Point Reyes and Elk Cheese

Jeff Regan
All articles Close

Editor’s Note: Jeff Regan is a member of LTV’s sponsored content team, The Leisure Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

Point Reyes National Seashore is a National Park in Marin County, California, a 71,000-acre nature preserve on a Peninsula set aside by President John F. Kennedy, where Elk roam and Peregrine Falcons soar. To get there from the south, you could cross the Golden Gate Bridge and cut over to Highway One through Stinson Beach. It’s a beautiful, breathtaking drive, but not recommended! I know because Susan suggested we go home that way. The crazy tight cliff curves are as gnarly as anything to be found elsewhere on Highway One. Instead, it is best to stay on the 101 and cut over at Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Greenbrae to get to Highway One.

Originally inhabited by Coast Miwok Indians, Sir Francis Drake discovered this area in the late 1500s. Centuries later it hasn’t changed all that much. Picturesque cliffs and beaches, sweeping vistas, teeming with wildlife. Just before the small town called Point Reyes Station, is the Bear Valley Visitor Center, which was impressive and has some good hiking trails around it, plus a huge meadow. Inside the visitor center is a taxidermist’s dream with scores of various local animal and bird species stuffed and posed in representations of their habitats.

Photo by Susan Regan

To get to the newly restored Point Reyes Lighthouse, you drive through Inverness, along Tomales Bay which is well-known for its fresh oysters. Behind a hardware store is a famous shipwreck that is often seen on Instagram called the S.S. Point Reyes which is a steamship that crashed on a sand bar over 100 years ago. Possibly the most photographed abandoned boat in our hemisphere! The road to the lighthouse is pretty isolated and depending on the time of day, you will see many deer crossing the road as well as some cattle. Elk and coyotes can be seen as well. The 1870 light station features 300 steps down to the 35′ lighthouse, which is 294 feet above sea level–the windiest and foggiest on the Pacific Coast–it is a twin of Cape Mendocino Light. The lighthouse was used as a location for the 1980 John Carpenter film “The Fog”.  I think this could explain why we never saw the sun on our visit. Thankfully, we experienced little fog in the town of Point Reyes Station, Inverness, and at the Olema Campground where we stayed. Across from us at the campground was a newer Unity, but they weren’t there in the evening and left the next morning. There was also another Unity at the visitors center the following day. At this point, I have to admit that we never actually found the town of Olema, but I’m sure it’s nice.

The S.S. Point Reyes barely looks its age! A coat of paint would do wonders!
Point Reyes Lighthouse, restored in 2019, including Fresnel lens.
Olema Campground. That’s a good-looking motorhome in the background!
Olema Campground is a large property that is located close to the National Park. Photo by Susan Regan

There is the Tule Elk Reserve. Didn’t find it either. There are a couple of places such as Alamere Falls, a waterfall that falls right onto the beach from a bluff, and Tomales Point, which has a description of  “Elk, hiking, and Great White Shark”. These places are only accessible via 8 and 9.5-mile hikes, respectively. No, we didn’t find them, had no intention of doing the hikes. I’m sure they’re nice. We did, however, walk the entire 1.75-mile Chimney Rock Trail, offering views of Drakes Bay and the Pacific Ocean and is renowned for spring wildflowers. The historic Point Reyes Lifeboat Station, in service from 1927-1968 can be seen from the trail. There were many deer and an incredible Peregrine Falcon perched on a bluff. I cleverly had the wrong lens to capture a close-up photo of this magnificent bird.

A 24-70mm lens is inadequate for bird photography, even after cropping.
Historic Point Reyes Lifeboat Station

Enough about wildlife! Let’s talk restaurants and cheese! We had lunch at a wonderful place in Inverness called Saltwater Oyster Depot that had delicious small plates with oysters and differing preparations of red wine and sparkling wine flights. My wife thought the prices were so reasonable, she practically ordered the entire lunch menu. There was a very lovely picnic area next to the parking area, but we found this after eating inside the restaurant. The town of Point Reyes Station, population 350, has nice restaurants, including the Road House on the way to town, which features some Latin American and beef dishes sourced from the cattle ranches on the Point Reyes Peninsula. Although Susan enjoyed the veggie burger that tasted and looked like real beef she had to double-check with the waiter to make sure.

The town has some boutiques, a bakery, hotel and saloon, a library, a gas station, and an amazing cheese store, known as Cowgirl Creamery, named for the two female founders. I intended to find out if they offered elk cheese as I had read about moose cheese from Sweden. As with many places, like the lighthouse, it was closed during the week except on Friday due to being the off-season. Our RV trip ended on Friday morning but we made sure we hit up Cowgirl Creamery before leaving, as neighbors from home had specific Cowgirl cheese orders (but no elk cheese). These neighbors are really into cheese. My appreciation of cheese stems from it being a good excuse to drink wine.

Could any of these be Elk Cheese?

The Cypress Tree Tunnel in Inverness, found along the way to the lighthouse, is also a very well photographed spot. Having a beautiful and somewhat well-known grove of Cypress trees on a bluff that is visible from my loft at home, I am not one to be easily impressed, yet I was this time! The driveway through the Monterey Cypress trees leads to an old building housing the Point Reyes National Seashore North District Operations Center and KPH RCA Radio Station, the latter being the home of the Maritime Radio Historical Society, formed on July 12, 1999, the date of the supposed last commercial Morse code transmission in the U.S. This is how messages were relayed to sailors at sea before satellite communication. Limited public visits are allowed at this restored receive site and you’ll need to thread your way through photographers on the way into the building.

That’s fancy driveway landscaping!

There are several beaches on the Point Reyes National Seashore. Another well-known photo location is a shot of the very long Point Reyes Beach from the bluff near the lighthouse. It’s so long that it is called Point Reyes Beach North and South with separate entrances. Limantour Road leads to Drakes Bay, Drakes Beach with its Kenneth C. Patrick visitor center, and Limantour Beach, another unspoiled beach that goes on for miles.

Susan and I had only been to Point Reyes once before, for a day, about 20 years earlier with a car club. Now, I have to admit that we wanted a quick get away from our foggy coastal area, we might have thought upon arrival, as to why we just traveled to another foggy coastal area? Those thoughts soon disappeared after spending time in this uniquely beautiful and captivating National Park. Quiet and uncrowded during the fall and winter months except for the crowds of deer which were seemingly everywhere. If you happen to be in the California North Coast area, Point Reyes is highly recommended, even if there is no elk cheese to be found!

Jeff Regan

Related Posts