Point Reyes

Point Reyes, Tomales Point, Pacific Ocean side


Tule elks (male), Point Reyes


Pt. Reyes from Tomales Point Trail. McClure’s Beach.


About a two-hour drive north of San Francisco is an expansive park called Point Reyes. Geologically it is a large cape that extends off the Pacific coast. Technically it is Point Reyes National Seashore…locals call it Point Reyes.


It is an entire peninsula with ocean coastline, beaches, and dunes; rolling hills; forests; dairy ranches; hiking trails and more. The land area is 70,000 acres (283 sq. km). It is my favorite of all places to hike in Northern California.


Point Reyes Wikipedia


Point Reyes is home to 490 bird species, 40 species of land animals, and a dozen species of marine mammals. Pods of California gray whale migrate through here. Two resident mammal species nearly went extinct: tule elk and elephant seals.


A breeding colony of elephant seals can be seen from December through March.


Elephant Seals on the beach, Point Reyes near Chimney Rock


The coast is rocky and often foggy, typical of Northern California, and this peninsula juts ten miles into the ocean…so far that it is notorious for hundreds of shipwrecks.  See map below.


Sir Francis Drake’s ship is said to have hit damaging rocks here in 1579. The crew hauled The Golden Hinde up to the beach for repairs.


Centuries later, but in the same general vicinity, we came upon this tiny cemetery in a grove of eucalyptus trees. Experienced life-savers succumbed to treacherous waves while helping passengers of shipwrecked boats.


Life-saver Cemetery, Pt. Reyes, California


Today the Coast Guard cruises overhead, maintaining public safety.


Coast Guard helicopter at Point Reyes


On the craggy mountain ridges overlooking the Pacific Ocean, tule elk herds graze on protected land.

Tule elk male, Pt. Reyes, California


Hikers share the trails with elk herds. Sometimes when the fog is very thick you can hear their impressive bugling without actually seeing an animal. The first time this happened I was nervous, didn’t like not knowing where they were. But now when I’m there I hope for it, I like the mystery.


Point Reyes Tule Elk


At this time of year, late summer, the grass has turned brittle and brown. Wild amaryllis flowers, common name “naked ladies,” can be seen clumped in the grass. They have a heady fragrance–sweet, like bubble gum.


Wild Amaryllis, aka Naked Ladies


While hiking along the grassy trails to Abbotts Lagoon, we came upon California quail, brush rabbits, and many sparrows.

Abbotts Lagoon, Point Reyes


California Quail (male) in lupine


Last summer’s visit yielded a coyote.


Coyote, Point Reyes, California


Every spring we find nesting swallows.


Barn Swallow nestlings, Point Reyes


One summer a few years ago, Athena and I decided to go out after dark in search of a rare owl known to live here, the spotted owl.


We knew the trail well enough that we walked without light. Our reasoning for walking in the pitch black dark–which in retrospect doesn’t seem quite so wise–was that we would come upon the owl and hear it, without it being frightened by us. Once we located its hoot, we could use the light to see it.


But as we tripped along the trail, we heard the unmistakable breathing of a big mammal…very near. When we switched on the light, we came face-to-face with a really big buck.


We were all three very startled.


We backed off, gave him some room, and he continued to graze. We never did hear or see the owl.


I could fill a book with the outdoor adventures we have had in our 30 years exploring Point Reyes. You may know that feeling: when you realize you have spent most of your life in a place…and loved every minute.


Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander.

Header photo, also Point Reyes: Tomales Bay. You would never guess that below Tomales Bay lies the San Andreas Fault.


Point Reyes, California. Courtesy Wikipedia.


85 thoughts on “Point Reyes

  1. The ever beautiful Jet Eliot produces yet more interesting work out in the field assisted by Athena on the camera creating fantastic quality pictures to complement the words. Kudos to the two of you for the entertainment and education you always provide,
    Huge Hugs

    • How very nice to “see” you today, David. Your kind comment is humbly received, thank you so very much. I’ve missed you, and really appreciate hearing from you. Glad you enjoyed a vicarious trip to Point Reyes with us.

  2. Oh, I love also to go in the fog or at night. You can only really do it when you know an area very well. A Breathing close to me, without sight: It would also give me goose bumps. 😊
    Thanks for sharing your exciting adventure!

  3. Tule elk are so cool. Most people don’t realize there are subspecies of many animals and just lump them together. Years ago we were camping in Utah. My wife had to go outside to answer nature’s call. A bull elk bugled in the dark, and I laughed myself sick at the result. (I don’t think she ever forgave me.)

