Bernal Heights, perched on a hilltop in the southeast corner of San Francisco, is a quintessentially quaint nabe where warmer temperatures and sweeping views nurture a vibrant, progressive community. Lined with Victorian homes, Bernal Heights provides an attractive nabe for families with its quiet streets and abundant green space. The commercial center along Cortland Avenue boasts green markets, cafes and a host of locally operated businesses selling their wares. The diverse area of Portola lies to the south of Bernal Heights and is a more affordable option with a strong sense of community.
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Giant, Bald Hill Next to the Mission–Like It, Love It, Want Some More Of It
I learned about Bernal Heights the first time I visited San Francisco, when a couple of obviously lesbian chicks, one of them pregnant, parked their Harley Davidson next to my rental car on the hill. They were on their way to get a naturalistic, pre natal massage, said the woman driving the bike, and they insisted on meeting me at The Stray Bar, where you can order a Bud Light and spoil your pooch with dog-treats at the same time. They turned into friends, and I moved to Bernal Heights soon thereafter, where I found crazy little parlors selling used hippie clothing galore; ethnic restaurants; bars where you quickly found good conversation—like The Wild West.
I learned to traverse the hills there, and quickly made artsy friends who sold creative wares from their garages. On Moultrie Street, the famous writer’s group “The Writers’ Salon” takes members from the community and raises excellent authors. If you own a dog, you’re in. Everyone walks around with sweetly trained pit bulls and labs. On Courtland Street, try doing your laundry while you drink with friends at the Stray Bar. The best farmer’s market in San Francisco occurs at the end of Crescent—where on Saturdays farmers sell fresh foods for half of what you pay at the grocery stores.
Hip, thriving, diverse, without the touristy flavor. Try it. You’ll like it. Love it. Want some more of it.
If You're in Your Twenties
I don’t do Yoga. I don’t have my own edible backyard garden. I don’t have 2.5 kids. I don’t eat at Restaurants with single word descriptors. I don’t really fit in with the Bernal Height locals, who some might facetiously insinuate are the personification of well-known San Francisco stereotypes. But I still feel amazingly comfortable living in Bernal even if the neighborhood sometimes elicits in me a sense of terror stemming from portentous visions of my amortizing, fettered, future.
Incontrovertibly, the biggest draw of this neighborhood is the location. Its location makes it the perfect fit for the East Bay or South Bay commuter; the 101 and 280 are both relatively close and accessible. If you depart in the morning prior to 7 A.M., you will generally be unlikely to encounter heavy traffic driving southward. And if you are coming north by auto in the evening, you egress prior to the real heavy freeway traffic that normally begins immediately after the Cesar Chavez exit. At the 22nd St. Station in the nearby Potrero Hill neighborhood you can catch the natty Caltrain south and travel as far as San Jose.
For the person that works in downtown SF, the North Bay, or East Bay, the 24th St. Mission BART Station lies less than a mile away and you can easily get anywhere in the entire city relatively quickly by bike or bus. Another attractive feature is the abundance of free parking especially in comparison with other SF neighborhoods where a parking space may cost two hundred dollars a month or more. In the picturesque area surrounding Precita Park where I reside on the North side of Bernal Heights Hill parking can be obtained almost any time excluding Sunday evening. I have not frequently ventured over to the quaint Cortland Avenue mini-village area and hence cannot comfortably impart any information pertaining to parking or dining in that sub-locale.
Verdant and halcyon, Precita Park itself is a lovely urban reprieve and usually brimming with canines of all shapes and sizes expending their pent up energy. On summer days, locals gather to blithely doze in the sunshine and consume organic picnic feasts gathered from nearby Cancilla Market. A short vertical hike up Folsom St. will take you to the top of Bernal Heights Hill, home to one of the largest off leash dog parks in the city and boasting a terrific panoramic view that would make any snapshot obsessed tourist jump for joy. Weather-wise, the neighborhood experiences slightly warmer temperatures being located in one of the several hot spots scattered throughout the city.
Being adjacent to the callow and infamous Mission district, where even the weather is hip, makes for a bevy of nightlife options for both young and old living in Bernal Heights. For the penurious late-night diner, there exists a plethora of relatively inexpensive ethnic restaurant options in the Mission district. It’s easy to mosey over to an exciting attraction on Mission St. or Valencia St. and return home to repose in lenitive tranquility: giving you the best of both worlds. This also works out well when my Mom comes to visit and lauds me for living in such a “cute” area with charming Victorian homes. I reward her by telling her inquiring suburban housewife friends that I live off of Cesar Chavez St. in SF—eliciting a look of fear in response. All jokes aside, I have never felt unsafe in Bernal Heights even when walking or jogging solo late at night. The only time I have felt genuine fear was when I accidently threw away a pizza box in a peevish ponytailed neighbor’s recycle bin. That’s not recyclable dude!
Of course slightly cheaper rent or home prices can be found elsewhere in SF. Few other SF nabes though can brag about having a little something for everyone: commuter, outdoor enthusiast, or dog lover. Nor can anyone deny the pleasure of having an idyllic small-town experience in a big city.
If visiting, be sure to check out Mitchell’s ice cream for tropical flavors like coconut or purple yam; the treasure trove of LPs at dilapidated Thrillhouse Records; Alemany’s Farmers Market for fresh produce; pupusas and futbol at Balompie Café 3; The Knockout for sweet tunes and cheap booze; and the adorable Bike Basket Pies.
