If you’re looking for an epic peninsula walking adventure, then look no further than the route I call the Pacifica Grand Tour. I didn’t make it up – found it on the trail website and AllTrails app – but I evangelize the devil because it’s beautiful.
It’s a massive day hike or a brave run at around 14 miles and 2,900 feet of elevation drop, but if you’re up to make it a day, there’s a little bit of everything: ocean views windswept, fresh eucalyptus groves, a stone maze, historical points involving Cold War missiles and colonial explorations, beaches, opportunities for lunch, snacks or reading material in course, and some serious cardio climbs. In addition, everything is suitable for dogs.
It will make you fall in love with Pacifica if you aren’t already. Best of all, you don’t have to deal with weekend coastal traffic to get there.
Go to is.gd/pacificagrandtour to see the route map on AllTrails.
The starting point of the route is at the entrance to the Sweeney Ridge Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Bruno.
There is a small parking lot in a cul-de-sac on Sneath Lane and you can find somewhere nearby to park, even on busy days, if you are willing to walk a short distance.
Begin by walking through the Sneath Lane trail gate to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area property, where you will ascend an asphalt road for the first 3 miles or so.
You’ll get stunning views of Crystal Springs Reservoir and the fresh scent of eucalyptus trees, but be prepared for fairly little shade, here and along most of the hike. Once you reach the top of Sweeney Ridge you will see a pit toilet signaling that you are at the top. Turn right to begin what will be an approximately 10 mile loop.
Continuing on the Sweeney Ridge Trail, you will come to concrete platforms that until 2019 housed an abandoned Nike missile site. During the 1950s and 1960s, these Nike anti-aircraft missiles were installed around the United States to combat Soviet long-range bombers during the Cold War, and included 11 sites across the Bay Area, according to the National. Parks Service. There was a control station at the top of Sweeney Ridge and a missile launch site at Milagra Ridge. The Sweeney Ridge site was abandoned in 1974 under the terms of an arms reduction treaty, the service noted.
From the Sweeney Ridge Trail you will stay right on the Notch Trail.
There is an easy to miss left turn around the 3.5 mile mark as you head back out of Skyline College to the intersection of College Drive and Sharp Park Road.
Cross College Drive and continue straight on Milagra Road to Milagra Ridge. Take the Milagra Ridge Trail left onto the Milagra Overlook Trail. Before descending, you can choose to climb to the top of Milagra or reflect as you walk in a spiral along a stone maze overlooking the ocean. The trail will turn left down the hill to Highway 1 and Oceana High School.
Follow the Oceana Avenue Loop downhill until it parallels Highway 1, and take it south to Paloma Avenue. Then turn right. You will take Paloma Avenue to the ocean, then turn left on Beach Boulevard. This happily flat section follows the coastal path at Sharp Park Beach to Mori Point.
It is in the surrounding area that you will have passed the 6 mile mark and you might consider making a detour for a snack or lunch from Paloma Avenue to Palmetto Avenue, perhaps to sample a healthy pastry at Saltwater Bakery, or even a longer hike. take a break to enjoy Florey’s Books, a new and used bookstore with delicious browsing options. Just keep in mind that you have a steep hike ahead of you so maybe don’t take heavy hardback books.
Whether or not you stop for snacks or shopping, then you will need to find your way to Sharp Park Beach. From there you can walk along the Pacifica Pier or just continue south on the Coastal Path. Once you reach Mori Point, you walk up the Mori Bluff trail and back down the other side towards Rockaway Beach, with many winding trails through the bluff. It’s easy to get off the official road here, so be aware that you have to cut inland a bit to get back on the paved trail from the Mori Point Park area to Rockaway Beach.
From Rockaway Beach, near the 9 mile mark, there’s another option to grab a snack or coffee in the small shopping district before crossing Hwy 1 from Rockaway Beach Avenue to Fassler Avenue. You will turn left at Shell station and head northeast along Harvey Way towards the church on the corner, called Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.
And now comes the hard part: finding the connection to the path behind the church. If you look at the church uphill, the trail is hidden behind the right side.
It’s called the Farallones View Trail, and it’s a relentlessly steep climb for about a mile.
This part of the route is the least pretty and the most difficult, but you have to do it to go back up to Sweeney Ridge.
As you ascend the Farallones View Trail, it is worth taking a break as you ascend to turn around and take in the views behind you and catch your breath. This is also a section in which you will have to remain vigilant to prevent mountain bikers from descending, as they will go fast.
Keep going up (it’s a chore) and stay straight to connect to the Baquiano trail around the 11 mile mark, which will bring you back to the Sweeney Ridge trail. The trail stabilizes a bit then continues to climb with a more reasonable grade as you approach the 12 mile mark.
At the intersection of Baquiano Trail and Sweeney Ridge Trail, you will turn left to loop back onto the Sweeney Ridge Trail. Just past the intersection to the right is the Spanish Discovery Site of San Francisco Bay, where Captain Juan Gaspar de Portola and his expedition became the first Europeans to see San Francisco Bay on November 4, 1769.
They were aided by Native Americans along the way, including the local people of Ramaytush Ohlone, according to the National Park Service. The Aramai tribe of what is now Pacifica went with the explorers to the top of Sweeney Ridge, the memos. It’s a unique historic site and a great place to take a photo (and another breath).
Continue a short distance along the Sweeney Ridge Trail until you see the Pit Toilet you saw on your way up the Sneath Lane Trail. Turn right to go back down the hill onto the Sneath Lane trail and from there it’s a relatively easy 2 mile descent to the car.
It is a grueling but glorious adventure.
Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]