Bernal Heights

Bernal Heights is a quaint, urban community located on top of a steep hill on San Francisco’s southern side. The neighborhood is of interest in that it sits as a crossroads of nostalgic and modern San Francisco. On the one hand you have streets lined with fruit stands and bungalow style homes, while on the other hand you have a sprinkling of trendy boutiques and world-class restaurants. The neighborhood is popular with artists and young families looking for an affordable first home (and thus giving the neighborhood the nickname ‘Maternal Heights’).

Where it’s At

Bernal Heights’ charm is that it is relatively off the radar, and thus somewhat challenging to get to. In fact, there are only two bus lines serving the area (24 Divisadero and 67 Bernal Heights). The best way to get there is to drive, parking along Cortland Avenue ($1/40 min., one hour limit on meters).

What to See

Bernal Heights is a very green part of the city, meaning most of the neighborhoods main sights are parks. Bernal Heights Park sits atop a steep hill that rewards one with views over the Noe Valley, Mission District, downtown and all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. For a quiet picnic, try Holly Park, one of San Francisco’s oldest community green spaces. Travelers with children will enjoy Precita Park’s modern playground.

Being a residential neighborhood, Bernal Heights is also host to numerous community festivals. Fiesta on the Hill, the annual block party, features a petting zoo, dancing and live music. In the fall the Outdoor Cinema screens free films by local filmmakers. But perhaps the neighborhood’s most infamous event is the San Francisco Illegal Soapbox Derby, where brave souls hurl themselves down Bernal Hill in makeshift cars.

Where to Eat

For nostalgic dining, try the simple, counter service only Moonlight Café (634 Cortland Ave) for crepes, soups and creative sandwiches. For a taste of the ‘new’, Liberty Café (410 Cortland Ave.) uses fresh ingredients for such gourmet comfort food as chicken potpie. If you happen to be in the neighborhood on a Saturday, stroll down to Alemany Boulevard for the weekly Farmers Market and enjoy an excellent selection of local produce and just out of the oven baked goods.