Archive for the ‘SF Neighborhoods’ Category

Bernal Adjacent

October 9, 2014

We live in the part of Noe Valley that is “Bernal adjacent” as a recent Bernal Heights blogger put it. We even share a zip code with Bernal Heights.

Bernal used to seem completely off the beaten path to me. It felt like the last SF neighborhood before Daly City. But these days it’s the center of my City life. It’s where one of my best friends and her husband bought a place, and they recently had a baby so that’s a draw. It’s also one of the most dog-friendly neighborhoods in a pretty dog-friendly city. And it’s also a great walking neighborhood with laced with my beloved SF’s stairways and full of breath-taking views of the City.

bernalview2012(Pretty sure Mr. WholeHog took this incredible pic)

The neighborhood is anchored by Bernal Hill, a great off-leash area for dogs that offers panoramic views of the City. (We were up on Bernal Hill just last night to watch the moon rise.)

Getting to Bernal Hill is part of the fun. I prefer to link together some of the many stairways that lead up the hill (there’s also one set of slides for the way down). Some of the streets that back up to Bernal Hill have little trails that lead up there, too.

Another reason to walk around Bernal? Some of the homes were once earthquake shacks from 1906. The streets tend to be narrow, which is fine for walking, but a bit of a pain if you’re driving.


Most SF neighborhoods are lucky to have just one good place for dogs, but Bernal has a few options. On the north slope, there’s Precita Park, which is flat and grassy. Dogs are supposed to be leashed at Precita, but there’s usually a few dogs running around off-leash.

Holly Park, on the south side of the Hill, seems to be the local’s dog park. After work on weeknights, neighbors and their dogs congregate below the children’s playground. When the ball field is free, it’s often used as an unofficial dog park (“He likes third base,” one dog owner told us about his dog). When there’s a game, there are usually dogs run up and down the grassy slopes and through the trees.


Holly Park is one of our dog’s very favorite spots to run around, and it’s one of our favorites, too, since it’s close to our friends’ house, and it’s just a block to Holy Water, a dog-friendly bar on Cortland Street, the main commercial stretch of Bernal Heights. Holy Water is darker than I’d ideally like my neighborhood watering hole to be, but it has a good beer selection (including a rotating sour beer on tap!), and it feels like a treat to get to have a drink with the dog.

In the morning, I’m more apt to leash the dog in front of Pinhole Coffee, one of the only legit coffee shops in the area. Run by a longtime Blue Bottle alum, Pinhole brews coffee from many good local roasters, including Blue Bottle, Linea and Verve. It’s a much needed addition to the area.

pinhole-facebookimage from Pinhole’s Facebook page

And if we need something other than coffee or beer, we can usually find it on Cortland. There’s Avedano’s, a woman-owned butcher shop that sources good quality meat (read: not-factory-farmed), or The Good Life, a conventional (but independent) grocery store. There’s a cramped little pet store and a small library. There’s The New Wheel, a shop focused on electric bikes, which was opened by a friend of ours from the farmers market and her husband.

Bernal can feel like a small town, which is why when Mr. WholeHog suggests, as he does from time to time, that we cash out of the City and move to a smaller town, I don’t see the point. It feels to me like we’re already in a small town, or at least adjacent to one.



Noe Stairway Walks

March 22, 2013

One of the best things about living in the Castro were the walks we took from our old apartment, particularly the stairway walks. We could cross Castro Street and wander up the many different stairways on Liberty Hill, or we could cross Market Street and walk the Vulcan or Saturn Street staircases in Eureka Valley. The closest stairway walk to our Castro apartment were the stairs at the corner of 20th and Douglas Streets. They led up to Corwin Street, where we’d walk past the little community garden and out to Kite Hill, one of the City’s open space areas that offers an expansive view of the City.

But I’ve grownDay Street stairs to love the stairway walks in Noe Valley, too. There are many stairways in Upper Noe Valley, especially up where the streets begin to head uphill toward Diamond Heights. There are stairs at Noe and 27th, Castro and 28th, Duncan and Noe, and Valley and Diamond. My Noe version of our old Castro walk is to head up Day Street to where the street begins to make its odd 90-degree turn to meet Castro.

