Mori Point Trail In Pacifica, California

Mori Point Trail in Pacifica, California Beach

I spent my childhood visiting the touristy parts of San Francisco year after year and loved it. Now, my husband and son aren’t fond of crowds, so for the past several years, we’ve been exploring the lesser-known sights and things to do throughout San Francisco. We’ve also been slowly working our way south to explore the California coastline between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay.

On our most recent trip into the city, we spent one day in San Francisco visiting the SF MOMA and one day exploring the coast. When looking for a good place to stop and hike, I discovered Mori Point and it was the absolutely perfect compliment to our day.

Mori Point is a 110-acre park with 32 acres of wetlands located on a coastal bluff in Pacifica, California. It is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and features hiking trails, crumbling World War II concrete structures and pulley system remnants, and spectacular views of the peninsula coastline.

There are several hiking trails, ranging from easy to steep and challenging, available at Mori Point including the Timigtac Trail, Mori Ridge Trail, Mori Bluff Trail, Peak Trail, Lishumsha Trail, California Coastal Trail, and Upper Mori Road Trail. During our visit, we walked Old Mori Trail (also called Old Mori Road), climbed the Bootlegger’s Steps, walked the Mori Headlands Trail, and then worked out back the way we came.

Walking Old Mori Trail

Old Mori Trail, also called Old Mori Road, is an easy, 0.5 mile, flat dirt trail that leaves from a small parking area just off Highway 1 and travels mostly straight out to an ocean overlook.

  • At first, the trail runs alongside a housing development, is shaded by a canopy of trees, and is mostly protected from the wind.
  • Then the trail follows a wooden boardwalk over protected wetlands that is dotted with viewing benches. Here you can see Sharp Park Golf Course to the right right and the hillside trails up to the left.
  • Eventually, the trail becomes dirt again and ends at the foot of Mori Point where it intersects with other trails. A beautiful beach sits directly below the steep cliffs and incoming waves crash against the remains of an old pulley system that was used during WWII to pull buckets of sand ashore.

It’s tempting to try and access the pristine beach, especially if visiting at low tide. But there isn’t any type of safe access and the water is incredibly dangerous here.

Climbing the Bootlegger’s Steps

At the end of Old Mori Trail, we turned right and climbed up a small hill into a grouping of cypress trees to check out more WWII concrete remains — this time covered in graffiti and Natalie was delighted to find her name tagged in bright colors! As we were snapping some photos, we saw the infamous Bootlegger’s Steps and began our ascent.

The Bootlegger’s Steps stretch only 0.11 mile, but it’s a 200 foot climb and Carter counted 185 steps on his way up! The wind was blowing like crazy — practically blowing us off the stairs — but we made it to the top and were treated to amazing views and the start of the Mori Headlands Trail.

(If climbing steps isn’t your thing, there is an alternate route to Mori Point without steps that isn’t as steep.)

Walking the Mori Headlands Trail

Atop Mori Point, there is a large, wide, flat area with a stunning 360 degree view. The Mori Headlands Trail leaves from the top of the Bootlegger’s Steps and travels 0.1 mile to the edge of the bluff where tall vertical cliffs and rocky outcroppings stand strong against the wild ocean waves.

On clear days, to the north, you can see all the way to San Francisco, the Marin Headlands, and even Point Reyes, and to the south, you can see the town of Pacifica and the San Pedro Ridge and Montara Mountain. You’ll also be able to see the exact cliffs the car crash scene happened on in the movie Harold and Maude.

The History Of Mori Point

In the 1870s, on the land known today as Mori Point, Italian emigrants Stefano Mori and his family established a farm where they grazed cattle and horses, and raised brussels sprouts, cabbage, and artichokes. The building originally constructed to house and feed the ranch hands eventually became the Mori Point Inn, a roadhouse for for those traveling between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay.

When Prohibition banned alcohol consumption in the U.S. during the 1920s, Stefano’s son Jack turned from tavern keeper to bootlegger, running Canadian scotch from smugglers’ ships off the point. Mori’s era as a speakeasy ended in 1923 when federal agents arrested Jack Mori and confiscated 24,000 cases of whiskey from his farm.

Stefano’s other son Ray and his wife Marie rescued the roadhouse in 1932, reviving it as a restaurant, hotel, and dance hall. It remained open until 1965 when it was condemned as a safety hazard, and its final owner Doug Hart was led away in handcuffs for refusing to abandon it. One year later Mori’s burned to the ground.

During World War II, Mori Point was a site of gravel and sand quarry and later it became a destination for off-road vehicle use and motorcycle racing.

In 2000, Mori Point was put up for sale at auction, and the Pacifica Land Trust, the California Coastal Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land launched a campaign to purchase the property for preservation with a successful bid of $3,300,000. By the time the site was acquired by the National Park Service in 2004, a large network of informal trails had caused erosion, changes to the natural flow of water, and an influx of invasive plant species.

In 2007, the Parks Conservancy and National Park Service launched a major restoration effort called the Mori Point Project to repair this damage, restore habitat, and improve the visitor experience:

  • 33 acres of wetland, grassland, and coastal scrub habitat were restored
  • New trails and boardwalks were constructed, that included the Bootlegger’s Steps
  • New directional and interpretive signage was installed

Know Before You Go

  • Mori Point is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is located in Pacifica, California 94044 in San Mateo County and accessed at the intersection of Bradford Way and the Cabrillo Highway/Pacific Coast Highway.
  • There is no fee for parking or access.
  • The 0.7 mile Old Mori Road Trail is an accessible trail that includes a raised boardwalk with accessible benches.
  • An accessible vault restroom is located at the Old Mori Road trailhead parking lot. Restrooms are also located near the beach at the foot of Pacifica Pier.
  • Dogs are allowed on leash on the trails. Owners are required to clean up after their dogs.
  • Beautiful wildflower blooms are at their peak in the springtime, with the most flowers usually present in April and May.
  • A portion of the California Coastal Trail will run through Mori Point.
  • The park is bounded by Laguna Salada Marsh and Sharp Park Municipal Golf Course to the north; by Highway 1 and Sweeney Ridge to the east; and by the Calera Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant to the south.
  • Mori Point is featured in the climactic scene from the 1971 movie Harold and Maude. A customized Jaguar E-Type, modified to look like a hearse, is driven off the bluff, landing on the beach below.

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