  4. Yikes! That heavy breathing would be unnerving until you know where it comes from. I love the rugged coastline, probably because no one is lying on the beach frying skin. It’s pretty inaccessible, I would guess, and a bit dangerous with the waves smashing onto the rocks. So sad to imagine those would-be rescuers being taken by the waves. I love the quail. Miss seeing them. We used to have them here but people and their cats and dogs put an end to them. And the elephant seals! Beautiful to see these ugly animals on the beach! How lucky you are to have seen them. Up here on the BC coast it is rare to see one because they go so deep. I think the Captain has seen one and never another. Super post, Jet.

    • Great fun to read your comment, Anneli, thanks so much. Yes, quail are disappearing, mostly due to outdoor cats, really sad to see. I’ve been reaching out to pet owners on that one for decades. We’re lucky the elephant seals made a come-back, but it was no easy task. Those that you see here are on a protected section of beach and humans could get no closer than what the photo shows…a good thing, as they breed here. Truly a delight, as always, to hear from you, Anneli.

  5. Pingback: Point Reyes Park— Jet Eliot | huggers.ca

  6. such a special place for you both and thank you for sharing with us – the history, your adventures and awesome photos. the scenery is stunning. thanks for male elks looking so stately, sunbathing seals, handsome quail and the cute swallow nestlings. the coyote looks like he’s ready for a chase. are they dangerous? the wild amaryllis are simply beautiful! happy weekend! 🙂

    • Such a joy to bring Pt. Reyes to you, Wilma, I’m happy you took such an interest in it. I agree, male elks look so stately. To answer your question, no, coyote are not dangerous. My warmest wishes to you for a happy weekend too. 🙂

  7. Thank you for the beautiful tour of the Point Reyes, Jet. 70,000 acres, Wow! Wonderful to see these Tule elks and lovely birds while hiking. Great photo captures. But that heavy breathing… how scaring.

  8. I love your travels through Pt. Reyes today. There are so many points of interest and one of ours is the Life-saving Cemetery. What a lonely, dangerous, god-forsaken place to be stationed. Those stations were the inspiration for the U. S. Coast Guard, so their efforts were not in vain.

    Happy Friday,

    • I’d been going to Pt. Reyes for a quarter century before I found that Life-saving Cemetery, Allan. I read about it in a blog (maybe yours?) and looked around for it and found it. Crazy how isolated it is. And incredible views of the ocean! The radio towers and their history up there is fascinating too. Always a joy to share our favorite Bay Area places, Allan, thanks so much.

  9. Love the elk, Jet. I can well imagine the shock of coming that close to a male. Glad that ended well. What a beautiful area! I’ve been up the coastal highway but only as far as Carmel. Once we move, perhaps I can change that.


    • The elk are great fun to come upon. Early in the morning you have a greater chance of being pretty close (close enough) to them, then later in the day they go further up the mountain. I hope you do get to visit Pt. Reyes. Thanks so much, Janet. If you’re ever up this way, email me ahead, maybe I could take you around.

  10. Pt Reyes was one of my favorite trips also when I lived in the Bay area. One of the things I fell in love with (this may sound odd) was the cows munching on the fields by the roads as we drove toward the Pt. Reyes lighthouse. The most complacent, sweetest cows I’ve ever met. 🙂
    Athena’s photos are magnificent. ❤

    • I like that you fell in love with the cows up there, Pam, and it doesn’t sound odd at all. It’s a pretty good life they have there on those grassy mountain tops. I love driving those roads and looking out over their fields. So glad to have you along for our Pt. Reyes adventures.

    • Hi Cindy, I’m happy you enjoyed the Pt. Reyes adventures, the big buck and the elk. Naked ladies, amaryllis belladonna, are not technically native in northern Calif., they’re only native to the Cape region of So. Africa. But they have become widespread and wild over the past 200 years in areas close to the coast and slightly inland from the coast (where there is no frost). Truly a pleasure to “see” you here, thanks so much.

  11. wonderful excursion to pt reyes, Jet
    bringing it’s past & vibrantly alive
    present together with your words & pictures!
    i’m relieved you escaped unharmed
    by the peaceful bull elk!
    i’ll need to get down there
    for a daylong outing, again 🙂

    • I hope you are able to get to Pt. Reyes for a daytrip, David, there’s always something new to explore there no matter how many times we’ve visited. My favorite spots are Inverness, Abbotts Lagoon, and Tomales Bay and Point. Really glad you enjoyed the post. Your comment, your words, brought a smile to my face…thank you.

  12. Point Reyes has to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. I love it there. Nice to see and learn about more of the wildlife there, of which I not only have not seen but did not know existed there. So very beautiful. Thanks for a revisit to a special place in my heart.


    • I am happy you can relay loving and joyful experiences of Pt. Reyes, Peta. And glad to bring some of the wildlife and beauty from here to Vietnam for you. Thanks so very much for your visit.

  13. The portrait of the tule elk is stunning! It must be so thrilling to hear them bugling in the fog. (I do know that feeling when you’re in love with a place. Spending time on Cape Cod has the same effect on me.) Those elephant seals must be quite something to see. Thank you for sharing the pictures of your wild and wonderful peninsula.

