Pacifica, a beach-front community just 10 minutes south of San Francisco, is a charming town and recreational playground. It’s a great destination for outdoor enthusiasts, featuring everything from world-class surfing, mountain biking and hiking to fishing, scuba diving and hang gliding.
Offering great leisure time activities, at an easily accessed destination, Pacifica sometimes gets overlooked in the vacation planning. Take a look at what you’ve been missing:
Pacifica is home to some of Northern California’ best surfing beaches. Linda Mar State Beach (in top photo) is one of the most popular beginner surfing spots in the San Francisco area. A mile-long stretch of beach just north of Pedro Point Linda Mar is very picturesque and somewhat protected from the wind. The break is usually fairly forgiving and, on a nice weekend, the beach can attract a fair number of novice surfers. However, Linda Mar can also produce a fun and challenging wave with a bigger swell. The outer peaks tend to be the best shaped and often produce the longest rides. Longboard and funshape are the best boards.
As a contrast, Rockaway Beach and Sharp Park Beach are not for beginners. These two beaches are considered advanced surfing beaches due to their strong rips and big swells.
Pacifica has surf shops on Crespi Boulevard and Pedro Point, where the surfer can find wetsuits, surfboard rentals and surfing lessons. In addition to the recreational components of surfing Pacifica, the destination also features a series of annual surfing contests including Kahuna Kapuna (August), Pedro Point Surf Club’s Big Chill Out (September), and Uncle Dick’s Surf Fest (November).
Pacifica is known in the bike community for its network of trails that overlook the Pacific Ocean. You’ll find everything from leisurely rides along the paved coastal trail to ascending the flanks of Montara Mountain, towering 2000 feet above Pacifica.
The Old San Pedro Road in the Linda Mar district, once the lifeline between Pacifica and all points south, is a great way to explore the Pacific Coast above Devils Slide and beyond. This formerly paved route serves as the gateway to some of the best mountain bike riding in San Mateo County. The road has a maximum 6% grade.
For a cardio testing route, try pedaling past the Nike Missile Control site on the Mori Ridge trail above Shelldance Nursery in Pacifica’s Fairway district. The Mori Ridge trail mirrors the route that Gaspar de Portola walked on by pedaling up and around Sweeney Ridge to the Discovery site. A humble plaque sits atop the ridge showing where the Portola expedition first caught sight of the inland bay eventually to be known as San Francisco Bay.
For nearly a century, Mori Point served as a haven for settlers, travelers, bootleggers and diners. Today, this spectacular place serves as a haven for walkers and wildlife. A recent addition to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Mori Point is considered the natural coastal extension of the National Park’s Sweeney Ridge property located due east across the Pacific Coast Highway. On the Mori Point property, visitors can stroll along paths through wildflower fields, visit restored habitat for threatened species or marvel at the dramatic coastline from the upper trail that extends all the way to the western edge of Mori Point. From the coastal bluff top you can ogle the dramatic coastline, stretching north beyond Pacifica to the Marin Headlands and, on a clear day, Point Reyes. The top of the point is a great whale-watching location and sunsets from Mori Point are spectacular.
From the Sweeney Ridge, a scouting party led by Gaspar de Portolá in 1769 became the first Europeans to see San Francisco Bay. A monument marks the approximate location. This ridge top is a federally protected hiking area of ridges and ravines between San Bruno and Pacifica, overlooking the San Francisco Peninsula, San Andreas Lake and the Pacific Ocean. The ridge’s 1,200-foot-high summit, covered with coastal scrub and grassland, slopes down to the bay on one side and to the Pacific on the other. Wildlife includes hawks, deer and a plethora of spring wildflowers. On a clear day, hikers will see the City of Pacifica and the Pacific Ocean and coastline. In the springtime, the hills turn gold with California poppies and other wildflowers. A nearby granite monument directs hikers to views that include the Farallon Islands, Mt. Tamalpais, Point Reyes, Mt. Diablo, Montara Mountain and San Pedro Point.
