October 24, 2012 by Deborah W. Trotter
Unless you’re from northern California, you may believe that our State’s coast is just a series of sandy beaches that invite you to frolic in the warm Pacific Ocean. The Beach Boys, surf boards, sunscreen and volleyball are what the California coast is all about. If that’s what you think, then you might be surprised by a visit to the Point Reyes National Seashore, a coastal preserve about 20 miles north of San Francisco that was established 50 years ago in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy.
The National Seashore is partly bounded on its eastern edge by Tomales Bay, a long, narrow body of salt water whose rising and falling tides keep companywith the San Andreas Fault. (Yes, that fault. The one that gave a mega-jolt to San Francisco in the earthquake of 1906. The one we Bay Area denizens never forget about!)
The Seashore’s western most extension is Point Reyes itself, jutting out into the Pacific Ocean and providing some shelter on its inland side for Drakes Bay. (Yes, that Drake. Sir Francis Drake. The one who history books say sailed north in 1579, right past the entrance to San Francisco Bay without seeing it in the fog!)
And speaking of fog, Point Reyes is the second foggiest place on the continent of North America, according to the National Park Service. They say it is also the windiest place on the Pacific Coast. So what do you think you’ll find there?
Of course! The Point Reyes Lighthouse. It’s not easy, but getting there is an adventure. You can drive from Highway 1 along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, a slow 22 miles to the end of the road on the Point, passing through the middle of the National Seashore, windswept and mostly treeless, but supportinglush, green pastureland and working dairy farms.
When you get to the end of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, you park your car and walk a half mile to the Visitor Center. (On crowded weekends from late December to mid-April, a shuttle system operates from the Visitor Center at Drakes Beach.) From there, the lighthouse is 308 steps below you.Sometimes you can see it as you descend the stairs, sometimes it is hidden by fog. We have visited the lighthouse with our children many times through the years, in various seasons, and I don’t believe we have ever been there on a fogless day.
Point Reyes Lighthouse has been operating since 1870. On April 18, 1906, it andthe Point Reyes Peninsula moved 18 feet north in less than a minute during the earthquake! The lighthouse lens slipped off its tracks, but the keepers made necessary repairs, and the lighthouse was operational again that night. In 1975 the light was automated, and upkeep and preservation of this piece of American and California history was turned over to the Park Service.
There is much more to the Point Reyes National Seashore, of course, than my favorite feature, the lighthouse. Information about hiking, camping, the Tule Elk Reserve, beaches and maritime history can be found here.