The two peninsulas forming the Golden Gate are known the world over for their beauty, great weather and as a global epicenter of education and innovation. Soon after the bridge connecting them was built the San Francisco Bay Area held a World's Fair on Treasure Island which featured the symbol of Pacifica. Both the City of Pacifica and the Goddess Pacifica encompass the old and new. The name chosen for the City of Pacifica was by popular acclaim in 1957 based on the 80-foot statue by sculptor Ralph Stackpole, which was created as the centerpiece theme for the Golden Gate International Exposition. Two of the sculptor’s working models of the goddess Pacifica have prominent places at front stairs of City Hall and in the City Council Chambers. The name Pacifica means “peace” in Spanish and also meant the newly incorporated joined the State of California as one of the few places named after a fictional Goddess.
The 250th anniversary of when Europeans first officially sited the Golden Gate of San Francisco Bay, on 4 November 1769 on Sweeney Ridge from above today's City of Pacifica is approaching in 2019. Recently, the State of California and the City of Pacifica cooperated to connect the beaches below the Sweeney Ridge Portola Discovery point with walkways and trails to form a continuous, 7-mile waterfront trail starting at Sharp Park Beach going around Mori Point, running through Calera Creek and Rockaway Beach to eventually end up at Pacifica State Beach in the Linda Mar District. Combined they make an excellent introduction to Pacifica as a great, accessible go-to outdoor destination, a short easy hop from the southern boundary of San Francisco.
Can you say "Sestercentennial!"
Meanwhile far above it all is the most spectacular view of the Bay Area first witnessed by Moraga scouting for the Portola party on October 31st 1769. That Tuesday, on a clear day, seeing 30 miles in every direction, he likely saw all three of the peaks that define the Bay Area which are visible on clear days. To the West are the Farallons, 25 miles away. To the East in the foreground are the Crystal Springs Reservoirs, and SF Airport with Mount Diablo in the distance. To the South is Montara Mountain, the northern spur of the Santa Cruz Mountains, a narrow mountain range running the length of the San Francisco Peninsula that creates the spectacular rush of fog through the Golden Gate and in the far distance is Mount Hamilton in San Jose. To the North is a fascinating view of San Francisco partially obscured by San Bruno Mountain showing Mount Tamalpais in the distance with the tri-themed Sutro Tower at the center of it all.
A trek along this 1000-acre ridge top visits the San Francisco Bay Discovery Site, unique coastal plant communities, and the Skyline College campus and offers sweeping views of the coast and mountains. The long, rounded Sweeney Ridge, separating north Peninsula bay-side and coastal communities, was slated to become Interstate 380--the route from Highway 101 to Highway 1--until the Golden Gate National Recreation Area purchased it in 1982.
You can approach the Sweeney ridge from 5 different trail heads ranked from easy to hard. Looking West you can see the Farallon Islands, sprouting whales along the shore of Pacifica, passing cruise ships, and white sails.
Sneath Lane - (3.2 miles round-trip, 540 ft. elevation change) The trail is rated as moderate and the gently ascending paved trail from Sneath Lane is the most forgiving of the several options. The paved trail attracts occasional cyclist and joggers. The Peninsula views and the long expanse of San Andreas Lake are wonderful vistas. Trail head is located at the end of Sneath Lane which is accessed directly from Skyline Boulevard in San Bruno.
Baquiano Trail - (2.round-trip miles roundtrip, 550 ft. elevation change) follows a high ridge for great views, begins at the end of Fassler Avenue in Pacifica take Highway 1 to Fassler Avenue and turn uphill. At the end of Fassler, squeeze past the gate and head uphill. When you come to the water tank, take the right fork. The beginning ascent is steep and the trail poorly maintained. After an arduous climb, the terrain levels out it's about a mile to get to the Sweeney Ridge Trail. Follows a high ridge for great views, There is no parking at the trail head. Many historians believe this is the mostly likely route Portola took approaching from the South along San Pedro Beach and up the finger ridge near present-day Fassler Avenue and then to the ridgeline to the hypothetical bay lookout.
