What’s Best: A long curving swath of sand set below pale cliffs and sheltered from the prevailing winds with a informative visitors center and beachside cafe. Drake’s striking scenery befits its historical significance.

Parking: From Hwy. 1 between Pt. Reyes Station and Olema, turn west on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Continue through Inverness and veer left toward lighthouse, past Pierce Point Rd. Continue on Drake Blvd. for another 7 ml, passing North Beach, and turn left on signed road to Drakes Beach. Park after 1.5 mile at lot. Agency: Point Reyes National Seashore


In 1579, most historians believe, the sailing vessel Golden Hind sprung a leak off the coast of Northern California two years gone from England on a journey around the world and its captain Francis Drake doubled-back to find safe harbor inside the mouth of Drakes Estero. He careened the ship laid her on its side in the mudflats and took some six weeks to do repairs. While there, Drake and his men enjoyed the hospitality of Coast Miwok, and claimed all their lands for Queen Elizabeth I. But 16 years later the Spanish galleon San Agustin foreshadowed the empire to come, when it became California’s first known shipwreck and its crew was forced to row a launch back to Mexico. Not long after, in 1603, a second Spanish vessel, the Capitana, found safe harbor here and its captain gave the peninsula its name: La Punta de Los Tres Reyes, Point of the Kings. Almost two centuries passed, however, before the land-based Spanish Empire set up camp in the Presidio.

The Drakes Beach hike toward Chimney Rock, to your right as you face the water, ends when cliffs encroach on the beach. Going left, toward the mouth of Drakes Estero, is a shorter walk. Drakes is a sheltered swimming beach, however, you should avoid shorebreak conditions. Be Aware: The pale cliffs that ring Drakes Beach are unstable to walk on or sit beneath.

For the Peter Behr Overlook, go right along the front of the parking lot and take the short, but fairly steep path to the top. You can wander farther on trails along the bluff. You’ll get a good perspective not only on the beach, but inland of a wildlife pond that you would not otherwise see.

The Ken Patrick Visitors Center features exhibits on these and other maritime explorations, a gift shop, marine exhibits, and a 150-gallon salt-water aquarium. The center is open weekends and holidays. A cafe next door is open all week during the summer, but usually only weekends the rest of the year.

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