On the left-hand side of the street, next to the very last house on the block, there’s a little walkway. It looks private, but it’s not. It leads to a short staircase, which isn’t the longest or the prettiest staircase in the City, but it wins points for seeming hidden and like a place only locals would know.

The stairs lead up to 30th Street near Laidley, right at the base of Billy Goat Hill. (I’m sorry to say that I’ve never seen any billy goats on this hill.) Billy Goat is essentially the Noe equivalent of Kite Hill: a nearby open space area with great city views. The wooden stairs in the picture, below, lead down to a little viewing area that also has a rope swing. The swing seems so San Francisco to me: why would you merely sit and take in the view when you could be swinging?! (This post about the rope swing made me laugh.)

billy goat

We were up on Billy Goat Hill recently just as the sun was setting and casting an orange glow over the City.

sunset City

View of downtown SF


View down 30th to Bernal Heights (and Mt. Diablo across the bay)

From the top of Billy Goat Hill, two other stairways are easily accessible. Head to the right and you’ll find stairs off Diamond Street down to the top of Valley Street. Head to the left and you’ll come to the Harry Street stairs (pictured below).


Harry Street stairs

The Harry Street stairs are one of my very favorite stairways in the City. Unlike most of SF’s cement stairways, the Harry stairs are wood. Like the stairs on Telegraph Hill or the Vulcan stairs in Eureka Valley, there are little homes along the Harry Street stairs. Harry street stairs take you back to Laidley Street, a street with lots of interesting architecture, if you want to keep walking.

Noe Doubt

March 24, 2012

I didn’t expect to be someone who lived in Noe Valley, much less a person who owned in Noe. Until I moved here, I didn’t really get the appeal of the neighborhood. It doesn’t have the personality of the Castro, the history of the Haight, or the style of the Mission (lumberjack) or the Marina (lululemon). Instead, Noe seems best known as a place for kids. In our Bikes of San Francisco poster, a tricycle represents Noe Valley. More recently, Noe’s become known as a neighborhood of tech workers, since it’s close to many tech company shuttles to the South Bay. But I don’t have kids and I don’t work for a tech firm.

Rainbow over 24th Street

Noe Valley’s main commercial drag, 24th Street, didn’t have the destination restaurants or stores that give other neighborhoods a sense of place. There are some decent stores, but many — Rabat, Ambiance, Plumpjack — are local chains. Few are unique to Noe Valley. Until Contigo opened, 24th was a wasteland for restaurants. The better neighborhood restaurants, like Incanto and La Ciccia, were farther down Church Street.

Despite Noe’s family reputation, the area is also surprisingly geriatric. Although the old-timers are probably one reason why the neighborhood is such a quiet place to live, they may also explain why Noe can be so conservative. Until a few years ago, one storefront on 24th street was a shrine to Republicans with Reagan and even Nixon memorabilia posted on the walls and windows. The signs in the front windows referred to the neighborhood as “Looney Valley.” Army Street was renamed Cesar Chavez Street back in 1995, but there’s still a house on Cesar Chavez with a sign that says, “It’ll always be Army Street.” On our block, a neighbor’s truck proudly displays his ultra-conservative views, and when he’s really riled up, like when Prop 8 was overturned in August 2010, he writes ugly statements on his back windshield. That’s not something I’m used to dealing with in SF.

It wasn’t until we’d moved to Oakland that I began to appreciate Noe Valley. I liked that it didn’t have the noisy nightlife of the Castro or the tourist-crush of the Haight. It wasn’t as cool as the Mission or as cheap as the Richmond, but it had all the benefits of city living: real transit, not just commuter lines; corner markets that were open late; and people out on the sidewalks. Oakland had felt so spread out, but from Noe, we could walk to the Castro, the Mission, Bernal Heights or Glen Park.

