• View of the Golden Gate Bridge, taken from the Marin Headlands, looking towards San Francisco at sunrise.

    Golden Gate

    National Recreation Area California

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Portuguese Dairy Farmers

farming family standing with cows in front of barn and paddock
A dairy farmer family in Marin County

The Marin Headlands, with its ideal climate for raising dairy cows, was once covered with prosperous dairy farms. By the 1880s, Marin County was California’s largest producer of fresh milk and butter.


Immigrants from the Azores Islands

Much of this success was based on the hard-work of recent Portuguese immigrants, known as the Azoreans. Originally from the Azores, an archipelago of 8 rural islands west of Iberian Portugal, these men arrived in California on whaling ships. Once the vessels docked in the San Francisco area, the allure of the Gold Rush, along with the dissatisfaction of life on a ship, prompted many Azoreans to “jump ship”. Those who did not find their fortune in gold were able to use their native dairy experience to get jobs in Marin’s newly-established dairy ranches.

photo of a dairy sanitation barn

Fresh milk was pasturized in sanitation sheds, such as this one at the Golden Gate Dairy, located near Muir Beach. 

J. Lehman, Golden Gate

The hard work of dairy farming

Dairy farming was hard work and everyone, including the women and children, were involved in the daily chores required to keep the operation running smoothly. Until electricity came in the 1930s, the cows were milked by hand, twice a day, at 4 AM and 4 PM. Depending on the number of cows, each milking time could take up to 3 hours. In between milking, the men would sanitize and prepare the milk for transportation, clean the barns and equipment, mend the fences or work in the fields while the women would feed their family, clean and can food, and tend to the vegetable garden and livestock.

Portuguese traditions

The chain of migrations from the Azores to the Sausalito was sustained by the intermarriage and strong social connections, largely based in the Roman Catholic Church. In particular, Sausalito’s Saint Mary’s Star of the Sea, founded in 1881, was where the Portuguese were most visible as a community. Every year, the Azorean community celebrated the Holy Ghost Festa, which involved a procession through town, with a musical band, a herd of brightly-decorated cows, and Portuguese cowboys dressed in their finest riding clothes. The celebration culminated in a religious mass and with the crowning of a young girl.

Aerial photo of Ranch B in Tennessee Valley in Marin Headlands
Ranch "B" is one of the few remaining dairy farm buildings in the Marin Headlands and is located near the Tennessee Valley trailhead parking lot.
PARC, Golden Gate

Did You Know?

Fort Mason Officers Club circa 1930s

The Fort Mason’s Officer Club was built in 1877 as the commanding officers’ residence and up through 1943, has been the home of virtually every significant general officer in the western states including Irvin McDowell, Nelson Miles, Arthur MacArthur, Frederick Funston and John Dewitt.