When you drive up to the main visitor center (Bear Valley Visitor Center) at Point Reyes National Seashore (CA), the first thing that will catch you eye is five large bottles, which are themselves filled with plastic bottles, sitting in a field:
These are part of an art project created by Richard James which he hopes nobody will enjoy. He created the plastic bottle art from the large amounts of trash that he has collected on the shores of Point Reyes National Seashore. The five 8 foot tall bottles that are filled with plastic bottles are just the plastic bottles James found during one year of collecting trash on the shores of Point Reyes. Not all people like the art, but it serves to show where many of the plastic bottles we use end up.
On the fence by the bottles is an explanation of the art:
In One year
One person collected these bottles
On the beaches of One national park: Point Reyes.
Most plastic in the ocean breaks into particles that contaminate the fish that eat them and us when we eat the fish.
Use One metal bottle.
I have a policy to always leave the National Parks I visit in better shape than when I arrive. While at Point Reyes, I filled up two large bags with trash that had washed up on the beaches that I walked. It hardly took any time to do this, so I can imagine the amount of trash that James has collected in all the hours that he has spent cleaning the beaches. I hope that we all can get into the habit of leaving every National Park in better shape than when you arrived — and if you haven’t yet purchased yourself a metal water bottle, do it.
The first place I begin all my visits to National Parks is at the visitors center. Even if I know a park fairly well, the staff at the visitors center will know the latest news regarding the park. That information will often lead me to do something which I may not have been planning to do that day. If I’m unfamiliar with the park, and especially if it is my first visit, the staff can give me the list of places that I should absolutely see and what I should do within the park for the time frame I have.
In addition to the helpful staff, the Bear Valley visitors center at Point Reyes National Seashore (CA) has an excellent little museum style display of the animals which live within the park, including a huge, life-size elephant seal to greet you as you walk in:
I took my 6 year old niece through all the displays and she was fascinated with all the animals and the information about them. For any child who likes animals, it’s worth putting aside a little extra time to walk through the animal displays at the visitors center.
When you first see the Point Reyes Lighthouse from the observation deck at Point Reyes National Seashore (CA), your first instinct is to want to see the lighthouse up close. Then you take a look at these:
There is a sign that warns that the over 300 steps is the same as a 30 story building and while it’s easy to get down, you need to be in decent shape to make it back up. To help with the effort, there are three rest areas with a bench where you can stop to catch your breath on the way up. You begin the hike back to the top at step number 308:
I consider myself to be in pretty decent shape and I was a bit winded by the time I reached the top. The key is to take it slow, rest when needed and give yourself plenty of time to make it back to the top. Even with the physically taxing climb, a visit to the lighthouse is well worth it.
Once you make your way past the Point Reyes Lighthouse visitors center, the gray whale skull and the water collection system at Point Reyes National Seashore, you’ll round the corner and get your first glimpse of the Point Reyes Lighthouse. There is an observation deck that looks down upon the lighthouse and you’ll immediately understand why so many people love to come out to see it:
Warning to all: The Point Reyes Lighthouse is not open on Tuesday or Wednesday. Even on the days that it is closed, you can still view the lighthouse from the observation deck, but you will not be able to descend the stairs to the lighthouse to see it up close and personal. The lighthouse stairs, the exhibits in the lower lighthouse chamber, and the equipment building are open Thursday through Monday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (stairs to go down to the lighthouse close at 4:00 p.m.) weather permitting. Point Reyes is the windiest area on the Pacific coast and even on clear days, the stairs will sometimes be closed due to high winds. The light house lens room where the Fresnel lens and clockwork mechanism are located is open Thursday through Monday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
While driving to Tomales Bay California state park within Point Reyes National Seashore (there are also areas of Tomales Bay state park across Tomales Bay on highway 1) you will turn off Pierce Point Road and descend into the park. Tomales Bay isn’t part of Point Reyes and there is an entrance fee of $8.00 per vehicle to enter (or you can purchase a California State Park Pass)
The road is quite curvy and there really aren’t any places to park, but it can be worthwhile to try and find a spot (or decide to hike the road) as it provides some great photo opportunities. This includes seeing Tomales Bay with all the forest before it:
There’s also spectacular undergrowth below the trees if you take the time to explore a bit.
Again, the road isn’t really made to do this and you definitely need to be very careful if you decide to do it, but there’s a good chance that you will be well rewarded with some interesting photos if you decide to do so.
Across from the Point Reyes Lighthouse visitors center and gray whale skull at Point Reyes National Seashore is a concrete dome that appears to be some type of military bunker:
In reality, it has nothing to do with the military and everything to do with being able to survive. The dome is actually part of a water collection system since fresh water was a continuing problem for those that lived out on Point Reyes. As explained on an information placard by the concrete dome:
Although surrounded by seawater, the Point never had adequate wells or springs to supply fresh water. The lightkeepers were forced to devise this elaborate system for catching and storing rainwater. They piped the cistern water to the residences and down to the fog signal for making steam.
The dome in front of you covers the cylindrical concrete cistern. The catchment area around the cistern extends far up the hillside and captures runoff from natural rock formations.
The information sign can easily be missed because those arriving tend to focus on the visitors center and the sign is around a slight bend on the way out.
Once you see the dramatic view at the Point Reyes Lighthouse parking lot view looking over Point Reyes Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore you’ll be tempted to take a short path (about 1/4 mile) you can see right in front of you to a point a little farther out. The hike is fairly easy, but the view isn’t much different than the one you see at the top:
You are able to see a bit more of the sand dunes of Point Reyes Beach, but there isn’t a big difference in the view (compare here) so passing on it shouldn’t be a huge issue.
Even before you consider going to Point Reyes lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore, be sure to pack your best windbreaker and an extra layer of clothes. The Point Reyes lighthouse is the windiest and foggiest point on the Pacific coast and even on a sunny day, the wind can send chills through your body (and may provide the opportunity to see double waves). I arrived on a beautiful sunny day, but with wind gusts up to 40 miles an hour which would have left me shivering without my windbreaker.
After you park in the Point Reyes Lighthouse parking lot, you will see a gated road which you will follow to get to the Point Reyes lighthouse. To the right of the gate is a dramatic view point which looks out over rows of waves crashing onto Point Reyes Beach that makes for a wonderful photograph: