Spanish Explorer Found His Way to Valley

One could say Gaspar de Portola put the San Fernando Valley on the map. After all, he was the first European to find it.

Portola, governor of Baja California, led an expedition of 61 Spanish soldiers and two Franciscan missionaries to find Monterey Bay in 1769. On Aug. 5, they reached the top of the Sepulveda Pass and looked down on a rich valley.

Portola had left San Diego on July 14 and hoped to rediscover Monterey Bay as a way to check Russian expansion in Northern California. The bay had been discovered a century earlier but had not been visited by the Spaniards since.


Friar Juan Crespi, who kept a diary of the expedition, recounted that Portola’s men encountered an Indian village in present-day Encino and that the “heathen folk” greeted them “entirely without weapons or fear, as though they had been dealing with us forever.”

After a few days, the explorers climbed Newhall Pass into the Santa Clarita Valley, and on Aug. 8 turned west along the Santa Clara River and headed toward Ventura. The company didn’t find Monterey Bay, but in October, Portola’s scouts discovered “a great arm of the sea"--known to us as San Francisco Bay. He found Monterey Bay on another expedition in 1770.

Portola, born into a noble family in Balaguer, Spain, eventually returned to his homeland and died there in 1784.