Exploring California’s Elizabethan Connection–Pt. Reyes National Seashore

A recent visit to Pt. Reyes National Seashore was so spectacular that it’s taken me several weeks to edit my thoughts down to manageable proportions. The convergence of intriguing history with spectacular natural beauty holds the power to overwhelm.


Pt. Reyes National Seashore ia a huge park preserve located on the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County. The peninsula is geologically separated from almost all of the continental U.S by a rift zone of the San Andreas Fault, resulting in differing tectonic plates. The result of the geologic shifting is the emergence of different soils and vegetation creating abundant diversity along the wild coastal beaches, headlands, estuaries and cliffs.

Even this algae seemed special. I had to walk over and inspect this unusual color and pattern.

Trentepholia, rust-colored algae sometimes called “rock violets,” was surprisingly beautiful on the face of the rocky cliffs.

Everything about this very special location just north of San Francisco truly inspires and invigorates me. I’m always at home with marine protected areas and anytime I’m surrounded by “wilderness” I’m at peace.


I was thrilled to see tule elk. We were alone on the highway and able to stop the car and just watch them for a few minutes.


Tule Elk are native to the area and served the Coast Miwok people who lived on the Point Reyes Peninsula before it was colonized by European settlers. Loss of habitation eventually led to  extinction in this area, but tule elk were reintroduced in 1978.

Walking the trail leading to the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse was lovely.



So are you wondering what this has to do with Elizabethan history? I have been so eager to share about this.

About three years ago I read an article in the newspaper that really caught my interest. The headline was “Point Reyes declared Drake landing site.”

For years and years and years there has been no shortage of controversy as historical societies have researched the specific location where Sir Francis Drake anchored along the west coast of the New World.

In 2012 the federal government ended the controversy by recognizing a cove on the Point Reyes Peninsula as the site where Drake landed in 1579 and claimed California for England. Now why this isn’t as historic as Plymouth Rock, as the late Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz questioned, is a mystery to me.


On December 13, 1577, Drake left England with five ships headed to raid Spanish holdings on the Pacific coast of the New World. His circuitous route took him in many directions, but it is believed that in 1579 he landed in a cove off the coast of California to repair his ship, the Golden Hind, which was badly leaking.

He recorded that on June 17, 1579, he sailed around the hook of an unnamed point of land, making contact with the local people, presumably the Miwok, repaired his ship and claimed the land for Queen Elizabeth.


Had you heard this story before? This would be a good jeopardy question:

“This 16th century explorer called Northern California New Albion and claimed it for England.”

I absolutely loved this little adventure. It wasn’t possible to explore all 71,028 acres of the Pt. Reyes National Seashore in one weekend, so there’s definitely a return trip in my future.

I may not be very adventurous on the high seas, but curiosity fuels another form of exploration. I have a fresh interest in Sir Francis Drake so will probably ride out the winter reading more about Drake and his intersection with beautiful Pt. Reyes, and then in the spring, I’m heading back for more.


Next week, we’ll talk about shipwrecks. It isn’t often I can share 16th century California so I’m not passing on the opportunity.


54 thoughts on “Exploring California’s Elizabethan Connection–Pt. Reyes National Seashore

  1. Can I join you in the spring? Fascinating! I have to visit this place and stand by the coastline where you took that shot! Maybe Drake will now be written into the history books. Your photos are absolutely breathtaking – every one of them. I hope you have a few framed! Love your posts, Debra. Hope you are well. 🙂

    • Thank you, Kelly. I wish you could accompany me to Pt. Reyes! I know how much you’d enjoy this part of California. I live about midway between Hollywood and Disneyland–sometimes just too much of everything. When I can get away to someplace like Pt. Reyes with the rural coastline an so much beauty and quiet I am just enthralled. I appreciate your very thoughtful comment, my friend.

  2. Debra, what a magical place. No wonder those cliffs hang around, content to watch the waves rolling in and out for millennium. Fog permitting.

    They had a similar problem deciding where de Soto landed in Florida. So “they” picked a spot that seemed likely. People do desire certainty . . . which requires pinning things down.

    • I really did get caught up imagining Pt. Reyes at the time of Drake’s exploration. Some of the best reading was discovering how the decision was made to appoint Pt. Reyes as the official spot. It does seem likely, but even if they’re off, just to think that the coast was of interest to the famous explorer is just fun to think about. I like your De Soto comment. I have this renewed interest in reviewing all the history of the explorers that I pretty much ignored when in school. I had no interest at all. Now i have some catching up to do! 🙂 And thanks for sending the link on to Frank. I’m sure that was helpful!

