San Francisco Airport sits on the western shore of the south bay, south of San Francisco, and east of the Coastal Mountains

From the airport, a traveler can just make out the shape of a solid structure on the crest of the mountains, part of a Nike Missile site erected during the cold war.

That site sits on Sweeney Ridge, near a historical plaque commemorating the November, 1769 “discovery” of San Francisco Bay by a group of Spanish explorers who were looking for Monterey Bay.

A few weeks ago I walked up the trail from Shelldance Nursery in Pacifica to Sweeney Ridge, looking for the monument to Gaspar de Portola and his expedition. Wildflowers abounded in the scrub landscape, and I stopped often to take pictures of California poppies, irises, monkeyflower, lupine, primrose, California blackberry and others. The trail to the top is steep at times, but well-traveled. I met many hikers on their way down the path as I hiked the 2 miles to the top.

The Nike site is now a ruin, vandalized and covered with graffiti. But, on a clear day the view, from 1200 feet, is spectacular. I could see Mount Diablo in the East, Mt Tamalpais to the North, and, of course, the large expanse of the San Francisco Bay. This is the view, minus development, that the Spanish soldiers enjoyed. However, these soldiers were also disappointed that this was not Monterey Bay, the objective of their mission.

It may seem strange to us that the Spanish had never sighted San Francisco Bay in over 200 years of sailing along the coast, actively trading with the Philippines. We can only surmise that the rocky coastline, the persistent fog, and the narrow mouth of the Bay contributed to their ignorance.

Portola chose to turn back from Sweeney Ridge, and return to San Diego, his mission unfulfilled.