This Winter has been an abnormally fantastic time to get outdoors in San Francisco. It’s been just about the driest December on record, and January is following suit with the beautiful, sunny days in the 60’s. Not to be flippant about it, but might as well get outdoors and enjoy it!
For this mini-adventure I went for a walk through Kite Hill. I do some gardening work every week over in Cole Valley, on the edge of Sutro Forest, and when I come home I sometimes walk it. Climbing over Tank Hill (the shot from where my banner pic at the top of the page was taken), I descend over the saddle from Cole Valley to Eureka Valley. Eureka Valley is the east-by-northeast-facing valley at the geographical center of San Francisco, at the top of the straight line portion of Market Street, that is home to the Castro neighborhood.
I’m fortunate to live in the center of SF! I’m surrounded by hills and parks, and easy public transpo to any part of the City from here, with almost never more than one transfer. SF is basically a 49 square mile square – 7×7 – and there are about 250 parks of varying sizes here. Being in a hillier and older part of town means that many of the neighboring hilltops have been reserved as open space for public enjoyment. I’m so glad all the best views haven’t been privatized by being parceled into real estate!
Kite Hill is an interesting little three-acre knob of land in Eureka Valley. It’s really quite remote, by city standards, despite being so central. The mouth of the valley is the Castro district, and the valley itself is rimmed by upper Market Street as it climbs to Twin Peaks and descends down the western slopes of the central divide as Portola Boulevard. Kite Hill Open Space, as the park is officially called, is in the upper reaches of the valley. Market Street is an elevated roadway on stilts along the steep hillside in this part of the valley, so the park can only be accessed from down valley. Then you have a heck of a steep hike to get up to it. This helps keep it relatively quiet. The park has fantastic views of the downtown skyline and the bay, and is favored by sunrise enthusiasts and car-free dog walkers.
Kite Hill is a steep knuckle of grassy rock along the valley rim. The bottom-most boundary is along 19th Street and Yukon Street. Some landscaping along the intersection with native and Mediterranean drought-tolerant plants notes its place as a maintained park and not an abandoned hillside. Despite that, the steep and loose rocky climb from 19th is one of the few places left in the heart of the City where you can find poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) growing right alongside the paths. Be wary, for sure, especially this time of year when the deciduous plant has dropped its leaves and all you see are twigs.
From the western edge along Yukon Street, access is a steep, steep climb up along a grassy switchback trail bordered by an old split-rail fence. The southern edge of the park actually has three car-accessible entrances. Three streets – Stanton Street, Grand View Terrace, and Corwin Street – dead end at the park. Corwin’s entrance is a cul-de-sac with a landscaped winding path. Incidentally, a hundred yards from this entrance is the top of the Seward Mini Park that I
posted about a few months back. Grand View Terrace is also a cul-de-sac, but with clear view into the park. Both provide easy drive-in access from Noe Valley. My favorite entrance to the park, though, is really a walking one: Stanton Street connects directly onto Market, but only in the eastbound direction, and it only has parking for the 8 houses on it. My favorite part about this entrance is that the street is only paved for five houses, then it turns and there is actually a residential dirt road right in the geographic center of San Fran-frickin’-cisco. Love it, being a rurally-raised boy. The dirt road ends at a pathway that is landscaped extensively by the residents, and the path ducks out at the end under some Monterrey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) trees and directly into the park. My dream house is this fantastic old shingle multi-story, accessed by the dirt road and surrounded by the park on three sides.
There is also a “secret” entrance to the park! The bottom-most corner of the open space, in the northeast corner, appears to be a dead end corner at two neighboring fences. But there is really a narrow stairway path out of there! Looking at Google Maps, I see that the path is apparently an extension of Clover Lane, which meets up with it almost directly across the street at the bottom. The path is about six feet wide and is a steep and irregular set of stairs. The stairs, if you could call them that, pass several properties and each is apparently in charge of their parallel section of stairs. Thus, they vary in height and size and level of care put into construction and maintenance. It’s a treacherous climb, in other words, so watch your step carefully. It comes out innocuously between two homes on 19th.
However you climb to it, the view is amazing! I tried researching anything about how or why the park came to be, but turned up with nothing. All I can imagine is that, despite a city filled with remarkably steep terrain being built up, this space was just undesirable enough as to be left aside and reserved as an open space. Regardless of the reason, I’m glad it’s been there for San Franciscans to appreciate!