Day trip! We’ve been day tripping across Northern California for years and list of things to do and places to visit keep getting smaller and smaller. One place we hadn’t yet explored was Tomales Bay State Park and the extreme heat in the greater Sacramento region made heading to the Point Reyes Peninsula a brilliant idea… or so we thought.
The 2,000 acre Tomales Bay State Park sits on the eastern edge of Point Reyes Peninsula, protected from wind by Inverness Ridge. The grassy meadows and marshes, sparkling blue waters and sheltered coves, and gently sloping, surf-free beaches make this day-use park a popular destination for families ready to picnic and barbecue, hike, and play in the water.
The State Park covers a stretch of coastline on both sides of Tomales Bay:
- The east side of the park is mostly unimproved and closed to the public. The only official facilities are a picnic area with restrooms at Millerton Point and Alan Sieroty Beach, but along the road, you’ll find several fresh oyster bars.
- The west side of the park is where most of the state park is, including its most popular attractions: beaches like Heart’s Desire Beach and Indian Beach, and trails like the Johnstone Trail.
Planning A Beach Day? Arrive Early!
Now, normally I do a bunch of research in advance to gather all the details we need for a day trip. But this time, I was too busy and left it up to chance. This wasn’t a smart idea. We arrived at the western entrance to Tomales Bay State Park around 11:30 am and every single parking spot at Heart’s Desire Beach as full with several cars already looping the lot.
We ended up having to park in a different parking lot about a 0.25 mile away and hike in along the Johnstone Trail. But here’s the thing: Because Tomales Bay is protected from the coastal wind, you won’t be enjoying the cool coastal breezes. It was hot and we were sweating our butts off as we hiked! It wasn’t exactly the escape from the heat we wanted.
Tomales Bay Beaches
The four beaches on the west side of Tomales Bay — Heart’s Desire Beach, Indian Beach, Pebble Beach and Shell Beach — have a shallow shoreline perfect for family play and water activities. All of the beaches are connected by hiking trails that wind through the Jepson Memorial Grove. While you can drive right up to Heart’s Desire Beach and park, the other three beaches are accessible by boat or trail only.
After finding a parking spot and devouring a quick picnic lunch, we hiked along the Johnstone Trail, past Pebble Beach down to Heart’s Desire Beach. This is the central hub for Tomales Bay State Park. Here you will find the parks Ranger Station, Heart’s Desire Beach, Vista Point Picnic Area, and hiking trails to Indian Beach, Pebble Beach, and Shell Beach. You’ll also find hoardes of people.
This was the most crowded beach we have ever been to. There were people everywhere, groups barbecuing, competing stereos blaring, people drinking, and kids screaming. It was insane and not even the tiniest bit relaxing. I couldn’t wait to leave that beach!
From Heart’s Desire Beach, you have three trail options:
- The Johnstone Trail travels south, connecting Heart’s Desire Beach with the small parking area at the end of Camino Del Mar and passing Pebble Beach and Shell Beach along the way.
- The Jepson Trail travels west, connecting the trailhead near the locked gate at Pierce Point Road with Heart’s Desire Beach and passing through the Jepson Memorial Grove — virgin grove of bishop pine trees — along the way.
- The Indian Nature Trail travels north for 0.5 mile, connecting Heart’s Desire Beach and Indian Beach and features interpretive signs and displays about Indian life in the area.
We picked up the Indian Nature Trail near the restrooms at Heart’s Desire Beach. It is not very well maintained and was rough going in our flip flops. The trail is also very overgrown, so we were navigating branches and poison oak along the trail until we emerged from the forest area. Once we reached the beach area, the trail crossed a footbridge over a scenic creek and lead to two reconstructed native Miwok bark shelters called “kotchas” that form tall cones.
Tomales Bay State Park History
The Coast Miwok people first to inhabited the area of sheltered coves, beaches, tidal marshes, and forest of Bishop pines now known as Tomales Bay State Park. Sir Francis Drake was the first explorer to land in this area in 1579, followed by the Spanish in 1595. Russian and German scientists explored the area in the early 1800s.
In the 1940s real estate developers began to purchase large areas of beachfront land, prompting local residents and conservation groups to save this area as a park. In 1952, Tomales Bay State Park was formally dedicated and opened to the public.
Know Before You Go
- Tomales Bay State Park, adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore and 40 miles north of San Francisco, is located 8.0 miles from Highway 1 on the west side of the bay and four miles north of Inverness at 1100 Pierce Point Rd, Inverness, CA 94937 in Marin County.
- Day use hours are 8:00 am to sunset daily with no overnight use.
- An entrance fee of $8/vehicle or $7.00/vehicle for visitors 62+ is required to park at Heart’s Desire Beach and Vista Point. Fees are payable by credit or debit card only.
- Download the Park Brochure.
- Lifeguard services are not available at any of the beaches.
- Heart’s Desire Beach is very popular during summer weekends, especially on holiday weekends, and parking is limited. The parking lot is usually full by 11:00 am but there are other lots farther away you can park at and hike to the beach.
- Once all parking lots have filled, the park is closed and no additional cars will be permitted — even to drop off people or load /unload equipment.
- There are no boat-launching facilities, but hand-carried boats may be put in the water. Heart’s Desire Beach is used as a launch location by individuals and local companies offering organized kayaking excursions. Boaters are welcome to land at park beaches away from swim areas.
- Heart’s Desire Beach, Vista Point, and Millerton Point have accessible restrooms. Picnic tables are accessible at Heart’s Desire Beach.
- Drones are prohibited and mushroom collecting is not allowed. Bicycles are prohibited on all trails and dogs are not allowed on any of the beaches or trails, except at the Vista Point picnic area and must remain on leash at all times.