Milagra Ridge’s scrub-covered ridgeline runs east to west, offering impressive views of the city of Pacifica, the ocean and the coast. This protected ridge is the focus of community efforts to restore the wildlife habitat and help ensure the survival of a number of rare and endangered species found within this national parkland. The ridge is a critical habitat for the endangered Mission Blue butterfly and home to Red-tailed Hawks, often seen spiraling overhead. Visitors are required to stay on trails and pets must be leashed. Bicycles are permitted on the paved trail only. The hiking is mostly level and mostly paved.
Fishing and Crabbing
From the last week of June into the first week of August, some of the best fishing in the United States can be had in the inshore waters off Pacifica. The rocky coast is made up of a series of small bays where salmon are the most sought-after catch. In addition to the salmon, striped bass often frequent the surf along with kingfish, sharks and perch. Although rare, sturgeon, barracuda and bonito have also been caught—even a 60-pound white-sea bass was landed.
Pacifica Pier offers the only pier in the Bay Area where the public can crab for free. During the winter, Dungeness crab, which are not available elsewhere in the Bay Area, are abundant off the pier; in the spring, catch perch at Linda Mar Bay; in the fall, go rock fishing off Pedro Point.
Pacifica has bait-and-tackle shops located on Francisco Boulevard, Palmetto Avenue and at the Pacifica Pier. No license is required at the pier.
The Pacifica Pier is located in Sharp Park with access two blocks west of the Pacific Coast Highway. The pier is open daily from 4 am-10 pm (note that the pier closes during rough weather).
Scuba Diving and Spear Fishing
Linda Mar Beach is an intermediate-to-advanced beach entry scuba-dive site with a diverse aquatic life, including seals, fish and rays. In May and June, halibut come into Linda Mar Bay, which attracts many divers spearfishing for this prize fish.
At Pedro Point, two wrecks lie on the ocean’s bottom in approximately 30 to 40 feet of water. In 1906, the Drumburton, a 266-foot, four-mast sail cargo ship hit the rocks at Pedro Point due to thick fog and high waves. Just four years later, in August 1910, the James Rolph, a 169-foot, four-mast schooner cargo ship was swept by the current into the rocks and went down in the vicinity of Drumburton. Remnants of these two ships remain on the ocean floor; however, the swim makes this a difficult dive.
Conditions can be unpredictable and it is best to dive the southern part of Linda Mar Beach during calm, flat conditions. Visibility averages 5 to 20 feet most of the year, with 40-foot visibility on a great day. Water temperatures average mid-50 degrees year-round, so plan appropriately for a warm and safe dive.
Hang gliding in Pacifica is some of the best in the world. The flights start from Mussel Rock at the north end and can go all the way to Pedro Point, the southern-most point in Pacifica. Regularly occurring smooth west winds blow from the Pacific Ocean and gently push the hang gliders “wings” up. These winds flow over the coastal cliffs and hang gliders ride the wind much like surfers ride waves. Tandem flights are available.
The 18-hole Sharp Park Golf Course is located just off the Pacific Coast Highway at the intersection of Sharp Park Road and Francisco Boulevard. The historic clubhouse, built in 1932, houses the starter/golf area, lounge, large main dining room and private dining room.
San Francisco Archers is a non-profit organization that promotes archery at all levels of ability and age. The club is open to the public every day. Non-member adults pay $5 and children under 13 are admitted free of charge.
There are several horse trails around the foothills and mountains of Pacifica, and several private ranches and horse parks also allow riding. In San Mateo County, horse riding is allowed in the Crystal Springs Reservoir. There are two horse-riding trails: the San Andreas Trail and the Sawyer Camp Recreation Trail. Both are wide, flat, paved trails winding around the eastern shore of the Crystal Springs Reservoir.
The many well-maintained and level trails along Pacifica’s beautiful beaches lend themselves to Segway rides. Begin your ride at Rockaway Beach and the trail wends through a rock quarry to climb up 12 scenic switchbacks over Pacifica’s Strawberry Hill to Linda Mar Beach and beyond. Along the way, enjoy spectacular views, beautiful wildflowers, historic sites and sights of the world’s best surfers. Riders may even see whales, seals and birds.
