Urban Hike: Corona Heights

This city really is an amazing place to get outdoors, I tell ya. It’s still such a young city for one with so much culture, and it’s impressive just how much open space has been set aside for public enjoyment. Most of the best hilltops have been reserved for the larger population, spared from development by a very vocal citizenry. It’s one of the many many things I love about living here.

The western gate to Corona Heights, into the dog play area.

Getting a dog that needs mucho exercise is a fabulous excuse to drag my butt outside and explore places. This weekend I decided to add to my Urban Hike series with an exploration of Corona Heights Park. Living here over twenty years, I’ve certainly climbed up to the big red rock overlooking the Castro on many occasions, but always looking at the hill as an obstacle to surmount purely for a phenomenal view. This time I really stopped to look at everything that’s inside this park. I did a post earlier this year that included a look at the park’s geology when I was in a Field Class in the CCSF Geology department. I passed an SFSU Geology class on a hike on this visit, and joined in the conversation for a while. It was fun, for a horticulture and geology nerd such as myself. 🙂

Google Maps screenshot of Corona Heights Park.

Corona Heights is only a couple of blocks northwest of Castro and Market Streets, but you’re looking at a good half hour of climbing to get to the top of it from there. I went in via States St, along the southern edge. There are a couple of manicured areas (two dog play areas, tennis courts, basketball courts, and a community garden) but it’s mostly a natural area preservation effort. Historically, there had been a brick factory on States St, and in the Nineteenth Century the rounded hilltop had been blasted and quarried away to make bricks for SF homes out of the naturally red radiolarian chert. (Here’s a nifty Found SF story on the brickworks and the drama behind dynamite blasting in a residential neighborhood.) Some of the old brick floors now protrude from the side of the hill. Quite a sight.

Randall Museum, as seen from above. Smack dab in the center, right above the trees over the museum, you can see the ginormous rainbow flag of the Castro.

Also in the park is the Randall Museum, which focuses on natural history. It’s a great place to visit with kids, and serves as a center of operations for the natural area preservation/restoration efforts in the park. Many native plants and animals live in this park still, including coyotes! The museum has many workshops and kid-friendly events. Really a worthwhile visit.

Being that this was formerly a quarry, there are numerous drop-offs and cliffs, but everything is pretty much safely fenced in. The reward of climbing the hundreds of steps is the phenomenal views from the top. All the way to the South Bay, across to the East Bay, and even northward peeks at the Golden Gate straits, for which our bridge was named. Recent efforts have made the steps and paths more civilized, especially if climbing from the western side. Even with the elevation, it’s a much-used park. You’ll see it filled with the most revelers at sunrise on the Solstices and Equinoxes. Even on my hike, there were people up there just hanging out reading books, rolling dreadlocks, and sitting and talking shop with an inspiring view. Anything to get outside and into the slanting rays of the Autumn sun for a spell.

Yucca and Opuntia holding the slope above the ruins of the brickwork’s floor on States St.

Another shot of the brick floor remnants.

Some concrete walls that I assume were part of the brickworks, in the entrance to the Park on States.

Stumbled across tiny little Flint St on my way up, and saw this cute end-of-block found-object garden. I love me a good found-object garden.

Another snippet of the found-object garden.

Gorgeous lichen-spotted radiolarian chert behind the museum.

Coyote bush and Catalina Ironwood. CA natives abound.

A grove with oaks and Coffeeberry (native Rhamnus californica).

Creative site-specific graffito. Archaeology for future generations?

Switchbacks up the hill, through the native flora.

A peek of the city skyline from the eastern climb.

Poison oak! A surprising native to find in the urban environment.

Nearing the summit at an intersection of paths is a good old-fashioned way sign.

A little restoration plot, fenced off to protect the coyote bush and other species being planted.

To the south. The right elevation is Twin Peaks. Kite Hill is the little bare spot in the due center.

The residential nob at center is Dolores Heights. On the horizon at center is a tree-covered hill in McLaren Park.

Another patch of poison oak at the summit, looking westward.

A couple of guys overheard talking about rebuilding a house, as they sit and enjoy the view over the East Bay.

Life clings to the rocks at the summit.

Speaking of summit, here’s my Spoon checking out the views. I’m looking north toward the Golden Gate here.

Buena Vista Park, a couple of blocks north-west, will be a future Urban Hike.

A guy reading a book in the sun behind native buckeye (Aesculus californica), on the left side of this shot.

Recent stair and path renovations.

Native Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia).

Whoo, look at that climb still ahead!

The dog play area at the westernmost corner.

Pretty chert and flora at the tennis courts. There’s a bluejay kinda visible in the dead center.

The second dog play area, and the community garden behind it. This is on the States side, below the museum.

Love the colors and geology up here…

I’ve seen crested Euphorbias, but never have I seen a crested Echium!

Gorgeous vibrant hot reds and purples. Mmm.

Corona Heights Park really is a must-see for any able-bodied visitor to SF and to locals alike. The views are phenomenal, and it’s such a short detour from the urban sightseeing below. Well worth the visit!

2 responses to “Urban Hike: Corona Heights

  1. Pingback: Urban Hike: Buena Vista Park | boZannical Gardens

  2. Pingback: Urban Hike: Pemberton Steps and Tank Hill | boZannical Gardens

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