Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore

Sights to See

Beaches

Abbotts Lagoon Beach
A 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) walk through coastal scrub, across a bridge over a stream between two lagoons, and over sand dunes brings you to this ocean beach. The lagoons attract large numbers of migrating shorebirds in the fall, followed by the wintering ducks. Occasionally peregrine falcons are seen selecting their meals amongst these tasty morsels. The sand dunes backing the beach are home to the endangered snowy plover. The eggs and young of this ground-nesting bird are easily destroyed. Be especially careful in this area during their nesting season, June 1 - September 15.

Drakes Beach
A wide stretch of beach backed by dramatic white sandstone cliffs makes this a very popular place. Drive-up access, a small café and a visitor center add to its appeal. The sands of the Drakes Bay cliffs were deposited in a shallow sea 10-13 million years ago, compacted, then uplifted. Erosion has revealed the striations of this story in the cliff faces.

Heart's Desire Beach
Heart's Desire Beach is part of Tomales Bay State Park. It is a nice sheltered cove on Tomales Bay that is excellent for families with small children. The ocean water tends to be a little warmer at this beach.

Kehoe Beach
A half-mile walk alongside a marsh and over a sand dune takes you to the northern end of the Great Beach, called Kehoe Beach. Once at the beach, turn left to explore a stream meandering its way into the Pacific Ocean. To the right, giant dunes make explorations fun. Follow the beach further north to see the dramatic juxtaposition of rocks. The first cliffs you see are the smooth Laird sandstone, which change abruptly to granite. A reverse fault displaced the sandstone against the granite upon which it was deposited, creating a continuous cliff made of very different rock types. Dogs are allowed on a 1.8-meter (6-foot) leash on this beach to the north of the trail. Dogs are not permitted south of the trailhead as this area is protected habitat for the endangered snow plover.

Kelham Beach
A 7.7-kilometer (4.8-mile) trek from the Bear Valley trailhead brings hikers to an overlook above this quiet, secluded beach north of Arch Rock. The trail from Coast Trail to Kelham Beach is currently closed due to erosion of the cliff. The cliff is unstable and we advise visitors not to hike down to the beach from this point.

Limantour Beach
A long, narrow spit of sand, bound between Drakes Bay and an estuary, is a bountiful wildlife area. Scores of shorebirds feed in the wetlands and along the beaches during the fall. Ducks abound in winter at old, freshwater stock ponds created during the peninsula's ranching era. Harbor seals are often seen bobbing offshore in the gentle waves or basking in the sun's warmth. Mother gray whales guide their calves along the shoreline during the spring. Dogs are allowed on a 1.8-meter (6-foot) leash on the southeast end of this beach. Dogs are not permitted to the northwest as this area is protected habitat for harbor seals and the endangered snowy plover.

Marshall Beach
Marshall Beach is on the Tomales Bay side of Point Reyes National Seashore, south of Tomales Point. The parking area is a 3-kilometer (2-mile) drive on a dirt road. It is then a 1.9-kilometer (1.2-mile) hike from the parking area to the beach.

McClures Beach
A short, steep, downhill hike leads visitors to this small but exciting cove with intense surf. The rocks at either end of the beach add to the drama and danger. It is tempting to venture around the southern corner to explore the adjacent beach, but use caution! This area can only be safely accessed during the outgoing low tide.

Palomarin Beach
Palomarin Beach is at the south end of Point Reyes, between Bolinas Point and Wildcat Beach. This trail is a strenuous walk down the cliff. The beach is good for tidepooling at minus tides.

Sculptured Beach
Sculptured Beach is located two miles south of Limantour Beach. Winter rains feed two creeks which stream across the sand into the ocean creating a wet barrier for beach walkers wishing to keep their feet dry. Once at Sculptured Beach, look for its namesake rocks lying on the shoreline. The sculptured rocks are exposed at low tide, along with the organisms that cling to them, creating an exciting area to go tidepooling.

The Great Beach
The Great Beach - also known as Point Reyes Beach - is an incredible expanse of over 15 kilometers (10 miles) of undeveloped ocean beach visitors are welcome to explore. If you are looking for the drama of heavy surf this is the place to be. Drive-up access is located at the North Beach or South Beach parking lots. Dogs are allowed on a 1.8-meter (6-foot) leash on this beach. Dogs are not permitted north of the North Beach entrance as this area is protected habitat for the endangered snowy plover. And during the winter when elephant seals are present, dogs are not permitted south of the South Beach access. Please be very cautious near the water as "sneaker waves" have been known to drag unwitting victims out to sea.