Still, I didn’t really accept that I liked living in Noe Valley until we started looking to buy a place and soon realized that we might not be able to afford to stay here. After going to open houses in other areas of the City, I began to appreciate little things about Noe: like how our corner market sells organic milk, local cheese and Green Forest paper products (along with more typical corner market fare like malt liquor and Playboy). I liked the neighborhood feel I’d seen here and I remembered how when an ambulance came for our upstairs neighbor a year ago, people came over from the coffee shop and the restaurant across the street to see if she was OK (she was). And as crummy as the J Church MUNI line is, I like knowing I can easily get home on BART when MUNI grinds to a halt. And I love that we get the chance to take the old F Line cars at times. It feels like a special treat of living in this part of town.

Of course just as I’ve finally begun to come to terms with being a Noe Valley resident, some say that our new home isn’t really in Noe Valley. Some say we’ve bought in “Baja Noe,” while others say it’s “La Lengua,” a name coined by a local website for the tongue-shaped region between Noe, Bernal Heights and the Mission. Maybe Noe’s conservatism is rubbing off on me because when I hear this I just shrug and think, it’ll always be Noe to me.

Hidden Lanes of Glen Park

January 23, 2012

Glen Park is one of those San Francisco neighborhoods that can trip up even native San Franciscans. It’s a sweet little neighborhood on the southeast side of the City, but it often feels isolated from the rest of the city. It’s tucked down beneath the ugly condos in Diamond Heights. Highway 280 cuts it off from the eastern part of the city and it backs into Glen Park canyon, a neat little wild space.

But it’s easy to connect to Glen Park from Noe Valley. If you keep walking south, you’ll likely soon find yourself in Glen Park village. (If you want directions, from 30th street turn left on to Chenery — and you’ll pass this wacky carnival-themed front yard on the way).

There’s plenty to do in Glen Park — have pizza at Gialina or walk through Glen Park canyon — but lately, my favorite part of Glen Park is its hidden lanes.

While many San Francisco neighborhoods are known for their stairways, Glen Park has charming little dirt roads that bisect certain blocks. Poppy Lane, for example, runs from Conrad Street to Diamond Street, and my favorite is Ohlone Way, which runs between Sussex and Surrey streets. The lanes are quiet and car-free, but the best part about them is that they feel like secret shortcuts.

Even if you know these hidden lanes are nearby, it can be hard to find them. It’s easy to get off-track in the winding streets of Glen Park. But if you are heading to Ohlone Way, one tell-tale sign is ornately painted red-and-black house that is across the street from the Sussex entrance.

It’s Christmas Time in the City

December 19, 2010

Everyone has their own Christmas rituals. Some people go see The Nutcracker, some go ice skating and others head to  the mall. But living in San Francisco provides some unique, only-in-SF ways to mark the Christmas Season. Here are some of the things that I like to do in SF in December:

Christmas in the Castro – Our first Christmas in the Castro is still seared into my memory: a local sex-toy shop on Castro Street displayed a Christmas tree decorated with garlands of anal beads in their front window. Another house in the neighborhood put up phallic Christmas lights. Now we make a point of going to the Castro to in the hopes of finding unusual decor or gifts on display. This year’s find: Phantom is selling vibrating butt cheeks, shown below.

Holiday Tunes & Shows – Going to a movie at the Castro Theatre and hearing the organ player play ‘San Francisco (Open Your Golden Gate)’ is one of my favorite things to do in SF anytime of the year, but as I discovered this year, the organ player mixes in some holiday tunes during December.

During the holidays, the Castro Theatre has sing-a-longs (this year, it was The Sound of Music) and holiday shows like the popular SF Gay Men’s Chorus Home for the Holidays, but for those who are tired of all those ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ this time of year, there’s Noir City Xmas: a double feature of holiday themed film noir.

Most Decked Out Home – If anal beads, vibrating butt cheeks and dark murder mysteries don’t bring you Christmas cheer, take a hike: head up extra-steep 21st street between Church and Sanchez to what has to be one of the most decorated homes in SF. It takes a crane to set up this display.

Festive City Hall — While you’re up there, check out City Hall’s festive red-and-green lit dome. If you don’t want to hike up 22nd, you can all see City Hal from the top of Dolores Park.

