Posts Tagged ‘hike’

Hiking Mount Davidson

May 7th, 2017

Mt. Davidson

 
San Francisco has “seven hills,” depending how you count. Before I’ve written about hiking up Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks, and Bernal Heights. Yesterday I finally got around to hiking around Mount Davidson, the tallest of all the hills.

Back when I lived in the Parkside neighborhood in the mid 2000′s, I remember occasionally seeing this giant concrete cross on a hillside and wondering what the deal was with that. Of course, most of the time it’s so foggy on the west side of the city that you can’t see it, so I rarely gave it much thought.

Then a while back I was re-watching Dirty Harry which features a sequence where Clint Eastwood’s character has to deliver a ransom. He winds up all over the city, including Forest Hill Station and finally makes his way to the cross on Mount Davidson. Although he’s forced to make a bunch of random stops in between, in real life Mount Davidson is only about a 30 minute walk from Forest Hill Station, or a ten minute bus ride on the 36. Something to keep that in mind if you’re not delivering a ransom payment to a crazy killer.

Anyway, back to the real world: yesterday I managed to take the elusive City Guides tour of Mount Davidson. Elusive because it’s only offered twice a year. And even then, only when the weather is good. If you’re interested in the tour but your schedule doesn’t line up, the tour guide also runs a website about Mount Davidson with information about the park.

Interestingly, not many people seem to know about Mount Davidson, despite the sweeping panoramic views. It’s a little harder to get to than Twin Peaks. The park attracts dog walkers and bird watchers — I spotted a pair of hawks and a bluebird without paying much attention.

 
Mt. Davidson

Mt. Davidson Mt. Davidson
 

So what’s up with that giant cross, anyway? It turns out a church group used to build temporary big wooden crosses up there every year for Easter. At some point they decided to build a permanent one. This caused a first amendment issue when the park became public, city owned land. As with ten commandment issues at courthouses, you either can’t have them, or you have to allow anyone else to put their religious statues nearby.

While it would have been funny to see a 100 foot tall statue of L. Ron Hubbard next to the cross, the city’s voters decided to sell off the land under the cross to a group of private citizens in order to avoid the issue. This is explained in signs all around that part of the park.

 
Mt. Davidson
Mt. Davidson
 

On a clear day, the views are amazing. The towers downtown look like tiny from so far away, but you have a view of Sutro Tower, Twin Peaks, and a partial view of Bernal Heights.

There are trails and stairways leading up and around the park. None are particularly well marked or maintained. Many don’t seem officially sanctioned. If you decide to go on your own, I’d recommend just wandering down whatever paths you like. The park isn’t big enough to get lost.

Finally, here’s a panorama from the east side of Mount Davidson’s peak. Click through for the full size version.

Mt. Davidson

Hiking Bernal Heights Park

October 2nd, 2016

If you live in San Francisco you’re undoubtedly familiar with Bernal Heights Park, even if you don’t know it by name — it’s the big rocky hill at the south end of the Mission District. From a distance, it looks like a bonsai arrangement due to a few short trees growing at the top.

 
 

Somehow I’d never actually hiked to the top of it before, a strange lapse on my part especially because I’ve spent many afternoons in Precita Park, which is just below Bernal Heights. Not having anything else to do on Saturday and given the reasonable weather, I thought I’d go exploring.

There’s a variety of ways to get to Bernal Heights Park. I took one of the most obvious routes: starting on Folsom Street, I walked all the way to the southern end of the street. The sidewalk ends on the right side, but continues on the left. If you turn around at this point you’ll see a home with an interesting mural.

 
Bernal Heights
 

Not far up the road there’s a somewhat infamous rock that tends to get painted over by local pranksters. Not long ago it was painted to look like the poo emoji. More recently it was painted a bright cyan color, and someone added a troll-ish looking face.

 
Bernal Heights
 

Crossing the street here leads to an entrance to the park. There’s a gated paved road winding around the hill that’s presumably intended for utility workers, but for parkgoers it’s a place to walk, bike, or play fetch with your dog.

From this particular entrance you’ll spot a colorful memorial honoring the life of Alex Nieto, a young man who’s life was tragically ended by police brutality. Though his death was over two years ago, the memorial is still immaculately maintained.

 
Bernal Heights
 

Continue walking around as the road turns and you’ll eventually encounter a stone labyrinth. Right now it could use some love, but you can still see the rough outline of the maze.

 
Bernal Heights labyrinth
 

From there you can get a clear view of the top of the park, where there’s the trees and a mysterious wireless hub of some sort. I headed up to check out the wireless thing. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but the building at the bottom is covered in murals, and there’s one of those air raid sirens next to it that’s tested at noon every Tuesday.

THIS IS A TEST. THIS IS A TEST OF THE OUTDOOR WARNING SYSTEM. THIS IS ONLY A TEST.

 
Bernal Heights Tuesday at Noon siren on Bernal Strange device on Bernal Heights
 

Jutting out just below the top of the park is a flat-ish rocky area where some children were running around, dogs were being walked, and some dude was flying a kite.

 
Kite flying on Bernal
 

I walked out to the edge of this area and snapped a giant panoramic photo. Click the image for the full view and you can see the “bonsai” trees on the left. Moving right you can see Sutro Tower, the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, the office towers downtown, and the two spans of the Bay Bridge near the left.

