April 2001

Type: Municipal Hilltop Park, SNRA Park.
Entrance Location: Two access points: Most recommended is street parking along Twin Peaks Blvd at about Crown. Second trail access from the east end of Belgrave off Stanyan St. This access involves driving up very steep hills (20% grade).
Facilities: None.
Fee-Hours: No fee. No curfew noted.
Dogs: Poor. Sensitive environment. No off-leash open space. Windy. Foxtails. Poison oak.

Tank Hill is a jewel in the SNRA pantheon. The view here is selected as the most beautiful panorama of San Francisco from any hilltop park in the city, which is quite a distinction considering the stiff competition. The park is so small that it does not even appear on some maps of San Francisco. It is located in the Buena Vista district near Twin Peaks Blvd & Seventeenth St, which places it very close to the eastern slopes of Mount Sutro. It is a small and open hilltop park with a superbly set accumulation of chert outcroppings at the peak. The formations can be easily 'nestled' into to take in the only hilltop vantage which gives a supreme view of both bridges at once as well as some of the nicest features of San Francisco including the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, the Buena Vista-Corona Heights park complex, downtown, and the immediate neighborhood. The surrounding neighborhood is very dense and has an abundance of character. There is a straight line view into backyards 300' below which is actually a wonderful kind of unintentional 'sharing' that adds to the positive community feeling and which begins the stage for a receding plane of detail stretching all the way to the Bay.
Tank Hill was established as a park in 1977 after spending much of its municipal life as a pedestal for local water supply from a huge tank which was owned variously by the Spring Valley Water Company and later by the city. The tank became erroneous when a larger, covered reservoir was built in a nearby spot that is now adjacent to the base of Sutro Tower. This tank, which stood since 1894, was removed in 1957 and the hill sold as surplus property in 1960. In 1977, the hill was wrestled away from private developers by the community, who convinced the city that it was a significant natural resource. The city purchased the land back for nearly three times what it sold it for 17 years earlier as part of its newly created Open Space Program. The price paid was $650,000 which by today's market would not buy one house in this area. At the time, developers were proposing 20 lots.

Tank Hill is indeed a significant fragment of natural environment. With a little help the hill to supports as many as 60 species of native plants and flowers in spite of the destructive presence of eucalyptus trees. The park is currently graced by the supervision of a superb steward, Greg Gaar, who shares an informative essay on the park1.  An ongoing battle against invasives is in full swing here, and the benefits are many wildflowers which would not be found easily in other places, including a once abundant yellow flower after which California was in fact named the 'Golden State,' and which once made the Golden Gate Channel indeed appear as a 'golden gateway.' That flower has been almost completely wiped out which is a generally unknown irony. Amongst the flora here are the larval foodplant for the Mission Blue and Callippe Silverspot butterflies, but whether the actual butterflies are establishing a foothold at this time is unknown.
Tank Hill is at 650' and tends to the windy side with some protection offered in general by the peak of Mount Sutro. It is especially nice as a viewpoint both day and night and is easy to access. It is seldom empty, but is generally visited by only a handful of people at a time. Eucalyptus trees stand around the original tank foundation, which remains as a massive concrete disk. There is little explorability to this small park which is mostly notable as a viewpoint. Looking for wildflowers down the steep hillsides is tempting but is destructive to this fragile environment. Tank Hill is one of 15 selected highlight spots of San Francisco.

Best Features:  Selected as the best view of San Francisco from within San Francisco. Full sun and partial wind protection from Mount Sutro. Excellent spots to sit and enjoy the view. Very safe neighborhood, recommended for nighttime visitation. Important biological region with 60 species of native plants.

Worst Features:  Limited space. Not much to explore here. Gets crowded feeling with only a few people.

For more on the ecosystem and history visit:
Park steward: Greg Gaar  415.752.5983


View from Tank Hill