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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Explorers and Settlers
Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings


Location: Marin County, on Calif. 1, about 35 miles northwest of San Francisco; address, 1 Bear Valley Rd., Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

Point Reyes and Drakes Bay are mainly associated with the great Spanish explorers of the Pacific coast during the 16th and 17th centuries, though Miwok Indians had lived for centuries before on the peninsula where Point Reyes is situated. Drakes Bay was then, as now, a harbor sheltered by Point Reyes from northerly winds but exposed to southern storms. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo probably sighted the bay and the point in November of 1542. After attacking Spanish ships, Sir Francis Drake may have beached and repaired his vessel, the Golden Hind, at Point Reyes in 1579 before starting across the Pacific to complete the first English circumnavigation of the globe. On Point Reyes he may also have erected a temporary stone fort and taken possession of "Nova Albion" for Queen Elizabeth.

At Drakes Bay, in 1595, the Spanish explorer Sebastián Rodriguez Cermeño suffered the first recorded shipwreck in California waters when his Manila galleon, the San Agustín, was blown ashore near the mouth of Drakes Estero, which adjoins Drakes Bay. Archeologists have recovered from Indian mounds on the shores of the estero quantities of porcelain and iron spikes that almost surely came from the galleon. After 1 month's stay at Drakes Bay, which Cermeño called the Bay of San Francisco, he set out on a thorough exploration of the California coast.

Drakes Bay
Drakes Bay, California, well known to Spanish explorers of the 16th and 17th centuries, may have been a landing place of the Englishman Sir Francis Drake in 1579 during his circumnavigation of the globe. It is now a part of Point Reyes National Seashore.

In 1603, the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaíino, coming north from Monterey, sailed into Drakes Bay, but did not land because of strong winds. He named the headland "Punta de los Reyes," or Point Reyes. The Spanish attempt to reach Monterey and Drakes Bay (at first called the Bay of San Francisco) by land led to the discovery of one of the best natural ports in the world. The Portolá expedition, traveling up the coast from San Diego in 1769, was actually seeking the ports of Monterey and the "Bay of San Francisco" (Drakes Bay) when it accidentally sighted for the first time the harbor that is now called San Francisco Bay.

McClures Beach
McClures Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, California. Such seashore areas have changed little since first sighted by Spanish explorers in the 16th century.

Point Reyes National Seashore, authorized in 1962, will ultimately include Point Reyes and the 28 miles of beaches on Drakes Bay. These seashore areas are little changed since they were first sighted by the Spanish in 1542.

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005