South of the city of San Francisco lies the town of Pacifica; a quaint, peaceful getaway from the city-paced lifestyle. The town harbors the Pacific Ocean, homing fishing docks and beaches along with various family-owned shops, boutiques, and restaurants that add to the overall ambiance away from gentrification. If you decide to walk the docks, you’re certain to spot at least one retired surfer glorifying his youthful days ripping the tides at the Mavericks, yearning to share his nostalgia and stories in order to relive another time. Today, however, my means for visiting Pacifica lied in the constant rumors about a castle.
Sam’s Castle or McCloskey Castle was a landmark that piped my interest for both its interesting yet eerie history as well as the blatant fact that it was a castle in the bay area. I’m not an expert on the history of the castle, but from my understanding it was constructed around the 1900’s as a means for an earthquake refuge house by a wealthy man; however it would turn from a place for illegal abortions, to a Prohibition-era nightclub, to a World War II lookout tower. Today the castle is blocked off from the general public surrounded by a cement wall and security cameras, though I’m aware that they offer tours for a price. Myself being on a college-student budget and just enjoying independent exploration, I skipped the tour and decided to drive to the castle myself.
When I first arrived at the castle, I thought my navigation had misguided me as it directed me into the midst of a present-day neighborhood and told me to drive straight up a hill that my car would have succumbed to if I had attempted to venture up. I decided to park my car at the bottom of the hill with the other residential parking and hike up on my own, discovering that Sam’s Castle was indeed located at the top, neighboring local residents. The view of both Pacifica and the Pacific Ocean from the castle was remarkable and it made perfect sense why this venue was once used as a watchtower. Quite honestly, I wasn’t in the law-breaking mood today; therefore my overall experience for the castle relied on gaping and tip toeing over the cement wall from the outside as opposed to getting a better look from the inside.
As I stared at the castle, I wondered why the architect wanted the format of his house to be a castle as castle construction was quite far-off even for 100 years ago. I also thought of the various groups of people that had probably ventured up the same hill I had throughout time, all carrying completely different means for attending this symbol of oddness. I imagined the women holding feelings of guilt and unholiness as they whispered to their unborn children their final words of sorrow and begs of forgiveness for cutting their lives short, or the unsung rebels sneaking alcohol into the castle to unwind from the constricting values of society, or the WWII soldiers peering into the horizon awaiting any signs of enemy activity. The castle itself has become an accurate reflection of its obscure design, the people passing to and fro throughout history becoming the characteristics and depth hidden and embedded within the infrastructure.
Overall, if you’re passing through Pacifica via Highway 1, you don’t necessarily have to visit the castle like I did; however all I ask is for you to keep your eyes peeled for a unique yet overlooked slice of Bay Area history. It’s possible that pitching into a tour will enhance the experience, therefore if that’s your cup of tea, I believe you have to book tickets in advance!
…and if you don’t want to read my rant, here’s a quick summary of notes and expectations:
Location: Pacifica, CA
Recommended time of day to go: Daytime
Places Close-By: Pacifica Municipal Pier, Oceana High School, Eureka Square Shopping Center
Good for: Sight-seeing