When you gaze upon the sparkling waters of this coastal preserve 1077 acres in size, try to imagine what this scene would be like if history had taken a different course. The plan was to “improve” Highway 1 and provide a quick connector to the urban core of the county (and for San Francisco commuters). The lagoon would have been dredged to create a full scale yacht harbor, surrounded by upscale homes. If not for the actions of a few dedicated individuals, this location (and perhaps the entire western portion of the county) may have been overwhelmed by development.
Today, one of the main attractions at Bolinas Lagoon are the millions of shorebirds and other waterfowl that visit the mudflats and quiet waters each year. The lagoon is one of the most important stopover points for birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway. The lagoon is also home to a thriving population of harbor seals that can always be seen at low tide when they haul out to rest and replenish their depleted oxygen supply. Wildlife at this preserve should be observed at a respectful distance; seals that are flushed into the water suffer if they aren’t allowed to spend a minimum amount of time drying out. Birds may be exhausted and near starvation after having traveled nonstop for several hundred miles to reach the safe haven of the lagoon.
Most of the lagoon is quite shallow, only a few feet deep even at high tide, as a result the look of this site changes drastically every six hours. You might watch the sunrise reflected on the water’s shimmering surface, then at noon the same view reveals mudflats interlaced with an intricate pattern of undulating channels. At the north end where Pine Gulch Creek enters the lagoon, you will find a lush grove of alders and willows. This forest is traversed by the Bob Stewart trail, which is a fabulous place to enjoy birds and wildflowers, particularly during spring.
East access: from Hwy 101 in Larkspur, take the exit for Sir Francis Drake Blvd west 20.4 miles to Olema. Turn left onto Hwy 1/Shoreline Hwy, and continue on Shoreline Hwy towards the south end of the Lagoon.
West access: from Hwy 101 in Larkspur, take exit for Sir Francis Drake Blvd west 20.4 miles to Olema. Turn left onto Hwy 1/Shoreline Hwy, and turn right at Olema Bolinas Rd, which is at the west end of Bolinas Lagoon. MCOSD gate is on the left just before Horseshoe Hill Rd.
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Being one of the few remaining unspoiled estuaries on the west coast makes this a paradise for birds, marine mammals and other wildlife. This is one of the best birding sites in the state. During the fall and winter months Merlins and Peregrine Falcons prowl the skies to feast on the shorebirds and waterfowl that flock here by the thousands. A great place to see Harbor Seals, particularly when they haul out during low tide.