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State & County Parks in Pacifica

McNee Ranch State Park

McNee Ranch State Park is one of California's newest parks. Located only 25 miles from San Francisco, it can provide some of the Bay Area's best lookouts from the top of Montara Mountain. McNee Ranch State Park is located on the San Mateo County coast between Pacifica and Montara. Most of the trails are actually long-abandoned ranch or county roads. The trails follow the San Pedro Mountain in Pacifica until it connects to the Montara Coastal Range. On a clear day, the Farallon Islands 30 miles away can look close enough to reach out and touch.

For more information, call 650-726-6238. For additional details, visit the following websites:

California State Parks
Bay Area Hiker


Milagra Ridge

Link to Milagra Ridge brochure

Milagra Ridge, 239 acres of National Park Service open space in Pacifica and part of the 119 square mile Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a place of breathtaking views and diverse resources. The hiking is mostly level and mostly paved. This was once a site of a Nike missile complex and today it is one of the last remaining habitats for two federally endangered butterflies.

Milagra Ridge, 239 acres of National Park Service open space in Pacifica and part of the 119 square mile Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a place of breathtaking views and diverse resources. The hiking is mostly level and mostly paved. This was once a site of a Nike missile complex and today it is one of the last remaining habitats for two federally endangered butterflies.

Surrounded by human development, Milagra Ridge is an island of protected habitat for native plants and animals. Its small size, isolated location and recreational appeal places stress upon natural processes and threatens the long-term integrity of the park. Threats to the land, including urban development, off-trail use and the widespread growth of non-native, invasive plants have led to the endangerment of two butterfly species on Milagra, the Mission Blue Butterfly and the San Bruno Elfin Butterfly.

Milagra Ridge is located just off Sharp Park Road - take College Drive north a quarter mile to the trailhead. For more information on Milagra Ridge, visit the following websites:

National Park Service
Golden Gate National Park Conservancy


San Pedro Valley County Park

San Pedro Valley County Park Facilities
The park maintains restrooms, potable water, picnic areas and barbecue pits. On weekends when volunteer staff is available, the visitors center is open from 10:00am to 4:00pm with trail guides and bird/animal lists available. The museum contains interesting displays of the major plants, animals, insects and reptiles found in the park. Children will especially enjoy the interactive nature displays. Books and maps are on sale at the desk. For more information on San Pedro Valley County Park, visit the San Mateo County Department of Parks.

Park Rules
No dogs are allowed in the park. Bicycles are allowed only on Weiler Ranch Road. The park is open from 8:00am until dusk.

Driving Directions
Take Highway One to Linda Mar Blvd, then head east on Linda Mar Blvd. until it dead-ends at Oddstad Blvd. Turn right on Oddstad, go about 100 feet and turn left into the park entrance at Rosita Road. By bus, take SamTrans 1L to Linda Mar Blvd. and Highway One. Transfer there to the 10L and get off at Linda Mar and Oddstad and walk to the park entrance.

Entrance fees are $6.00 per car

San Pedro Valley Park is a walker's paradise. There are trails for all ages and fitness levels. They'll even lend you a special wheelchair equipped for mountainous outdoors trails. There are three easy trails: Old Trout Farm Trail which is broad and level and passes through willow bushes and riparian areas along the Middle Fork of San Pedro Creek; Weiler Ranch Road, which is open to bicycles and passes through a series of wide meadows carpeted with wildflowers; and Plaskon Nature Trail, a short walk through a watery wonderland. More challenging are: Brooks Falls Overlook, a narrow .7 mile hike with views of a seasonal waterfall; Valley View Trail, a winding 1.6 mile hill trail with many switchbacks; Hazelnut/Big Canyon Trail Loop, a 4.5 mile trail offering wide vistas of San Pedro Valley and beyond; and the Montara Mountain Trail, a nine-mile round trip providing a rigorous but rewarding climb through several plant communities and panoramic views of Montara Mountain to Point Reyes.

Wildlife abounds in the park, including blacktail deer, rabbits, red-tailed hawks and scrub jays. In the evenings, bobcat, grey fox, coyotes and even a rare mountain lion come down to the stream to get water.

