During a recent weekend family getaway to San Francisco, we had an open morning and wanted to skip the common touristy stuff everyone always does in San Francisco, instead going for something that would give us a more local San Francisco experience. We thought about hiking Twin Peaks, but it always seems to be crowded, so we opted to hike Bernal Hill.
Up above the San Francisco, California neighborhood of Bernal Heights, at the top of Bernal Hill, also called Bernal Heights Summit or Bernal Heights Hill, is the quiet Bernal Heights Park, a hillside park with grassland wildlife habitat, walking trails, and sweeping views of the city. Part of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks department, this park doesn’t have a playground or a plethora of benches, but it does deliver a 360 degree view of San Francisco, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Sutro Tower, downtown San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Bruno Mountain.
Just south of San Francisco’s Mission District, the park is one of the largest in San Francisco. It’s a designated “off-leash” park for dogs and a popular spot for picnics with a view when the wildflowers are in bloom and the grasses are green and soft. Locals also say sunsets atop Bernal Hill are amazing. Just be sure to arrive early because sunset happens here about 30 minutes earlier than the documented time due to some obstruction by Twin Peaks.
If you’re local, you can hike up any Bernal Hill side street to get access to the paved and dirt trails. We were coming from out hotel, so we drove to the small Bernal Heights Park parking area and surveyed the area to decide which way we wanted to hike.
- For an easy, accessible hike, you can simply follow the road to the top of Bernal Hill as it gently winds around the hill. There are benches along the road to take breaks and enjoy the view. From the end of the road, it’s only a 100-foot walk to the peak.
- For a shorter more moderate hike, you can follow one of the several trails available directly up the hill to the peak, where there is a privately owned site with an equipment building and a 50 foot tall radio tower, known by locals as Sutrito Tower.
We first followed the road a bit to check out the view of the city, then climbed up a nearby staircase on the side of the hill to follow the Bernal Heights Park Trail, a narrow, 1 mile, dirt, loop trail. I had seen photos of Bernal Hill showing it lush and green with people picnicking in the grass, but the entire park area was brown and dead when we were there in the fall. That didn’t matter though. It was a gorgeous, clear, sunny Sunday morning and the views were absolutely breathtaking — and after hiking the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps to the top of Grandview Park only to have the entire view obstructed by a thick, dense fog, we were thrilled to have such clear skies for our hike to the top of Bernal Hill!
I had heard that there was a labyrinth on Bernal Hill, and after visiting the Land’s End Labyrinth, I wanted to check this one out too. On our way back to the car, we found the large Bernal Hill Labyrinth (awesome!) and walked it a couple times before heading over to Jerry Day 2016 at McLaren Park.
Know Before You Go
- Bernal Heights Park is located atop Bernal Hill at 10 Bernal Heights Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94110 (at Anderson St).
- Bernal Hill is in the middle of the San Francisco, California neighborhood of Bernal Heights, and if it’s busy, you may be parking near someone’s home. Don’t block any driveways, be respectful, keep noise to a minimum, and pick up all of your trash.
- The equipment building and 50 foot tall radio tower at the very top of Bernal Hill is private property — no tresspassing.
- There are no restrooms or facilities available.
- The park is a designated off-leash area for dogs, so be prepared to encounter lots of dogs running around!