The trail is open to hikers, equestrians and bicyclists from 8:00am to dusk. There are no amenities on Sweeney Ridge. Pack a lunch, take plenty of water, wear good hiking shoes, take extra layers of clothing and carry a compass (in case fog rolls in). Be sure to pack out your trash. Plan on taking at least four hours to hike Sweeney Ridge. For more information, contact the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) Ocean District at 650-556-8371.
San Francisco Bay was discovered first by Native Americans and then later by Spanish in a well-documented expedition. Over two hundred years ago, a Catalonian expeditionary force "missed their turnoff" at Monterey Bay and ended up atop a coastal ridge in what is now Pacifica. There the view opened up to disclose an unknown bay at what is now considered the San Francisco Bay discovery site.
Two hundred plus years later, the land Portola and his crew traversed is protected as part of the GGNRA. Known as Sweeney Ridge (no one knows for sure who Sweeney was), it's renowned for its historical significance, sweeping views and incredible natural beauty.
There are four main walking trails that lead to the Discovery Site. Ranked from easy to hard, they are:
- Sneath Lane Trail - (3.2 miles round-trip, 540 ft. elevation change) paved to the top of the ridge, begins at the end of Sneath Lane 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
- Mori Ridge Trail - (round-trip.4 miles roundtrip, 1020 ft. elevation change) a steep climb on a service road through lovely coastal prairie, it starts at Shelldance Nursery off Highway One
- Skyline College Trail - (round-trip.2 miles roundtrip, 700 ft. elevation change) leaves from Parking Lot #2, traverses two very steep and eroded slopes before leveling off at the ridge
- Equestrian Trail - starts out from the Park Pacifica Stables
Though historians aren't unanimous, most agree that Portola probably traveled north along San Pedro Beach to the headlands, up the finger ridge near present-day Fassler Avenue and then ridge line the ridgeline to the bay lookout. To reach historic Baquiano Trail, 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 and you'll reach a fork in the trail. If you want a shorter trek, turn left for a quick spectacular walk along the ridge line of Cattle Hill. Otherwise, turn right towards the discovery site - it's about a mile to get to the Sweeney Ridge Trail. At the top, pause to take in the magnificent 360-degree views. On a clear day you can see about 30 miles in every direction: San Francisco Bay to the east with San Mateo and the airport in the foreground and the East Bay Hills and Mount Diablo in the background. To the south are endless grassy hills and the dark mass of Montara Mountain. To the north, you can see Daly City, the twin peaks of the Golden Gate, the Marin headlands and Point Reyes. And out west spreads Pacifica, delicately trimmed with a curling surf. The islands in the distance are the Farallons, 25 miles away. The discovery site is marked by a 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.
Sweeney Ridge shelters a diversity of wildlife including hawks, quail, skunk, gray fox, bobcat, coyote, bush rabbits and blacktail deer. Listen for the sharp call of a kestrel as it soars just above your head while searching for field mice and gophers. Sniff the air for the scents of fresh mint and sage, herbs that grow wild on the upland moors. In spring, the grasslands are dotted with a rainbow of wildflowers: carpets of goldfields, clumps of blue, cream and lavender lupines, orange California poppies, pink checker-bloom, peach sticky monkey flower, blue-eyed grass, red-orange Indian paintbrush, white Queen Anne's lace, lavender and white wild radish and yellow yarrow. Damp patches of wild coastal iris, ranging in color from white to the deepest purple, punctuate the view.