A walk through Daly City is not, perhaps, an expected scenario for a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment, as the Ridge Trail generally attempts to stay on ridgelines with at least occasional views of San Francisco Bay. This segment goes through residential neighborhoods along the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, joining together three small neighborhood parks. It begins at an ocean vista at Mussel Rock and then passes Lake Merced and finishes near Ft Funston, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is more of an urban walk than most of the Ridge Trail, but there are some interesting sights along the way. And on the day I chose to take this walk, the weather was exemplary.
The starting point for the hike/walk was at the Mussel Rock Overlook near Westline Dr and Skyline Dr in Daly City. Mussel Rock is one of several large rocks, or rock formations, that rise above the water level just off-shore. Mussel Rock is the largest and is also distinctive for having a navigational marker. Gulls and other sea life populate the rocks. As is evident from the horizon in the picture, the almost-everpresent coastal fog bank was there, but somewhat off-shore on that day. It was too close to shore to permit a sighting of the Farallons.
Looking up the coastline, almost due north, there was an unobstructed view of Mt Tamalpais, with waves rolling into the curving coastline. Mt Tam is about 18 miles distant from Mussel Rock.
Looking down the coastline, almost due south, San Pedro Point and San Pedro Rock just offshore are visible. They are about 5 miles away and are just north of the Devil’s Slide section of CA-1. The nearby bluffs are particularly dramatic, both in their steepness and their layered coloring.
The beginning elevation is about 150 feet, but I was surprised to discover that some of the nearby coastal bluffs are up to 600 feet in elevation, and are above 400 feet elevation for a couple of miles.
I would like to mention one caution that relates to the beginning of the walk. You go back down the road from the parking area and then are supposed to take the first left to angle back and begin the climb to the higher bluff area. The first Stop sign does not indicate the place to turn, as it goes to a waste transfer station that you’ll be happier if you avoid! The correct turn is on a residential street. From there you basically just climb, passing Longview Park at a forced turn on Longview Dr, until you’ve reached Skyline Drive. After this the Ridge Trail signage indicates all of the turns for the rest of the route. As you climb through this neighborhood you are treated to views of colorful, tidy houses lining the street.
The intersection of Skyline Dr and Oceanside Dr is at the highest elevation of the route, and there is another unobstructed view of Mt Tamalpais across the intervening Daly City bluffs and the Golden Gate. What a spectacular view the neighborhood residents can enjoy, weather permitting!
The route gradually descends while going along the ridgeline of the oceanside bluffs. Follow the Ridge Trail signs to continue along the street closest to the ocean. About 1.3 miles past Longview Park is Northridge Park, at a curve (almost a forced turn) on Northridge Dr. The route then goes along Avlaon Dr for about ¼ mile, passing Avalon Canyon where storm damage and erosion removed the last row of houses, if there was one. You can see from the sidewalk directly down the canyon past “paintbrush grass” (I do not know the correct name) to watch waves breaking on the beach. Again, what a beautiful view from a residential neighborhood street!
About 1 mile past Northridge Park (and 3 miles from Mussel Rock) is Palisades Park and the end of the ocean views. The Ridge Trail route continues to descend, following Westridge Dr across Skyline Blvd (CA-35) to Mayfair Dr. Mayfair basically is like a frontage street to the much busier Skyline Blvd and John Daly Blvd. In this area I noted more of the colorful houses that seem to be part of the image of Daly City. While the house designs may be similar, the color schemes certainly are not!
At the corner of the Westlake Shopping Center the Ridge Trail route turns left to follow Lake Merced Blvd to the south end of Lake Merced, a peaceful park area for this part of the city. At the south end of the lake you leave Daly City and enter San Francisco.
The route passes along the west shore of Lake Merced for just over 1 mile, until it intersects Skyline Blvd at the edge of Ft Funston. As I approached Ft Funston I could hear target shooting taking place near the lake shore, and noted that there is a target shooting facility there. Since I had previously walked from Ft Funston north into San Francisco on the Ridge Trail, I turned around at the Skyline Blvd intersection and retraced my route.
Since I had started my walk shortly before noon, it was interesting to note how the lighting was different for the return walk. Also, the marine layer was starting to re-form closer to shore, as it typically does in the afternoon. By the time I was getting close to the Mussel Rock trailhead it was about 1½ hours before sunset. At Longview Park I noted that the fog bank was much closer, as well as greyer, but the sun still reflected beautifully from the ocean surface.
After I reached my car I drove to the Thornton Beach Overlook, which is actually just a couple of blocks from the Ridge Trail route at Skyline Blvd and John Daly Blvd. I had time, and wanted to watch the sun set. At this overlook there is a beautiful, solitary Monterey cypress overlooking the bluff. From a slightly higher vantage point I was able to watch the sun gradually disappear into the thickening marine layer before the actual sunset.
Watching the sunset was a nice punctuation point to what turned out to be a pleasant walk through Daly City neighborhoods. It was a reminder that the Ridge Trail is sometimes surprisingly close to where people live. I’d had a brief conversation with someone in one of the neighborhood parks, in which I noted that it was a beautiful day for a walk. And she agreed, noting that not all days have such perfect weather, so “we need to get out and enjoy it when we can.” I was glad that I’d made such a fortunate choice of date for my walk.