 
Bernal Heights pano
 

As for getting back down, there’s really only one way to go. Why? One word: slides! If you head to the northwest side of the park, there’s an unmarked staircase heading down to Esmeralda Ave. Head down that staircase, walk one block in the same direction, and you’re at the slide park. Grab a piece of cardboard and let gravity do its thing.

After that, keep heading in the same direction and you’ll get to one of the city’s smallest parks, Coleridge Mini Park. This tiny “park” is really nothing to write home about, but there’s a nice view of Sutro Tower from there and a micro-sized playground for little kids.

 
Sutro Tower from Coleridge Mini Park
 

To get to Mission Street, keep heading down the hill and you’ll wind up near the intersection of Mission and Valencia.

Want to see all the photos I took on this excursion? Take a peek at this Flickr album.

Hiking Mount Sutro and Twin Peaks

July 18th, 2016

For the past few years I’ve been aiming for 10,000 steps a day to make my fitness tracker happy get some exercise. Most days I don’t go anywhere special, but on weekends I like to branch out when I have the time and find new places to explore. That’s no easy task when you’ve lived in the Bay Area your entire life or spent the past (checks calendar) nearly thirteen years in San Francisco (holy crap.) So to do something a little different I walked from 17th Street to 23rd Street using the least efficient route possible, starting with Mount Sutro.

Take any map of San Francisco, and somewhere near the center there will be a green patch that’s either labeled “Mount Sutro Open Space Preserve,” or “Interior Greenbelt,” or some combination of the two. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a gorgeous man-made park — the non-native trees are a dead giveaway — with various trails zig-zagging around for hiking and mountain biking.

There’s several entrances, but I started at the one maintained by Parks and Rec at Stanyan near the end of 17th Street. There’s a small staircase and a sign to mark the entrance.

 
Interior Greenbelt sign
 

The hike up Mount Sutro is not one for the faint of heart — the trail is often steep, covered with rocks and fallen tree branches, and can be muddy and wet from the fog. At times it even felt like it was raining due to the fog rolling off the trees above.

 
Interior Greenbelt trail
 

The park has a somewhat surreal feel to it; you know in your mind that you’re still in the city, but for the most part it doesn’t feel like it. Sure, you can see some houses from a few vantage points, or hear sirens in the distance, but there’s little evidence to suggest there’s a bustling city not far below.

To add to the strange feeling, the place was nearly deserted. I could probably count the number of other hikers I encountered on one hand. Some part of me kept expecting to find a group of teenagers drinking or smoking pot in the bushes, but I didn’t even see any litter to suggest that this was a place people had escaped to for such endeavors.

Which is all a fancy way of saying that this place is rather unique. You won’t find crowds of tourists here like Golden Gate Park or Telegraph Hill.

 
Interior Greenbelt
 

By the time I got to the top I was somewhat lost. There were no obvious vantage points to find my bearings thanks to the trees and the fog, and my phone wasn’t picking up enough of a signal to use Google Maps. Fortunately, UCSF was kind enough to put a map there right when I needed it.

Following the map, I took the East Ridge Trail down to Aldea Housing. From there my phone briefly got a strong signal again. I thought about turning back, but figured what the hell — Sutro Tower wasn’t far away. Why not press on?

 
Interior Greenbelt
 

There’s no obvious signs leading you to Sutro Tower from there, and it was so foggy I couldn’t have even guessed which way to go to find it. Fortunately Google Maps had my back and a few minutes later I found what I can only assume is the base of the tower, prodding the underbelly of our dear friend Karl.

 
Sutro Tower in the fog
 

Following my gut, I walked around the reservoir next to Sutro Tower until I found another trail that seemed to be leading towards Twin Peaks. Once again this would have been much easier had I been able to see where I was going. (Million dollar idea: Glasses that let you see through fog. Get on it, hardware startup entrepreneurs!)

Fortunately an older couple heading in the opposite direction confirmed to me that I was on the right track.

 
Trail from Sutro Tower to Twin Peaks
 

After jumping a barrier and heading up a somewhat steep trail that didn’t seemed “official,” to put it mildly, I found a whole crowd of tourists. I’d done it! I’d made it to Twin Peaks!

The fun of Twin Peaks — if you’ve somehow never been — is not the view. In fact, there’s rarely much of a view at all. No, the fun is watching hoards of confused tourists scream about how they’re freezing, watching pamphlets get blown out of their hands by the wind, and seeing them take selfies against a backdrop of fog. It’s really a blast.

 
Twin Peaks in the fog
 

At this point several hours had passed and it was time to head back home. On the pedestrian/bike side of the recently reconfigured figure eight, I jumped another barrier and made my way down a staircase, followed by another, then another, then like maybe two or three more. Yeah, my knees are going to be sore as hell tomorrow.

But at least from here I more or less knew where I was going. If you’re walking to or from Twin Peaks from the Mission/Noe Valley, those stairs lead to a pedestrian overpass over Market Street, which is very handy for this particular part of the hike. The ramp on the other side takes you down to Grand View Ave. near the end of 23rd Street.

 
Market Street pedestrian overpass
 

The fitness tracker says all in all that worked out to just over six miles, though if you follow in my footsteps your mileage may vary depending on your exact route. A word to the wise: bring water with you, appropriate shoes, and full-length pants to avoid poison ivy. You also might consider an umbrella if it’s super foggy.

Finally, here’s a few panoramic photos of the Mount Sutro hike. As with all the photos in this blog post you can click it for a larger view. Additionally, all of these photos are in a Flickr album.

 
Interior Greenbelt pano

Interior Greenbelt pano

Interior Greenbelt pano