1. Point Reyes and Tomales Bay
With an enormous 71,000 acres of nature preserve on the Pacific Coast, Point Reyes is a dramatic windswept land populated by elephant seals, old growth Douglas-fir forests and a 145-year-old lighthouse. Start your trip at the Bear Valley Visitor Center to pick up trail maps then make your way to Chimney Rock, where a five minute walk from the parking lot takes you to a cliff's-edge vantage point. If you're visiting between January and April, keep your eyes peeled for the Pacific gray whale migration which passes just off the coast on the journey between Baja California and feeding grounds in Alaska. At the Tule Elk Preserve, hike or take a ranger-led tour to get a glimpse of these majestic animals (July to September is rutting season), or visit the historic Pierce Point Ranch at the trailhead. If you want a dip in the water, Heart’s Desire Beach in neighboring Tomales Bay has shallower and warmer waters than the open ocean.
Food options abound in nearby Point Reyes Station, a small rustic town at the mouth of the bay. Cowgirl Creamery churns out its award-winning artisanal cheeses on site—in a restored hay barn—and the Cowgirl Cantina has creamy tomato soups, cheddar toasties and the classic organic ham and Mount Tam sandwich. Point Reyes Books deserves a look-in while you’re here. This winsome little independent bookstore has respectable collections on wildlife and the environment, and routinely hosts events involving the local artists’ community. Just up bay, feast on classic oyster and Dungeness crab delights with a view at Hog Island Oyster Company's farm and the Marshall Store.
Distance from SF: 1 hour 30 mins