Pacifica offers feast for the senses for travelers


This is a view of Pacifica’s Rockaway Beach from the Coastal Trail. Pacifica is that rare place where a visitor can see the Pacific coast, wildlife and wildflowers. (Ginny Prior/For Bay Area News Group) April 11, 2017

Wild coast, wildlife, wildflowers. One of the prettiest places to see all three is Pacifica. From the moment you round that first tight curve on southbound Highway 1, you are thrust into a dramatic coastal vista that engages all your senses. The blooming ice plants and wildflowers are in the foreground this spring; but since Pacifica is the fourth richest marine habitat in the world, you could see porpoises or even whales in the distance.

You’ll most certainly hear the waves, like rolling thunder, as you walk along miles of Pacifica shoreline. Or, you can hike in one of the world’s largest urban national parks — Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Try to identify the chwirk of a red-tailed hawk riding the currents and thermals above the coastal headlands. Pacifica is one of the Bay Area’s best birding spots.

Take a deep breath and trigger your sense of smell with the fresh, slightly sweet and salty ocean air. Hike Milagra or Sweeney Ridge and notice how the wildflowers perfume the air. Stroll the Pacifica Pier and pick up the scent of fresh crab and sea bass.

Your sense of taste is employed in a number of ways — from the salt spray that splashes over the sea wall at Rockaway Beach to many restaurants (some with fresh seafood and locally grown produce). One of the best crab sandwiches on the coast is at Nick’s Seafood in Rockaway Beach.

Finally, don’t forget to honor your sense of touch. Walk barefoot in the sand and let the waves tickle your toes. Feel the touch of a cool breeze, often infused with warm sun that gives you a pleasant sensation, not unlike a hot and cold stone massage.
Spanish explorers, Mexican ranchers and early Irish and Italian farmers were all drawn to Pacifica because of its striking beauty and abundance of natural resources.

Much of Pacifica’s history has been preserved for the public, including the Sanchez Adobe, built in the 1840s using timbers from a Spanish shipwreck. The adobe is the second oldest structure still standing in San Mateo County.

There’s also the Little Brown Church, built in 1910 as an early Presbyterian meeting hall. It’s now home to the Pacifica Historical Society Museum. And perhaps the most identifiable landmark — the turreted hillside fortress built in 1908 by rail magnate Henry Harrison McCloskey. Sam’s Castle is in trust and open to the public monthly and for special events.

And remnants of the Ocean Shore Railroad, which ran a coastal route from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, are found in three remaining train stations and two colorful cabooses. Part of the right-of-way can still be seen along the Rockaway headlands and the rail berm in Pedro Point.

Today, Pacifica remains a refuge for hikers and horsemen, surfers and swimmers, fishermen, paragliders, birders, history buffs, foodies and everyone who takes the time to breathe deeply and enjoy the sensual gift of nature.


For trail maps and guides to the area, see:
The Best Western Lighthouse Inn in Rockaway Beach has ocean view rooms and is walking distance to trails, the beach and nightlife. For more information, go to:


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