Getaway to West Marin: Tomales Bay and Point Reyes

How to Spend a Day or a Weekend on the West Marin County Coast

On the Beach at Point Reyes
••• On the Beach at Point Reyes. ©2008 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

West Marin County - especially Tomales Bay and the Point Reyes National Seashore - offers bucolic countryside views and scenic ocean vistas. You can go for a weekend, or just make it a day trip from the San Francisco Bay area.

You can plan your Tomales Bay and Point Reyes day trip or weekend getaway using the resources below.

Tomales Bay and Point Reyes are popular with nature lovers, outdoorsmen and anyone who wants to get away from it all.

You'll also find some lovely beaches at Point Reyes.

Best Time to Go to West Marin

Coastal weather is best in spring and fall. Summer crowds can jam up U.S. Highway 1 like a clogged drain, weather tends to be gloomy then - and ocean currents make the water colder. I think the best time to visit is on a clear winter day when you can see further, but if you want to play on the beach, try for a warmer season.

Don't Miss

If you've only got a day, the place to go is Point Reyes National Seashore. Some people think it has nothing more to offer than a scenic lighthouse, but that's only the beginning. You'll also find pastoral landscapes, pretty beaches, a herd of tule elk and a surprising result of the 1906 earthquake. The name of those elk rhymes with Julie.

4 More Great Things to Do in West Marin

Go to the Beach: Besides the beaches in Point Reyes National Seashore, you may like Dillon Beach north of Marshall or Stinson Beach and Muir Beach further south.

Water Play: Bring your kayak or rent one at Blue Waters Kayaking in Marshall. Point Reyes Outdoors in Point Reyes Station also offers kayak rentals and tours.

Oyster Farms: Both of the oyster farms at Tomales Bay are open to the public, sometimes selling their products as soon as they get them out of the water.

According to friends in the restaurant industry, the old saying about eating oysters only in months with an "R" in their name doesn't apply here. You will need a reservation and will pay a small fee (which covers the use of shucking tools and a barbecue grill) to picnic at Hog Island Oyster Company.

Birding: Bolinas Lagoon is home to more than 245 different types of birds. At Audubon Canyon Ranch, you can visit during the spectacular heron and egret nesting season from the third weekend in March through the second weekend in July.

Annual Events 

Local artists hold an Open Studios Tour a couple of times a year. At Point Reyes, the annual sand sculpture contest is held on the Sunday of Labor Day1 weekend.

Tips for Visiting Tomales Bay and Point Reyes

  • Expect to average about 35 to 40 miles per hour while driving on U.S. Highway 1
  • Gas stations are sparse along the coast and prices are higher than inland. Fill your tank when you head west
  • If sunshine is important to you, check the forecast before you go: Like most of the coast, this area is prone to gloomy, overcast weather in summer.

Best Bites

I like Nick's Cove north of Marshall so much for its waterside location, attentive service and great food that it's hard to think of dining anywhere else.

I have also enjoyed nice meals at the Station House Cafe in Point Reyes Station.

Where to Stay

You'll find a few small hotels and B&Bs in the area. Your best bet to find one that's right for you is to go to Tripadvisor's hotel reviews and price comparisons for Olema, Marshall or Point Reyes Station.

Getting To Tomales Bay and Point Reyes

It depends on exactly where you're going, but Olema (near the Point Reyes Seashore entrance) is 37 miles from San Francisco, 87 miles from San Jose, 97 miles from Sacramento and 210 miles from Lake Tahoe.

If you're starting from the south, a casual look at the map may lead you to think you should simply take U.S. Highway 1 North. However, the section between Muir Beach and Sausalito is steep, curving and narrow, a white-knuckle drive that's not for everyone. And once you get over the hills, you may find yourself stuck in traffic in Stinson Beach.

These routes will both take you to U.S. Highway 1 from U.S. Highway 101. Depending on your plans, we recommend using one to go out to the coast and the other to get back.

  • Follow Sir Francis Drake Blvd west out of San Rafael through San Anselmo to Olema
  • Exit 101 at Washington Blvd in Petaluma and follow it west (the name changes to Bodega Ave and again Valley Ford Rd). Turn left onto Tomales-Petaluma Road to U.S. Highway 1

1 Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September.