Driving around Point Reyes is fabulous in itself, but the area is best experienced by getting out onto the hiking trails and beaches.

Beaches

Point Reyes beaches are wild, white and remote. Depending on the time of year, you may see an array of nesting birds, pupping elephant or harbor seals and even mama and baby gray whales coming in close to shore. Every strip of sand is a long drive from anywhere but every one is worth the effort.

For families with young kids, head northwest of the town of Inverness. Pierce Point Rd splits off to the right from Sir Francis Drake Blvd. The road lets you access a lovely swimming beach: the seductively named Heart's Desire, in Tomales Bay State Park.

Limantour Rd, off Bear Valley Rd about 1 mile north of Bear Valley Visitor Center, leads to Limantour Beach, where a 2-mile trail runs along Limantour Spit with Estero de Limantour on one side and Drakes Bay on the other. This is a great all-around beach (note that it gets busy on sunny weekends) and the drive is a little shorter than to the others.

The more wild-feeling but equally popular Drakes Beach is backed by white sandstone cliffs and is arguably the most scenic of the main beaches. There's also a ton of parking, a pricey snack bar (only open on weekends and holidays) and the seasonal Kenneth Patrick Center, which offers assistance and information.

Dogs are allowed on a portion of Limantour Beach, but if you're traveling with Fido you're best off leaving the National Seashore altogether and going north along the coast to dog- and kid-friendly Dillon Beach near the tiny town of Tomales.

Hiking

Trails crisscross Point Reyes over hillsides and along the shoreline. There are myriad options, many with fantastic wildlife viewing and the chance to dip your toes in the sea. Get maps and ideas from the Bear Valley Visitor Center.

An easy place to start for a curious view is to follow the 0.6-mile Earthquake Trail from the picnic area opposite Bear Valley Visitor Center. The trail reaches a 16ft gap between the two halves of a once-connected fence line, a lasting testimonial to the power of the 1906 earthquake that was centered in this area. Another trail, this one 0.8-miles, leads from the visitor center around Kule Loklo, a reproduction of a Coast Miwok village.

For views, the Inverness Ridge Trail heads from Limantour Rd for around 3 miles up to Mt Vision (1282ft), affording spectacular vistas of the entire national seashore. You can drive almost to the top of Mt Vision from the other side.

If wildlife is more your thing, Pierce Point Rd continues to the huge windswept sand dunes at Abbotts Lagoon, full of peeping killdeer and other shorebirds. At the end of the road is historical Pierce Point Ranch, the trailhead for the 9.4-mile round-trip Tomales Point Trail through the Tule Elk Reserve. The plentiful elk are an amazing sight, standing with their big horns against the backdrop of Tomales Point, with Bodega Bay to the north, Tomales Bay to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.