Friday, May 20, 2016

A Day on the Coast North of San Francisco, 5/15/2016

Muir Woods (now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area) was our destination this morning, but by time we arrived there was absolutely no parking. The only way to visit was by taking the shuttle. Because we had our dog with us, that was not a viable option. We decided to proceed north to Muir Beach

Fortunately, we found a parking space in the Muir Beach lot and walked along the path to the beach. The area is dog-friendly which is always a plus for us (and our doggy, Sadie).  We spent some time exploring the beautiful beach and then did some hiking on the trail on the cliffs above the beach.

We continued north on CA 1 to Stinson Beach stopping along the way to view the beautiful coastline. 

Stinson Beach is also part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There were many families, couples, and dog owners enjoying the wide, beautiful beach. The town is a lovely beach community with unique restaurants and small hotels. 

We enjoyed watching the kite surfers

Sadie had fun making new dog friends, going for a swim, and hanging out with her dad! We miss our kids so much (and, of course, they are adults now) that we treat Sadie like she is one!

For additional information about Muir Beach and/or Stinson Beach, visit the Golden Gate National Recreation Area website.

Since we had driven this far north along the coast, we decided to go a little further to Point Reyes National Seashore. Because I had not planned to visit here today, I really did not know anything about the place. 

The Bear Valley Visitor Center had great exhibits that provided us with insight into this harsh environment. A narrow valley separates the peninsula from the mainland that lies directly on directly on the San Andreas Fault (where the Pacific and North America continental plates meet). 

The park rangers gave us some good advice (as they always do) on things to see in an afternoon visit. A third of the park is protected wilderness; another third is a pastoral zone where there are dairy and beef ranches that have been operation here since the 1850s; and the remaining third has paved and gravel roads, hiking and biking trails, bays (Drakes and Tomales), beaches, the lighthouse and other points of interest.

We were interested in seeing the Point Reyes Lighthouse, so headed north on Bear Valley Road from the Visitor Center to Sir Francis Drake Blvd (about 18 miles). As expected, the parking is limited (a small parking lot and some parking along the road in designated areas). We made a couple of passes through the lot and were able to grab a spot when someone left.

From the parking lot is an uphill paved trail to a view of the lighthouse. It is believed to be the windiest point along America's Pacific Coast with winds 40 to 100 mph. The beach runs for 11 miles from this point north.

It was incredibly windy on the afternoon we visited and the steps to the lighthouse were closed due to it (300 steps down). This is the point of the peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and Drakes Bay where fog caused many shipwrecks before sophisticated navigational equipment became the norm.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse was built by the US Lighthouse Service in 1870 and was subsequently managed by the US Coast Guard. Resident personnel operated the lighthouse until 1975 when it became completely automated. 

Next we headed to the Elephant Seal Overlook on the shores of Drakes Bay. The bay is named for Sir Francis Drake who stopped here in 1579...the first European contact with the Coast Miwok people who lived here for thousands of years. 

There is a short paved trail along the cliffs of the bay. You can hear the seals long before you can see them. We were thrilled that they were still tending their young before heading north. 

Not only are the seals basking in the sun on the beach, but many can also be seen playing in the surf!

From 1889 until 1968, the US Life-Saving Service and Coast Guard crews risked their lives to save shipwreck (and even some plane wreck) victims from the rough and cold waters in the area. This lifeboat station was built in 1927. The 1930s-1940s were the most active years for the crews here. This station was abandoned in 1968 and is was restored by the National Park Service. 

As I walked to the other side of the building, I was delighted to see these sea lions and their adorable young pups. 

On our return trip along Sir Francis Drake Blvd, we made a short detour to North Beach. There is pounding surf, rip currents, and severe undertow currents here. Visitors are warned to stay out of the water. The heavy winds caused the blowing sand to sting exposed skin; we did not linger long here!

At high tide you can become trapped against a cliff with no possibility of escape. The steep cliffs along the shore can easily crumble and falling rocks may fall on you from above. Exercise extreme caution when visiting these beaches!

Many of the dunes are covered with these flowering plants. It's surprising that they can survive in this very harsh environment. 

Visit the Point Reyes website for additional information on the sights and things to do here. There are many hiking trails and beaches along the two bays. We were so glad that we ended up here today. It is really a wild and windy, yet beautiful place that is unlike any we have seen before. 


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