The Plaskon Nature Trail is a wonderful peek into a riparian woodland. You'll find this trail at the foot of the north parking lot. As you cross the bridge to enter the trail, notice that the temperature drops markedly. This sensitive streamside habitat contains several species of willow, ferns, trillium, creek dogwood, giant vetch and watercress. A variety of birds are year-round residents of the creek area including flickers, chickadees, bushtits, towhees and sparrows. In spring and summer, visiting thrushes, orioles, warblers and vireos add to the chorus. The canopy of trees overhead creates a climate that is a perfect breeding ground for steelhead trout. A delightful spot for trout watching is the steelhead observation blind, a bridge that stops midstream, located directly behind the visitors center.

Steelhead come up San Pedro Creek to spawn between December and March. Like salmon, they unerringly return from the ocean to the stream of their birth to mate. They're handsome fish, large and gunmetal gray, with a silvery stripe on the side and a white underbelly. Upon arriving, the female digs nests in the clean gravel by turning on her side and swimming rapidly. Once the eggs are deposited and fertilized, the parents return to the ocean.

In approximately fifty days, the eggs hatch. The fry wriggle their way to the surface where they hide among the overhanging plants and school up for safety. Once they attain six inches or so, they're ready to try the open sea. In the summer, you may see a few hardy souls heading downstream toward San Pedro Beach. A small number of steelhead never leave their streamside home. These stay quite small and resemble rainbow trout with red side strips and numerous black spots.

San Pedro Creek is one of the few remaining steelhead streams in San Mateo County. Elsewhere, the habitat for this fish has been destroyed by urbanization, flood control and silt from logging. Pacifica's trout population is severely depleted and was nearly wiped out a few years ago when a chlorine spill, probably from an emptying swimming pool, poisoned the stream and killed thousands of fish.

June Langhoff (10/22/95)

Sweeney Ridge Trail

 click here for a nice map of Sweeney Ridge

Sweeney Ridge Brochure

In the Footsteps of Portola - first Saturday in November
Celebrate the anniversary of the day that Spanish explorer Portola
“discovered” the San Francisco Bay—by mistake. Walk in his footsteps to
the Bay Discovery Site—part of Pacifica’s Discovery Day, which includes
a recounting of Portola’s journey from San Diego. 2-part program

Part 1: 10 a.m. Meet at Pacifica’s Community Center at Crespi and
Highway One for a history of Portola’s overland expedition up the
California coast.

Part 2: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Join Park Ranger George Durgerian to hike in
the footsteps of Portola! Meet at the far east end of Pacifica’s Fassler
Avenue for a somewhat strenuous 3 mile hike to the Bay Discovery Site.
Weather permitting, you’ll have great views of the Pacific and the bay.
For information, phone 415-561-4323.


General Information
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.

Sharp Park Beach

General Information
Sharp Park Beach has picnic facilities, pier with cafe, fishing, a walking promenade, vista point parking and nature trails. The basic hours of operation for the pier are from sunrise to sunset.
More Pacifica Pier Info  
Pacifica is home to one of the best fishing piers in the state. Because of the number and quality of the fish caught off Pacifica's shores, the pier has earned a number one ranking among anglers in the Bay Area. Although fishing can be good year-round, many consider the summer months to be the best when salmon and striped bass can be caught. No admission is charged and no fishing license is required at the Pacifica Municipal Pier.
The pier is open daily from 4AM to 10PM, unless closed due to inclement weather, high surf, repairs, etc.
The pier is 1,140 feet long and fronts directly on Sharp Park Beach, an area that can see strong winds and punishing waves which can cause closure of the pier with little or no notice.
The pier has lights, fish cleaning stations, benches, restrooms and a coffee house/snack bar directly in front of the entrance. Free parking is located on adjacent streets and in a nearby lot. Handicapped parking is also available, with pier accessibility via a ramp leading to the south side of the pier.
Travel Highway 1 to Pacifica, take the Paloma Avenue/Francisco Boulevard exit, take Paloma west to Beach Boulevard, turn left and travel south to the pier.
The Rev. Herschell Harkins Memorial Pier (a.k.a. the Pacifica Municipal Pier) was built in 1973 and designed in part to serve as the support structure for the city’s now-obsolete sewer outfall line. The 1,140 feet long “L” shape pier has been closed for repairs and re-opened several times over the last decade or so. It is currently considered in good shape, though it shows the result of its age and the heavy use it receives.
Recreation Trail Map
Download a recreation 
trail map from Sharp Park Pier to Rockaway Beach via Mori Point.

