Immediately to the east of Interstate 280 in the city of San Bruno lies Junipero Serra Park. This county park is 108 acres of wooded hills and open meadows and is equipped with hiking trails, picnic areas, playgrounds and impressive views. This park tends to fly under the radar but is the perfect spot for family picnics and is an easy walk from the surrounding neighborhoods. At Junipero Serra Park, one can connect with nature, relax and play.
As you drive into Junipero Serra Park, you will note the various picnic areas and shelters. As you climb, either by car or by foot, you will be rewarded with excellent views of San Francisco Bay, SFO Airport and another county park, San Bruno Mountain. For those looking for some fresh air and outdoor activities for children, this park has you covered. Junipero Serra Park is home to two playgrounds, one close to the park entrance near the De Anza picnic area and the second one higher up in the park. The Meadow View playground includes a big highlight for all attendees: a massive, 54-foot-long slide. With the Peninsula laid out to the north below you, this is a fun ride!
Adults need playtime, too. Junipero Serra Park has several hiking trails that are shared by both hikers and runners. The Quail Loop Trail will give you an excellent overview of the park and is just a mile and a half long. City Park Trail connects hikers to San Bruno City Park which is immediately adjacent to the park’s northeastern corner.
A newer highlight to the park is that as of June 2019, dogs on leash are welcome. Please be courteous of others as you walk your canine companion.
The meadows and hills of Junipero Serra Park lie along a secondary earthquake fault that branches off from the San Andreas fault line. San Andreas reservoir is to the west of the park and the San Andreas segment of the Crystal Springs Regional Trail can be easily accessed by nearby Skyline Boulevard and San Bruno Avenue.
At Junipero Serra Park, one can see a diversity of habitats that include all sorts of trees from coast live oak, buckeye and Monterey cypress to pines, Arroyo willow and California bay laurel. In the springtime, wildflowers include California poppy, blue-eyed grass, Douglas iris, owl clover and more. There is also plenty of poison oak!
El Zanjon Creek (which translates to ‘big ditch’ in Spanish) winds through the park, flowing eastward and eventually converging with San Bruno Creek before entering San Francisco Bay. Frequently seen at the park are racoons, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, banana slugs and towhees.
Previously, Junipero Serra Park was once part of the 15,000-acre Rancho Buri Buri and then later, part of the property of Comstock millionaire and San Francisco banker, Darius Ogden Mills. For a time, this area was quarried for its Franciscan sandstone.
Over the years, several archeological digs have revealed that Junipero Serra Park was once home to Native Americans, as arrowheads, pestles and shell mounds have been excavated. Evidence of three Indian cremations have been found at the park as well.
It was during the 1950s that this land, identified as “North County Park,” was recognized for its importance of providing park facilities to the northern end of San Mateo County. The land was purchased by the County in 1956. Then Parks Director, Ralph Shaw, drew the plan for the park on a napkin while sitting at his kitchen table. Junipero Serra was finally dedicated as a county park in 1960. It was named after the missionary, Father Serra, who came to California in 1770 with Don Gaspar de Portolá. Father Serra was responsible for the founding of the missions from San Diego to Sonoma. Father Serra’s legacy remains complicated for many in California. While he is praised as bringing the Catholic faith to the region, he is also remembered for his treatment of indigenous people. This treatment was often violent and patriarchal and involved the enslavement of thousands of native Californians.