Point Reyes is a 100-square-mile peninsula of dark forests, wind-sculpted dunes, endless beaches, and plunging sea cliffs. Aside from its beautiful scenery, it boasts man-made historical treasures that offer a window into California's coastal past, including lighthouses, turn-of-the-20th-century dairies and ranches, and the site of Sir Francis Drake's 1579 landing, plus a complete replica of a Coast Miwok Indian village.
The national seashore system was created to protect rural and undeveloped stretches of America's coast from the pressures of soaring real estate values and increasing population; nowhere is the success of the system more evident than at Point Reyes. Layers of human history coexist here with one of the world's most dramatic natural settings. Residents of the surrounding communities -- Inverness, Point Reyes Station, and Olema -- have resisted runaway development. You won't find any strip malls or fast-food joints here, just laid-back coastal towns with cafes and country inns where gentle living prevails. The park, a 71,000-acre hammer-shaped peninsula jutting 10 miles into the Pacific and backed by Tomales Bay, abounds with wildlife, ranging from tule elk, birds, and bobcats to gray whales, sea lions, and great white sharks.
The often idyllic scene on the surface is a sharp contrast to the seismic turmoil below. The infamous San Andreas Fault separates Point Reyes, the northernmost landmass on the Pacific Plate, from the rest of California, which rests on the North American Plate. Point Reyes is making its way toward Alaska at a rate of about 2 inches per year, but at times it has moved much faster. In 1906, Point Reyes jumped north almost 20 feet in an instant, leveling San Francisco and jolting the rest of the state. The .6-mile Earthquake Trail, near the Bear Valley Visitor Center, illustrates this geological drama with a loop through an area torn by the fault. Shattered fences, rifts in the ground, and a barn knocked off its foundation by the quake illustrate that the earth is alive here. If that doesn't convince you, a look at a seismograph in the visitor center will.