Early European Explorers at Point Reyes

The ancient home of the Coast Miwok people, the dramatic landscape of the Point Reyes peninsula with its wave battered cliffs, remained undiscovered by European explorers until the late 1500's. Francis Drake probably first sighted and mapped the fog-shrouded headlands in 1579, at which time he is thought to have camped along the beach which today bears his name. Drake's quest for new lands and riches had taken him around South America to the Spanish trade routes of the Pacific Ocean. His ship, the Golden Hind, was full of gold and luxuries such as porcelain, taken from Spanish galleons traveling from the Philippines to Acapulco.

During the summer of 1579, Drake came ashore somewhere in California to careen his ship to repair the hull. The ship's chaplain complained in his log of "the stinking fogges". The nearly omnipresent fog at the Point Reyes headlands throughout the summer, along with the chaplain's descriptions of the inhabitants, the landscape and the wildlife, indicate that Drake's Estero may be the location of Drake's camp. Drake claimed the land for Queen Elizabeth before setting sail southwest to complete his circumnavigation of the globe before returning to England in 1580.

During the late 1500's, Spanish galleons were making numerous voyages between Mexico and the Philippines. To sail across the north Pacific, ships from Manila would sail north before catching the prevailing easterly winds, arriving along the North American coast north of Point Reyes. It is likely that numerous Spanish crews saw Point Reyes as they sailed south along the California coast toward Acapulco and other Mexican ports where Asian luxury goods such as porcelains and spices were then shipped to Europe. We do know that in 1595, Sebastian Cermeno anchored in the calm waters of what is now called Drakes Bay. As his crew was ashore seeking fresh water, their Manila galleon stuffed with silks and spices, was wrecked in a sudden storm. The crew managed to return home by rowing their long boat to Mexico.

The Spanish had been sending ships along the Pacific Coast and overland explorations throughout North America for many years. In an age of empire building, the Spanish expanded their domain up the California coast from Mexico. Point Reyes officially entered Spanish maps on January 6, 1603 when Sebastian Vizcaino sighted the headlands on the Roman Catholic feast day of the three wise men. Following Spanish tradition, the headlands were named after these religious figures: "la Punta de los Reyes" or the Point of the Kings. Spanish expeditions along the north coast continued. Later, sailors eventually found and entered Tomales Bay, where they would have seen the Miwok village at Segogolue or Toms Point. Amongst the kotças (sleeping shelters), the Spanish traded goods made of metal for finely woven Miwok baskets.

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Last updated: April 27, 2020

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Point Reyes Station, CA 94956


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