The setting: A beautiful sunny Saturday in San Francisco. Clear skies, and temperatures a brisk upper 50’s in the shade and mid-60’s in the sun.
The scene: Your host and his dog enjoy a lengthy walk in and around Buena Vista Park.
Buena Vista Park (I’ll abbreviate it “BVP” from here on out) is a lovely, wooded, not-so-hidden gem in the middle of San Francisco. We have tons of gorgeous parks here in San Francisco. This one is a couple of blocks from the flat Panhandle of Golden Gate Park, as well as a couple of blocks from Corona Heights. The steepness of the park, and of the access to it, is pretty much its only saving grace in keeping it as mellow as it is. The northern boundary is right at the edge of the Haight-Ashbury district, and is bordered by Haight itself. A big sloping lawn at this part is a popular spot to lay out in the sun and have a beer or smoke stuff, if you’re a Haighter. It’s probably the most-used part of the park because of that. Aside from a couple of tennis courts that I’ve never seen not in use, and a small playground that I’ve never seen in use, BVP is otherwise a steep and wooded park where you can visually separate yourself from the trappings of city life. If it weren’t for the din of traffic, you’d hardly know you were in an urban environment!
The western and southern slopes of the park are bordered by residential portions of Cole Valley and Eureka Valley, respectively, and the eastern side is just a couple of blocks above the first blocks of Castro Street. It’s only a fifteen minute hike up from the Castro, but very steep. BVP has historically had a bit of a notorious reputation as a hotspot for guys to, um, sneak off into the bushes day and night, but it’s really had a huge resurgence in recent years that’s made it quite the opposite. There’s a designated dog run area now, and the whole park can typically be host to people walking their dogs up and down, exercising themselves on the hilly paths, trekking up and down with bikes, and laying out in the sun on the grassy summit. On my own walk up there I passed many couples out for walks, and many families with small chilluns exploring. The views from the top are phenomenal. Not as clear a view as I’ve posted about in my Urban Hikes about Corona Heights, Bernal Heights, or Twin Peaks, but the views framed by the trees are quite stunning nonetheless.
Pathways are all fairly civilized. The main roads are paved. Some of the dirt paths have been modernized with handrails and level ADA access, whereas others have been blocked off altogether to be replanted with native plants and reduce erosion. Underbrush has been cleared out, removing the hiding places where guys would, um, sneak off into the bushes. It’s really become a well-maintained, and yet still a bit wild, urban getaway. There are still many staircases cutting up and down the slopes, too. Much of the infrastructure of BVP was built during the Great Depression as part of the WPA projects. One of the most beautiful examples of the work is all the stone walls that line the steeper hillsides. Gorgeous! A little disconcerting is that some of the white marble bits incorporated into the walls are actually fragments of headstones from the Jewish Cemetery that used to exist in what is now Dolores Park, and which was relocated to Colma when that city became SF’s City of the Dead. Hopefully everybody was actually relocated, so we don’t have one of those Poltergeist scenarios with caskets popping out of the ground and skeletons flopping on the sunbathers. 🙂 Some of the marble bits are oriented such that you sometimes come across part of a name or a date. Fascinating, really. I cogitate over the concept of families buying these markers and then having them broken up and used as pavers, only to have to be remade for a new cemetery.
My friend Derek of Plantgasm fame lives near, and frequents, BVP regularly. Check out his blog for some great stylish macro shots of plants in the park and his own botanical explorations…
Thanks for joining me on the hike. Catch ya next time, and until then I hope my series inspires some to get out and explore these places on their own!