Bounded on three sides by more than 50 miles of bay and ocean frontage, the point of Point Reyes, described as hammer-headed—or wing-shaped—literally and figuratively sticks out and stands out from California’s fairly straight-trending coast north of San Francisco.
Point Reyes is a great place to conduct a time-motion study of the San Andreas Fault. Evidence of both slow- and fast-moving forces can be found at the national seashore. In fact, the peninsula is geologically separated from nearly all the rest of the continental U.S. by that fault zone.
Hike along the earthquake rift zone, tramp along creeks flowing through the peninsula’s fissures, and look down from the ridges at Olema Valley, the 1906 quake’s epicenter.
You’ll see wave-torn rocks on the craggy coast that match rocks in the Tehachapi Mountains more than 300 miles to the south. And many plants and shrubs found on the west side of the fault are pre- Ice Age relics not found on the east side.
Point Reyes is a haven for birds; the seashore makes Audubon magazine’s “Top Ten National Seashores” list. A diversity of habitats—seashore, forest, chaparral, and more—is one reason the bird count exceeds 430 species. Because Point Reyes thrusts 10 miles into the Pacific, it lures many winter migrants. Limantour and Drake esteros (estuaries) are resting and feeding areas for many species of shorebirds and waterfowl.
Other wildlife-watching opportunities abound. Hikers frequently spot black-tailed deer and a resident tule elk herd roams the Tomales Point area. The populations of non-native axis and fallow deer and the recommendation for their removal from the national seashore has generated much local controversy.
Migrating California gray whales travel by close to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Elephant seals have colonized the shores near Chimney Rock and harbor seals and sea lions haul-out on the peninsula’s isolated beaches.
Point Reyes also features Douglas fir forests and slopes dotted with Bishop pine. Spring wild¬flower displays are spectacular.
When British explorer Sir Francis Drake arrived on these shores in 1579, he must have felt right at home, considering Point Reyes’ resemblance to Britain’s shores. Long before—and after—European discovery, the native Coast Miwok lived well off the land’s bounty: elk, deer, fish, shellfish, acorns, berries and much more.
Since the 1850s, cows have grazed the lush grasses of the peninsula, and such dairy operations continue today. Butter produced here was particularly prized by San Francisco gourmands.
As early as the 1930s, the National Park Service worked to purchase Point Reyes and add it to the park system. The price tag for Depression-mired America was too steep at that time, and then World War II halted all park plans.
During the post-war housing boom of the 1950s, real estate developers sought to carve up the peninsula into golf courses, residential and commercial parcels. The park service, Marin conservationists, and concerned Californians rallied to the peninsula’s protection. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the bill establishing Point Reyes National Seashore.
The National Park Service is the steward of the 71, 028-acre national seashore. Because parts of the peninsula are commercially farmed, it has national seashore rather than national park status. NPS manages environmental impacts and visitor services for the peninsula, most of Tomales Bay and portions of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, such as Olema Valley, that border the national seashore.
Some 24,200 acres of the national seashore’s wildest terrain was designated wilderness in 1985.
Lands adjacent to the national seashore including Tomales Bay State Park and Marconi Conference Center. Point Reyes Bird Observatory and Audubon Canyon Ranch.