Fifteen miles south of Oxnard on the coast is Point Mugu State Park. Located in the Santa Monica mountains, the park features rocky bluffs and sandy beaches, rugged hills, and two river canyons. There are more than seventy miles of hiking trails here as well as surfing, kite surfing, and windsurfing activities. Parking at the Big Sycamore Canyon Trailhead is three dollars per hour or twelve dollars a day. There's also camping available here.
In December 2015 and Memorial Day Weekend 2016, I was a member of two very different trips (one a gathering of college friends in a modern day woodsy fairyland castle and the other a birthday celebration for my boyfriend's mother) to the same place: Inverness, California. West Marin county is home to some of California's most beautiful coastline, rolling green hills with those happy cows from that very successful Californiacentric dairy campaign, and a nationally reserved seashore. Oh, and Tomales Bay oysters. Here are just seven reasons why Pt. Reyes should be your next weekend trip:
1. Beautiful beaches
I kind of think the photos speak for themselves. These are beautiful sandy and rocky beaches. We found a part of the beach that felt like our own private cove replete with caves and tidepools.
2. Cowgirl Creamery
Makers of the famous Mt. Tam and Red Hawk, as well as less known and seasonal cheeses, Cowgirl Creamery's dairy is located in Pt. Reyes. While you can find their cheeses in most grocery stores across the bay and they have their shop at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, there's something about buying their cheese in Pt. Reyes Station. This time around, I bought the seasonal St Pat, a spring cheese wrapped in nettle leaves.
3. Tomales Bay Oysters
I learned two things about oysters this weekend: my boyfriend's eleven-year-old nephew can shuck oysters faster and better than I can and you shouldn't eat them between May and August. They will be filled with milky, slimy not goodness: this is oyster spawning. *shudder* Every other time of year, absolutely take a trip to the Tomales Bay Oyster Company in Marshall, California and pick up a dozen or a couple dozen. My preference is the extra small or kumamotos.
4. Pt. Reyes Lighthouse
At the tip of the Pt. Reyes coast in the Gulf of the Farallones, is the historic Pt. Reyes Lighthouse. 300 steps down and 300 steps up, the lighthouse looks out to the Farallone Islands and is the edge of California. It is home to a beautifully crafted Fresnel lens and a clockwork mechanism.
5. Wildlife Viewing
I think I have waxed poetic about my love of the hideously adorable and gross elephant seals, but I can always say it again: I love these guys! The politics of elephant seal groups are fascinating and I could spend hours watching them.
Point Reyes is home to one of the largest Tule elk populations in California with over four hundred and forty elk. Majestic and imposing, spotting a Tule elk fills me with Bambi-like wonder and awe. This past weekend we spotted a well-antlered male with a harem of females. Right now is rutting season and the elk are traveling in large groups.
The flora changes with the seasons up here and fall's rusty reds, mustard yellows and eggplant purples have changed to the less dramatic but equally beautiful pastels of spring. Right now the grassy hills have soaked up the winter rains and maintain their velvet green winter coats.
7. Outdoorsing It
Kayaking and stand up paddle boarding are popular activities in the Tomales Bay. While I didn't find the kayaking to be as good as Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing, we did see a sting ray and the waters are much calmer than Elkhorn Slough. They also have a nighttime bioluminescent kayak tour.
Cycling, hiking, and camping are also popular in the area. Samuel P. Taylor State Park and several private campgrounds provide car camping. Backpacking camps are available in Pt. Reyes National Seashore and these hikes in are a great introduction to backpacking. Pt. Reyes was my first backpacking trip; a college friend and I, me decked out with a falling apart Jansport backpack, met up with two of his friends. Less than five miles, it eased me in and gave me what I hope will be a lifetime love of backpacking.
8. Location, Location, Location
Pt. Reyes is less than a hundred miles from San Jose and even closer to San Francisco and the East Bay. Not far from Napa, the Sonoma coast, or the lushly green Russian River (also home to Russian River Brewing Company), Pt. Reyes is a great first stop on a longer California road trip or a great jumping off point for a long holiday weekend.