  3. Debra, I had the chance to visit Point Reyes a few years ago and fell in love. I have an almost identical shot of the lighthouse, and I also encountered elk while on the path to the lighthouse! It was truly magical.

    When you go back, if you’re hungry, be sure to check out the Sand Dollar in Stinson Beach. Awesome oysters!

    • It is beautiful, isn’t it, Lori? I really do intend to visit again as soon as possible. I feel like we just barely got the lay of the land and it was time to head home!

  4. Stunning photography and I especially like that decaying boat. I looked at visiting this part of California, but sadly have never managed to get back to fulfil that.

  5. I just love your gorgeous photos of that spectacular landscape, Debra. So beautiful and unspoilt. I can see why Sir Francis Drake made haste to lay claim to it for his queen and country. 🙂 I’d never actually heard this particular story before, so thank you for another fascinating glimpse of Californian history.

    • I’m so glad to share this little bit of history with you, my friend. Since returning from our visit I’ve been collecting articles and finding books that add to my knowledge of the area and Drake’s venturing this way! I really had no idea either, until, like I shared, just a small article in the newspaper a couple of years ago. I really am hoping to return this spring. There is so much more to explore!

  6. I had not heard Sir Frances Drake’s story before now, either, Debra, and am eager to learn more. Please do more posts. Please, please, please. 🙂
    I would love to visit the Pt. Reyes National Seashore one day. The views are magnificent, and the Trentepholia quite interesting, but, the trail and those weather-worn trees, leaning in as they are is pure poetry in motion. I love your adventures. Thank you, Debra.

    • I don’t think Pt. Reyes is on everyone’s radar here in California either, Penny. It feels much more remote than it actually is. I have mentioned this trip to several of my friends and they weren’t at all familiar. If I hadn’t read the little article in the newspaper a couple of years ago I might never have heard of Drake’s landing, but there is a Drake’s Bay off the coast and I wonder now how it is I hadn’t previously questioned. I will definitely be sharing a little bit more next week because there were some others spots that just knocked my socks off! 🙂 My son and his wife live just about an hour south of Pt. Reyes so I have pretty good odds on visiting from time to time. I had declared that if we won the PowerBall last week we were going to have a home there. LOL! Maybe next time? 🙂

      • I think there are a good many of these little known spots of history and wonder that, but for small newspaper article or local radio/television broadcast, no one ever hears of them. You are the perfect ambassador for Pt. Reyes, Debra. Was there a small group of dedicated volunteers who worked to save it and have it designated?
        Keep exploring, my friend. You are an inspiration.

        • You know, Penny, I don’t know that much about Pt. Reyes in terms of history beyond the Drake connection, but I think it will be fun to learn more about it over time! Thank you for encouraging my explorations. 🙂

  7. Before I segue away for this beautiful post, let me say that the images are beautiful, Debra. The photos are nothing short of gorgeous. I don’t know how you tore yourself away to return home. Another wonderful post about your state.
    Now, while I was reading about Drake and his landing, I was reminded of a PBS special I saw this past Thanksgiving. It was about the Pilgrims landing and how they struggled. (They, too, weren’t the first. Jamestown was founded 13 years prior.) It was based on the account of the colony’s first governor, Bradford, played by the recently deceased Roger Rees. It starts in England and follows them to Holland before they arrange passage to America. Most of what we think happened is based on his book and he wasn’t necessarily interested in giving a full and accurate history. Much was conveniently left out of the account. It was a fascinating 2 hours. If I ever see that it’s going to be rebroadcast, I’ll be sure to pass the info along to you.

    • Thank you so much for the lovely compliments on photography, John. Marin County is just north of San Francisco, and now that my son and his wife live in the East Bay area we are “forced” to travel north more often. I had been in Marin County before, but never Pt. Reyes, and I am absolutely overwhelmed by what we saw,and of course, that was just a small part. I am confident that we’ll be back in the spring to explore just a little further. Now here’s the thing about the PBS special. I have in my DVR queue! I just haven’t had a chance in all these weeks to sit down and really watch it. With some TV I can do all sorts of things while I have the shows on, but PBS quality always requires that I actually watch them without doing something on the computer or paperwork! LOL! So I see that it’s still there waiting for me. Now that you’ve given me a little synopsis I am even more interested. And I didn’t know that Roger Rees was the lead. I really enjoyed his work in the past, and like others recently, felt a sense of loss when I heard he’d passed. I’m so glad you mentioned this show, because too often if I’ve held on to one as long as I have this one, I just end up deleting it! Now I’ll look forward to seeing it! 🙂

      • “Forced”, eh? How awful! 🙂
        Debra, I know exactly what you mean. My DVR is almost completely full of movies and specials thatI intend to watch some day soon. It is only by luck that I caught The Pilgrims while it was being broadcast. I do hope you’ll enjoy it.I’ve hijacked your thread long enough. We’ll talk more — at my “house” — once you’ve watched it.