Holiday ice cream –  SF is an ice cream town and it just isn’t the holidays without BiRite Creamery’s candy cane ice cream. This year Humphry Slocombe also got into the season with their Hot Toddy Sundae: bourbon ice cream drizzled with honey-thyme sauce and topped with candied lemon rind. It is seriously alcoholic.

Rave: The Presidio & Presidio Habitats

September 7, 2010

I always bought into the idea that the Presidio was great — after all, it’s the largest urban National Park in the country — but in practice, I’ve often avoided it. It’s the one area of San Francisco where I’ve routinely gotten lost. I’d start out running on a forested trail and end up practically on the highway, or at an apartment complex. Or I’d drive into the Presidio thinking I was heading for the Marina and end up in Sea Cliff instead.

Even when I was lost in the Presidio, I’d often stumble across interesting  or something that I didn’t know existed before, like the World War II Memorial with its gorgeous view of the Pacific, but I’d rarely be able to find any of these places again on repeat visits.

As it turns out, I needed a walking tour of the Presidio — and that’s just what Presidio Habitats provides, assuming, of course, that you can find it. (It took us two tries).

Presidio Habitats is an art exhibit in the Presidio consisting of 11 outdoor installations, each focused on an animal native to the Presidio, such as robins, hares, Great Blue herons, owls, hummingbirds, Gray foxes, and even bees. (The Easter-egg like screech owl habitat is shown below.)

We started out at the Exhibition Pavilion where we checked out the 25 proposed exhibits. (You could opt to just pick up a map here and get started, but I thought it was worthwhile — and entertaining — to see some of what wasn’t chosen to be part of the exhibit). If you go through the submissions, though, take note of those that were selected (they’re marked with a red dot), otherwise, you may find yourself looking for something, like the excellent proposed golf course/Great Horned owl habitat, that isn’t there.

I loved many of the installations, especially the phrases made of nesting material for robins (shown below), but most of all, I loved that I finally got a true sense of how much there is to see in the Presidio. The exhibit took us to the new Rob Hill campground (can’t WAIT to camp here!), into a community garden, alongside tennis courts, down residential streets, under the Doyle Drive approach to the Bridge, within view of the San Francisco National Cemetery, and even past Presidio Wine Bunkers (I’d never heard of this before but this is a genius reuse idea: turn old military bunkers into wine storage. Only in SF).

We were lucky enough to be there on a (rare) sunny day so we also got views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the downtown skyline, Alcatraz, the East Bay hills, and the Pacific Ocean along the way.

By wandering through the Presidio, I also realized that I’m not the only one who gets lost there. We were stopped repeatedly by visitors looking for directions. (Note to SF, directions to popular destinations like say, the Golden Gate, would be very useful for locals and tourists alike).

Presidio Habitats is up until May 2011 (it’s designed to be up for a year so you can see it in different seasons.)

Heart of H.P.

May 24, 2010

I wrote about Hunters Point too soon, it seems, because yesterday, I found myself at Third and Newcomb, the corner Mr. 4-Tay says is “right in the heart of H.P.”

I didn’t plan to go to Third and Newcomb — ever. I’d planned to go to Sunday Streets, a monthly SF program where the city closes down a street to car traffic and opens it up instead to bicyclists, walkers, runners, roller skaters/bladers, etc.

I’ve wanted to get back on my bike, but riding in the City intimidates me. I figured Sunday Streets was a way to do some City riding without worrying about getting hit by a car or a bus. Plus this month’s Sunday Streets was a change to explore an area of SF that was still fairly new to me: Third Street.

Of course, I knew that Third Street crossed Newcomb at some point, but I thought you’d have to go really far down Third Street to get anywhere close to the infamous intersection from “Playaz Club”.  But it turns out that Newcomb is not very far down Third Street at all. In fact, it’s just a few blocks from Jerrold, where I’d gone to Flora Grubb Gardens, and it’s a surprisingly short distance from Dogpatch. It turns out I’d been within blocks of my most feared SF intersection many times before.

I stopped at the intersection to take a few pictures, to document my visit to Rappin’ 4-Tay’s SF. “This is a big moment for me,” I told Mr. WholeHog. I couldn’t see his face but I was sure he was rolling his eyes.

