Point Reyes is one of my absolute favorite places to shoot, it not only offers amazing views but also one of the best engagement session activities: beach fires! I’ll cover six of the best locations on the peninsula, there’s a lot more areas to explore though so before shooting there I would strongly suggest taking a day to wander around and find some good areas that fit your style. The weather is notoriously fickle here, and fog rolls in quickly. If you want bright, airy photos I would suggest shooting around midday, otherwise be willing to deal with a heavy amount of fog.
Keep in mind many of the park activities are closed during the weekdays, so plan accordingly. Before you head out make sure to pack some warm clothes, a blanket or two, and some wind resistant fire starter. Down at the end of the page are some links to park hours which do change occasionally, as well as permit information and a map of the greater Point Reyes area. Cell reception is nonexistent (for me anyway) so you may want to download the map.
Once you pass through Point Reyes Station you’ll be in mostly open country, so I would suggest filling up on gas here. There’s also a great little coffee shop called Toby’s Coffee Bar in town, there’s not a ton of restaurants but Palace Market is good for snacks/premade sandwiches.
1. Point Reyes Shipwreck
Once you pass through town your next stop is 8 minutes down the road at Inverness. This is where the popular Point Reyes Shipwreck is at, right behind The Inverness Store. Honestly the many times I’ve been here it hasn’t been crowded, maybe two or three people lingering about. Please respect the area, leave it better than you found it. The shipwreck almost completely burned a few years back due to some photographers messing around with steel wool, it would be a shame to lose what’s left of it.
2. Monterey Cypress Tree Tunnel
Continue down Sir Francis Drake Blvd, the road will progressively get worse as you continue on, and depending on the season certain stretches may be flooded so take your time. The next stop will be coming up on your right after around 15 minutes, the Monterey Cypress Tree Tunnel. This area does tend to get crowded at times, so you’ll have to work around the people. Again, please respect the area. There are many signs telling you not to park in the tunnel/under the trees themselves, this is to protect the surface roots of the cypress trees. You can either park on the road outside the tunnel or drive down to the end towards the water treatment plant, there will be a small parking lot on your left at the end. Park rangers come through here fairly often, if you have any direct questions about the area feel free to chat them up, they’ve always been pleasant to talk with.
3. Point Reyes North/South Beach
Both North and South beach will be on the right once you pass the Tree Tunnel. They are fairly similar, simple looking beaches but I prefer them for several different reasons. First, neither of them are as popular as the eastern Drake’s Beach, the difference between the amount of visitors is pretty crazy. The western beaches always just feel cleaner, they both have their own bathrooms, and the dunes near the parking lots are really neat. This is the best place to end the day with a campfire. You must have a permit, and can’t plan ahead as the permits must be obtained on the day you have the fire. There are two ways to get the free permits though: visitor centers and park rangers. If you really plan ahead you can stop at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, it has the most consistent hours being open weekdays 10am-5pm and weekends/holidays 9am-5pm. I’ve never personally been to this one as it is pretty out of the way, south of Point Reyes Station. The second and third visitor centers are the Lighthouse Visitor Center (all the way south at the tip of Point Reyes) and the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center (Drake’s Beach), both of which are closed during most weekdays. Because of this I normally snag a permit from a park ranger, who you can find driving around the park or most reliably at the tree tunnel. They come through there every 30 minutes or so I’ve found, and filling out the form only takes a minute or two.
4. Drake’s Beach
Drake’s beach is one of the more put together looking areas of Point Reyes, and borders Drake’s Bay. There’s a large parking lot and the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center has a sweet gift shop. Once you hit the beach the first thing you’ll notice is the cliffs jutting up along both sides. To the right there is a trail you can take up to the top of one of these cliffs. I tend to not visit Drake’s beach that much due to the amount of visitors it attracts, but it’s worth taking the short hike up. You’ll get a great wrap around view of the ocean.
From the top of the rather large dune it’s an easy walk down the other side to a large pile of driftwood, and you can head back to the parking lot along the beach. This stretch is right up next to the cliff of the wall, a pretty great spot for some more abstract photos.
5. Lighthouse Visitor Center
If you head all the way to the end of the peninsula away from Drake’s Bay you’ll end up at another popular spot, Point Reyes Lighthouse. Parking here tends to be a bit of a nightmare, there’s a small parking lot which always seems to be full of tour buses so you’ll probably need to park along the road. It’s a short hike to the lighthouse itself but the views even from the road are pretty crazy. If you’re lucky enough to be there on a clear day you’ll be able to see all the way to Tomales Point, and the view of the beach is crazy. The walk to the lighthouse is paved and easy, with a slight uphill tilt. The lighthouse is closed Tue-Thu so plan accordingly. If you’re there on the weekend you can snag a fire permit for later on in the day. As a side note there are two overlooks along the south end where you can see sea lions and elephant seals. It isn’t great for photos as you aren’t allowed anywhere near the beaches, but it is always fun to spot them.
6. Tule Elk Reserve
The Tule Elk Reserve is one of my favorite spots in Point Reyes, but it is a bit away from everything else. Instead of continuing along Sir Francis Drake Blvd after seeing the shipwreck you’ll want to turn right onto Pierce Point Road. You aren’t guaranteed to see elk but if you do it will probably be a pretty large gang of them. There aren’t a lot of fences in this area so be cautious and keep your distance. They tend to stay away from people and the road as far as I’ve seen, but you definitely don’t want to piss off an elk so constant vigilance is key. If you head all the way up Tomales Point you’ll end up at the historic Pierce Point Ranch, which has an incredible hike to Tomales Bluff. It’s a little long, and there is an easier walk to McClures Beach. Please note that fires, even with a permit, are not allowed in Tomales Bay.
Full map of Point Reyes National Seashore - http://npmaps.com/wp-content/uploads/point-reyes-map.jpg
Visitor centers and their hours - https://www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm
Beach fire rules - https://www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/beachfires.htm