Montara Mountain, really just a massive ridge paralleling the San Andreas Fault, is one of the San Francisco Bay Area's more popular destinations for uphill-oriented hikers. Although the summit views from many other Bay Area high points are more expansive than Montara's, the western routes up the mountain climb through myriad coastal "microclimates" and provide stellar views of the Pacific Ocean. If not for the crowds who flock to Montara's slopes, it would be easy to forget, as one ascends from west, that the summit is only a stone's throw from one of the US's most populous metropolitan areas.
Radio antennas blanket Montara's Mountain summit, and although they undeniably detract from the aesthetic qualities of the place, the access roads provide ample choices for hikers, trail runners, equestrians, bikers, and yes, the odd service truck. Without this network of trails and roads, the thick brush which covers Montara and every other mountain in the area would render cross country travel all but impossible, as it does in the Ventana Wilderness to the south.
The "shortest route" distinction is shared (roughly) by the San Pedro Valley County Park (SPVCP) and Montara State Beach (MSB)/Mc Nee Ranch approaches. Both approaches are from the west and climb steeply from near sea level to 1900 feet over roughly four miles. The SPVCP approach ascends the steep valley between San Pedro and Montara Mountains, offering views of spectacular lush vegetation and even a 180-foot waterfall, quite a treat in the Bay Area. The MSB approach ascends over open territory, with spectacular views of the Pacific coast for almost the entire route.
From the east, Montara is a remote, challenging dayhike objective. The shortest (8 miles+) route, which follows Sweeney Ridge, begins at either Skyline College in San Bruno, or at the end of Sneath Lane. If a car shuttle can be arranged, or public transportation exploited, the linking together of a western and eastern approach could prove a satisfying and challenging trail running adventure of more than 10 miles distance with 2000+ feet of climbing, along good-quality paths. Unfortunately, this route is currently illegal, as the San Francisco Water Department and various other public agencies currently restrict access to the area. However... this is all about to change, as the SFPUC has approved limited public access to the restricted area. Hopefully as time goes on, access will be increased.
Camping...Montara Mountain is not far from the Bay Area Ridge Trail, though much of the surroundings are under the jurisdiction of non-camping-friendly government agencies (i.e., water districts). More research is needed here, although 99.5% of Montara hikers are not doing overnight trips.
The trails ascending from San Pedro Valley CP can get muddy from November to May. Other approaches are over hard, graded dirt roads, and thus suffer less from winter rains. Summer conditions range from oppressively hot (35 ° C, no clouds) to oppressively foggy (15 ° C, zero visibility, high wind) to pleasant (25 ° C, cool ocean breezes).