Explorers from Great Britain and Spain reached the coastal waters of northern California in the mid-16th century, but somehow they missed San Francisco Bay: from their ships, the narrow Golden Gate must have looked like unbroken shoreline, or perhaps merely was shrouded in fog as they sailed past. For nearly 200 years, established colonial interests in California failed to discover our largest and most protected harbor. It remained for Don Gaspar de Portola to "discover" the bay during his overland expedition of 1769, when he crested Sweeney Ridge and beheld the waters pushing against the eastern horizon.
Today, hikers and explorers are certainly more numerous, but Sweeney Ridge remains among the Bay Area's most beautiful and unpopulated trails. The spectacular 360-degree views include Twin Peaks, Mt. Tam, and Pt. Reyes stepping off to the north, Mt. Diablo standing guard on the eastern horizon, Folsom Lake and the San Francisco watershed cradled to the southeast, Montara Mountain and the uppermost spur of the Santa Cruz range rising to the south, and the mighty Pacific stretching away to the sunset. The trail traverses numerous distinct microclimates and habitats, supporting an impressive variety of native plant life that remains largely unchanged since before the time of the Conquistadors.