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WILDLIFE AND OYSTERS LURE VISITORS TO POINT REYES

As the ground-hugging coastal fog slowly lifts, driving along the winding road to the north end of Point Reyes gets passable. We came out here in the late afternoon hoping to view the elusive herd of native Tule Elk. While parked on the roadside shoulder waiting for better visibility, the inert forms on both sides of the road began to move through the mist. There they were, the large herd of elk waiting to cross the road and now surrounding our car as they casually moved on.

That was a real lucky sighting of those magnificent beasts that had eluded us on prior visits to Point Reyes National Seashore in Northern California. This national park has so much to offer to all classes of tourists. Beginning with the charming 19th century villages along the remote coastline from Bolinas, Olema, Point Reyes Station, Inverness and Bodega Bay, the pace of life winds down right into the park’s Bear Valley Visitor Center welcoming day trippers, backpackers and wildlife spotters with trail maps and wildlife data. Take the short Earthquake Trail to view the epicenter of the 1906 San Francisco quake.

Not as remote as The Lost Coast further north, Point Reyes is more like the bucolic seclusion along the Mendocino and Sonoma coasts. There is abundant wildlife of bobcats, fox, badger and deer in the woods and elephant seals and migratory birds along the shoreline and in the tidal lagoons. The elephant seal pupping season at Chimney Rock is in January which is also the best month for whale watching from the lighthouse.

Within the 32,000 acres of mostly wilderness are access roads to the iconic lighthouse at the tip of the point, historic Drake’s Bay and several cozy state park picnic areas. The more ambitious visitor will backpack over the ranges of mountains and along the rugged shoreline to designated camping areas at Coast Camp and Sky Camp.. Whether it is the wooded mountains or coastal lagoons, Point Reyes has spectacular vistas and comfortable facilities for the day-trippers and campers.

Are you an oyster aficionado? The inland lagoons and nearby Tomales Bay harvest all kinds of seafood, but oysters are a Pt. Reyes specialty. Right in the middle of the park the Johnson Oyster Co. has a farm on Drake’s Estero, an inlet off Drake’s Bay. Stop by to sample or take home freshly shucked oysters while watching the operation that provides product to the fine restaurants of San Francisco.

Seafood isn’t the only industry within the park. Since the mid-19th century, dairy farming has prospered on the flat headlands of Pt. Reyes. It’s all part of a land conservancy plan to provide a useful resource from the land yet preserve its natural beauty. As you drive out to the shore, there are several dairy herds dotting the landscape. The surrounding Marin County coastal land is likewise kept under an agricultural land trust that maintains a rural environment.

Near the entrance to the park at Inverness are a number of delightful inns and B&Bs. Ten Inverness Way is an historic craftsman cottage offering five rooms and loads of hospitality. Inverness Valley Inn and Dancing Coyote Beach are only two of the many other hostelries in the area including nearby Olema Inn, a 1880s stage stop with six rooms and a gourmet restaurant.

Seafood restaurants are plentiful at Point Reyes Station and along Tomales Bay up the coast to Bodega Bay where the famous Hitchcock movie “The Birds” was filmed. At Inverness try roasted oysters at Barnaby’s on the deck overlooking Tomales Bay or the continental menu with a Czech flavor at Vladimir’s. Shop for a picnic supplies at Bovine Bakery (“udderly devine” French pastries) in Point Reyes Station or stop in at Station House Cafe for hamburgers, seafood and popovers.

Point Reyes is one and a half hours north of the Golden Gate Bridge. While in Marin County, why not extend your visit to the vineyards of Sonoma and along the Russian River?

First place award for travel by San Diego Press Club 2012