Thursday, February 9, 2017

Point Reyes Lighthouse and Drakes Beach

I have mentioned in several blog posts that Point Reyes is my happy place. It is easily one of my favorite travel destinations in the Bay Area and I always feel a tremendous amount of calm and peace when we visit. The Point Reyes Lighthouse has been on my list for a while, but the additional 40 minutes of driving PAST Point Reyes Station has always seemed a bit intimidating to me. It just so happens that our holiday break coincided with the last day before the official tourism season started at the lighthouse, which was the additional push I needed to get moving! Visiting before the high season (or on a non-holiday Friday and Monday) means smaller crowds and you don't have to take a shuttle bus to the lighthouse (win, win!!!). 

Our first stop when heading to the area is always at Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station. They have great pastries, coffee and reasonable prices. There is also a lovely open area next to the bakery with picnic tables that no matter what the time of year, always seems to have sunlight shining on them. We planned ahead and brought a picnic lunch for the afternoon, but if you're looking for an easy lunch, Cowgirl Creamery is right around the corner and has a really nice prepared foods counter.

After breakfast we headed out to the lighthouse. One thing I have to say for all of the drives that we have taken in this area is that the kids are always exceptionally well behaved on them! The roads aren't too windy, they offer spectacular views of Tomales Bay, the Pacific Ocean and picturesque farmland with what must be some of the happiest cows in the world! Plus, if you ever buy Strauss dairy products you can say "Hey kids...those cows help make the ice cream we eat at home!" 

We arrived at the lighthouse around 11am and I definitely recommend getting there on the earlier side to get a good parking spot (there were far fewer spots available when we left less than two hours later). The Point Reyes Lighthouse is located on the western-most point of the Point Reyes Headlands. From the parking lot, there is a paved trail that is just under half a mile long that takes you to the stairs that lead down to the lighthouse. We immediately started spotting dozens of deer playing along the hillside below the path and even saw some elephant seals resting on the beach in the distance! 

I was a bit worried that the kids would have trouble with the steps, but they are very deep steps with a smaller than average rise to them, which made walking down them very easy. The pathway is protected on both sides by a chain link fence and there are several opportunities to pull off into viewing areas that are set up just off the main path. January through mid-April is prime whale watching time, so we were hoping to spot some whales during our visit. Thankfully we were not disappointed! Within just a few minutes of being down at the lighthouse we were able to spot a whale, and over the course of maybe 15 minutes, we saw several whales go by! It was a bit tough for our 3.5 year old to spot, but our 5.5 year old was able to catch a glimpse of the whales surfacing.

After a short visit we started the climb back up the steps. Every 10th stepped was stamped with a number, which made the climb sort of fun for our oldest who enjoyed looking for the numbers and reading them aloud as we passed. I was expecting my legs to be burning by the time we got to the top, but I actually found the walk up to be much easier than anticipated! I think the trick might be to keep your expectations low and then be pleasantly surprised! Bribing the kids with a small treat for making it to the top on their own also works well :)

The views on the walk up aren't bad!
Our next stop was just down the road at Drakes Beach. We got so incredibly lucky with the weather, seeing as it was late December and we had blue skies, very little wind and temperatures in the mid-60's! The beach itself is beautiful and there was plenty of room to spread out for a picnic, play with some beach toys and dab our toes in the extremely cold water. 

The views of the sandstone cliffs alone are enough to make this beach a memorable place to stop, but what really made our trip amazing was getting to see an elephant seal arrive! We have made a couple trips to see elephant seals along the California Coast, but those trips always involved walking to a spot that was already full of elephant seals. On our visit to Drake's Beach, we were throwing a frisbee around and enjoying the beautiful scenery when I saw this giant thing floating along with the current maybe 40 feet out from the waters edge. I yelled to my husband "What is that?!!!" and then we all watched as this massive elephant seal rode the waves onto the beach and slowly squirmed his way up onto the warm sand less than 100 feet from us. It was honestly one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Visitors are warned to keep their distance from the elephant seals that arrive on the beach and it just so happened that the fog was starting to roll in, so we packed up our belongings and cautiously made our way back to the car, stopping to admire this massive creature that was taking a nap on the beach. 

Another amazing trip to Point Reyes.

What are your favorite spots along the 
Point Reyes National Seashore?

Details: Point Reyes Station is about an hours drive from Berkeley and the lighthouse is an additional 40 minutes past Point Reyes Station (but I promise the drive isn't so bad, especially if you break it up with a stop in Point Reyes Station for food). Parking/admission is free if you visit the lighthouse during non-peak times. Check here for details of the shuttle and related fees for visiting during peak times from January through mid-April. My favorite family-friendly options for food in Pt. Reyes are Bovine Bakery and Cafe Reyes for take-out pizza (if you're being frugal) and Cowgirl Creamery if you were willing to splurge a bit more. When we are trying to keep costs down, we will also bring along our own food and maybe supplement with a side salad from Cowgirl or some pastries/treats from Bovine.


  1. These are beautiful photos! I love Point Reyes, too, although it's too far for me to get there very often. The first time we went, it was so windy that the lighthouse steps were closed. We admired the views but felt a little uneasy with my son, who was about 1.5 at the time, and the gusts of wind that kept blowing us on those cliffs. The last time we were there, we also spent a couple of hours at Drake's Beach in beautiful weather, and there was one huge elephant seal on the beach, just like in your photos! Maybe it's the same one! ;-)

    1. We overheard a guy talking about how nice the weather was on the day we visited and how it can often be extremely windy and cold! The elephant seal on the beach was SO cool! I hadn't expected it at all, so it made the experience so special. I guess I get proximity to Point Reyes and you get to be close to Lake Tahoe!! I'm always envious when I read about quick trips up to the lake from the Sacramento area. Sounds so nice!

  2. Please tell us what camera you use! I have been following your blog(and travelling with the kiddos because of it,thanks!!!!).

    1. I'm so glad to hear that the blog has inspired you to travel with your kids!! I got a Sony a5000 a couple years back from Costco. I don't see it on their site right now, but I highly recommend their bundled packages if you are a member. They usually have some pretty deep discounts during the holidays (and i'm sure at various points throughout the year). I think I got mine for about half off and it came with two different lenses. I don't know much about cameras, and I know that a lot of serious photographers prefer Nikon and Canon, but I found the Sony to be less expensive and very user friendly. So a good camera if you are starting out like I was.