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Sweeney Ridge Trail

When the clouds clear in San Francisco, head to Pacifica for a challenging ridgeline walk with stunning views. As you hike the Sweeney Ridge Trail, you’ll pass a Nike Missile site and the San Francisco Bay Discovery site as you take in views of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay.

I prefer starting the hike with the challenging uphill climb from the trailhead directly behind Shelldance Orchid Gardens. After the initial climb you are treated to a reprieve as you walk along the ridgeline and take in the views of the Pacific Ocean, the San Francisco skyline, and the planes diving down to the San Francisco airport.

The majority of this hike meanders through coastal scrub and offers very little shade. The ridgeline can be extremely windy and on foggy days all of the views are obscured. On a warm day you’ll want to pack a hat and sunblock, and in the winter you’ll want to come prepared with plenty of wind-fighting layers.

This is only one version of the Sweeney Ridge hike. Sweeney Ridge Trail is also accessible from Sneath Lane, and Skyline College. To see a complete trail map, including the locations of the many trailheads go to Pacifica’s website.

The Trailhead

Located directly behind Shelldance Orchid Gardens, the wide trailhead is easy to spot. From the parking lot, take the Mori Ridge Trail. At the top of the hill the trail will merge with the Sweeney Ridge Trail, stay to the right and head towards the Nike Missile site. Continue on the Sweeney Ridge Trail until the trail dead-ends at the Portola Gate. You’ll backtrack a bit and then take the Meadow Trail towards the Horse Trail. Stay to the right and follow the Horse Trail as it loops back to meet the Sweeney Ridge Trail. After meeting back with the Sweeney Ridge Trail follow the trail back to the Mori Ridge Trail and the trailhead.

The Route

In addition to stunning 360-degree views (fog permitting), this out-and-back hike passes a Nike Missile site and the site where the Spanish explorer, Portola, accidentally discovered the San Francisco Bay.

Other Details

Trail Safety

Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.

Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.

Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature!

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