What’s Best: The peninsula’s unexpected bonus: A huge estuary, with four bays, surrounded by pastoral slopes that lead to a dramatic opening to the Pacific.
Parking: From Hwy. 1 between Pt. Reyes Station and Olema, turn west on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Continue through Inverness and veer left toward the lighthouse, past Pierce Point Rd. Continue on Drake Blvd. for another 2 ml. and turn left on signed road to Estero. Park after 1 ml. at large lot. Note: Additional parking in hiking and walking descriptions.
Agency: Point Reyes National Seashore
Between Drakes Beach and Limantour Spit is a .25-mile wide opening where the ocean mixes with the fresh water of a half-dozen streams in a large shallow bay called an estuary since the fresh water content is high and the tidal flow is low. Radiating off the main body of Drakes Estero, like fingers from a hand, are four bays, plus Estero de Limantour, as the thumb. At places, stretches of open water are 4 miles in from the coast, and almost 2 miles across from shore to shore.
THE ESTEROS MAP SAN FRANCISCO Photo Gallery
For all hikes but Bull Point, head to the right from the parking area on the Estero Trail. At .75-mile you drop down through a grand grove of Bishop pine and come to the footbridge across the upper tentacle of Home Bay. This spot is an 11 on a 10-scale of scenic beauty. Continue on Estero Trail, traversing a few hundred feet up the bluff, passing an open view of the esteros. You come to a trail junction. For Sunset Beach and a big look out the mouth of Drakes veer right on the trail junction. The trail drops to the shore over a run of about 1.5 miles.
Then the going gets rocky. But when the tide is right you can work For Drakes Head and Estero de Limantour, continue left on the Estero Trail at the Sunset Beach junction. After almost .75-mile, a trail leads to the right for 1.5 miles out to Drakes Head, a walk you are likely to share with cows. You reach a bluff that looks over Limantour Spit to the sea, at the mouth of Estero de Limantour. To get to the outer reaches of Estero de Limantour, continue past the spur trail to Drakes Head, and you’ll be down to the marshy northern tip of the estuary in less than 5-mile.
Bull Point gives a different view of the esteros. Parkng: Drive past the Estero turnoff for about 3 miles, to parking on your left. Veering to your left from the trailhead, you walk through pasture often in close contact with your bovine brothers and sisters. The path continues onto a bluff between narrow Creamery Bay, which is to your right, and larger Schooner Bay to the left. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, schooners sailed with the tides into Drakes Estero, picking up boxes of butter for transport back to San Francisco. Be Aware: Bull Point’s cliffs are unstable.
Walk: Johnsons Oyster Farm
To Drakes Bay Oyster Company (formerly Johnsons) had been around for nearly 100 years, until the park failed to renew their lease in 2012. The company owners have sued to re-open. Parking: Drive about a mile past the Estero turnoff. Then go left on a signed road for about .75-mile.
Bike: All the trails described in the hiking section are open to bikes, as is the 2-mile run out to Bull Point. You can’t make any loop rides, but this is a fabulous place to visit on a mountain bike about 20 miles of riding to cover all the destinations.