This corner of Third and Newcomb looked a little more “Playaz Club”:

But the corner where I’d stopped at to take pictures (shown below) looked like pretty normal. The only reminder that you’re not in Noe Valley anymore is the blue sign on the light post warning you that all activities are monitored by surveillance video.

Feeling cocky after facing what I had long considered to be the worst place in S.F. without incident, we veered off Third and headed down Evans in search of a park we’d seen on our way to Building REsources.

Evans is a wide boulevard with bike lanes that is initially flanked by office parks, but as we biked towards the bay, the office buildings disappeared and it became clear that Evans was taking us straight into the Hunters Point housing projects.

It was one thing to roll by Third and Newcomb on a day with a prominent police presence (there were cops at nearly every intersection on Third Street, helping direct traffic or, in the case of one officer I passed, enjoying a McDonald’s hot fudge sundae), but it was quite another to tour some of SF’s more notorious housing projects on our own.

So we turned around at India Basin Shoreline Park and headed back to Third Street, back to all the other bikers, runners and roller bladers, back to the police and their fast food sundaes, and back to the woman I saw walking along Third street wearing a shirt that said “Don’t Ask Me 4 SHIT”.

A Different Part of Town, A Different Kind of Freak

May 19, 2010

Unlike some people in the small, rural town where I grew up, I didn’t think of San Francisco as a scary, dangerous place. But my exposure to SF was primarily from visiting my mom’s family, usually staying with my grandparents’ at their house on 10th Avenue.

So when I first heard Rappin 4-Tay’s single, “Playaz Club” in college, I was surprised at how SF was portrayed. It seemed almost comical to me to hear terms I associated with Southern California’s gang culture — gats and glocks, hoes and homies — with references to San Francisco, like Army Street and the ‘Fillmoe’.

Fillmoe, H.P., and Sunnydale
There’s a playaz club everywhere you dwell
Lakeview, P.H., and Army Street
A different part of town, a different kind of freak

While most rap in the 90s mentioned places like Compton or Watts, “Playaz Club” also gave shout outs to places like Bakersfield and Sacramento — areas that I didn’t even think were urban. I thought they were farm towns.

Even though I hadn’t seen the “Playaz Club” side of San Francisco myself, when I moved to the City after college, I considered the song a handy guide to areas I should avoid: Fillmoe (Fillmore), H.P. (Hunters Point), and P.H. (Potrero Hill). I took note of the one specific intersection mentioned toward the end of the song: “Third and Newcomb right in the heart of H.P.”

You can learn a whole lot from a playa

The song had a lasting effect on me. Even after 10 years in SF, I still bypass many of the places mentioned in “Playaz Club”. Of course, I realized that there are good and not-so-good areas of Potrero Hill and Fillmore, but I assumed everyone avoided Hunters Point.

At least that’s what I thought up until last summer when I went to hear the founders of Quesada Gardens speak. At the talk, the speakers asked for a show of hands: how many people had been to Hunters Point? To my astonishment, most of the hands in the room went up. I know it sounds hopelessly naive, but from “Playaz Club”, I didn’t think you could actually go to “to the heart of H.P.” and live to tell about it.

A lot of people get a misconception
Start driftin in the wrong direction

It’s only in these last few years that I’ve gone anywhere remotely close to Hunters Point. (Although I know so little about this area that I’m not sure exactly where Bayview ends and Hunters Point begins.)

I first went to Dogpatch, a tiny neighborhood mixed into the mostly abandoned industrial buildings along the Bay and within view of the Potrero Hill housing projects up on the hill. Then I went a little deeper down Third Street to (the very not-ghetto) Flora Grubb Gardens and to Building REsources, where I saw took the picture above. (If you click on the picture, you can actually read the graffiti at the top of the building, which says, in a very “Playaz Club” kind of way, Friskoes’ Nuts).

This side of town offers an undoubtedly different view of SF than you get from the Painted Ladies, but from what I’ve seen so far, it also doesn’t look straight out of ‘Boyz N the Hood’ or a rap video.

Man on the corner of Third and Newcomb right in the heart of H.P.!

