Often underrated for its fogbound climate, the lengthy but rewarding Pacifica Grand Tour Loop connects an incredible network of diverse trails — and it’s dog-friendly

A section of the Pacifica Grand Tour loop trail looking south near Mori Point in Pacifica on Aug. 16, 2020. (Photo by Kate Bradshaw)

If you’re looking for an epic foot-powered Peninsula adventure, venture no farther than the route I’m calling the Pacifica Grand Tour.

I didn’t invent it — I found it through the trail website and app AllTrails — but am evangelizing the heck out of it because it’s stunning.

It’s a massive day hike or a gutsy trail run at about 14 miles and 2,900 feet of elevation change, but if you’re up to make a day out of it, it’s got a little bit of everything: windswept ocean vistas, fresh eucalyptus groves, a stone labyrinth, historic points involving Cold War missiles and colonial explorations, beaches, opportunities to pick up lunch, snacks or some reading materials along the way and some serious cardio climbs. Plus, it’s all dog-friendly.

It’ll make you fall in love with Pacifica if you’re not already. And the best part is, you don’t have to deal with weekend Coastside traffic to access it.

My dog, Willa, looks out at a stone labyrinth near Milagra Ridge on Aug. 16, 2020. Photo by Kate Bradshaw.

See the route map on AllTrails here.

The starting point for the route is at the entrance to the Sweeney Ridge Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Bruno.

There’s a small parking lot at a dead end on Sneath Lane and you can find somewhere nearby to park, even on busy days, if you’re willing to walk a short distance.

Start by walking through the gate at the Sneath Lane Trailhead onto the Golden Gate National Recreation Area property, where you’ll head uphill on a paved road for the first 2 miles or so.

You’ll get great views of Crystal Springs Reservoir and the fresh scent of eucalyptus trees, but brace for fairly little shade, here and along most of the hike. Once you make it up to the upper part of Sweeney Ridge, you’ll see some pit toilets signaling you’re at the top. Turn right to start what will be about a 10-mile loop.

As you continue on the Sweeney Ridge Trail, you’ll come to some concrete platforms that until 2019 were home to an abandoned Nike missile site.

A graffitied structure along the Sweeney Ridge Trail, near where a Nike Missile site used to be located before it was abandoned in the 1970s on Oct. 25, 2020. (Photo by Kate Bradshaw)

During the 1950s and 60s, these Nike anti-aircraft missiles were set up around the U.S. to combat long-range Soviet bombers during the Cold War, and included 11 sites throughout the Bay Area, according to the National Parks Service.

There was a control station atop Sweeney Ridge and a missile launching site at Milagra Ridge. The site at Sweeney Ridge was abandoned by 1974 under the provisions of an arms-reduction treaty, the service noted.

From the Sweeney Ridge Trail you’ll stay to the right onto the Notch Trail.

There’s an easy-to-miss left turn around the 3.5-mile mark as you go toward the backside of Skyline College until you hit the intersection of College Drive and Sharp Park Road.

Cross College Drive and continue straight onto Milagra Road into Milagra Ridge. Take the Milagra Ridge Trail to the left onto the Milagra Overlook Trail. Before heading downhill, you may opt to bop up to Milagra Summit or reflect while walking in a spiral along a stone labyrinth overlooking the ocean. The trail will veer left as it curves down the hill toward Highway 1 and Oceana High School.

A park bench perched atop the bluffs overlooking Oceana High School in Pacifica offers a spot for hikers to observe the views and catch their breaths on Aug. 16, 2020. Photo by Kate Bradshaw.

Follow the loop of Oceana Avenue downhill until it parallels Highway 1, and take it south until you hit Paloma Avenue. Then turn right. You’ll take Paloma Avenue all the way to the ocean, then turn left at Beach Boulevard. This thankfully flat section goes along the Coastal Trail at Sharp Park Beach until Mori Point.

It’s around here you’ll be a little past the 6-mile mark, and might consider taking a snack or lunch detour from Paloma Avenue onto Palmetto Avenue, perhaps to sample a healthy-ish pastry at Saltwater Bakery, or even a more extended hiking pause to enjoy Florey’s Books, a new and used bookshop with delightful browsing options. Just keep in mind that you’ve got a steep hike ahead of you, so maybe don’t pick up any hefty hardbacks.

Whether or not you stop for snacks or shopping, you’ll need to find your way to Sharp Park Beach next. From there, you can stroll out and back along the Pacifica Pier, or simply continue southward down the Coastal Trail. Once you hit Mori Point, it’s a climb up the Mori Bluff Trail and back down the other side toward Rockaway Beach, with lots of winding trails through the bluff. It’s easy to get off the official route here, so just know you need to cut somewhat inland and down to get back on the paved trail from the Mori Point park area to Rockaway Beach.

From Rockaway Beach, near the 9.5-mile mark, there’s another option to pick up a snack or coffee in the little shopping district before crossing Highway 1 from Rockaway Beach Avenue onto Fassler Avenue. You’ll turn left at the Shell Station and head back northeast along Harvey Way toward the church on the corner, called Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

And now comes the hard part: finding the trail connection behind the church. If you’re looking uphill at the church, the trail is tucked behind the right side.

It’s called the Farallones View Trail, and it is an unrelentingly steep uphill climb for about a mile.

This section of the route is the least pretty and the toughest, but it’s got to be done to get back up toward Sweeney Ridge.

As you hike up the Farallones View Trail, it’s worth taking a pause as you go uphill to turn around and admire the view behind you and to catch your breath. This is also a section in which you’ll want to stay vigilant to avoid any mountain bikers coming down, since they’ll be going fast.

Willa and I hike up the steep Farallones View Trail from Rockaway Beach in Pacifica back toward Sweeney Ridge on Oct. 25, 2020. Photo by Gennady Sheyner.

Keep going uphill (it’s a slog) and stay straight to connect with the Baquiano Trail around the 11-mile mark, which will take you back to the Sweeney Ridge Trail. The trail plateaus for a bit and then keeps going uphill at a more reasonable incline as you approach the 12-mile mark.

At the intersection of the Baquiano Trail and the Sweeney Ridge Trail, you’ll turn left to loop back onto the Sweeney Ridge Trail. Just after the intersection to the right is the San Francisco Bay Spanish Discovery Site, where Captain Juan Gaspar de Portolá and his expedition became the first Europeans to see San Francisco Bay on Nov. 4, 1769.

They were assisted by Native American people along the way, including the local Ramaytush Ohlone people, according to the National Park Service. The Aramai tribe of what’s now Pacifica went with the explorers to the top of Sweeney Ridge, the service notes. It’s a unique historical site and a great spot to take a photo (and another breather).

Continue a short distance back along the Sweeney Ridge Trail until you see the pit toilets you saw on your way up the Sneath Lane Trail. Turn right to go back down the hill on the Sneath Lane Trail and from there it’s a comparatively easy 2 miles of downhill back to the car.

It’s an exhausting adventure but a glorious one.

The Pacifica Grand Tour loop trail offers stunning coastline views from Mori Point on Oct. 25, 2020. Photo by Kate Bradshaw.

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Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw

Bay Area reporter covering local government, inequality and the outdoors

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