  14. What a beautiful location! Perfect for mystery, adventure and suspense – I certainly wouldn’t want to encounter a bull elk on the trail in the dark and fog, yikes!
    Wonderful post – thanks, Jet, and we hope you’re having a great weekend.

    • Happy I could share Point Reyes with you, pc, and always happy to “see” you here. Thanks so much for the visit and well wishes. A salute to you and Mrs. pc, hope your weekend was fun.

  15. What a gorgeous, wonderful park to visit! I have heard of Point Reyes but never saw any photos or read anything about it before, so thank you very much for sharing this place, Jet. I can see why you both have a love for it for so many years. Athena’s close-up capture of the Tule elk male is stunning!

    • I hope sometime in your travels you can visit here, Donna, but in the meantime I’m glad I could supply you with the essence of it. Many thanks for your warm comments and visit.

  16. So much beauty in this world and I especially love when such wilderness is close at hand. My hands got sweaty as you described the nigh time encounter with the big mammal. Here one immediately thinks of bears! Gorgeous photos as always even as the autumn approaches. Very best to you and Athena.

  17. I visited Point Reyes once with a friend, maybe 30 years ago. All I remember is the lighthouse, and mostly because I took a couple pictures. I wonder where those photos are buried now?

  18. What an adventure. The Tule elk are so beautiful with those amazing racks of horns (antlers?) I believe they are more impressive looking than our local Roosevelt Elk. I did get a chuckle out of your elk encounter while searching for the owl. Somehow it fits my vision of you and Athena. You’ve certainly had some intrepid encounters. I think the most amazing one was the cassowary incident.

    Seems I’ve been a rolling stone and never spent most of my life in one place. Though I’ve tended to love the places I’ve been when I was there and then moved on to the next place to love. The experience has been full of joy and surprises. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I marvel at the travels you’ve enjoyed to places so distant and different.

    • What a lovely comment, Gunta, and I’m impressed that you remember the cassowary incident. The cassowary incident is by far my most terrifying. We do have great respect for all the animals in our kingdom and give them space. But we spend so very much time outdoors with wildlife, that once in a while there’s an incident. I really enjoyed your ruminations on the places you and we visit, and the joys and surprises (to use your words) that we have the thrill of experiencing along the way. Warm thanks and a smile to you, dear friend.

      • Your reply made me smile as well. You should very much be impressed that this 75 (going on 76!) year old brain actually managed to make that little tidbit of memory stick! Apparently your well-written tale was enough for the brain to wake up and listen. Then again I think travel tends to keep the brain cells alive, whether it be in real life or the virtual sort. Your travel tales have been truly fun to follow, enhanced by Athena’s great images. It’s been fun to watch her style develop.

      • I am indeed very much impressed, Gunta, at your memory. And I agree: travel and the associated adventures, tales, and memories keep us young. Cheers, my friend.

  19. Loved everything about this post, Jet. Your descriptions and Athena’s photos tell a great story of this special place. As you can imagine, one of my favorites. Must’ve got your heart racing with that buck! 🙂

    • A true joy to hear from a fellow Point Reyes aficionado, Jane, thanks so very much. Yes, the discovery of that buck got all three of our hearts racing. We all jumped back. lol. My warm thanks.

  20. What a beautiful place! I would worship that Amaryllis if I came across it in the wild 🙂
    The Tule elk is such a magnificent animal! Stunning photographs, you have been so lucky to see them that close.
    California quail is an old and loved neighbor – a family of them live in my daughter’s neighborhood and often walk across the backyard.
    Thank you for the delightful trip, Jet!

    • Yes, I do believe you would worship the amaryllis, Inese. Big patches of them in many wild places, bright and beautiful, and so sweet-smelling and enticing. Glad you also enjoyed the tule elk and the Calif. quail. We are very fortunate to have these wild creatures around us, and I’m happy I could share them with you. My warmest thanks for your visits today.

  21. Thanks for sharing this beautiful peninsula and years of wonderful memories! I’m afraid to wander out into my backyard in the dark in the fear of what I might run into, but for a rare owl sighting I can imagine trying and enjoyed your adventure and story. Wonderful photos and wish I had a few bubble gum flowers!

    • Yes, I’ve never smelled flowers like these amaryllis, very distinctive. And yes, a rare owl sighting was a great motivator. Still have not seen the spotted owl, or heard it; but lately we’ve heard a lot of our two owl species here at home, the Great Horned and Western Screech. Can’t complain. Many thanks for your delightful comments and visit.

  22. Oh gosh. I never made it there, but when I get back to CA and we do our up the coast drive, We’ll make a point of including it. Sounds/looks incredible. California is outrageously beautiful. Thank You, Jet! Cheers!!! 🤗❤️😊

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