1-2-3 Things - An Accidental Expedition & Discovery of a Bay

Hello Adventurers!

Did you get out to the summit of Mt. Diablo last week? We really had a wonderful time surveying so much of whats around us. I'm looking forward to another visit sometime soon. 

This week’s adventure is the start of our focus on local history. This month we are going to visit spots of historical significance, in San Francisco and around the bay. And what better spot to visit, than the spot the bay was discovered for the first time. Surprisingly this wasn't by boat, but by land. 

We find ourselves hiking up to where the Portola Expedition, (very) lost on their way to Monterey found themselves one morning as the fog burned off, looking down into what initially thought was a great inland lake. Upon further investigation they found it was an incredible bay, the likes of which had never been seen before. For sailors, a bay is a very protected and defensible position which is much sought after. Somehow with ships sailing up and down the coast for such a long time, the entrance to the bay was always missed, either covered by fog, or just naturally camouflaged. 

Warning: This hike is pretty steep. We climbed about 64 floors hiking 3 miles up the hill, for a grand total of 6.9 miles when we hiked this early last spring. This is a spectacular hike on a clear day. Pack a nice picnic and make a day of it, take your time and plenty of breaks. This is a significant hike though, something for experienced hikers, and not just one to do on a whim without doing other hikes before this. 

Also let us know if you go, we would love to hear about your trip. Simply reply to this e-mail. And please feel free to forward this to a friend. 

Chief Happiness Officer at kiddiewalks.com
A project from aSmarterParent.com


1-2-3 Things — Hike up Sweeney Ridge, and discover the San Francisco Bay

Quick inspiration for a day out with the kids around the SF Bay Area

From kiddiewalks.com

  1. Hike up Sweeney Ridge
  2. Find the Portola Expedition Marker
  3. Visit the abandon Nike Missile Base SF-51

A couple of important things before we start

  • This is a long strenuous hike, it's one you want to build up to, and take your time with. 
  • It's best to pick a clear day. It's still a wonderful hike if it's not clear, but you won't get the same effect. 
  • There is one pit toilet set up toward the top of the climb, and no water available. So be prepared. 

Hike up to Sweeney Ridge. 


To get here, drive west (uphill) on Sneath Lane. You can pick this up from El Camino, highway 280, or Skyline boulevard. Basically you drive all the way up to the end where there is a small parking area and a gate. You will drive past the San Bruno jail and end up around the northern end of Crystal Springs Reservoir (where we get our drinking water from, part of the Hetch Hetchy system). Park you car, and head through the pedestrian entrance for the gate. This is your 3 mile (~60 flights) climb up. 

You will get some breathtaking views along the way where you will see things like the airport, sign hill (South San Francisco the industrial city), Crystal Springs, Coyote Point, San Bruno Mountain, and so much more. There are a few benches along the way, and toward the top there is a pit toilet (no water available).

When you reach the top there will be an option to go left (south) toward the Portola Monument or right (north) toward the abandon Nike Missile Base. 

Portola Expedition Marker


A short stroll south from the top of your climb is the spot where it is believed that Portola and his expedition who were trying to make their way to Monterey from San Diego. 

A Quick History 

More detailed info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portol%C3%A1_expedition

The area that is now California was originally claimed by the Spanish in 1542 (with a competing claim by the privateer Francis Drake who explored they area adjacent to the Golden Gate in 1579, missing the San Francisco Bay altogether). However this area was left largely unexplored until the 1760's when the Spanish discovered the Russians had been encroaching south from Alaska (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Ross,_California). Gaspar de Portolá was made governor and was tasked with setting up a settlement at the Port of Monterey as discovered by Sebastián Vizcaíno in 1602. Vizcaíno however gave a very grand description of the Monterey Bay, so that when the Portolá expedition actually found it, they didn't recognize it and kept moving north. 

Once the expedition reached present day Moss Beach and saw Point Reyes off in the distance, Portolá sent out Sargent Ortega to explore because they realized they must have passed Monterey. Ortega found his way north blocked by the entrance to the Golden Gate and reported back where the expedition went up into the hills to get the first view of the SF Bay. The expedition made it to this summit and found themselves encased in fog which luckily enough burned off allowing them to see the bay for the first time. At the time only friar Crespí seemed to grasp the importance of this describing in his diary: "a very large and fine harbor, such that not only all the navy of our Most Catholic Majesty but those of all Europe could take shelter in it."

Set on finding the port of Monterey described by Vizcaíno, the expedition turned around, stumbled back across the Monterey peninsula and into Carmel still not realizing they had found Monterey, eventually returning back to San Diego. It wasn’t until a second expedition to Monterey in 1770 that they finally established a permanent settlement and the Presidio of Monterey. 

Nike Missile Site SF-51


At this point SF-51 is just a collection of derelict buildings, however there are some really great views north of here, and if you squint on a clear day you can see the opening of the Golden Gate. There is the possibility of taking some photos with some cool abandon buildings up here, but that’s not everyone’s thing. Still it’s interesting to see some of whats left. If you are interested in how the Nike Missile System worked, you should head over the Golden Gate Bridge to the SF-88 Site on the first Saturday of the month and learn more (http://www.nps.gov/goga/nike-missile-site.htm). It’s a fascinating system, and quite remarkable how they put it all together with the technology at the time. 

When we last visited, the boarded up guard house had become a bee/wasp hive - please be aware of this in case it’s still there. 


  • Not feeling like hiking up 60 flights of stairs? Sawyer Camp trail is just adjacent a little ways south of here. There is a hill at the northern end, but much flatter overall and you can still get a taste of the Portola Expedition. http://parks.smcgov.org/sawyer-camp-segment

Feeling Adventurous 

  • You can continue past the Missile Site and down the other side of the mountain all the way to Mori Point on the coast.