sister and I were standing overlooking the shore, a large Elephant seal swam up to shore a few feet from us. Of course, with nature, it’s important to give them space. Especially after seeing a sign that says one should maintain the distance of a car away from them. We slowly backed away, but this elephant seal continued to swim near the shore.)

One thing to note is that if you do encounter an elephant seal, know that they can be aggressive and give them their space.

The seashore is also a prime spot for birdwatching, with over 490 bird species recorded, including the majestic Peregrine falcon and the colorful Western bluebird – we learned at the Bear Valley Visitor Center.

Tule Elk found at Point Reyes.

Marine life is abundant along this coastline, you might catch glimpses of harbor seals basking on the beaches, gray whales migrating offshore, and sea lions frolicking in the waves.

The area’s rich biodiversity extends to its forests and meadows, home to black-tailed deer, coyotes, and a variety of small mammals and reptiles.

The diverse wildlife at Point Reyes National Seashore makes every visit a unique and exciting adventure.

Tips We Want to Share from Our Experience:

Respect Wildlife:

Please maintain a safe distance from animals and do not approach them. Observing wildlife from a distance ensures their safety and yours.

Pick Up After Yourself:

Leave no trace behind. Carry out all trash and dispose of it in designated bins to keep the park clean and protect the wildlife.

Don’t Feed Wildlife:

Feeding wildlife can harm their health and disrupt their natural behaviors. It’s important to let animals fend for themselves to maintain the balance of the ecosystem.


Point Reyes Park sign.

What is so Special about Point Reyes?

Point Reyes National Seashore is renowned for its stunning landscapes, including rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and lush forests.

It’s a haven for wildlife, with opportunities to see elephant seals, tule elk, and an array of bird species.

The area is also rich in history, with the iconic Point Reyes Lighthouse and evidence of Native American habitation.

How much time do you need at Point Reyes National Seashore?

To fully appreciate the beauty and diversity of Point Reyes, it’s recommended to spend at least a full day exploring.

However, if you’re interested in hiking, wildlife watching, or visiting multiple beaches, two or more days would allow for a more relaxed and thorough experience.

Is Point Reyes crowded?

Crowd levels at Point Reyes can vary depending on the time of year and weather conditions.

Weekends and holidays during the warmer months tend to be busier.

To avoid crowds, consider visiting on weekdays or during the off-season.

Can I take my dog to Point Reyes?

People walking in North Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Dogs are allowed in certain areas of Point Reyes National Seashore, such as Kehoe Beach, Limantour Beach, and some trails.

However, they must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times.

It’s important to check the park’s regulations and designated dog-friendly areas before your visit.

Why is Point Reyes closed?

Parts of Point Reyes are temporarily closed due to annual elephant seal colony closures, which are in effect until March 31.

Areas such as parts of Drakes Beach, the Fish Dock area, beaches around Chimney Rock, and the south end of South Beach are closed to all entry during the elephant seal pupping season to protect the seals and their pups.


Famous attraction Cypress Tunnel Trees at Point Reyes.

In conclusion, Point Reyes National Seashore is a remarkable destination that offers a wealth of natural beauty, wildlife, and outdoor activities.

From the majestic Point Reyes Lighthouse to the secluded beaches and diverse hiking trails, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Whether you’re camping under the stars or staying in a nearby hotel, the memories you make at this coastal gem will last a lifetime.

The biggest regret we have is not being able to spend more than 1 day here.

However, having visited this place my sister and I both have a deeper appreciation for the great outdoors and a desire to return and explore more of its hidden treasures.

For those planning a visit, I hope our tips and experiences help you make the most of your adventure in this stunning corner of California.


Jess & Jeanette

Jess and Jeanette, two sisters who founded Unseen Beaches, were inspired by their family’s beach vacations while growing up.

Their passion lies in guiding you toward the most remarkable beach destinations across the U.S., while also protecting and preserving these beautiful coastal treasures! 🌊❤️

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Don’t be caught off-guard like many others. Equip yourself with our Top Favorite 5 Essential Beach Must-Haves and avoid common beach pitfalls! 🏖️🌞🌊

1. YETI Wheeled Cooler: Keep your drinks and snacks chilled under the sun.

2. Kelty Tent: Seek refuge from the sun with a lightweight, easy-to-set-up beach tent.

3. BeachBub Umbrella: Stay cool and protected with a durable, stylish UPF beach umbrella.

4. Trailhead Chair: Sit back and relax with a comfortable and sturdy beach chair.

5. CGear Sand-Free Mat Sand Blanket: Keep the sand at bay and stay comfortable with a sand-resistant blanket.

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