Bernal Heights is arguably one of the most overlooked neighborhoods in San Francisco. Nestled between the Mission district in the north and Excelsior in the south, Bernal Heights has evolved over the past 30 years due to gentrification and the tech boom. On the same streets that once experienced the height of the crack epidemic in the 1980s, you can now find a number of hip cafes, niche restaurants and million-dollar homes. Housing prices have increased 75 percent over the last five years and in 2014, Redfin rated the north slope of Bernal Heights as the “Hottest Neighborhood in America.” Despite the changing demographics, Bernal Heights maintains a small, cozy neighborhood feel that might just make you forget you’re in San Francisco – until you see the views. Whether Bernal Heights is your stomping ground or a neighborhood you have yet to explore, here are six places to check out on your next trip:
Contrary to popular belief, the best view of the city is not Twin Peaks – it’s Bernal Hill. From the top, you can get a 360-degree view of San Francisco, minus the hordes of tourists you would run into at other vista points. Both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge are clearly visible from Bernal Hill – a rare view that allows you to take in the whole city and all its glory. It’s an easy, paved hike to the peak of the hill, but there are plenty of dirt foot trails to explore if you want something a little more off the beaten path. The area is a common spot for neighborhood residents to walk their dogs both on and off the leash, so be prepared for a parade of pups to accompany you on your trek. Bernal Hill is also the spot where you can find one of the most frequently Instagrammed wood swings. It’s one of many swings that are hidden throughout San Francisco, but this one is especially popular because the panoramic view makes it look like you’re swinging over the city.
What to try: hike to the peak and take tons of photos
Bernal Heights, San Francisco, CA 94110
Old Devil Moon
The vibe at Old Devil Moon couldn’t be more different from the rest of the neighborhood — the whole theme is southern magic and mysticism. With a patio for moon gazing, a neon sign in the window that reads “Psychic readings told by bartender,” and an interior decorated with tarot cards, Ouija boards, candles, and even a dead cat, this place is just the right amount of macabre. If craft beer, whiskey and Po’ Boy sandwiches are your things, this is the bar for you. While not the cheapest bar in SF, the atmosphere and food are definitely worth spending the extra few bucks.
What to try: Seafood Po’ Boy (fried shrimp, fried oysters, garlic aioli, pickles, shredded cabbage and tomatoes on a French bread roll)
3472 Mission St. (at Cortland)
Succulence has been rated by Yelp as the best succulent nursery in San Francisco, but it is not just any ordinary nursery. The space originated as a mom and pop video store run by Ken and Amy Shelf, but the couple moved into the plant business when movie rentals became obsolete. Succulence has since grown into a top Bernal Heights attraction. With over 200 species of plants to choose from, this place is like heaven on Earth for plant lovers. Terrariums, pots, vertical gardens, moss walls, planters, glass globes, soils, sands, pebbles and sculptures — basically anything that has to do with gardening or succulents can be found here. Although Succulence offers ready-made “plant art,” most customers choose DIY projects. The store offers monthly classes on vertical gardening, terrarium-making and planter-building as well as a DIY planting bar that is open daily.
What to try: the DIY planting bar
402 Cortland Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110
Alemany Farmers Market/Flea Market
The Alemany Farmer’s Market is the oldest farmer’s market in California. Beginning in 1943 as part of the war effort, the market has since operated every Saturday morning from dawn until dusk (realistically from around 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. or until vendors sell out). While there are not many artisanal food items for sale here like there are at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, the prices at Alemany are nearly impossible to beat. Fresh produce from the Central Valley is trucked in and sold for a fraction of what you would find at other farmer’s markets or organic stores. The Alemany Farmer’s Market is also famous for its selection of Southeast Asian fruits, vegetables, and delicacies like balut (duck embryo) which can be difficult to find in the U.S. On Sundays, the same space turns into the Alemany Flea Market. Known for its abundance of vintage items, anything and everything from collectible vinyl records to antique furniture can be found here. Regulars suggest coming early (before 10 a.m.) to this year-round event for optimum treasure hunting.
What to try: fresh Asian pears, bitter melon, or jujubes
100 Alemany Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94110
This pizza place began as a mobile pop-up with owner Jeff “Pizzahacker” Krupman cranking out pies on the streets of San Francisco with his converted charcoal weber grill. Krupman was featured in a Youtube video back in 2009, and Pizzahacker has since become a sort of viral sensation. In 2014, a brick and mortar Pizzahacker restaurant opened up in Bernal Heights and the demand for Krupman’s simple yet gourmet pizzas has continued — even President Obama had to check it out in 2015. The atmosphere of the restaurant is akin to an indoor patio or picnic with its colorful string lights, chalkboard walls and communal seating. Pizzahacker is only open from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and sometimes the demand for pies is so high that they run out. Arrive early to ensure you get one!
What to try: Rocket Man (arugula, garlic, fresh mozzarella, farm egg, lemon juice, chili paste)
3299 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Esmeralda Street Slides
The Esmeralda Street Slides are one of San Francisco’s many secrets. Forty-foot-long slides run parallel alongside a section of the Esmeralda street stairs, which lead directly to Bernal Heights Park. Local children and adults alike frequent the slides, which were built in 1979 as part of a city and neighborhood collaboration project. The slides were re-restored in June of this year and a “locator” mosaic was added to the park. Locals suggest using pieces of cardboard on the slides to reduce friction, and rumor has it the left slide is faster than the one on the right (I majorly ate it while testing this theory, so be warned: these slides are fast).
What to try: challenge a friend to a slide race
Winfield St & Esmeralda Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110