Our first morning in Bernal Heights was spent in getting the washing done from the week in Tahoe (one of the most welcome features of having your own place in the city), catching up on the morning commute and weather forecast on KRON4, trying to avoid re-living the Giants’ frustrating defeat in Phoenix the night before and re-acquainting ourselves with proper granola and sourdough toast.
We finally slipped out into the warming sunshine (was the rain really so torrential when we arrived last night?) a few minutes before one o’clock, heading for our favourite lunch spot (well, actually our only one up until now) of Progressive Grounds on Cortland.
Lugging – perhaps unwisely – bagels filled with cheese, egg and peanut butter in our stomachs, we set off on one of the neighborhood stairway walks described by Adah Bakalinsky in her extraordinary book entitled, strangely enough, Stairway Walks in San Francisco. Bernal Heights has the greatest number of stairways, around fifty four, in a city boasting several hundred.
Normally, we would wander aimlessly around the area, stumbling, or not, upon some natural or architectural gems purely by chance. But today I wanted to ensure that we didn’t miss any of the sights (though locals will surely disabuse me of such presumption when they read this ).
Our walk began at Holly Park Circle at the intersection with Bocana Street. The view looking back towards the hill provided perspective and familiarity.
One of the most satisfying features of a visually stunning city are the signs at the intersection of streets. For me, they are as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz or cable cars.
Whilst Haight/Ashbury and Powell/Market may be among the most celebrated, it is those that you discover in half-forgotten corners of downtown or out in the neighborhoods that provide the real thrill, not least when the juxtaposition of names appears particularly incongruous.
We circled Holly Park, stopping intermittently to scan the horizon – from downtown to Bayview, Hunters Point, Candlestick Park and McLaren Park. The marriage of sky and trees enabled some lovely photographic opportunities.
The decision to follow a recommended walk was vindicated because we might otherwise have missed a number of delightful and ingenious gardens and stairway as we criss-crossed the streets of the western side of Bernal Heights.
Stunning views of Twin Peaks, Diamond Heights, Noe Valley lay before us or peeked through overhanging trees at every point.
The love lavished on these community gems was evident in the signage that accompanied them. How could you argue with such requests?
This being San Francisco, the stroll was never on the flat for very long.
Fortunately, there were rest areas laid out to enable the perspiring hiker to take a breather, notably on the long, steep Esmeralda Stairway that we dipped in and out of towards the end of the walk.
Such a shame there isn’t a Wordsworth Street, especially in such a literary and artistic neighborhood.
Why couldn’t this have been a downhill stretch at the beginning of the walk rather than the latter?
Finally, proof that aliens are among us.
At the top of Esmeralda we joined Bernal Heights Hill where, as had been the case when we visited last year, dogs greatly outnumbered humans. We sought out the mud and pebble path of the short Moultrie Stairway and, via Powhattan and Bocana, returned to Cortland where frappés beckoned at Martha and Brothers.
The walk had been every bit as thrilling – and challenging – as we had anticipated, undertaken in increasingly warm conditions.
A great first afternoon in the neighborhood!