As most ardent Bay Area mountain bikers know, Point Reyes National Seashore has some of the finest mountain-bike trails in the region -- narrow dirt paths winding through densely forested knolls ending with spectacular ocean views. A trail map (available free at the Bear Valley Visitor Center) is a must, because many trails are off-limits to bikes.
Point Reyes National Seashore boasts one of the most diverse bird populations in the country, with over 490 different species sighted. Popular bird-watching spots are Abbotts Lagoon and Estero de Limantour. You can hang out with the pros at the Point Reyes Bird Observatory-Palomarin Field Station (tel. 415/868-0655; www.prbo.org), one of the few full-time ornithological research stations in the United States, at the southeast end of the park on Mesa Road. This is where ornithologists keep an eye on the myriad feathered species that call the seashore home. Admission to the visitor center and nature trail is free, and visitors are welcome to observe the tricky process of catching and banding the birds. The observatory is open Tuesday to Sunday sunrise to sunset spring to fall, with more limited hours in the winter (banding hours vary; call for times).
Equestrian activities are very popular at Point Reyes, where all of the trails (save Bear Valley Trail on weekends and holidays) are horse-friendly. A good resource is Five Brooks Ranch (tel. 415/663-1570; www.fivebrooks.com), located at the Five Brooks Trailhead, 3 1/2 miles south of Olema on Highway 1. The ranch offers guided trail rides at prices ranging from $40 for an hour-long ride to about $240 for a 6-hour beach ride.
Blue Waters Kayaking (tel. 415/669-2600; www.bwkayak.com) offers kayak trips, including 3-hour sunset outings, 3 1/2-hour full-moon paddles, yoga tours, day trips, and longer excursions. Instruction and clinics are available, and all ages and skill levels are welcome. Prices start at $68 for tours. Four-hour rentals begin at $460 for one person, $90 for two; stand-up paddleboards are also available. Basic skill classes last a full day and run $110. There are no waves to contend with in placid Tomales Bay, a haven for migrating birds and marine mammals. The launching point is on Calif. 1 at the Marshall Boatworks in Marshall, 8 miles north of Point Reyes Station.
Each year, gray whales (the barnacles make them appear gray) migrate from their winter breeding grounds in the warm waters off Baja California to their summer feeding grounds in Alaska. You can observe them as they undertake their 10,000-mile journey from numerous points in the seashore. The most popular vantage point is the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
During peak season (Dec-Mar), you might see dozens of whales from the lighthouse, and the Lighthouse Visitor Center offers great displays on whale migration and maritime history. During this period, the Park Service runs a shuttle from Drakes Beach to the Point Reyes Lighthouse ($5 adults, free for children under 17), where watchers have been known to see as many as 100 whales in a single afternoon. Even if the whales don't materialize, the lighthouse itself, a fabulous old structure teetering high above the sea at the tip of a promontory, is worth a visit. Two other spots, Chimney Rock, east of the lighthouse, and Tomales Point, at the northern end of the park, offer just as many whales without the crowds.