Pacifica is framed by the ridges of the Coast Range on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west. With over six miles of beaches punctuated with tiny pocket coves, rolling dunes and rocky headlands, Pacifica offers an ever-changing scenic panorama.
Over half of the land in this small city is protected open space with numerous city, county and state parks. More than one thousand acres belong to the famed Golden Gate National Recreation Area. These bountiful parklands give Pacifica a spaciousness rarely found in suburban areas, yet it is only three miles from San Francisco’s southern border and less than 20 minutes to downtown.
The natural world of beaches, headlands and hills provides a wide range of recreational opportunities. These include surfing, scuba, fishing, paragliding, hiking, birding, mountain biking, boating and horseback riding. Pacifica also offers golf, tennis, bowling, archery and loads of team sports. Several miles of coastal and ridgetop trails tie Pacifica to neighboring communities.
Because Pacifica evolved as several separate beach communities, there is no town center but rather a string of small shopping centers and commercial areas. Many of the homes are hidden along peaceful valleys tucked away from the busy Coast Highway. To see Pacifica, you’ll follow Highway 1 but to discover its secrets, you’ll need to exit the main road and explore its byways.
We begin our Pacifica tour in Fairmont where Highway 1 begins its spectacular descent down the coast. This community, built mostly by developer Henry Doelger, displays some of the best views in the city. The neighborhood is served by a large shopping center at the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 35 on Hickey Boulevard, and is blessed with two excellent playground parks.
Edgemar dates back to early railroad days and was the first Pacifica stop on the Ocean Shore RR. Though many of its homes were built in the forties, Edgemar has several pocket communities of newer homes as well as cliffside condominiums perched above the dunes. A pocket park sits at the very edge - a perfect spot for whalewatching.
Next comes Pacific Manor. Mostly developer-built in the late forties and early fifties, Pacific Manor has many tree-lined streets with cozy homes perfect for young families. Several apartment complexes sit on the blufftops overlooking the ocean.
On the hills above Pacific Manor sits Westview and Pacific Highlands. With Cape Cod-style homes built in the late forties, and Scottish street names like Lockhaven Drive and Heather Court, the community stresses its connection to the highland moors. Many of the homes boast valley or ocean views (or both).
Continuing along Highway 1, we reach Sharp Park, an older neighborhood with many ties to Ocean Shore Railway days. Among the buildings dating back to 1906 is The Castle, a turreted fortress built on a hillside overlooking the beach.
Sharp Park contains a mixture of homes ranging from converted summer cottages to modern custom-built homes. It also has Pacifica’s only mobile home park perched on the cliffside just above the roaring surf. Many of the streets are narrow and one-way and bordered with windworn Monterey pine.
A one-mile beach promenade with fishing pier adds to the community’s amenities. Palmetto Avenue is a quaint shopping district for those who like to stroll and snack.
Visitors entering from the east travel along Sharp Park Road, a winding route that follows a former cow path down the mountainside. At the top of Sharp Park Road are two new housing developments with hawk-eye views of the spectacular coastline.
Dividing Sharp Park from the next community to the south is an 18-hole public golf course, often referred to as "the poor man's Pebble Beach." The course was designed by noted golf architect Alexander McKenzie and landscaped by Golden Gate Park's John McLaren.
Fairway Park was built in the late fifties, though many of the homes show recent upgrades. Framed by the golf course, ocean, and the headlands of Mori Point and backed by the protected Coastal Range, residents are surrounded by nature. In addition to the golf links, Fairway Park also shelters an outdoor archery range and a baseball field.
Vallemar, a rustic wooded community is home to one of the few remaining Ocean Shore Railway stations, now a popular restaurant. Noted for its majestic tall trees, many planted nearly a century ago, Vallemar homes follow meandering Calera Creek. There are an eclectic variety of homes ranging from small bungalows to custom-built estate homes. You’ll find Vallemar shady and bucolic, and may even spy a horse barn.
On the west side of Highway 1 lies Rockaway Beach, Pacifica’s best-known tourist area, with several restaurants and hotels, small shops and a visitor’s center. The beach is lit at night for romantic surf watching. Tucked below the headland is a small pocket beach popular with surfers. Across the highway, the residential area of Rockaway Beach wends east into the hills along Rockaway Beach Avenue. Each home is custom-built and many are contemporary in design.
Our next stop is crescent-shaped Pacifica State Beach, rated among the best surfing beaches in the state. The beach fronts Pacifica’s largest neighborhood, sunny Linda Mar. To explore its riches, head inland.
About a mile east on Linda Mar Boulevard stands the oldest home in San Mateo County, the Sanchez adobe ranch house. Built in 1846, the adobe was the country home of Don Francisco Sanchez, then Mayor of San Francisco. Now a pleasant county park and museum, the site hosts many living history events and activities for all ages.
Much of Linda Mar is tract homes, built in the fifties and sixties. Here, as elsewhere in Pacifica, the potential sameness of the homes is avoided by lush landscaping and other additions. With its numerous parks and playgrounds, the community is ideal for families. Linda Mar also houses the Pacifica Community Center, a theater arts complex and an outdoor skate park.
Farther back in the valley is Park Pacifica, with large modern homes built in the seventies. At the very end of the valley is an equestrian center as well as San Pedro Valley Park, a wilderness parkland with miles of sunny hiking and riding trails.
Our last stop is Pedro Point, a charming hillside neighborhood that climbs the slopes of San Pedro Mountain on the west side of Highway 1. It’s an area of one-of-a-kind homes, reminiscent of Carmel. Super-narrow streets, bordered by twisted cypress and Monterey pine, cling to the hillsides and afford grand views from nearly every homesite. At the foot of the mountain, hidden from view to all but walkers, is a tiny fisherman’s village that looks like it stepped off the pages of a Cabot Cove thriller.
by June Langhoff
Pacifican and author of "The Telecommuter's Advisor"