Okay, I’m going to share my Point Reyes Lighthouse family travel tips for a successful visit to the visitor center at the point of this National Seashore.
First of all, it probably WON’T look like my photos when you go! Sorry. We were soooooooo incredibly lucky to have sunshine and a clear view on the day we visited. Even if it’s sunny inland, there’s a good chance it will be foggy when you get to the coast. You just might not know what you are going to get until you arrive. On the Point Reyes official website it even warns that the stairs to the Lighthouse close when it’s too windy or wet. The official website does a good job covering the weather & tides.
It’s a long and windy drive to get to the Lighthouse. But it’s beautiful! Make sure you look out the window! We spotted osprey nests, funky architecture, mysterious tidal views, wildflowers, cypress trees, meadows with cows munching close to the ocean, peek-a-boo views of the beach, and historic farms. It sounds like it gets busy during whale watching season and you might be required to park and take a shuttle bus. On our April Spring Break visit, we were able to drive right up to the small parking lot.
Everyone just wanted to MOVE once we got out of the car! So we walked from the parking lot to the shuttle bus stop and beyond is a narrow & bumpy-with-rocks trail out to a point.
Family Travel Tips On-the-Way to the Lighthouse
We were traveling with an 8, 12, and 15 year old. I was okay sending them on this short trail ahead of us. We could see them the whole way and we warned them to stay behind the barrier. I’d be a lot more cautious with little ones and keep them in arm’s reach, because the steep bluff is unforgiving. No mistakes out here where the view is breathtaking – with a drop to match! We just stood for 20+ minutes and watched the surf pound the shore.
It’s an out-and-back-trail, so we returned to the white sign board and headed up the paved pedestrian road towards the Visitor Center. Have the kids keep their eyes out for deer, birds, and interesting fauna growing out of the cypress on the way. My daughter spotted all of this on her own:
Park employee lodgings and the restroom building is the next place you’ll reach and it’s a good idea to stop, in case you decide to tackle the 300 stairs down to the lighthouse (where there are NO restrooms). Then you’ll come upon the little Visitor Center with super-friendly rangers.
If this is as far as you make it, then it’s okay. The kids will like the Visitor Center and there are lots of places to look at the views over the railing. There’s a picnic area at the top of the steps to the Lighthouse. We actually did our whale viewing from up here, because you can see further and watch the whales actually round the coast. BUT the stairs are fun if only to say that you conquered them!
Going Down the Stairs
It’s doesn’t look too bad. It looks do-able.
The view to the left is a rocky coast.
With my zoom, I was able to pick out some Common Murre’s on a rock to the right. I thought they were penguins from far away! See the wildflowers in the foreground?
Going Up the Stairs
Um, it’s a little different story when you get to the bottom and you’re looking up.
But the stairs are numbered! Genius! A parent must have designed this trick. Count backwards from this number going up and take lots of breaks!
The Lighthouse and Whale Watching
Of course, the Lighthouse is the big pay off and looking for whales off the coast. I wrote a companion piece with Gray Whale Photos for Kids taken from our Point Reyes trip.
Other family hikes in the area:
- Explore Family-Friendly Limantour Beach in Point Reyes (MarinMommies.com)
- Hiking with Kids (BAHiker.com)
- Point Reyes for Kids (PointReyesWeekend.com)
- Check the weather
- Check the seasonal hours of operation
- Do you have enough gas in your car and time in your schedule to make the drive out and back? You won’t want to rush this excursion!
- Do you have a windbreaker or sweatshirt?
- Did you bring binoculars and your camera if it’s a clear day?
- Did you pack a snack or a picnic? Closest restaurants and markets are in Point Reyes Station which is still quite a distance away from the Lighthouse.
Get more info on the area:
- Point Reyes National Seashore – Lighthouse Visitor Center website
- MALT – Marin Agricultural Land Trust
- Nearby campgrounds
- Point Reyes National Seashore Junior Ranger
- Day Out in Point Reyes Station (MarinMommies.com)
- Kid-friendly activities for Point Reyes Station (Trekaroo.com)