Long before there were playgrounds, zoos or Red Tricycle articles giving parents awesome ideas for stuff to do with their kids, the Coast Miwok people entertained their little ones with nothing more than their imaginations and nature’s glorious bounty. Before Angry Birds and DVDs, they were playing dice made from maple tree bark. Before local and organic food was hip, they were gathering acorns and catching salmon in their backyard. Before arts and crafts was an after-school class, they were weaving baskets with tule grass, making jewelry with abalone shells and skirts out of deer skin.
The Coast Miwok lived peacefully and in harmony with their environment for over 6000 years throughout what is now Marin County. For a glimpse into their refreshingly simple way of life, make your way to Kule Loklo (meaning “Bear Valley”), an authentic re-creation of a Miwok village located in Point Reyes.
Get there: Take 101 north to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and meander west through neon hills and enchanting woods until it dead-ends at Highway 1. Turn right on Highway 1 and travel about 100 yards to Bear Valley Road. Turn left on Bear Valley Road and go about half a mile, past the red barn on your left, then head left into the parking lot of the Bear Valley Visitor Center.
What to do: Start your adventure at the visitor center. Housed in a sweet barn-like structure, the kids will delight at the massive elephant seal statue that greets them, along with the orca and grey whale that hang from the ceiling.
Attractions include stuffed specimen of the area’s wildlife including deer, foxes, bobcats, seals and birds, as well as whale bones kids can pick up and examine. In the auditorium, you can watch a short and informative video about the natural and cultural history of the magnificent Point Reyes peninsula.
Next, head across the parking to lot where you’ll find the trailhead to Kule Loklo. Enjoy the peaceful 1/2 mile hike through eucalyptus groves and along expansive meadows to the village. Signs along the way give you insight into Miwok clothing, diet and way of life. The village itself is a beautiful wide open space dotted with huts made from redwood bark, an acorn granary and an atmospheric sweat lodge. Run from hut to hut and let your imagination run wild. Sit in the sweat lodge for a moment of quiet contemplation.
Don’t miss: Adjacent to the village is a fenced-off garden showcasing several different varieties of native flora, complete with signs detailing how they were used by the Miwok people for food, medicine, recreation, fashion and hygiene. Before you know it, you’ll be rubbing California Bay Laurel leaves on your forehead to get rid of that nagging headache.
Good to know: Pit toilets and a water fountain are available at Kule Loklo itself, while flush toilets are available at the visitor center. Admission is free. Check the website for the visitor center’s current operating hours.
Interesting Fact: You might notice a glaring absence of California’s iconic Redwoods while exploring Point Reyes. This is because the Point Reyes peninsula is on a completely different tectonic plate (Pacific) than the rest of California (North American), one that is too granitic for Redwood trees to survive. The San Andreas fault separates the two plates and runs directly beneath Tomales Bay.
Have you taken your kids to explore the Miwok Village? Share your experience with us in the comment section below.
— Neil Chhabra