Mr. WholeHog recently told me that on his way to pick up mulch for our little garden, he went by the infamous intersection of Third and Newcomb. “It’s not the heart of H.P.”, he told me, knowing immediately that my mind would automatically refer back to “Playaz Club”. He said it was pretty non-descript.

It’s possible, of course. For all I know, Third and Newcomb is now considered Bayview, not Hunters Point, and a lot has changed in the 15 years since “Playaz Club” was released. But despite Mr. WholeHog’s eye-witness account, there’s a part of me that still trusts Mr. 4-Tay.

Stick to the script don’t slip in the nine-fo

Escape in the Fog

January 27, 2010

This week brought me full circle. The Noir City film festival returns to the Castro Theater this week and with it comes the reminder that this time last year, we lived in Oakland.

Last year’s Noir City was a reality check. In moving to Oakland, I hadn’t anticipated that we’d have to give up much of what we loved in SF, but Noir City proved that the East Bay was farther than it appeared. There wasn’t enough time to go home between work and the film festival, so we’d leave the house at 8am to get to work and often we weren’t back home from the film festival until 10pm. We weren’t even getting the full festival experience since we didn’t stay for the nightly double features. Instead, we left early to start the journey home, taking MUNI to BART, and BART across the bay.

As rewarding as it is to be back in SF for Noir City this year, being back in the Castro reminds me why we decided to move to the East Bay in the first place. The Castro didn’t offer the life we wanted. It was a noisy place to live. It was noisy at night when our neighbors brought the party home with them after the bars closed, and it was noisy in the morning from the four people and two dogs running around in the flat above ours.

I’d lost faith that SF had quiet apartment buildings or considerate tenants. Mr. WholeHog’s Duboce Park apartment had been noisy, too, and so had my old building on 14th street. So we went to the East Bay, where we could rent a house and wouldn’t have to share any walls.

But now I know that we should have just moved to Noe Valley.

Noe isn’t known for nightlife and so far, no late night parties have kept us up. Just one woman lives in the flat above ours and she’s quiet and respectful. When she thought she’d been too loud early one morning, she brought us a bottle of champagne to apologize.

I feel surrounded by people who have made SF their home. Our landlord moved into the house in 1976, the year I was born. Our upstairs neighbor has been in her apartment since 1989. They know everyone on the block and every house, too. They’ve watched the green house across the street turned into flats. They remember when Incanto used to be a German restaurant. They know that our street is wider because there used to be a firehouse on our block, where now there’s a flat-front apartment building.

From Noe Valley, it’s a quick ride to the Castro on the 24 Divisadero bus. This year, we have dinner at home before heading to Noir City. We stay for the double features and often walk home afterwards. The walk takes me back through some of my favorite parts of our old SF neighborhood, down Liberty Street and up the Liberty Street stairs, up Sanchez where we watched the Fourth of July fireworks one year and then down into the quiet of Noe Valley.

Outer Ice Cream Triangle

October 19, 2009

Officially, our new SF neighborhood is Noe Valley, or maybe even Outer Noe Valley. But a more accurate name for our new neighborhood might be Outer Ice Cream Triangle (shown below).

We are just a block or two off the hypotenuse that stretches from BiRite Creamery to Mitchell’s and it’s almost too easy to slip down to Humphry Slocombe.

Since we moved to Outer Ice Cream Triangle, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting each establishment and indulging in some truly memorable cones:

  • Mexican Chocolate (Mitchell’s)
  • Brown Sugar Yogurt (Humphry)
  • Apple Pie (BiRite)
  • Brown Sugar Ice cream with ginger-caramel swirl (Birite)
  • Pumpkin Five-Spice (Humphry)
  • Rosemary’s Baby (rosemary, pine nut and sea salt – at Humphry, of course)

(Now I know that list looks like complete gluttony, but a single does come with two flavors at BiRite and Humphry.)

If you are headed to Humphry Slocombe (you should be on your way already — did I mention that the lines are far shorter than BiRite’s or Mitchell’s?), other WholeHog-approved flavors include: Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes), Salt and Pepper, Salted Licorice, Rootbeer, Ancho Chocolate, and Peanut Butter Curry.