Built in 1870, the Point Reyes lighthouse is a lonely outpost set on the cliffs of the peninsula's windy, fog-shrouded western tip. It was once powered by a massive French-made Fresnel lens, which sent out a bright beam that could be seen some 20 miles away. The light warned mariners about Point Reyes' rocky headlands until 1975, when it was replaced by an automated light. The National Park Service has since maintained this historic structure, preserving the legacy of an era when lightkeepers manned lighthouses up and down the coast of California.
January is the height of the gray whale-watching season and the lighthouse is a perfect spot to watch the leviathans on their bi-annual migration along the coast. Indeed, during our recent visit, we saw several silvery spouts and whale tails splashing the surface far in the distance, a fleeting but magical sight that delighted everyone scanning the ocean that day.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse and Visitor Center's winter hours are 10AM to 4:30PM Fridays through Mondays (closed Tuesdays through Thursday.) On weekends and holidays, visitors are required to ride a shuttle ($5 per person) from the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor center at Drakes Beach. Shuttles run from 9:30AM to 3PM. For more information, see the website of the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Not far from the lighthouse is another Point Reyes institution, the Drakes Bay Oyster Company. There's no better post-whale watching treat than a picnic at this ramshackle, truly authentic oyster farm along the shoreline of the exceptionally clean, nutrient-rich Drakes Bay.
Operated by a third-generation ranching family in Point Reyes, the oyster farm produces award-winning oysters for the public, wholesale markets and restaurants. You can buy them in a variety of sizes, from extra small to large, in the shell or shucked and packed in glass bottles. For more information, see their website, www.drakesbayoyster.com.