9. Incredible Vacation Rentals
Yes, they will be expensive and you will need to plan months in advance, but the two vacation rentals I've stayed at here have been stunning. Gives you a lot more privacy and it's just fun to see what people build.
Not quite the wine country of Napa or some parts of Sonoma, West Marin does host vineyards, breweries, and even a meadery. Several vineyards to check out: Pt. Reyes Vineyard Inn, Corda Winery north of Nicasio, and Sean H. Thackrey & Co. in Bolinas. I have yet to check out Heidrun Meadery, but they have a radish honey mead that sounds fantastic.
We drive south from the Oregon Caves National Monument, our first stop was for fudge and a giant blue ox. At the amazing tourist stop in Klamath, California, we sampled several different types of fudge (can I just say that I don't get fudge? Like at all.), touched the testicles of a big blue ox, and stood in my first ever phone booth. This is one of my favorite road side attractioms I've ever encountered and every time I'm in the area I take my picture with Babe. I do think they could up the realism and pump artificial syrup and pancake smells into the air; it should seriously be made into an air freshener with a hint of pine. Never once when stopping here have I taken a tour of the "Trees of Mystery", but as it sounds like something ridiculous and cheesy I would probably immensely enjoy it.
Driving through the Redwoods National Park, I feel transported to a primordial forest enveloped in green and mist. It reminds me of that fucking terrifying movie Fern Gully, which is not nearly as good of an animated environmental film as Pom Poko, but far far more terrifying. Ferns carpet the ground and through the trees the slate gray ocean peaks through. The northern California coast is beautiful, isolated and wild. These seemingly endless forests open to the Humboldt Bay, a place in my mind that sticks out as depressing and marshy. It is capped by the college town of Arcata in the north and barracaded in the south by the dreary forgettable town of Eureka.
Eureka is made more forgettable because it should be memorable. I have been to Eureka numerous times and I don't ever remember doing anything here. I recall a memory of being bitchy to my friends in a motel here and I remember dirty gray buildings with tweakers shambling by. I know there's supposed to be a good brewery there, but the one thing we did on this trip was eat sandwiches on the hood of my car in a parking lot overwhelmed by the scent of rotting seaweed.
We kept driving. Further south on 101 is a turn off for California 254. Alex and I were trying our damndest to keep the ocean in our sight. We wanted to take the road less traveled, even though I'm not a huge fucking Robert Frost fan. We were going towards Honeydew, a little place with a post office and a school bus stop. There might even be a zipcode. We drove up steep hills on dirt roads and I sat in the passenger window and watched the trees flash by in a slow blur. An area known for its hidden pot and opium farms, this probably wasn't the smartest or safest idea, not that I ever expected a guy to be at the end of the road shotgun casually at his side.
The coast continues rocky, rugged, and foggy. Mendocino and Fort Bragg are small, ridiculously quaint towns on the coast. We stop for clam chowder in Fort Bragg and watch the fog roll in. Grudgingly we progress inward towards Ukiah, the county seat of Mendocino and what I thought at the time was a real true shit hole of a town. Smoky and disgustingly hot, Ukiah did not leave a great impression on me. To further exacerbate my hatred of it, Alex beat me at Scrabble by getting a triple word and triple letter score on the word zine. I'm not sure if that's a word. I don't even think people were using zine in 2008 anymore. Later, I returned to Ukiah and realized there is a great brewery in the downtown area and it's a much better place if it's not 90 degrees and has the air quality of a smoker's lung.
We drove the highways through Sonoma wine country out to the coast and along Tomales Bay, past Drake's Bay and across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Richmond District where we ate delicious Chinese food. Highway 1 south, hugging the cliffs past the Montara lighthouse, the waves of Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, and finally home to Santa Cruz.