Planning a fall visit to Point Reyes? Here’s why locals love autumn — and some of our favorite things to do.
Summer is the high season for tourists in West Marin, as our city neighbors pour out of San Francisco, the East Bay and Sacramento to enjoy fresh oysters, pristine beaches, wildlife and summer water sports out on Tomales Bay. But when the summer crowds thin out and summer begins to give way to fall, we locals know the best time of the year is just getting underway!
A great time for photography
Fall weather is spectacular in Point Reyes. The air gets so crisp and clear, it seems you can see forever. Take a short and very rewarding hike out to the point at Chimney Rock and you’ll very likely be able to see Twin Peaks in San Francisco. The light and the colors change as well, making this a fabulous time for photographers to get amazing shots of everything from wildlife to sweeping landscapes.
Point Reyes is a haven for birders, and fall offers a perfect time to catch the fall migration. Whether it’s spotting brown pelicans out on the rocks and cliffs or our large population of vagrant birds, like wood warblers, Point Reyes hosts an astonishing concentration and variety of birds. “Guests love using the binoculars we provide to watch birds from the deck,” says Mamie Yee, inkeeper at Black Heron Inn. Some innkeepers and hotels, such as Osprey Peak and Marconi, provide binoculars or Point Reyes birding guides. If you don’t see them in your room, just ask the innkeeper or at the front desk.
Fall is the season when our protected herds of Tule Elk get their mating rituals underway. Males go all out to win the right to mate. There are herds of elk all over Point Reyes National Seashore park, but the best place to see them is in the Tule Elk Preserve at Tomales Point. You’re very likely to hear the males bugling, locking antlers with other males and attempting to round up harems as they compete.
They’re pretty amped up this time of year, so it’s advised you bring binoculars and stay on the trails. Don’t try to hike through the grass to get close to them, and if they’re on the trail, give them plenty of space. If you’re a photographer, this is the time to bring a good telephoto lens, or boost that digital zoom on your mirrorless camera. And note that pets are not allowed in these areas.
Bioluminescence on Tomales Bay
The best time of year to see bioluminescence on Tomales Bay is autumn. Bioluminescence is created by single celled organisms called dinoflagellates that emit a flash of light when agitated. They concentrate in large numbers near the surface of the water, and when you move your hand through the water, or your oar if you’re kayaking, they put on a magical, otherworldly light show.
The best time to experience bioluminescence is on a moonless night, so plan to be on the bay on a waning moon as close to the new moon as possible. You can sometimes see bioluminescence in ocean waves as well.
If you’re an avid kayaker, you can take your kayak out on the bay on a moonless night, or book a bioluminescence kayak tour. Guests at Marconi can launch their kayaks just across the street, and if you score waterfront lodging in a vacation rental like Coal & Feed, you can sit on your deck on moonless nights and look for the bioluminescence in the waves.
One look around our gorgeous wooded terrain and any mushroom enthusiast will know this is mushroom territory. The best time for mushrooms in Point Reyes starts a couple of weeks after the first soaking rain of autumn and lasts through spring.
While it’s illegal to collect or remove things from the park (like fallen elk antlers), you’re legally permitted to collect 2 gallons plus one mushroom per day, per adult. I’ve never understood the plus one mushroom part of this regulation, but I’ll take the extra mushroom anyway! Here are some great guides to identify mushrooms.
Mushroom collecting is serious business, though, and every year people die because they pick and eat wild mushrooms without correctly identifying them. Unless you have a lot of experience identifying safe mushrooms, the best way to enjoy these local seasonal delights is to head to one of our local restaurants.
Talk to any West Marin chef and they will tell you how spoiled they are! They’re able to source the highest quality meat, seafood, dairy and produce without leaving the area code, and that goes for incredible mushrooms as well. Porcini, morrells, chanterelles — you’ll see these pop up on local menus, from casual eateries like the Tap Room, to restaurants like Saltwater, Station House Cafe and Tony’s Seafood Restaurant up in Marshall.
