Since San Francisco County is entirely a city, its parks are all it has left of this unique environment. San Francisco has numerous hilltop parks, and this kind of rugged geology on an ocean-estuarial peninsula is a novelty not only for a major city but generally for a California coastal ecosystem as well. It is called the Franciscan Biological Region. The result is a number of endangered species quarantined in parks, as well as about 30 parks which are the most recent spaces to be protected as significant natural resource areas. Community involvement has played a key role in this, and these kind of parks may have a personal steward who lives in the area. SNRAs, as they are called, tend to focus on restoring indigenous flora in favor of 'invasives.' It is ironic that some of the most picturesque and seemingly signatorial plants of San Francisco are invasives and considered a threat—among them iceplant, pampas grass, and of course, eucalyptus. SNRAs are often smaller, neighborhood parks which are easy to overlook in a search for the most spectacular areas because of their small size. Some of these parks are quite nice, however, and are worthy of serious attention. The most significant natural resource areas of all tend to be already protected under the pervue of long established parks and coastally via the Golden Gate National Recreational Association, but not all. Mount Sutro for example is a huge natural area which remains essentially mid-city wilderness under the grip of UCSF and the S.F. water utilities district with very little access to the public. Since the dominant plant here, eucalyptus, is an invasive, the significance of the mountain is certainly debatable, yet the forests here are also wonderful and it cannot be denied that a new, interesting ecosystem has been established here which goes beyond the pale standard of other eucalyptus groves and should be recognized. The most significant natural areas in the city are perhaps 1. the coastal cliff system between the Cliff House and Golden Gate Bridge, 2. the fort Funston coastal strand including Lake Merced, and 3. the Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks, Glen Canyon mountain system considered together. The most precious of all in my opinion is the cliff system in the Lands End area, if nothing else for its sheer rugged beauty combined with an interesting ecosystem. Secondary important areas are McLaren Park as part of the San Bruno range, Mount Davidson, parts of The Presidio, and spotty hilltop parks such as Grand View Heights, Bernal Heights, Corona Heights, Buena Vista Park, Golden Gate Heights, and Bay View Park.
In addition to these natural areas, S.F. is home to the grandest man-made park in the world, Golden Gate Park, which surpasses even Central Park in its scope. Other redeveloped areas include the Bay coastal landfill around Candlestick Park and Crissy Field. Restoration has also focussed on places like Bernal Heights and parts of the Presidio which have experienced relatively recent renewed attention as parks.
As list of presently (2000) stewarded SNRAs is as follows:
Mountain Lake Park
Billy Goat Hill
Oak Woodlands: (Golden Gate Park)
Buena Vista Park
Rolph Nicol Park
Stern Grove/Pine Lake
Some other (unstewarded)* parks considered SNRA are:
Hawk Hill (Sunset)
Miraloma Park (Mt. Davidson)
Grand View Park (Sunset)
Fairmont Park (Noe Valley)
Golden Gate Heights (Sunset)
Bayview Park (Hunters Point)
This text does not attempt to discuss every single park in San Francisco, nor does it discuss every park listed as an SNRA by the Recreation and Parks Department. It focuses on seeking the unique qualities in those San Francisco Parks which have character, and of revealing qualities as such which may be hiding in lesser known parks. Contributing greatly to character are natural habitat, quality of development, views, size, special uses, and specific location. Sometimes, however, a park is simply interesting due to a convergence of unpredictable factors.
* These parks are not stewarded at the time of this writing (2000) but changes in this regard are obviously very time sensitive. This distinction may no longer be valid at the time of reading.