Just 50 miles north of San Francisco, on the Point Reyes National Seashore peninsula, Tomales Bay State Park straddles the notorious San Andreas Fault. Here, the Pacific Ocean has filled the gap to form Tomales Bay, which is surrounded by a landscape of rolling hills, mixed forests, sprawling meadows and lush wetlands. Unique to the area are granitic rock formations that originated 300 miles to the southeast, transported to this location by more than 10 millions years of movement along the fault. In more recent history, the area was home to the Coast Miwok for more than 8,000 years. These native peoples hunted, fished and farmed these coastal areas until Europeans arrived and claimed the land in the late 16th century. In 1952, before the peninsula was completely taken over by agricultural interests, the state established a 2,000-acre park to preserve the area’s diverse flora and fauna, and ensure public access to the bay’s many pristine beaches.
Tomales Bay State Park is a day-use area only, and overnight camping is not permitted. The main recreation area is located at the north end of the park, on the west side of Tomales Bay, at Heart’s Desire. Here you’ll find picnic areas with barbecues, scenic viewpoints, nature trails, and access to several beaches. There aren’t any launch facilities, but kayaks and SUPs can be put into the bay from the beaches. A short hiking trail leads to the Jepson Memorial Grove of rare Bishop pines. Near the south end of the park, Shell Beach features a nice swim area, but is only accessible via a short trail from the small parking area, or by hiking the Johnstone Trail from the Heart’s Desire area. On the east side of the bay, a small public area at Millerton Point features a small beach and a scenic, barrier-free trail. Dogs are not permitted on any of the park’s beaches or trails. Park entrance is $8/vehicle, and the park is closed when the parking lots are full. Camping can be found south of the Point Reyes area, near Olema.
If you're planning on kayaking out to a campsite on a Saturday, book your site and kayak rental a few months in advance. But if you go out on other days there are less people and less lines when waiting for your permit or rental. If you have a canoe or kayak, bring it!! There are free launches and parking just above blue water rentals! You can buy or rent a portable toilet if you want to camp at a more secluded beach or just camp at Marshalls beach and you can walk to the pit toilets there. There are also raccoon protected trash cans incase you don't have enough space in your bear canister for all of your trash. The raccoons are everywhere at night! They can unzip coolers those little zippable coolers. They can pretty much open anything with their little human-like hands so protect your stuff!
More about the site/kayaking: the wind fights you to the campsite in the afternoon. Seriously. Noon hits and you are in a wave battle for the 5 miles it takes to get there. So get your permit right as bear valley visitor center opens and paddle out! If you running way behind and fear the battle, launch across the bay (visitor center will give you a map sowing where this is) and it's a much easier paddle. Cool things about this place: you will see sea jellies, bat rays, maybe a leopard shark, and bioluminescent plankton!!!! Hope for no full moon because running your hands through that water at night with no light is a trip!!! Also you can get a free beach fire permit even in the summer!!! The beach to camp on is long so even if others are camping there you can have your own camp set up way far away. I recommend beach hopping your whole way up and slow down near weedy shores to look for jellies and sting rays. Life is about the journey everyone! You know this.
This review is a bit more of a PSA than anything else. The reviews for Tomales Bay are not really reviews of campgrounds. Be sure you book a real campground since you get tickets and citations if you camp illegally in Marin. All the camp grounds are elsewhere, like Samuel Taylor Park, Skycap, Steep Ravine, Coast Camp, etc.
That being said, there is incredible sights to be seen. Miwok village is lovely for kids, shell beach, hearts desire, and the other small beaches INSIDE tamales bay off the coast offer smaller, simple, quiet beaches without the crowds or large surf. Ideal for young ones.
Point Reyes station has incredible window shopping, one of the FEW black and white landscape photographer studios to ever be given a Guggenheim Fellowship. Bovine bakery is the best around! Lots of good food!
Just up the road is Hog Island Oysters and many small bay side attractions for food and lodging.
This was the perfect three day weekend. We took Kayak's across the bay and camped on Marshall Beach. The stars are beautiful and it was such a great experience beach camping. Plus if you are ambitious enough there are areas around where you can Kayak in bioluminescent waters. Plus, on our second day we kayaked across the bay again and went oyster shucking which was a beautiful relaxing experience. I would highly suggest this weekend to anyone interested in something a little different.
This place is great for sleeping over if you are in a crabbing or fishing trip, but besides that, there is nothing around. The campsites are close to the coast but this also means that when it gets really windy (which is most of the time) is very hard to set the tent, cook or hang out. High traffic of cars, from all the people that are going there for fishing and crabbing.