Point Reyes/Tomales Bay is one of Northern California’s greatest natural wonders. Thanks to Marin’s pioneering open space preservation agency (MALT), progressive politics and a concerned electorate most of the bay and lands surrounding it are in a near natural state. Tomales bay remains largely wild but accessible, oyster farms on the bay are not just tolerated, but welcomed by most. The bay is a narrow finger of protected salt water not overly spoiled by development, a solid compromise between preservation and access.
The other bodies of water in Pt Reyes are not as accessible. The NPS imposes many restrictions to discourage kayakers; they make paddling in Drake’s Bay or the two esteros difficult most of the year. When conditions are right and the closures not too severe the trip out of Drake’s to the lighthouse and back is one of the most scenic and memorable paddles on the West coast.
The west side of Tomales is mostly state and national parkland. The east side is parkland, scattered houses, ranches and businesses, none outsized or overbearing. Driving north on Highway One out of Point Reyes Station there are many places to get your boat salty, and buy or bar-b-que oysters for dinner.
Formed by plate tectonics, split by the San Andreas fault, the bay marks the margins of the Pacific and North American plates. A narrow mouth blocks the fierce North Pacific swell, a rough and shallow bar discourages visiting boats, steep cliffs on the west side break the prevailing northwest winds. Only two miles wide yet fifteen miles long, most of the bay is less than ten feet deep, it is a small boaters paradise.
Boat traffic is sporadic, mostly private fishing and the occasional commercial oystermen. You are never farther than a mile from a shore, and topography makes rough seas rare. Paddlers need to respect cold water, understand how to deal with wind, eight feet of tidal range and currents up to five knots. Even within those conditions it is much safer and productive paddling than any bay on the North coast.
Minus tides at the bay’s mouth provide unequaled tidepooling and see legions of clammers swarm out of Dillon Beach covering the sandbars, hurriedly digging down two or three feet to get to their quarry before the rising tide drives them off.
A quick crossing from east to west will take you to state or national park lands, all with stunning small beaches where camping is permitted, some accessible by backpackers, most only by boat. When the weather is right it is the best coastal kayak camping in the state.
If you scan the western hills carefully you will see elk, and likely deer and raccoons, from time to time coyotes, less frequently bobcats and mountain lions, and potentially brown bears. Gray whales visit the bay infrequently, but are seen every year.