An escape to the middle of nowhere always sounds great. Until, that is, you get there and suddenly realize: there's nothing to do. Of course, if you're lucky - or if you've planned your getaway just right - you end up in a place where "middle of nowhere" meets "plenty to do." A place like Point Reyes National Seashore.
Encompassing mountains and meadows, forests and beaches, with 150 miles of hiking trails and over 1,500 species of plants and animals, this National Park may be secluded, but it's a veritable world unto itself. And just a short drive from the park, there are local delicacies to taste, waves to paddle, and places full of small-town character to discover.
Start your exploration by checking into HI Point Reyes, the only accommodation located inside the National Park. Then, get ready to follow us on a two-day adventure.
Morning: With just two days to fit in all the landscapes, activities, and tastes Point Reyes has to offer, you'll want to keep your energy up. So stop in the little town of Point Reyes Station on your way to the hostel and fuel up at Toby's Coffee Bar. Just off downtown's "Main Street" (which is actually a low-key stretch of Highway 1), Toby's serves organic teas, espresso drinks, and pastries out of a tiny window. Grab your breakfast and sit down at one of the nearby picnic tables, or slip down a tiny corridor to the side of the coffee bar and into a lovely community garden.
If you get your morning energy from exercise rather than caffeine, drop in for a class just next door at Yoga Toes yoga studio, a little oasis of calm complete with a backyard zen garden.
Toby's Coffee Bar, the community garden, and Yoga Toes are all clustered around Toby's Feed Barn, a country store whose name you shouldn't let fool you. Yes, Toby's does sell pet food, hay, and grain. But it's also got plenty to offer human shoppers, like gourmet foods, locally pressed olive oil, Point Reyes T-shirts, country-chic kitchen linens, jewelry, and much more. At the back of the building, an art gallery featuring a different Northern California artist every month is free to enter and enjoy.
Every Saturday, Toby's also hosts Point Reyes's all-local farmers' market, where you can load up your basket with fresh fruits and veggies, local honey, homemade jams, and lots of other goodies for later.
Afternoon: From Toby's, it's about a 20-minute drive up to the Point Reyes National Seashore, where HI Point Reyes sits perched up in the hills. Check-in at the hostel doesn't start until 4:30, but you can park in the on-site lot and leave your bags in the car or store them at the hostel until then.
Because HI Point Reyes is the only accommodation located within the National Seashore, many guests use the hostel as a jumping-off point for hiking, cycling, and wildlife-watching adventures.
To do the same, take your pick of trails this afternoon with a little help from the National Parks Service, which has suggestions for all hikers, no matter what their fitness levels or time constraints.
History buffs should be sure to make the quick trip down the Kule Loklo Trail, which leads from the Bear Valley Visitors' Center to a replica of a Coastal Miwok village.
Animal lovers won't want to miss the Tomales Point Trail to Windy Gap, which takes hikers past Point Reyes' Tule Elk Reserve. The majestic tule elk was once native to California, but was hunted nearly to the point of extinction during the state's Gold Rush days. Several decades ago, though, the state legislature mandated the protection of the species. The elk have since been reintroduced in reserves across the state, and one of the largest populations is here at the Point Reyes National Seashore.
In the mood for something a little further off the beaten path? You can also plot your own course through mountains, beaches, and marshland full of birds by consulting a map of the Park's full trail system.
For a bit more adrenaline, try spending an afternoon off-road cycling through the park. The National Seashore's vast network of trails will take you past pristine forest, beach, and marsh land, with plenty of opportunities to stop along the way for picnicking or bird-spotting. You can bring your own mountain bike and store it at the hostel, or rent one in Point Reyes Station from Point Reyes Outdoors. This local outfitter offers lots of helpful information on the park's different biking trails, which you can use with the NPS's own maps of the park's bike-use trails to plan the route that's right for you.
Evening: The area surrounding the National Park may not have the cosmopolitan offerings of a big city, but that doesn't mean radio silence once the sun goes down. In Point Reyes Station, the Station House Café offers a seasonal dinner menu and live music every Sunday starting at 5:00 p.m., plus live blues the third Monday night of each month. Just down the street, Osteria Stellina serves rustic-elegant Italian in a warm, modern setting. And over in the teensy town of Olema, just a few miles from Point Reyes Station, Sir and Star serves the kind of locavore menu people make early reservations - and pay a pretty penny - to taste.
Of course, you don't have to blow the budget to enjoy an evening in Point Reyes. For a casual, wallet-friendly night out, try surrounding yourself with pitch-perfect, old school divey-ness at the Old Western Saloon in Point Reyes Station, where the drinks are simple and the music is live.
Morning: It takes a lot of work to keep Point Reyes and the state's other National Parks so beautiful. So this morning, try lending a hand on one of the park's on-site volunteer programs. Get to know the park on a deeper level as you help restore native plant habitats, maintain the Kule Loklo village, monitor coho salmon populations, or clean up streams for native fish populations. Not only is volunteering a rewarding way to spend a morning in the park, it gives you a chance to work and talk with rangers and other experts who can tell you far more about the park than you'd learn exploring on your own.
Afternoon: After a morning of good deeds, you deserve to treat yourself for an afternoon. Luckily, the little towns surrounding Point Reyes National Seashore make this a certifiable foodie destination. In the town of Point Reyes Station, spend your afternoon on a cheese tour with local favorite Cowgirl Creamery, or max out on carbs in the most delicious way at Bovine Bakery. Then take to the highway hugging Tomales Bay for a taste of the oysters for which this area's legendary. Whether you like them barbecued, covered in bacon, or served raw and on ice, you'll find them on Tomales Bay. Eat yourself silly with our complete guide to saving and splurging in this foodie haven, but be sure to take some of the goods home with you for dinner.
Make a stop at Heidrun Meadery for a delicious end to the afternoon. This meadery is one of the only places you're likely to find meade - that fermented honey concoction that brings to mind Vikings and beer halls - produced in the bubbly style of champagne. The result is fun, refreshing, and unique. You can taste it for yourself, either by the glass on the meadery's patio or by the flight in its tasting room, by setting up an appointment in advance.
Evening: If you're feeling up to another adventure at the end of the day, it's worth splurging on a sunset, full-moon, or bioluminescent paddling tour with Blue Water Kayaks. The bioluminescent tour, on which you'll see microorganisms glowing underwater on dark, clear nights, is especially popular, and is a favorite of HI Point Reyes General Manager Hanna Morris.
For a more relaxed evening in, drive back up to the hostel and prepare for round two of the day's feast. HI Point Reyes has a gorgeous outdoor dining area with picnic tables and a big barbecue for grilling when the weather's nice; when it's not, the hostel has a huge kitchen and plenty of dining space. Whatever you've got left over from the weekend's haul – fresh oysters, local cheeses, Bovine Bakery bread, or perhaps some organic, grass-fed meats from Marin Sun Farms – there's no better place to enjoy it than right here, under the stars, in the middle of nowhere.
Stay at HI-Point Reyes, the only accommodation within the boundaries of Point Reyes National Seashore.