A Village Within the City
Once a sleepy, obscure corner of San Francisco, Bernal Heights has become one of the most sought after real estate destinations in the nation. Covering a hilltop in the southeastern section of the city, Bernal is adjacent to the neighborhoods of Noe Valley, Glen Park, and the Mission District. Crowning the hill is Bernal Heights Park, a 26-acre expanse with breathtaking, 360-degree panoramic vistas of the city and the Bay Area.
While the neighborhood’s popularity has soared, it has retained a lot its small-town feel. Residents and merchants wave to each other, parents gather together as their children enjoy the playground, and neighbors work together to produce community events.
The homes on Bernal range from quirky 19th-century cottages to grand Victorians to mid 20th-century tract housing to contemporary loft-style dwelling and more. The winding streets, dramatic views, community gardens and public stairways add to the unique flavor of the neighborhood.
Bernal Heights is one of San Francisco’s most diverse neighborhoods, whether defined by age, income, ethnic origin, or any other criteria. Newcomers mix with families who have lived on the hill for decades and it’s not unusual to find three generations living under the same roof.
The history of community activism in Bernal Heights goes back many years. The Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center opened its doors in 1979, and today it’s still involved in senior services, teen activities, building affordable housing, as well as hosting many community events such as Fiesta on the Hill. The neighborhood is full of civic-minded folks who’re always planning something, from Bernal Dads Racing to Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema. To document and discuss it all we have the neighborhood blog, Bernalwood.
On the Street
You’ll find dozens of unique, locally owned businesses on Cortland Avenue, like Fit Bernal Fit, Chloe’s Closet, Bernal Yoga, Good Life Grocery, Heartfelt, Succulence, Avedanos, Bernal Beast and the city’s only electric bike shop, the New Wheel. There are also several all-important coffee stops, including Progressive Grounds, Martha’s and Pinhole Coffee, great restaurants like Bernal Star, Red Hill Station, Moki’s Sushi, and Vega, and even a few bars such as Holy Water, Lucky Horseshoe and the Wild Side West.
The independent spirit that defines Bernal Heights is reflected in the lack of any chain stores on Cortland Avenue. The community values and supports its local businesses.
It’s a Family Affair
In a city where raising a family can be a challenge, Bernal Heights provides a kid-friendly atmosphere with lots of activities for families in the neighborhood, including a drop-in toddler playtime at St Mary’s Rec Center, a great playground in Holly Park, new Mom groups meeting at Progressive Grounds, story hour at the Bernal library and even kids yoga classes. There are several excellent public elementary schools in the area, including Buena Vista/Horace Mann, Fairmount, Paul Revere, and Leonard Flynn, all have Spanish immersion programs. Synergy and the San Francisco School are local private schools that many Bernal children attend.
All Day/All Night
A typical day on Bernal Heights might go something like this: start your morning by talking your dog for a walk up to the top of Bernal Hill. Next, meet friends for brunch at one of the many eateries on Cortland Avenue, and then it’s over to the local butchers for high quality meats and down the south slope to the Alemany Farmer’s Market for fresh produce. Then you might take your kids to play on the fabulous play structure at Holly Park playground.
Back at home; you can grill up a meal for friends on the deck while looking out at a view of the bay. When the sun sets, the nightlife begins on nearby Mission and Valencia streets. Here you’ll find a fascinating variety of upscale shops, restaurants, and nightclubs, as well as public murals, bookstores, coffeehouses, taqueria’s, and bakeries that are a legacy of the Mission District’s storied past. Amazingly, you can enjoy all of the above without ever leaving your zip code.
Home to History
Bernal Hill was originally part of a land grant awarded to José Cornelio de Bernal, a soldier in Juan Bautista de Anza’s 1776 expedition. In the mid-1800s many Irish, Scots, and Scandinavians, took up residence in the shadow of the hill, which residents used extensively for cattle and dairy ranching.
In the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, Precita Park was used as a refugee camp. The small prefabricated shacks hastily supplied to refugees were known as “Goldie Shacks,” several of which survive on the slopes of Bernal Heights. There’s also a building dating from the 1860s that was originally the headquarters for a private water company.
During the 1960s and 70s, the spirit of the times led to a reawakening of Latino culture, as exemplified by the renowned Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center. Neighborhood activism flourished during this era as residents joined together to maintain the unique flavor of Bernal.
Today, Bernal Heights is known as one of the most desirable places in the world in which to live. The national real estate website Redfin named Bernal #1 on its list of hottest neighborhoods of 2014. Yet with all the attention it has received, Bernal Heights remains very much an eclectic urban village.