Point Reyes National Seashore

2009 Visitors: 2,170,646.

Postcard-perfect Point Reyes, California     Photo: Photograph by MacDuff Everton/Corbis

Main Drag: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California
2009 Visitors: 15,036,372
What a difference an hour's drive north makes. From San Francisco, the spectacular trails and beaches of the GGNRA are right there—but then so are the many, many signs of humanity, from tourist buses to "hikers" in loafers to panoramic views of...the city. Not so in Point Reyes, the Left Coast's most striking easy getaway. The trick is to skip the main arteries to the visitor center and lighthouse and detour south to the Palomarin trailhead, like a local. Just bang out a few miles on the cliffside Coast Trail—to get past the skinny-dippers at Bass Lake—and you'll descend westward into a mostly empty swath of colliding habitats that produce an explosion of wildlife: Sea lions at left! Bobcat at right! Redtail overhead! Carry binoculars, watch out for poison oak, and don't stop when you hit the beach; Alamere Falls soaks the sand just a half-hour north and makes for a divine (if chilly) outdoor shower. It's fine to linger longer than you should; the hike back is best in twilight, when the tree frogs go nuts. BEST CAMPSITE: Wildcat, just off the beach a mile north of Alamere Falls ($15 per night; nps.gov/pore). Tip: Bike in from the Five Brooks trailhead. BEST LODGE: The Olema Inn offers immediate access to the park and an upscale restaurant featuring locally sourced organic chow (from $175; theolema­inn.com).

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