Type: Municipal Hilltop Park, SNRA area, 39 acres.
Entrance Location: There are two main entrances and numerous other informal entrance points via small trails. The best access point, because it is closest to the peak, is the main entrance at the top of Bernal Heights Blvd, which climbs the hill. There is a small parking lot at the top. Suggested accesses to Bernal Heights Blvd are from Folsom or Anderson.
Fee-Hours: No fee. No curfew noted.
Dogs: Very popular for dog walking. Little to no poison oak. Off-leash potential seems limited. High grasses with lots of foxtailing. Narrow, gravelly paths. Plenty of people and other dogs. Dogs will probably enjoy going after gophers here.
Bernal Heights is a wide open mini-mountain standing alone in the south-eastern part of the city. Despite its large size as a hilltop park (slightly smaller than Mt Davidson), it is one of the more recent areas to receive serious attention as a Significant Natural Resource Area and a park. For most of its San Francisco lifespan it has stood as an isolated, undeveloped hill with a microwave antennae facility at the top amidst a very small cluster of sheltering trees. The facility still operates, but today the hill has been developed with trails, better access, and much more attention as a park from tourists and residents alike. The main draw is the incredible city views from the estimated 500' peak. Since the hill is in a unique location, the view is also unique and it is very interesting. Van Ness can be seen cutting like a knife all the way to Geary. There is also the General Hospital complex, McKinley Square Park, a very nice view of the Bay Bridge, the inner bay waterfront, and this very dense residential part of the city which otherwise tends to rest as a non-descript blob in consciousness. This is actually a very diverse and interesting collection of neighborhoods. It is also an area which is under high gentrification pressure.
The park proudly highlights itself with an aggregate of rock formations near the peak (the table rocks) which are so ideally set that they are chosen as one of 15 selected highlight spots of San Francisco. Bernal Heights is perhaps the barest of all San Francisco hills, followed by Corona Heights and Twin Peaks. It is covered almost exclusively with annual grasses and is quite seasonal. It is also typically quite windy, although the table rocks are given some protection by the peak itself. It is more often sunny here than than more western parks because Mt. Sutro often acts as a partial fog barrier. Bernal Heights Blvd runs straight to the top where there is a small parking lot and this is clearly the superior way to access the hill and the peak. Trails weave around the hill in a uniform open grassland environment with virtually no rock formations except at the peak. A slightly quarried area at the peak shows very strong examples of sedimentary banding in the rock.
From a natural resource point of view this park has a lot of potential. The vast areas of grassland slope could cultivate great fields of wildflowers, which if properly chosen could create habitat for various butterflies which are currently endangered. Some things currently thriving on the hill are California poppies, Mexican sage, and yellow violets. At the time of this survey (May 1999) there was one animal which was making an astounding showing -- bumble bees. Normally solitary, bumble bees were so numerous as to appear social. One effect of this was to make the grasses unpleasant to sit in. This is another benefit of the table rocks. It allows a place to sit above the bumble bees.
From the point of view of recreational use, there is little here in the way of facilities. There are no picnic tables known. Dog walking is very popular here although off-leash potential seems limited. Attempting to use the moderately steep trails with mountain bikes is also common, but the trails do not really lend themselves to that. The strong point of the park is really as a sensational viewpoint with less crowds than Twin Peaks, kite flying perhaps, and not much else. Even hiking around the hillsides is rather disappointing as there is little in the way of seclusion or discovery. Accepting the modest tourist presence and finding the best spot for one's own is perhaps the best option. The table rocks are a superb picnic opportunity as they kind of serve as their own tables.
Best Features: One of the finest city panoramas. Easy access, safe area and no trouble parking. Full sun when other places west may be fogged in. Gravelly area does not suffer from mud after rains. People are friendly.
Worst Features: Easily too windy and/or cold. Must share the top with an antennae facility. Some tourist popularity. Seclusion difficult to impossible. The trails are not very interesting for hiking.
For more information, the Bernal Hill Realty website is useful: