Urban Hike: Bernal Heights Park

Yesterday was a gorgeous, clear, sunny day, despite being bitingly cold. (“Biting cold” in San Francisco is 55°F/13°C). In all the years I’ve lived here, I had never been to Bernal Heights Park! I’ve been around it, by way of the road circling it as a shortcut from traffic-clogged Cesar Chavez over to Cortland. I’ve been near it, by way of tending a friend’s community garden plot across the street from it. I’ve been past it, by way of my bus route to work every day. But I’ve never been in it. Yesterday I had access to a vee-hickle and decided to explore with our dog Spoon.

The north entrance at Folsom and Bernal Heights Blvd.

Bernal Heights Park is very popular among Urban Hike enthusiasts, and is a favorite for dog owners and walkers. People use the many staircases as a means of exercise. The sweeping 360° vistas draw visitors for the views. The sunny peaks attract yoga practitioners. It’s one of The City’s many well-used parks. Bernal tends to be one of the sunnier neighborhoods in town, given that it’s on the Bay side of the peninsula in the southeast corner of SF, but it’s also one of the windier areas (it’s open to the Alemany Gap, where wind comes blasting across town.)

Map of Bernal Heights Park.

Bernal was mostly pastureland until the 1906 quake. The solid bedrock changed all that after the quake. People wanted solid bedrock. Cortland Avenue became the business district of the growing neighborhood, enjoying a prominent spot on the sunny southern slope of the hill. The steepness of the peak slowed growth up the hill, and it became protected from development as a park. A telecommunications tower sits fenced-in at the top of the peak.

The tower, backlit from below…

Many paths and stairs criss-cross the hill. The paved road to the tower makes for an accessible climb, but getting onto the paths is where the real hiking comes in. A slip on this hill could be harrowing! Many Mediterranean plants thrive up here, but I was most inspired by the openness and generally barren hillsides, with scattered California native plants tucked into protected nooks and crannies.

Rocks and Aloes lining Bernal Heights Blvd.

If you’re gonna paint over graffiti on rocks, might as well do it in gold and silver. 🙂

A pumpkin with a view.

Concrete bags to prevent gully-cutting erosion along the climb.

Gorgeous layout of Monterey Cypress roots on the hillside.

The City skyline greets us as we climb.

Ascending, we look to the south…

The tower, up at the top. Sometimes, to get the interesting shots you want, you gotta go where you’re not supposed to. I call it “exploring opportunities.” 🙂 There was a bar missing in the fence that surrounds the tower, so I hauled Spoon through it and went in behind her. Obviously, it’s been done before!

To the southeast you can see Candlestick Point as a dark turtleshell on the right of the pic.

The telecommunications tower…

Looking northwest from the tower, through the trees.

Neighborhoods to the north.

Up close with the graffiti-covered tower foundation. Lots of broken beer bottles, so watch your step.

From inside the tower compound, looking out.

The tower peeking over the roof of the attached semi-subterranean structure.

McLaren Park as a dark band of trees just below the horizon.

Native Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium).

Descending peaks to the east towards the bay.

Trying to be artsy with an old phone pole stump.

People enjoying the clear day with their dogs.

So steep! Beautiful after a couple of days of rain.

Silhouettes of the flora make me imagine I could be wandering the coastal hills. In the mind’s eye I was many miles from civilization…

Spoon encountering yoga. Could this have been any more perfect?!?!

I can’t blame him for doing his yoga right here! What a place to connect with the Chi.

The Spoonster exploring her surroundings.

Here comes the Spootenanny!

A tiny figure peers off the overlook beneath the trees.

I’m being followed by a Spoon shadow.

A dwarfed barren tree’s silhouette filters the distant downtown skyline behind.

There’s my girl!

Spoon catches a whiff of something intriguing on the afternoon breeze as we descend via the eastern slopes.

A couple of blue houses make me smile as we head back to the car…

Spoon and I had a fantastic time up there. Totally worth the trek, and I look forward to climbing it again sometime!

5 responses to “Urban Hike: Bernal Heights Park

  1. Bronwen Rowlands

    NICE photos!

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