Mori Ridge Trail from Shelldance Parking Lot - This is the steepest on a service road with a 1020 ft. elevation change to Sweeney Ridge) through lovely coastal prairie. If you are there on a weekend be sure to take a side trip to see the beautiful orchids in a tropical rain forest setting at this nursery. Nice ocean view too. Open weekends only. In 1976, Nancy Davis, Michael Rothenberg and Bruce Rothenberg leased the property. It was renamed Shelldance Nursery because of the beautiful shells of the area, which were reminiscent of the exotic headpieces worn by Carmen Miranda when she danced. At the time, the revived nursery specialized in bromeliads. Charmed by orchids, they sold most of their bromeliad stock, about 20,000 plants, to the government of Singapore to be placed in their National Botanical Gardens Because of their community service and educational programs, the trio has been able to to continue in partnership with the National Park Service as stewards of the GGNRA after CALTRANS plans for a connection to 380 through this property was defeated. One greenhouse is devoted to growing orchids, while another Davis calls the "Conservatory" is home to the couple's collection of rare and exotic bromeliads. Another greenhouse serves as a display for sale plants, which is available for browsing.
Crystal Springs Watershed Trail - only accessible by reservation, with a docent-led group from the trail head through Skylawn Cemetery or Skyline Quarry. Check availability and make reservations at the sfwater.org's Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail page. Fifield-Cahill Ridge connects with the 3.7 miles of the Sweeney Ridge Trail open to the public. The Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail from Highway 92 to Sweeney Ridge is 10 miles long and takes approximately 5-7 hours to complete on foot. Toilets at approximately 2-mile intervals along the trail, starting at Skyline Quarry.
Access South from Sweeney Point along the Ridge Trail has consistently been prevented by the SFPUC who control the well maintained trail which does extend 10 miles to the Skylawn Cemetery 1 mile extension off Highway 92's water shed. However this is changing to a new system along with proposed construction of a 6 mile extension from Highway 92 to GGNRA's Pleuger Estate. This may change as pressure builds.
Look for updates here: updates via Open SF Watershed facebook page.
Follow the fate of the promised extension south from the Portola Discovery site here on our blog
Skylawn Memorial Park Ridge Trail only open during regular business hours (approximately 7AM - 6PM). Docents are not required as long as you stay on the cemetery property.
Upcoming Dates and registration for a trail event
(As of Jan-2017 one group/week is allowed docent led access)
Discovery Site - On Sweeney’s crest, look for the stone plaque honoring Portola’s expedition. A nearby granite monument directs you to views from this scenic San Francisco Bay Discovery Site, Mount Tamalpais, Point Reyes, Mount Diablo, the Montara Mountain, Mount Hamilton and San Pedro Point. The islands in the distance are the Farallons, 25 miles away. No one knows how the name Sweeney was chosen for the ridge. The wildlife you may encounter includes hawks, quail, skunk, gray fox, bobcat, coyote, bush rabbits and blacktail deer. The discovery site is marked by two stone markers, a large simple serpentine date marker and an unusual dark granite cylinder dedicated to the late Carl McCarthy, an active supporter of public ownership of the ridge. Carved around the monument are silhouettes of the surrounding vista with the landmark names.
TIPS: Recommend going in the afternoon to catch the sunset on the ridge or beach-side along the coast afterwards. Only the Sneath Ave Trail head is paved on the way up the re is some paving along the way but hiking shoes are helpful on all the other trail heads. Dogs are allowed on leash, and there are garbage cans along the trail. There is a bathroom at the top.
The Bay Area and Northern California has a remarkable record of preserving Open Space for future generations and the two Peninsulas that create the Golden Gate between the Pacific and the world's great natural harbor contain many of the crown jewels of this inheritance. There are many stories and groups behind the success of these efforts.
At one time Sweeney Ridge was going to become dominated by a coastal extension of Highway 380 Archival site on the journey for a 9 acre “Gateway to Sweeney Ridge” to be protected forever as part of GGNRA in 2007.
The entrance to Milagra Ridge is off of Sharp Park Road in Pacifica. From Highway 1, follow Sharp Park Road to the east, or from Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35), follow Sharp Park Road to the west. Turn north on College Drive and continue 0.25-mile to roadside parking at the gate.
The Crystal Springs Regional Trail is a planned 17.5-mile trail that, when finished, will extend from San Bruno to Woodside. 15.3 miles of the trail are now complete. At its Northern end it is hoped that someday the San Andreas Segment will connect with the Sweeney Ridge Trail. It provides an alternative recreational route to the 1,210-mile Juan Bautista DeAnza National Historic Trail.
The Portola Bay Discovery prompted a Portola statue to be erected in the public parking lot at the corner of Crespi Drive and Highway One.