Up on a hill, all tucked in.
Bernal Height is a cute little Nabe all tucked away from the noise of the outer mission. As you walk around Bernal you notice that the sun does shine most days. The streets wind up, down and around. These streets take you to quaint little cafe’s and restaurants, or to dead ends that let you see from The Mission to Downtown. Each house is it’s own, much like a snowflake. Some are large with many rooms and magnificent faces, other are so tiny, you could miss them if you blinked. Most of these houses are historical and date back to the 1850’s.There are lots of great parks if you have a dog, or kids. Oh and one of the best things about Bernal Heights is on top of Bernal Hill. Oh a clear day you can see South San Francisco, the top of Twin Peaks, to Oakland. Dogs run and play here, so do scenesters from the mission. It’s truly one of San Francisco’s gems.What's awesome
Avedano’s Holly Park Market-235 Cortland Ave, San Francisco, California 94110-http://www.avedanos.com/What's not so awesome
Hanging out at Holly Park at night, there are some hooligan that hangout there after the sun goes down.
All the great things, wrapped into one
This neighborhood represents all of the great things about San Francisco, all wrapped into one, with bow on top.
It’s diverse. This neighborhood offers something for everyone, and I mean everyone. People of all ages, races, colors, sexual orientations, singles, couples, families, and dogs. Especially dogs.
Transportation is a breeze. 280 and 101 are very easily accessible (and in San Francisco, we don’t call them “the 280” or “the 101”, that’s strictly a SoCal thing). The Mission BART Station is less than a mile away, on some of the flattest ground in the city. It’s easy to get to anywhere else in the city by bus.
It’s slightly warmer in Bernal Heights than a lot of other places in the city, which make the parks there a popular destination for all sorts of people and their canine friends.
There are Victorians. Real, live Victorians. That screams San Francisco (don’t tell me you haven’t seen Full House).
The views. The views of the city at the top of Bernal are magnificent. During the day you can gaze out onto the city, as far as the fog will permit you. And at night the lights of the city come alive. It’s truly spectacular.What's awesome
Lovely neighborhood. Liberty Cafe is a delightful restaurant as well as many others found on the strip on Cortland.Michaela Ann M.
I relocated to San Francisco for an internship for six months and was lucky enough to find a place to rent on Bernal Heights with two of my friends. A bit pricey ($3,000 for a two bed room – granted, everything in it was BRAND NEW) but the neighborhood more than made up for it. A little bump rising up out of the Mission District, Bernal is fantastic. It is very quiet and filled mostly with couples fresh off the altar or back from the delivery room. My friends and I were able to supplement our internship income with a lot of babysitting during our time here.
The main street is Cortland Ave, which has great small cafes, independent grocery stores (although there is a Safeway at the bottom of the hill as well), a handful of unique bars, a public library, ice cream shops, etc. The people are very friendly and there is a strong sense of community. I had a conversation with an elderly woman whom I was buying a used bike from. It turns out she was selling the bike as part of a garage sale because she and her husband were relocating to Florida. “How wonderful!” I exclaimed. “Wonderful?? I never want to leave Bernal!” was her candid response.
One of my favorite parts about Bernal is the park at the very top. Not only a great place to walk, jog, roller blade, fly a kite, or go-kart, it is the closest you will get to being IN Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. Dog lovers perk your ears up: this is the place to be! Always writhing with canine activity, the owners walking their dogs on the top of Bernal Heights are very open to conversations about and introductions to their four-legged friends. If you are feeling adventurous, leave the security of the paved road and climb up the well worn, albeit steep paths to the tippity top. Your bravery will be well rewarded day or night with a stunning view of the 7×7 city.
Another fun fact about Bernal Heights: on certain streets there are massive SLIDESthat connect one street to the other below it. There are usually piece of cardboard laying about, meant to aid those in a hurry with their natural velocity. One morning I witnessed an elderly woman using this slide as an alternative to walking down the stairs. How ergonomic.
Who has two thumbs and loves Bernal Heights? This girl.
Stay under the radar, please!
Bernal is definitely one of my favorite SF nabes, it’s funky and eclectic and relatively under the radar. Cortland has a little bit of everything and a whole lotta soul. The Liberty Cafe is my favorite spot to nosh, especially on the chicken pot pie! Just down the street is the Wild Side West, an awesome local bar that serves up $2 PBR and has a killer backyard that feels like you’ve been transported to the Secret Garden. I guess this hood is technically lesbian but it seems to welcome everyone. Bernal feels like a little hilltop village with small cottages and plenty of greenery. It has a real neighborhood feel and sunshine too!
The Other Top of The Hill
Bernal Heights is wonderful. Charming! While very much a popular destination for young families, it has a very impressive culinary and night life scene which makes it a popular spot to spend Friday and Saturday nights for singles and daters looking to go out on the town.
It’s the perfect little neighborhood tucked away nicely atop Cortland St., it’s very busy central street, located just off Mission Street. On Cortland you’ll find everything from a four star restaurant to a gritty little dive bar called Skip’s that is famous for the live blues jam sessions playing there certain nights of the week. Bernal also has some great places to spend the day, including book stores, coffee shops, parks, bakeries, a newly reopened library and Bernal Park.
If you perch just right, and find yourself in just the right spot on top of the hill, you can get a gorgeous view of the the eastern point of the city.