Wintertime can be a warm, cozy time to cuddle up with a good book near a warm (only on good air quality day) fire but let’s be real, that’s more likely to happen in the book you are reading than on a rainy winter day in the Bay Area with an extremely active six year old in a small house. Sometimes you just want to get out into big, open spaces. There is something reassuring and, dare we say, magical about being out in vast landscapes where you feel the majesty of the world hit you like a hammer. One of our favorite places to go when that feeling rears up inside and nudges us is Pt Reyes. In an hour we are transported from the congested, though still beautiful, East Bay hills to a completely different world. One where all you see is the great Pacific Ocean and giant swaths of rocky coastline and hillsides stretching for miles. It’s the realm of tule elk, fox, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, elephant seals, dolphins, whales, raptors of all kinds…you get the idea. You become a very small piece of a much larger world.
While many people think of the ocean as a place to visit when the sun is burning high and bright in the sky, Pt Reyes’ character really comes to life on those misty, windswept days of winter…when the less hardy touristy types may be content with some Netflix on the couch. While there is an abundance of inspiration and optimism to be found when the greater Bay Area population takes to the trails to get their hiking on, the real allure of the rugged coastline where the North American plate and the Pacific plate do their geologic business lies in its feeling of isolation. There is a raw, elemental feel to the landscape that eludes heavier trafficked areas. As you get out further, the ability to slow down and tune into your senses gradually overtakes you and the wind feels a little more familiar, the Raven’s call a bit more mysterious. Glimpsing the vast ocean off the jagged cliffs feels akin to star gazing on a clear night… it becomes easy to appreciate our smallness in the great universe.
So, how do you get this great zen-like enlightenment, you ask? Well, grab a backpack, some rain gear, a few sandwiches and snacks, and head up (or down) Highway 101 to Sir Francis Drake and make your way out toward the Bear Valley Visitor Center. From there, the options are endless. Find a large variety of hikes for all levels here. One of our all time favorite hikes is an out and back on the Estero Trail to Sunset Beach (which is a bit like a marsh for the last .5 mi or so). You can get a map to the Estero trailhead by stopping at the visitor center, allow another 25 minutes drive time from the visitor center to the trailhead. There are a myriad of lengths to do on this trail so it’s easy to build in some spontaneity on the turnaround time if making it all the way to the ocean is not a high priority. In fact, we haven’t made it all the way back out to Sunset Beach since our now 6 year old was in a backpack (on another note, if you carry your child in a backpack, be sure to pack enough clothes for them to be sitting in the Patagonia-esque winds…speaking from a friend’s mistake). The main reason for this is the amount to see in the first few miles. After a 2 mile relatively easy hike, you are rewarded with an amazing view of Home Bay off a small bridge where a short pause for crab spotting is in order. Out beyond the rocky shoreline of the crab’s domain swim many, many bat rays and leopard sharks. It’s very common to spot the bat ray wings flapping out of the water. Leopard shark sightings are a bit more elusive and may require a kayaker’s perspective, which has the added visceral benefit of the sharks bumping against the kayak. Should you desire this more immersive experience, we highly recommend booking an outing with Blue Waters Kayaking. When not training your eyes on the water for the flapping of wings, be sure to look up into the treetops for a plethora of avian activity. According the nps.gov website, “Point Reyes National Seashore offers some of the finest birdwatching in the United States. More than 70,000 acres of habitat harbor an incredible variety of bird life. Nearly 490 avian species have been observed in the park and on adjacent waters.”
Lastly, what trip to the Pt Reyes area would be complete without a visit to one of many fine, local establishments. If skipping the sandwich making at home in exchange for an immersion in local cuisine is more your style, a day could easily be made from a stop at the Bovine Bakery for trail provisions and capping it off with a tasty burger, pork lard fries, brussel sprouts (trust us) and a beer at Marin Sun Farms. Happy hiking!