Pacifica features seven miles of spectacular Pacific Ocean beaches that are perfect for a whole range of recreational activities.
Linda Mar Beach is the southernmost of Pacifica’s large beaches. This picturesque, crescent-shaped beach is located at the mouth of the San Pedro Valley, off the scenic Pacific Coast Highway, and is the northern gateway to the coastline stretching south of San Francisco. It is widely regarded as the best beach for surfing, kayaking and playing in the Bay Area. A variety of retailers offers surfboard and kayak rentals and lessons all year around. Private surf camps for children and adults operate during the summer. Linda Mar Beach also offers a bike and walking trail along the ocean, restrooms and showers and whale watching in the spring. It is also very popular with dog owners (dogs must be on leash).
Rockaway Beach is located south of the Pacifica Pier along the Pacific Coast Highway. Its narrow strand, crashing surf and dramatic headlands make it a popular walking, dining and hotel destination. Offering the only beachfront hotels between Pacifica and San Francisco, several lovely properties offer comfortable, attractive rooms and suites where guests can hear the sound of the ocean’s rolling waves. On Rockaway Beach, visitors can find hotels, restaurants, quaint shops featuring the work of local artisans, scenic walking trails and the Pacifica Visitor Information Center, which provides maps, directions, brochures and postcards.
Sharp Park Beach is the location of the famous Pacifica Pier – the only pier in the Bay Area open for crabbing during Dungeness crab season. After visiting the pier, continue south along Sharp Park Beach, watch the shorebirds and then go up the trail leading to the top of the Mori Point Headlands, where you can enjoy spectacular ocean views. Sharp Park Beach has picnic facilities, a café, fishing, a walking promenade, vista point parking and nature trails.
Mussel Rock Beach is just west of the Pacific Coast Highway and Skyline Blvd. between Pacifica and San Francisco. The beach offers a stunning vista across the sea cliffs to the Pacific. It is a striking configuration of one large rock and numerous smaller ones. A rocky path leads from the parking area to an easy descent to the water where visitors can watch paragliders sail across the sky. The area is also home to raptors, which enjoy the currents and thermals as much as the human gliders. In the spring, gorgeous wildflowers are a colorful backdrop to ocean views.
In addition to the many breathtaking beaches, Pacifica is also home to two public parks.
The San Pedro Valley Park is nestled amongst the Santa Cruz Mountain range and the foothills of Pacifica. The park offers group picnic areas, family picnic sites with barbecue pits, a self-guided nature trail, hiking trails, a visitor center and views of the seasonal Brooks Water Fall. San Pedro Valley Park is a walker’s paradise. There are trails for all ages and fitness levels, ranging from the Valley View Trail to the wide vistas of San Pedro Valley and the Pacific Ocean from the top of Montara Mountain. The facilities at San Pedro Valley are primarily for day use only. A visitor center near the park entrance displays exhibits about the ecosystem of San Pedro Valley and its plant and animal species. Some are live exhibits. The center is open weekends and holidays from 10 am to 4 pm. No dogs allowed in the park. Bicycles are allowed only on Weiler Ranch Road. The park is open from 8:00 am until dusk.
The Frontierland Park, tucked away on a Pacifica hillside in Park Pacifica, is one of those little-known Bay Area spots. Most notably, it sports a massive sloping lawn, well-kept amenities and one of the nicest children’s playgrounds in the Bay Area. The park is extensive with forest, open space, a horseshoe area and a barbecue/picnic area. This is also the site of Pacifica’s annual Fourth of July celebration.
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Mary Jo Manzanares is a founder and the editor-in-chief of The Traveler’s Way, an online travel magazine proving informational and inspirational travel recommendations for curious Baby Boomer travelers. She has been a speaker at various industry events and has a personal travel blog at Traveling with MJ. When she’s not traveling, Mary Jo likes lingering over a cup of coffee, wandering in a museum, sipping wine at a cafe, and sharing it all with friends and readers. Mary Jo’s top travel destinations are Italy, Portugal, and the Caribbean.