The Alphabet Amble

by Katie Cook

 

Looking down on the famous sign and the Peninsula from the Ridge Trail at the top of Sign Hill Park.

 

A small snake slithered through the dry brush next to my feet as I admired the massive letter in front of me. The painted white concrete rippled and waved as it followed the landscape of the steep hillside. I wondered if drivers on 101 North could see me; a tiny black speck on the “Y.”

It may not be as famous as the Hollywood sign, but the large white letters that mark South San Francisco are an iconic part of South San Francisco’s history. The letters are ginormous, 60 feet tall and 10 feet wide to be exact. From the entrance of Sign Hill Park to the base of the sign is only a half-mile hike along the Letters Trail. As I scrabbled around the “CITY” I felt a bit of a thrill- the same thrill that I get from trespassing- but exploring this hillside is completely legal.

The current sign was constructed in 1929, but the letters on the hill date back to 1923. In the early 1920s the South San Francisco Chamber of Commerce used powdered lime to promote the city by writing “South San Francisco The Industrial City” on Sign Hill. The sign was meant to promote the city and drive new business to South San Francisco. Residents voted to make the sign permanent and in 1929 the current cement letters were poured onto the hillside.

After exploring the individual letters follow the switchbacks up the hillside and hook onto the Ridge Trail. When you reach the top of the ridge you’re greeted with sweeping views of the Peninsula, San Bruno Mountain, and the Bay; there’s also a chance for some wildlife sighting. As I stood at the top of the mountain a hawk circled above me and on occasion swooped down onto the hillside hunting for its prey. From the Ridge Trail you can continue to Seubert Grove. The patch of Eucalyptus trees offer shade and block the wind for the last half of the hike, but be careful on your way down because the trail is steep and slippery.

Sign Hill is a short drive from San Francisco and the trails that wrap around the sign are clearly marked. The trail is mostly flat with short sections of steep terrain. The total hike is just under 3 miles. Get directions to the park and download a trail map here.

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