Nature Walk Narrative
Shortly before sunset, a platoon of brown pelicans wings its way south to settle for the night on Mori Rock. A flock of tiny sanderlings retreat and advance with the breaking waves, snatching their dinner on the run. Gulls swoop and scream while a dignified sandpiper looks on in disdain. A fishermen tries one last baited hook before the sun goes down ... just an ordinary summer evening at Sharp Park Beach.

Though not your typical golden sandy stretch (the sand is tinged brown from the high iron content), this beach has plenty to interest the naturalist as well as the people watcher. Cormorants, phalaropes, loons, terns and murres fish the waters; shorebirds patrol the beach; songbirds and ducks hang out in the marsh area; and hawks and kestrels soar the uplifts and hunt in the woods nearby.

For a 2.5 mile loop walk, drive to Beach Boulevard and Montecito Avenue where there's plenty of parking. Or ride SamTrans, get off at Clarendon and walk west three blocks to the beach. Take your binoculars, a windbreaker (never know when the offshore winds will whip up) and some comfy shoes.

Along the promenade you may see brilliantly hued skynosaurs (the king of the acrobatic kites) engaged in a mock battle. Those small dark shapes bobbing in the water are probably California sea lions or harbor seals. Unless you're a very strong swimmer, don't join them - this beach is famous for its treacherous riptides.

Pelican watching is a favorite activity in the summer months. Watch closely as a pelican, like some prehistoric dive bomber, plunges straight down into the surf, scoops up dinner in his enormous bill and lifts aloft, his progress followed by hungry gulls and terns hoping to scavenge a meal.

Fly fishermen follow the pelican's flight pattern closely. When flocks of birds are diving madly, they're often feeding on schools of anchovies. And directly below the anchovies are salmon and bass. Fishers report catching kingfish, flounder, perch, stripers, salmon and halibut, as well as crab.

Head south along the berm built to keep out the huge winter waves that wash the shore. On the left are the links of 
Sharp Park Golf Course. The course wraps itself around Laguna Salada, a natural lake ringed with reeds, cattails and tules. The tules are a natural building material used by the native Ohlone Indians to construct homes, fishing nets and even raincapes. Living in the marsh are a variety of birds including mallards, coots and red-winged blackbirds.

Donated to the City of San Francisco long before Pacifica was incorporated, Sharp Park Golf Course is often referred to as "the poor man's Pebble Beach." The course was designed by noted golf architect Alister Mackenzie and landscaped by Golden Gate Park's John McLaren. Back in 1932 when the course opened, games cost 70¢ on weekdays and $1 on weekends.

The golf course is home to the rare and endangered San Francisco Garter Snake. The harmless, 2-3 foot green snake has bold stripes down its back of turquoise, red and black and has a turquoise underbelly.

The trees west of the lagoon are all that remain of a thick stand of Monterey Cypress planted by McLaren in the thirties. The ghostly gray trunks represent those that died from excess saltwater when the seas broke through and flooded the course during the winter of 1983.

At the end of the berm is Mori's Point Road, a dirt lane leading east. Turn inland and experience the sudden quiet of leaving the surf zone. Watch for songbirds feasting on the ripe prairie grass seeds on the right. Most of the wildflowers are spent but there are still patches of wild radish with dainty lavender or white flowers, yellow monkeyflower, tall mallow with its purple blooms and lace-like yarrow. The lane has several domestic flowers including fuchsia, climbing rose and nasturtium, probably planted by folks living in West Fairway Park, the small community on the left. Near Highway 1 is a fork in the road. Keep left toward Bradford Way near the Moose Lodge. Proceed north to Francisco Blvd. Then trace the border of the golf course back to the beach. Or stop off at the Spanish-style clubhouse which houses a restaurant, pro shop and bar. They're open to the public seven days a week.

For a delightful side trip, cross under the freeway at Fairway Drive (follow the golf carts through the tunnel). A lovely tree-lined stream, Fairway Creek, bisects the course. Walk upstream to watch giant
dragonflies streak over the fern-edged waters, check out the birdlife in the willows or lazily count the tadpoles.

June Langhoff (copyright 2000, all rights reserved)