Point Reyes National Seashore, about an hour north of San Francisco, typifies an untamed, elemental California of clean, chilling Pacific breezes, plentiful wildlife (some edible, some happy to eat you) and a landscape at once torn apart by ancient seismic forces and producing some of the best ingredients in the state. It has remained this way since President John F. Kennedy protected it half a century ago.
To celebrate its 50th year, the park has several events leading up to the actual anniversary on Sept. 13, including art exhibits in local galleries, five hiking challenges and the Dinner on the Pacific Plate, a local dining and fundraising event.
But before you even hit the park, we have four stops you must make.
CAVALLO POINT LODGE
To fully appreciate the Point Reyes experience, overnight at Cavallo Point Lodge, about 20 minutes north of San Francisco. The four-year-old conversion of a former military base, laid out on a parade ground at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, is a unique place to stay in the Bay Area. Ask for the newer units with the Golden Gate view. It’s like a city tour stuck on pause at the best part.
Head to the western edge of Point Reyes park and don’t forget your binoculars. The Lighthouse Visitor Center is open Thursday to Monday and has exhibits and photographs of the lighthouse’s 142-year history. Then scramble down 308 steps to the Lighthouse that now serves as a museum piece. Don’t miss the families of sea lions seemingly everywhere below in the Pacific. With the wind in your face and infinity beyond, it’s hard to believe admission is free.
THE EARTHQUAKE TRAIL
If such a thing as “earthquake tourism” existed, this kilometre-long paved hike along the San Andreas Fault Zone near the town of Olema would be its mecca. You’ll be slightly discombobulated hiking the paved path of what was once thought to be epicentre of the 1906 quake that obliterated San Francisco and 3,000-plus souls. Its highlight: a wooden fence split and separated 20 feet when the temblor hit more than 106 years ago.
Stop at Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, where bivalve aficionados sit at picnic tables with supplied lemons and shucking knives. Just past Inverness, the lush landscape recedes into rolling hills and windswept grasslands. It’s mostly low-key ranching here, but keep your eyes out for the elusive tule elk, protected roaming herds that once numbered in the thousands.