*published by Travel & Leisure
This Northern California Town Has a Great Food Scene — and Some of the Most Gorgeous Waterfront Hiking Trails in the Country
How to plan the perfect trip to Point Reyes, California.
I'm a California kid, but I'm fairly sure I had never heard of Point Reyes until the pandemic made all of us want to escape to beautifully less-populous places. On my mental list of California corners to visit were the painted dunes of Death Valley, the redwood-lined trails of Mendocino County, and a place that promised wildflower hikes, animal sightings, and incredible local cheese.
When my college roommates and I decided to reboot our annual girls' trip this spring, we decided to head toward cheese. Point Reyes, less than 50 miles north of San Francisco, is a scenic cape surrounded by the oyster-famous Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean. It is pastoral, cross-hatched by grassy trails, dotted with dairy farms, and often dreamily layered in fog. It is also a national seashore, a protected ecosystem just like a national park. And its proximity to great farms means top-notch produce is on hand at local markets and restaurants. Here's how to spend an active (and delicious) weekend in the area.
Hiking Trails in Point Reyes, California
Our big plans for cheese were matched only by our big plans for strolling in the coastal wild. From the town of Point Reyes Station, expect to drive up to 40 minutes to trailhead parking lots. Our first pick was Tomales Point Trail, a preferred hike for ocean vistas and wildflower viewing. The journey can be as short as an hour or as long as five; it's an out-and-back trail that snakes nearly 10 miles to the tip of Tomales Point, with misty waves crashing far below you.
Our group hiked for about 90 minutes, but we didn't cover much ground, distracted by wild yellow lupine and California quail hurrying into the brush. The tule elk, a species endemic to California and protected in this reserve, eluded us this morning, but we did watch a coyote pounce on its prey as we drove off to our next adventure.
The now-retired Point Reyes Lighthouse is another popular sight. This relic, built in 1870, is accessible via a short walk from a parking lot, and once you've arrived at the headland — considered a whale-watching spot — you can opt to take a long staircase down to the lighthouse itself. Back at your car, drive 10 minutes to Chimney Rock Trailhead. Along our path here, we admired Drake's Bay, views of San Francisco, and a bird's-eye view of resident elephant seals lazing about on the sand. And on your way out of the park, stop by Cypress Tree Tunnel; when the light hits just right at this spot, the trees glow golden. Arrive very early or very late to avoid photo-feverish crowds.
On our way back to our hotel, the tule elk appeared. A storm was rolling in, making for moody gray-blue skies. From our car, we spotted the group of males laying on a hill, their antlers poking the clouds. We pulled to the side of the road and admired them until the wind chill beat out their beauty.
Where to Eat in Point Reyes
The town of Point Reyes Station isn't particularly large, but there are more shops and eateries than visitors can squeeze into one weekend. Be sure to mind the hours listed by businesses; on a Friday evening, the only place open past 7 p.m. was the saloon, which, admittedly, works just fine if you're looking to swap stories with locals over a beer.
Wood-fired pizza and oysters on the garden patio at Cafe Reyes made for a terrific welcome meal our first evening, and brunch at Side Street Kitchen included hot apple fritters and a view of a parade celebrating the region's agricultural bounty and history. For breakfast on the go, we tried lattes, savory scones, and hefty morning buns from Bovine Bakery. And for all the cheese you could want, wander inside the spacious Cowgirl Creamery shop in town.
Our favorite culinary stop, though, was Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, a woman-owned dairy farm set on a hill overlooking Tomales Bay. The creamery has built out an attractive garden patio for dining. We had pre-booked the Cheese Lovers experience, and once seated, we were spoiled with riches, many of them plays on the farm's signature Toma cheese. There was Tomarashi, made with nori, toasted sesame, and poppy; Tomaprovence, speckled with herbs like marjoram and thyme; and finally, an earthy and buttery Tomatruffle cheese. We stayed as long as they would have us — the farm is still keeping its guest count low and visits timed — and filled ourselves with cheese, wine and stories.
For better or worse, we were headed straight to oysters from there — not my best-timed foodie agenda, I admit. There are a number of oyster establishments as you drive up the east side of the bay, and all sell fresh oysters from right offshore. Tomales Bay Oyster Company is the oldest, dating back to 1909, but you've got to take these oysters to go, shuck them on your own, and pay in cash. The Marshall Store draws a good crowd. And this location of Hog Island Oyster Company (there are several seasonal stands from San Francisco to Napa) was once featured on Jon Favreau and Roy Choi's "The Chef Show" on Netflix and attracts oyster lovers from all over.
Hog Island was our favorite stop on the trip, thanks to its tiered bayside dining deck. We opened a bottle of wine and people-watched while warming up in the sun, which had thankfully escaped from a cape of clouds. Eventually, we had a dozen raw oysters, followed by outstanding grilled oysters doused in chipotle bourbon butter.
Where to Stay
Accommodation options in Point Reyes are low key, like the park itself. There are Airbnb and Vrbo rentals in the area, plus a hostel inside the park boundaries. But Olema House, with its wisteria-crowned deck, on-site market, and coffee shop, is a terrific home base for a Point Reyes National Seashore adventure.
My roommates and I booked Olema House's two-bedroom apartment, called the Market Flat. We loved its cozy living room, where we watched a movie late one night in matching robes and ate Bovine Bakery pastries in the morning. But the Olema House grounds are the real draw. In fact, most rooms here don't have a TV, as the staff expects that you'll spend most of your time out and about.
The backside of the property has grassy knolls with lounge chairs, a great fire pit, picturesque event lawns for intimate gatherings, and two cottages for rent. In the main building are rooms and suites, plus a game room and fireplace room, should the weather turn against you.
On our last night in Point Reyes, we ate at Olema House's restaurant, Due West. It was the first time all weekend we'd seen such a crowd indoors – the rain had driven some in, perhaps – but the energy was uplifting. We ordered cocktails plus four bowls of cioppino. It was a warming meal, a warming weekend, and just what we needed after the past couple of years.