Letterbox #2: Portola “Discovery” Site – REPORTED MISSING

This Letterbox commemorates the Portola Expedition of 1769, which included the first European sighting of of the San Francisco Bay.  For More Information about the history behind this letterbox, see The Portola Expedition of 1769.

This letterbox can be found at Sweeney Ridge in Pacifica, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  Click here to see the National Parks brochure on Sweeney ridge, which includes a trail map.  Although there are many routes that will take you to the Discovery Site Monument, for historical accuracy and dramatic effect, I recommend you take the Baquiano Trail from the trailhead at the end of Fassler Avenue in Pacifica.  Please be aware that the round-trip walking distance from this trailhead to the letterbox is about 3.5 miles, up a steep trail.

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 along the ridgeline to the bay lookout. To reach the 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.  Turn right towards the discovery site – from here it’s about a mile to get to the Sweeney Ridge Trail. Cross the Sweeney Ridge Trail and suddenly the magnificent San Francisco Bay will appear before you.  Here you will find the Discovery Site, with its large stone marker commemorating the Portola Expedition.

To find the letter box, stand with your back to the Portola Expedition Discovery monument. In front of you will be a second monument, in memory of Carl Patrick McCarthy and his “dedicated efforts for national recognition of the Portola Expedition’s discovery”.  Now look to your left, and you’ll see a stand of Monterey Pines.  Walk in the direction of  these trees.  Before you reach the pines, look amongst the shrubs and you’ll see a large lichen-covered grey rock.  Hidden behind this rock, you’ll find the letter box.

Be sure to read the first few pages of the journal inside the letterbox.  It contains excerpts from the diary of Father Juan Crespí, a Franciscan priest who wasvpresent on November 4, 1769 when  the Portola Expedition first encountered the San Francisco Bay.

General Information:
  The best time to take this hike is September through May.  Summer months are foggy in Pacifica, shilling the air and obscuring views for days on end.  Weather is best in the fall, views are clearest after winter storms, and wildflowers explode March through May.  The ridge is open and exposed, making a good windbreaker worthwhile year-round.  The Baquiano trail is open to hikers, equestrians and bicyclists from 8:00am to dusk. There is no running water at the trail head or anywhere on the trail.  There is a bathroom on Sweeney Ridge trail just north of the discovery site. Pack a lunch, take plenty of water, wear good hiking shoes, and take extra layers of clothing.   For more information, contact the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) Ocean District at 650-556-8371.

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