What’s Best: A narrow, pastoral peninsula separating the bay from the ocean roamed by elk and carpeted with flowers that ends at a wild seascape; or a big beach walled in by cliffs that greet monster waves.
Parking: From Hwy. 1 between Pt. Reyes Station and Olema, turn west on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Continue through Inverness and veer right on Pierce Point Rd. Continue about 8 ml. to road’s end, about 3 ml. beyond Kehoe Beach. Agency: Point Reyes National Seashore
Tomales Point is the peninsula’s northernmost finger of land, ever-narrowing and descending toward sea level. You start out on grasslands about 1.5 miles across and 400-feet high, and wind up at Tomales Bluff, a pointed land’s end that is just above the surf spray. To the west is the Pacific and to the east is Tomales Bay, with the San Andreas Fault running under its shallow, 12-mile long waters separating two continental plates. If an earthquake like the ’06 happens when you’re on the bluff, then the Pacific plate upon which you stand will become the prow of a tectonic ship, motoring forward perhaps 20 feet up the shoreline.
TOMALES POINT MAP SAN FRANCISCO Photo Gallery
For the Tomales Point Trail hikes, start out just to the left of white-washed Pierce Point Ranch, contouring left around the highest hills of the point. At the outset, views of Driftwood Beach will be down to your left. The trail then descends into Windy Gap, a deep crease in the peninsula hosting a cypress grove. Heading inland at the gap, White Gulch leads to an inlet on the bay, where offshore you’ll see little Hog Island. All around this area is the Tule Elk Range supporting a healthy herd of these large animals, thousands of whom once roamed Point Reyes.
Tomales Point Trail at Pierce Point Ranch
The trail winds up from Windy Gap, and then descends again for another 2-plus miles to Tomales Bluff. This northern tip is where you’ll find some of the 860 species of wildflowers that grow in the park. One sandy portion of the trail goes through a field of lupine, bushlike and over knee-high. Offshore of the Pacific side, about .75-mile from trail’s end, is guano-hued Bird Rock. Overhead, keep an eye out, mostly during fall and winter, for owls, peregrine falcons, and hawks. At Tomales Bluff, the trail drops down to sandstone perches, and you’re most likely to see pelicans and other shorebirds. In the frothing, clear water you may spot a harbor seal or sea lion. Offshore, in the winter and spring, look for spouting whales. The trail to McClures Beach and Elephant Rock begins to the left, downhill from the parking area, dropping 300 feet through a ravine. This is perhaps Marin’s most ruggedly scenic beach. McClures is a former county park, donated in 1942 by Margaret McClure. After a little more than .5-mile, you reach the wide cove, framed by tall cliffs. To the right, or north of McClures, an unsafe trail leads over a point to wild Driftwood Beach. To the left, where the sand gives way to cliffs, a trail leads up a rocky spur to a view of Elephant Rock, where wave-foam erupts with the cannon-shots of big combers hitting rocks. Be Aware: Watch your footing on the spur trail, narrow in places.
Walk: Pierce Point Ranch
Right next to trailhead parking are the white-washed barn, cottages, and former milking stations of historic Pierce Point Ranch spread out over grassy acres in the shade of cypress and eucalyptus trees. The ranch gives you a close-up of dairy life that began with the Spanish in the early 1800s and extends to today. Andrew Randall purchased most of the ranches on Point Reyes in 1852, but a creditor shot him four years later. The lands went into litigation, eventually winding up in the hands of attorneys, the Shafter brothers, who divided the lands into tenant farms which they colorfully named Ranches A through Z. Point Reyes butter, carrying its “PR” stamp, was highly prized in early years of San Francisco, so much so that it was forged into inferior products, some of which were shipped from Chile and the East Coast. Some of today’s ranching families date back to the 1800s, including the folks at B Ranch, out near the lighthouse, in the hands of the Mendoza family.