Sometimes you just want to get in the car and go on a drive and enjoy the open-road. You know what I mean? Especially after a rough week, it’s a great feeling to get away from all the noise and be out in nature. Once in a while I love doing this. Take a drive on a panoramic road where the destination is not something touristy, but rather something more simple; it could be just to check out a farm-stand, or to stop by a special nursery, or in this case, to see a few grey and white seals.
A couple years ago when the family asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I told them I wanted to make a day trip out to Point Reyes, California to visit the Cowgirl Creamery Cheese Factory. We have been enjoying their cheeses for years, and once I found out their cheese factory was right here in Point Reyes, an hour north of San Francisco, I really wanted to check it out.
The family thought it was a great idea and on a Sunday morning we took a drive up to Cowgirl Creamery. We took scenic Hwy 1 northbound from San Francisco towards Point Reyes so we could enjoy the gorgeous coastal highway. Bad idea! We weren’t even driving 20-minutes when the kids were complaining of nausea and carsickness 😳. But once you are on Hwy 1, there is no turning back 😒. We told the kids to be patient, that we were going to be at our destination pretty soon (when in fact we knew we had at least another 30 minutes to go).
Just when the kids were ready to puke, as luck would have it, the road got flatter and less winding, and we caught sight of something wonderful off the road. A large group of seals, almost one hundred seals just lazily bumming on a sandbar. It caught us all by surprise. We stopped the car off the road and walked across to take a look.
What a beautiful sight! A whole group of seals just basking in the sun in this secluded lagoon, while two elderly gentlemen sat quietly with their fishing rods. It was picture perfect. I am guessing our family were the ones making all the noise at this serene scene. Ever since that day I have wanted to go back to see those seals again. There was something about that calm and beautiful setting that was so peaceful that I could have sat there for a long while just enjoying the surroundings.
Of course we made it to Cowgirl Creamery and stopped by their small cheese-making facility, which has now become a very popular deli and cafe (like Oakville Grocery in Napa). On this trip we also discovered the beautiful town of Point Reyes Station.
Fast-forward to 2016, and going on a drive to see those seals again sounded like a great idea on this fall, Saturday morning a couple weeks ago. Hitesh was happy to join me on this drive but as he pointed out, the seals may not be there any more even if we found the right location. But I told him the drive could be a nice autumn excursion and he agreed, and we set off on our scenic drive. Only this time our destination was not the Cowgirl Creamery, it was to see those seals basking in the sun with not a soul in sight.
Since we just stumbled upon the seals when we saw them last, we had to guess where they might be hanging out off Hwy 1. So we did some research on the map and found an area south of Point Reyes where we noticed a few shallow sandbars. This was the only location that seemed plausible for where the seals might be, and it was called Bolinas Lagoon.
With a few large sandbars as our landmark we headed for Bolinas Lagoon. Despite how gorgeous highway 1 is, this time we chose to take an alternate route. We started our scenic drive on Hwy 280 northbound towards San Francisco, drove over Golden Gate Bridge and continued past Sausalito, Mill Valley and Larkspur. We then took the Sir Francis Drake Blvd exit and headed towards Point Reyes. This was a very different scenery than the coastal route of Hwy 1, but beautiful nonetheless. The road took us through little towns of Kentfield, San Anselmo, and Fairfax to name a few. Kentfield was an especially charming town with lots of bohemian cafes, boutiques and lovely architecture. We drove past rolling hills and redwoods of Marin County, and then turned left onto Hwy 1 southbound near Point Reyes , towards the sandbars and the seals.
Fifteen minutes south of Point Reyes as Hwy 1 flattens and gently curves left and right, we caught sight of beautiful Bolinas Lagoon. I was still doubtful if it was the right location, but Hitesh assured me that if the seals were going to be here, this was the place, to just keep an eye out for those sandbars.
And then I caught sight of the sandbars and the seals! They were here in Bolinas Lagoon. Over one hundred seals just lying on the sand enjoying the gorgeous autumn sunshine. We pulled over off the road and walked over to take a closer look.
Bolinas Lagoon is absolutely stunning. It is a beautiful area surrounded by green hills, glistening blue waters, and a few sandbars where seals just bask in the sunshine and tranquility of this gorgeous area.
We spent a long while just enjoying the scenery and watching the seals. We actually spotted another group of seals chilling on another sandbar a little further away. I wish I had brought a couple of lawn chairs and a thermos with tea or hot chocolate, I would have just sat there with my cup of tea watching the seals and enjoying the beautiful picture around me.
After spending some peaceful minutes admiring the seals at Bolinas Lagoon, we drove back on Hwy 1 to Point Reyes Station to grab a light lunch. Point Reyes Station is a charming small western town. It is a favored destination for bicyclists who trek up Hwy 1 and take a break here before continuing on up north and onto the multitude of scenic back roads in the area.
Point Reyes Station is a lovely little town no more than three to four streets with plenty of appeal. Think modern health conscious boutiques, farm-to table cafes, farmer’s markets, locally sourced food-items, and hand-made artisanal goods.
On the Saturday that we were visiting, there was a Farmer’s Market in town. Lots of organic vegetables, fruits, cheeses, and of course flowers were in baskets waiting to be taken home. As tempted, as I was to grab a few things especially the beautiful flowers, I knew they wouldn’t last the 2-hour drive home. I noticed a few people sitting at the market enjoying a cup of coffee from a local organic coffee-bean stall that looked so tempting, that I wanted to skip lunch and just have a quick snack instead.
Beautiful boutiques on tree-lined streets can be explored in Point Reyes Station. Everything from garden decor, home goods, jewelry, and stores focused on fair-trade goods from various parts of the world can be found here.
I came across a hardware store and a feed shop called Urban Farmer selling garden tools, feed and hay too. Don’t you love the name Urban Farmer? 😊
Many dining options are available for visitors here in this quaint town, each one selling gourmet foods made from locally sourced produce. We stopped by a small Italian restaurant called Stellina for lunch where the food was fresh, organic and delicious.
After lunch and a stroll in Point Reyes Station we made our pilgrimage down main street to Cowgirl Creamery to pick up a few cheeses to take home.
When we were finally ready to head back, we decided to take a different route than the one we came on. We drove north on Point Reyes Petaluma Rd, past Nicasio reservoir, and then took a right on Lucas Valley Road towards San Rafael and Hwy 101. On Lucas Valley Rd. we came upon Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, a local cheese purveyor in Marin County.
At Nicasio Valley Cheese Company visitors can sample over 20 varieties of cheeses made right here in Nicasio Valley. Some of the cheeses had won awards too. In this tiny facility you can even see cheese being made.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company was our last stop before reaching Hwy 101 and the reality of traffic on our Bay Area freeways 😐.
On a gorgeous fall day, Bolinas Lagoon and Point Reyes Station were great ways to spend a few hours enjoying the back roads of our beautiful Bay Area. If you are looking to see some great scenery, a low-key destination with hardly a person in sight, and lots of wild seals enjoying the warm California sunshine, a trip to Bolinas Lagoon will not disappoint. You can make it a day trip and check out Point Reyes National Sea Shores, Point Reyes Lighthouse, Bolinas Lagoon, and Stinson Beach, in addition to the town of Point Reyes Station. A day trip like this will surely leave you wanting to go back.