Explore Point Reyes National Seashore on horseback before the autumn rains set in. You and your horse will appreciate the cooler weather and less crowded trails. Definitely start your visit at the Bear Valley Visitor’s Center, where you can talk to rangers, pick up a trail map and get an update on current trail conditions.
Three lodging options that offer nearby or onsite stabling are: Point Reyes Country Inn & Stables, Cottages on the Bay or Groom’s Quarters (which is located directly above the stables in Point Reyes Station).
One of the rituals I love in fall and winter is building up an evening fire to enjoy as the nights get chillier and longer. Rather than having my living room oriented around a TV, everything is centered around the fireplace in the cooler months — creating a perfect spot to read, contemplate and chat with friends and family.
Go here for lodging options that have a fireplace or wood stove. Put on some music instead of Netfilix, or curl up with a good book.
Dog Friendly Point Reyes
“What’s my favorite fall activity? Anything involving my pup!” says Brenna Schlagenhauf of Tony’s Seafood Restaurant.
“It’s tough to find dog-friendly trails in Point Reyes National Seashore, but a few exceptions do exist. Kehoe Beach Trail and Kehoe Beach, north of the trailhead are some of my favorite dog-friendly places to relax, unwind and enjoy the outdoors.”
We love dogs in Point Reyes, but many trails don’t allow them. This is to protect delicate wildlife habitats. But don’t let that deter you from having a perfect Point Reyes getaway with your dog.
You can get a trail map at Bear Valley Visitor’s Center that will show which trails allow dogs and which don’t. Also note that some trails allow dogs, but only on certain parts of the trail or beach.
One such trail is at Millerton Point. “Just a 10 minute drive from the cottages is a great one mile loop hike at Millerton, just off Hwy. 1, with spectacular views of Tomales Bay, Inverness, Inverness Ridge and Black Mountain,” recommends Doris Ferrando, innkeeper at Ferrando’s Hideaway Cottages in Point Reyes Station. You’ll see signs once you’re there showing which part of the trail is open to dogs. I really enjoy this trail, especially in the mornings. It’s right off the highway and there’s parking and a toilet.
Often, your innkeeper or hotel front desk will have information on dog friendly trails and restaurants.
Here are some dog friendly lodging options in the Point Reyes area: cute puppy alert: there’s a seriously adorable Pt Reyes puppy video at the bottom of that page! Inns such as Point Reyes Station Inn allow well behaved dogs in certain rooms and not others.
Holidays in Point Reyes
Before moving to Point Reyes, I lived in San Francisco and regularly planned to spend Thanksgiving in Point Reyes. It’s a magical place to gather with friends and family. However, you need to plan ahead, because it’s a very popular destination, plus some restaurants and lodging businesses close for Thanksgiving. Here’s a guide to planning your Thanksgiving in Point Reyes.
Keeping Point Reyes Beautiful
Keeping Point Reyes clean and pristine is important for locals and visitors alike. Here’s some friendly advice for a safe, low impact visit.
Wild animals aren’t pets. Stay on marked trails and please don’t attempt to approach them or feed them. You may also encounter livestock on some trails. The same goes for them. Enjoy the variety of animals you see, but give them space — for your safety and to preserve their habitats.
Please don’t leave trash behind. You’ll find trash bins at many trailheads, but if they are not there or if they are full, be prepared to take out whatever you’ve brought in. If you’ve got a picnic with you, consider bringing reusable utensils, straws, napkins and water bottles.
Don’t take stuff out of the park. I know it’s tempting! You’ve come across an amazing set of antlers shed by a male elk and you want to take them home. Or perhaps you’ve a mind to dig up a few flower bulbs and see how they do in your yard.
When you look around, nature seems so abundant here…who would miss these small things? The fact is, they would be missed. The ecosystem of the park is finely balanced. We have a lot of visitors to the park every year and if even a portion of them took things home, it would be very destructive to that balance. So, look, enjoy, take pictures and memories home…not things. Of course, there are some wonderful things you are allowed to take home with you, and you can find that information here.
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