Wildcat Beach
Wildcat Beach is a 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) long beach in the southern end of the National Seashore. To access Wildcat Beach at Wildcat Campground, visitors will need to hike at least 8.8 kilometers (5.5 miles). The shortest route to Wildcat Campground is along the Coast Trail from the Palomarin trailhead in the southern part of Point Reyes. Visitors may also ride their bicycles 10.7 kilometers (6.7 miles) from Five Brooks along the Stewart Trail to get to Wildcat Campground. A mile south of Wildcat Campground is Alamere Falls.

 

Sneaker Waves
Visitors to Point Reyes beaches are advised to be aware of sneaker waves. A sneaker wave is an unexpectedly large wave, higher, stronger and reaching farther up the beach to levels far beyond where the normal waves reach. Beach goers, particularly children, can quickly be caught in the rip current and pulled out to deep water. If the person can not escape the current, they may drown. This has occurred numerous times at Point Reyes Beaches. Sneaker waves also have the ability to toss around large driftwood logs that may fall on a person, injuring or even killing them.

Even though the ocean may appear calm, there is still the potential for sneaker waves. Larger waves, moving fast, pick up smaller waves and carry them toward the beach. Some people erroneously think that sneaker waves can be predicted, i.e., every fourth or fifth wave, but in truth they are unpredictable. They can occur at any time, day or night, during incoming and outgoing tides, during storms and during sunny calm weather.

How to avoid sneaker waves:

  • Never turn your back on the surf
    Stay at least thirty yards away from the water on beaches facing the open ocean, particularly the Great Beach (North and South beaches), McClures Beach and Kehoe Beach. Watch out for sneaker waves. Sneaker waves are often preceded by a sudden lowering of the water level. Supervise children at all times. Two children died at the South Beach after being hit by sneaker waves in 2001.
  • Avoid slippery rocks
    Rock outcrops can be slippery from mist, rain, or spray. Large waves can knock people off rock outcrops and severely injure them or knock them unconscious. In early 2004, a person at McClures Beach was killed when she was knocked off a rock by a sneaker wave. Stay away from rocky areas, particularly during storms, high tide, or tidal changes.
  • Avoid logs and debris
    Sneaker waves are strong enough to take the biggest log and toss it on you. Stay away from logs in surf or wet sand. Do not sit or stand on logs. Keep children away from logs and large debris.

Rip Currents

Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves. Rip currents can be killers.

What to do if you get caught in a rip current:

  • Remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
  • Never fight against the current.
  • Think of it like a treadmill that cannot be turned off, which you need to step to the side of.
  • Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim at an angle--away from the current--towards shore.
  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself by waving your arm and yelling for help.

Contaminated Water
Lagoons, such as those found at Abbotts Lagoon, Kehoe Beach, and occasionally at Drakes Beach, and similar bodies of water can be hazardous areas for swimming whether they are in parklands or other urban or rural areas. Rainfall runoff and stream flow from surrounding agricultural areas flows into the lagoons potentially carrying harmful bacteria with it. The lagoons are also collection areas for waste from deer, birds and other wildlife that congregate there as well as dog waste. Please exercise caution if you choose to swim/wade in these areas and closely watch dogs and children who may enter the water. Additional advisories (where applicable) will be posted at trailheads.

Hypothermia
The coastal water temperatures at Point Reyes rarely exceed 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Prolonged exposure to these temperatures can result in hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature) or death. Do not stay in the water for more than a few minutes unless you are wearing a wetsuit. Before swimming or wading, consider the weather conditions and whether you would be able to stay warm if you were to get wet. You have a much better chance of warming up again if the weather is sunny and hot as opposed to overcast, windy and cool. Don't wait until you start to shiver or for your lips to turn blue before you get out of the water. If you start to shiver, you are already suffering from mild hypothermia. Get out of the water and try to warm up. For more information on hypothermia and treatment, check out Rick Curtis' Outdoor Action Guide to Hypothermia And Cold Weather Injuries.

Hot Coals
Hot coals may exist on the beach surface or just below the sand due to improperly extinguished beach fires. Put all fires out with water. Do not attempt to extinguish fires or cover the coals with sand.