Aided only by a mariner's navigation handbook of the Alta California coastline, Captain Gaspar de Portola and his party set out to map the land route from Baja California to Monterey Bay. From there they could see the Farallons and Point Reyes and realized they were too far north. Before turning back, Portola set up camp in a peaceful valley (now Linda Mar) to rest, explore and scout for much-needed food. In early November, Sergeant Jose Francisco Ortega climbed the hills northeast of San Pedro Valley and discovered "an enormous area of the sea or estuary which shot inland as far as the eye could see." A few days later, the entire Portola party traveled up the ridge line to continue explorations.
Discover what life was like when California was part of Mexico. Explore Don Francisco Sanchez's adobe completed in 1846:
"Just south of Half Moon Bay, they met a friendly tribe of Indians carrying red staffs and wearing wreaths of leaves in their hair, the weary travelers thought they were dreaming. Some of the native women decorated their faces with tattoos and many of the sun-worshipping Costanoans painted their naked bodies with stripes of red, black, and white - so deceptive it was nearly mistaken for striped clothing. Still others showed off elaborate headdresses fashioned from as many as 250 kinds of bird feathers. Although the Costanoans needed little clothing in their natural habitat, the women occasionally wrapped themselves in rabbit fur capes and wore deer-skin skirts. When the weather turned cold, the men coated their bodies with mud to keep warm.
"By establishing temporary villages beside coastal streams, the Indians tapped a source for their food, water, and fuel. Each tribe built dome-shaped shelters, thatched with brush and grass surrounding a much larger assembly house. Portola encountered one of these at White House Flat, south of Pigeon Point. He was so impressed when he saw 200 natives disappear inside that he called the structure, "Big House." Though the Costanoans hunted with bows, carrying their arrows in a skin bag slung over one shoulder, they were primarily gatherers. Food gathering followed the seasons and a native village often shifted along the long stream valleys. Still, some Indians proudly displayed ugly battle scars received from bouts fought with grizzly bears. But the natural environment, particularly the sea, provided the bulk of nutrition." --- June Morall 1978
The majority were taken to the San Francisco Mission Outpost at Pedro Valley where the Sanchez Adobe now stands in Pacifica. Chief Lachigi, along with 30 of his followers from the village of Zucigim (San Gregorio), joined the mushrooming number of converts there
Prior to 1786, the Ramaytush band of the Ohlone people had a settlement on the site, the village of Pruristac. Evidence of the village remains by a shell midden, located near the present day park ranger building.
October 31st, 1769 - November 3rd, 1769 - The Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolà and his party of sixty men with a caravan of 200 horses and mules camped nearby in 1769 but does not indicated he visited the village located here.
1900 - 1946 - The adobe is used at various times as a hotel, bordello, speakeasy, bootleg saloon, hunting lodge, and an artichoke packing shed.
Although it is just minutes from the beach, Sanchez Adobe is quiet, calm, and filled with historical significance. It is easy to miss when driving by because there is a fence along the busy street it butts up to, and there is almost no signage. It is part of the county parks, but the museum is generally staffed by a helpful volunteer. The Monterey Colonial style building is filled with period antiques
The valley served as a Mission Dolores Outpost, which offered good soil, cattle-grazing land, sunshine, and Indians as a work force.
A 1,052-acre area embracing the middle and south forks of San Pedro Creek offers easy scenic hikes on clear days. The park offers group picnic areas, family picnic sites with barbecue pits, a self-guiding nature trail, hiking trails and a visitor center. Find 3 fresh-water creeks and several bridges crossing them. The south and middle forks of the San Pedro Creek and Brooks Cree flow year round through this lush valley.
During the rainy, winter months, a special attraction is the beautiful Brooks Falls, which has a drop of 175 feet in three tiers when the runoff is strong. In the springtime, the meadows of the Middle Valley show off an array of wildflowers: California Popies, Suncups, Buttercups, Wild Radish and Wild Mustard.
Brooks Creek Trail, a 2.2-mile loop with Montara Mountain Trail.
Hazelnut Trail, 4.6 miles and a pretty easy hike with great views. The switchbacks make the uphill climb pretty easy. Links the valleys of the South and the Middle Forks at a considerable elevation. Horses are welcome.
Montara Mountain Trail, scenic trails.
Old Trout Farm Loop Trail, a mostly level road that travels from the Trout Farm picnic area along the South Fork of San Pedro Creek. Storms wiped the trout farm out in 1962.
Plaskon Nature Trail, a short trail great for easy plant identification.
Valley View Trail, an excursion from Weiler Ranch Trail Horses are welcome.
Weiler Ranch Trail, a 1.9 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail option that follows the Middle Fork of San Pedro Creek. Biking is allowed on this segment only.