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Hike Around The Historic "South San Francisco" Sign

Location : Sign Hill, South San Francisco, CA

Parking : Neighborhood parking (free)

Trail type : Loop

Trail Length : 1.5 miles

Elevation Gain : 550 ft

Difficulty : Moderate

Trails traversed : Letters Trail > Eucalyptus Loop Trail > Seubert Trail > Ridge Trail > Letters Trail

Pets Allowed? : Yes

"South San Francisco The Industrial City" sign

I had seen the big sign "South San Francisco Industrial City" numerous times on a hill while driving on Highway 101, past the SFO airport. Imagine my surprise when I found out that there is a trail that takes you around those letters, and this hill and the letters are seeped in Bay Area history! Did you know the sign has been around since 1929? The letters are affixed on what is appropriately called "Sign Hill", a portion of the San Bruno hillside, situated behind a residential neighborhood in South San Francisco. This signage was first created to attract various industries to San Francisco, which soon became home to many industrial plants, including cement and steel plants, meat packers and shipbuilders. The sign was strategically placed so it was visible from the main thoroughfares in those days, which were El Camino Real and Bayshore Highway (Hwy 101), as well as from the train and the nearby Mills Field airfield (now San Francisco International Airport). Due to its almost 100 year old history, this hill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Plaque signifying the historic importance of Sign Hill

Birds eye view of SFO airport from the trail.

I did this hike on a weekday evening, to watch the sunset. At that time, the trail was fully deserted, and I saw no one for as long as I was there, which added to the tranquility of the place. This hill is less than 5 miles from SFO airport, and makes for a perfect outing when you have time to kill before picking up someone from the airport, or after dropping them off.

Absolutely no one on the trail, other than me!

The hike itself is short, but steep, providing excellent views of the Peninsula and beyond. Due to its steep downhill, sturdy hiking boots and trekking poles are highly recommended. Parking is on city streets, specifically along the intersection of Poplar Ave and Rocca Ave. The trailhead begins at the dead end of Poplar Ave, next to/behind the last house on the street. A few wooden steps lead to the start of the hike on Letters Trail. If you turn right on Letters Trail, the inclination is very steep, but will take you to the letters faster. I started my hike by going left on Letters Trail, so the climb was more gradual, and I got to enjoy the views longer this way.

This place is great to catch the last rays of the sun!

As you start on Letters Trail, you will notice a number of wooden steps leading up the hill. Taking the stairs will cut the length of the hike in half. But beware that the steps get bigger and steeper as you climb up and it requires some level of fitness to make it to the top. Having read other reviews, I avoided the stairs, and continued on Letters Trail until it became Seubert Trail and intersected with Eucalyptus Loop trail. This is a 0.3 mile loop, with overgrown grass making the trail extremely narrow, but with an abundance of wildflowers on either side.

Wildflowers along Eucalyptus Loop Trail

The trail loops around behind some houses before it reunites with Seubert Trail.

Continue on Seubert Trail as it ascends towards the top of the hill. A few switchbacks towards the top, along with great scenery, make the climb easier.

This picture shows the switchbacks on Seubert Trail

At the top, Seubert Trail intersects with Ridge Trail, where the inclination is gradual to non-existent. Turn right on Ridge Trail and make your way towards the cell phone towers. Catch your breath and enjoy the views of the Peninsula, because the trail starts going steeply downhill from this point. You will be thankful for your hiking boots and trekking poles. There are a couple of strategically placed benches to take in the views or watch planes take off and land at SFO airport in the distance.

View from the top.

Lupines had started to bloom along Ridge Trail in late January.

The famous letters (for which you are doing this hike) lie between Ridge Trail at the top and Letters Trail at the bottom. There are a few offshoot trails from Ridge Trail which take you to the top of the letters. The letters themselves are 48-65ft long and are steep enough that you can slide down on them! Maybe carrying a sled or a garbage can lid will make the slide more fun!

Can you recognize the giant letters? "R", "Y", "T" and "A"

Posing with letter "C", to show the enormity of it.

As you come towards the end of Ridge Trail, turn a sharp right onto Letters Trail. You can now view the giant letters from below. The views never fail to impress all along this trail.

Homes along the San Bruno hillside.

Continue along Letters Trail which traverses down steeply, all the way back to your parked car.

In summary, this was a quick, short hike, which provided an excellent workout within an hour. I would recommend doing this mini adventure at least once, just for the panoramic views and to visit Bay Area history.


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