Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tule Elk Preserve in Point Reyes National Seashore

Do you have a happy place? For me, a happy place is somewhere that slows me down, where I am so happy in the moment that I am not thinking about what comes next or sticking to a schedule. It's also a place that I can think back to when I am in the midst of everyday life and it gives me that same sense of peace. While some of my happy places are not so easily attainable, like a rooftop deck in Sorrento, Italy where we vacationed years ago, or lounging in Vondelpark in Amsterdam, there are others that are closer to home like a trip to Point Reyes National Seashore. Visiting this area is like one giant deep breath for me. Even the kids, who are normally very happy, seem to become extra giddy on our trips.

There are so many things to do in this area that I feel like I could visit a dozen more times and still have new beaches to explore, hikes to take and food to eat! With that said, one constant with all our trips so far has been to start our day off at The Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station. The kids love their massive pastries and whether it's the fresh air or the fresh coffee, I can't get enough of the small open space next to the bakery. We usually settle in on this large bench made from a giant log and the kids eat their food while running around the picnic area. Despite there not being any play structures, swings or toys in this small outdoor space, the kids could entertain themselves for hours if we let them.

This is her new "go-to" face when she knows I'm taking a picture.
On our most recent visit, they had a small farm stand set up with pumpkins, tomatoes, strawberries and fresh herbs that you pay for on the honor system.

That is the look of someone who just realized she can reach the tomatoes and strawberries. Explaining that these weren't samples for her to consume was a task!

After our visit to the bakery, we walked the two blocks of shops, stopping in at Toby's Feed Barn for some honey sticks (a favorite for the kids), perusing the stalls at the Farmer's Market, and making a quick stop at Coyuchi.

The Farmers Market is open seasonally on Saturdays. Check hours here.
Coyuchi is an organic textiles company, based in Berkeley, with this lovely outlet/retail store in Point Reyes Station.

After our leisurely morning, we hopped back in the car and headed to the Tule Elk Preserve. The drive is about 30 minutes from Point Reyes Station and weaves through the National Seashore, passing by dairy farms and giving you occasional glimpses of the ocean. The kids enjoyed the drive since there were a lot of cows and horses to spot along the way. We had been preparing the kids for our Elk spotting adventure for the week leading up to our trip, so I was a little nervous that we might not spot any! Thankfully, we saw a huge heard of them along the roadside before we even got to the hike! We pulled over and I made sure the kids got a good look at them on the off chance that we didn't see any more during the day.

A short drive down the road we found ourselves in the parking lot of the Pierce Point Ranch, which is also the trail head to the Tomales Point Trail. On weekends from August through October, there are docents at both the Tomales Point trailhead and at Windy Gap (about 1 mile into the trail) that are available to answer any questions you might have about the Tule Elk. Before setting out on our hike, we took some time to explore the Ranch. It was actually a bit difficult to pull the kids away from the old barn when it was time to get moving!

As is the case with most of the Northern California Coastline, this area is known for being blanketed in fog. While this limits the amazing views of the ocean and rugged cliffs, it felt particularly adventurous to be walking in the clouds. Another bonus was our kids continually reminding us how "soggy" it was.

We hiked the first mile of the trail which led us to Windy Gap, where there was another group of docents to answer questions. They quickly engaged the kids with Elk horns they had for display and binoculars to view a herd of elk that were down below in the valley. These elk were considerably further away than the ones we had seen on the drive in, so the kids weren't able to spot them, but they still enjoyed the binoculars!

From here, we opted to turn back since we didn't have any carriers for the kids and everyone was growing hungry. On our walk back, the fog began to burn off a little, and we got a glimpse of the beaches and coastline below. It was beautiful with the fog, so I can only imagine what it must look like on a clear day.

We took one last tour of the Pierce Point Farm on our way back to the car.

Stay tuned for part two of our trip: Cabin Camping at Samuel Taylor State Park!

Interested in exploring more of the Point Reyes National Seashore? Here are some links to some of our favorite day trips in the area.

A short hike to Abbott's Lagoon and an afternoon at Limantour Beach.

What are your favorite places to explore in the area? 
Please share in the comments.

Details: Point Reyes Station is about an hours drive from Berkeley and the Tule Elk Preserve is another 30 minutes down the road. Admission to the Tule Elk Preserve is free. Pastries at Bovine Bakery are around $3, and coffee is around $2.50 with a free refill during your visit.