  8. You are a wonderful teacher Debra. And I look forward to learning more. I can’t help but imagine the years on the sea and the incredible adventure that had to have been. And then….he had to return! I never thought of California being claimed for England. THose bloody Brits were every where!

    • I’m laughing as I read your comment about the bloody Brits. So funny! It is an interesting thought to consider what would our lives be like today had the British truly colonized the west coast of the “New World” a century or two before Jamestown! All those explorations and the attempt to colonize are so interesting, but I’m glad I don’t have to take a test with names and dates! I wouldn’t do very well. 🙂

      • The older I get the more fascinated I am by history. But not the technicality of dates and such either. But the lives, the way they lived, the way things happened. THAT is history. 🙂

        And those bloody Brits WERE every where. I’m stunned by all of the places they’ve “conquered”.

    • I’m really pleased that you enjoyed the photos of Point Reyes and that you have some memories of this beautiful spot! It was ALL new to me, and I am really very surprised that we somehow seem to have “avoided” it all these years! I need to make up for lost time now. 🙂

    • Thank you for the picture, Martin. I almost said “photo.” Ha! It’s rather gorgeous. I know very little about Drake, but I am interested in learning a lot more. Thank you for your interest.

  9. I greatly enjoyed this post, it reminded me of how beautiful Marin and Point Reyes are. I lived in Berkeley for two years and I now live about an hour’s drive from Buckland Abbey in Devon (oh no a bloody Brit!!) which was Drake’s house.

    • I didn’t know you had lived in Berkeley, Philip! You know these areas very well, then. My son and his wife now live just a mile or so outside of Berkeley, and I’m having more fun getting to know that very special town. I love it up there. And I think Marin County offers an entirely different experience for someone like myself, who has only lived in the greater Los Angeles area. I am enjoying getting to know a little more about Sir Francis Drake, too. I must admit I didn’t have much interest before the trip north and I’m making up for lost time. 🙂

  10. Your photos of this area are fantastic Debra. I love the look of all that blue sky and those sandy beaches, and the trail with those ancient trees arcing over it is beautiful. Can you imagine what went through those sailors’ heads all those years ago when they first discovered all these amazing places?!

    • The literature I’ve read about Drake emphasized that he found similarities in landscape and climate between Point Reyes and England. I think if I use my imagination a bit I can see what it was he felt. The particular part of the coast is really beautiful and just a little bit remote, at least compared to much of the coast, so it’s very special. This was the first time I’d ever visited and I don’t know how I “missed it” all these years! I am going to do my best to make up for lost time! 🙂 Thank you for the compliments on the photos. I took hundreds of photos because I was trying so hard to capture all I was seeing. LOL!

  11. My Laura did several caterings on a replica of the Golden Hind that toured the west coast several years ago. It was hard to imagine men living aboard for the years Drake sailed all over the world.

    • I would have loved a catered dinner on the “Golden Hind,” Jim! What a fun experience–for the attendees. I’m pretty sure it would have been a hard catering job given the logistics and size of the ship!

  12. Oh my goodness…the picture of the shoreline (above the picture with the elk). My jaw literally dropped open. It looks like a painting! Trust me when I say that I’m vicariously living through you and your explorations of the coastline…I’m definitely feeling land-locked right now! Wish I could’ve seen this place when I was living in Southern California…looks like we’re going to have to make a trip out in the near future! 😉

    • Pt. Reyes is a definite “must see” when you can, Stacey. I am disappointed in myself that we have only recently found it…just think of the trips we COULD have planned. 🙂 It’s worth the time and effort.

  13. Your images are like stunning postcards. That’s a very interesting history and I can’t imagine getting on any kind of a vessel in the 1600’s – I’d be terrified. How fortunate to see elk! I would have pulled over to watch them for a few minutes too xx

    • Point Reyes and the “Drake adventure” have truly captured my imagination, Charlie. It’s such an incredibly beautiful part of the Northern California coast and I would love to be able to visit more often just to explore. I would imagine there are other such stories that I just haven’t yet heard. The elk were a big surprise!

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