Ohlone-Portolá Heritage Trail

Art & Culture

A Spanish expedition in search of Monterey Bay led to the accidental sighting of the San Francisco Bay in 1769 from atop Sweeney Ridge in Pacifica. To mark the 250th anniversary of this discovery, plans are happening to tell the story of the expedition and of the native people who greeted the Spanish warmly and whose lives and culture were nearly eradicated within a few years. Check out the events, video, and information below to learn more about this historical occurrence.

Ohlone-Portolá Heritage Trail on OpenRoad with Doug McConnell - Courtesy of NBC Bay Area

History of the San Francisco Bay Discovery Site

In late October of 1769, Captain Gaspar de Portolá and his party of sixty men (with a caravan of 200 horses and mules for riding and the pack train) had come from San Diego in search of Monterey Bay, but from their overland approach, they had failed to recognize it. They had come north, climbed over San Pedro Mountain and had made camp in Pedro Valley, now in the city of Pacifica. Though already within today’s Bay Area, they were still unaware of the Bay’s existence.

On November 1, 1769, Sergeant Ortega led a group of hunters to the top of the ridge west of the Expedition's campsite in what is now Pacifica, CA. From the ridge top Ortega saw the San Francisco Bay. When Ortega returned to camp on November 3, Portolá's next move was an attempt to go around this new found “estuary” to examine the vicinity of Point Reyes visible to the north. From the camp on San Pedro Creek, Captain Portolá and his men followed the beach to the north. On November 4, 1769, the main party entered the hills and from the summit beheld the great estuary.

Three days of slow travel brought the expedition to the site of modern Palo Alto where a new base camp was made to await Ortega’s probing of the east side of the estuary. Ortega returned in four days with discouraging news. He encountered aggressively hostile Indians and observed great stretches of burned-over land leaving no pasture for the expedition’s livestock. A council was then called and the decision was made to return to San Diego. The Portolá Expedition ultimately accomplished its purpose of finding Monterey Bay

The San Francisco region was further explored by Lieutenant Pedro Fages in 1770-1772, which included the Spanish discovering the Golden Gate. The Fages expedition was then followed by Juan Bautista de Anza in 1776. The importance of the inland bay was further emphasized by the establishment of a presidio and two missions in the environs of the bay.

Ohlone-Portolá Heritage Trail Project


Ohlone-Portola Trail Logo

This project is guided by a committee of county, state, federal and tribal representatives which will explore the best ways to design and interpret the path that Gaspar de Portolá took during his expedition of the San Mateo County coast and the San Francisco Bay. This work will include telling the history of the Ohlone people who lived in the area and who were instrumental in supporting the Portolá Expedition in 1769.

The Committee includes representatives from San Mateo County Parks, the National Park Service, California State Parks, San Mateo County Historical Association, tribal representatives, Caltrans and San Mateo County’s Department of Public Works who are working to commission a Feasibility Study that will assess the opportunities and constraints related to developing the historical and recreational route as well as interpretive opportunities. The anticipated 90-mile Ohlone-Portolá Heritage Trail alignment through San Mateo County will be designated using segments of the California Coastal Trail, existing sidewalks and/or trails through lands of Peninsula Open Space Trust and Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, State Parks and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and County Parks. Some route segments will be identified by working with willing private property owners and Caltrans.

The overview map of the Ohlone-Portolá Heritage Trail identifies the route between Ohlone villages that the Gaspar de Portolá expedition took through San Mateo County. It is being further refined as part of the development of Feasibility Study. Click here to learn more about this project.