Sunset Beach, Point Reyes: Estero Trailhead, San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes, California

Sunset Beach - 8.9 miles

Point Reyes: Estero Trailhead

Sea Stars in tide pools on Sunset Beach

Sea Stars in tide pools on Sunset Beach

Round-Trip Length: 8.9 miles (to southwestern-most tip of beach)
Start-End Elevation: 153' - 0' (190' max elevation)
Elevation Change: -153' net elevation loss (+658' total roundtrip elevation)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Sunset Beach - 8.9 Miles Round-Trip

Sunset Beach is located west of Drakes Head, just inside the mouth of Drakes Estero. This unique place where estuary meets ocean marks one of the richest intertidal zones in Point Reyes.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Sunset Beach is thin and rocky, but compelling for its many tide pools and views of the inner bay, Limantour Spit, and surrounding bluffs. Visitors will enjoy a varied trek through rolling headlands to the beach, with excellent land and marine wildlife viewing opportunities along way:

The Estero Trail undulates on double track through open rolling hills to a thin band of pine (.65 miles : 117'). It emerges on the water and crosses Home Bay along a narrow isthmus west of Drakes Headland (1.2 miles : 14'). Look for seals on these expansive mudflats at low tide.

Once across the rutted-out trail rises sharply up the headland to a gate (1.65 miles : 140'); pass through the turnstile and begin a series of moderately-steep undulations above Drakes Estero.

Trail conditions vary, but are generally uneven and worsened by rain. High points offer terrific views across the Estero, and of Schooner Bay, Creamery Bay and Barries Bay. Keep straight for Sunset Beach at the Estero Trail to Drakes Head Trail split (2.55 miles : 148').

The trail continues along the bay, occasionally obscured by vegetation and wash-outs. You may encounter free-range cattle, which should be given plenty of space. Have patience and common sense if confronted.

The trail drops ruggedly between two hills (3.45 miles) to a coastal lagoon fronted by a narrow isthmus. It crests (3.75 miles : 29') and skirts left of the lagoon through head-high sedge grass and pickleweed. The trail finally opens on a sliver of rocky beach beneath a massive headland near the mouth of Drakes Estero (4.1 miles : 0').

Sunset Beach curls southwest to the estero mouth, where it widens considerably to great views of Limantour Spit, Drakes Beach, Drakes Estero, Estero de Limatour, Pacific Ocean and pastoral lands above. The beach supports one of Point Reyes' richest Intertidal Zones, a coastal area exposed to air at low tide and submerged at high tide.

Sub-regions and micro-habitats within support an array of fascinating marine creatures such as anemones, barnacles, sea stars, urchins, crabs, mussels, snails, sea cucumbers, sponges and kelp. Low tides at Sunset Beach reveal extensive rocky outcrops spanning the intertidal zone and countless potholes teeming with life.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N38 04.884 W122 54.849 — 0.0 miles : Estero Trailhead
  • N38 04.462 W122 54.876 — .65 miles : Skirt thin coastal pine forest
  • N38 04.165 W122 55.047 — 1.2 miles : Exit glade and cross bridge over Home Bay
  • N38 03.936 W122 55.263 — 1.65 miles : Climb headland and pass through gate
  • N38 03.414 W122 55.460 — 2.55 miles : Estero Trail - Sunset Beach Trail junction
  • N38 03.261 W122 55.699 — 3.75 miles : Crest isthmus and skirt left of lagoon
  • N38 02.535 W122 55.899 — 4.0 miles : Passage to Beach through pickleweed
  • N38 02.132 W122 55.874 — 4.45 miles : Sunset Beach

Worth Noting

  • Estero - Spanish for Estuary - is a semi-enclosed coastal body of water with fresh water influx and a free connection to the open sea. Contributions from each make estuaries one of the most biologically rich and diverse ecosystems found on earth. Drakes Estero encompasses approximately 2,000 acres: seagrass beds and tidal mud flats are predominant sub-habitats in the estuary proper, with salt marshes and rocky intertidal zones on the periphery.

  • The Limantour Estero, Beach and Spit are named after French explorer Jose Yves Limantour, whose ship and crew were stranded on the spit in 1861.

  • In the summer of 1579 Sir Francis Drake careened his ship on the shores of this massive inlet for repairs and replenishment. He's believed to have spent 36 days ashore exploring and documenting the land, wildlife and native people before claiming it for England and continuing southwest to complete his global circumnavigation. Today the estuary, bay and most prominent terrestrial feature above it - Drakes Head - bear his name.

  • Although most flowering plants cannot tolerate salt, specially adapted wetland plants thrive in the estero. Pickleweed is one of the most common plants found in this habitat.

  • Over 400 bird species have been spotted within Point Reyes National Seashore, and the Drakes-Limantour esteros provide the perfect habitat for most. Binoculars are highly recommended on this trail.

  • Contributing Bibliographic Note: 'Drakes Estero, a superlative estuary in Point Reyes National Seashore'.

Directions to Trailhead

Directions to the Estero Trailhead:

From US 101 in Marin County, exit Sir Francis Drake/San Anselmo. Drive west on Sir Francis Drake about 20 miles to the junction with CA 1. Turn right. Drive 0.1 mile, and then turn left onto Bear Valley Road. After about 2 miles, Bear Valley Road ends at Sir Francis Drake; turn left. Continue on Sir Francis Drake about 7.5 more miles, then turn left at the sign "Estero Trail". Drive slowly (avoid free range cattle) about 1 more mile to the trailhead on the right side of the road.

Contact Information

Point Reyes National Seashore
1 Bear Valley Rd.
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Visitor Information: 415.464.5100 x2 or 415.663.8522 x2

Headquarters: 415.464.5100 x 1

Volunteer Information: 415.464.5145

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