Hiking In Bernal Heights, San Francisco

Bernal Heights, San Francisco

I kicked off May 2016 by doing something a little different: I went on a group hike with Hike It Up SF. If you’ve followed my blog for the last couple of years, you know I’ve hiked about half of the city by now. But I’d never been to Bernal Heights, and I’d always do my adventuring alone. These folks organize awesome urban hikes at the end of every month, and I had just stumbled across their listing on SF Funcheap the night before. I’m not much of a people person, but I was determined to see a new area and meet others who shared at least one interest. Besides, the weather was gorgeous; I wasn’t going to spend such a wonderful spring weekend stuck in the house.

Judging by that photo, I’d say the decision paid off.

Did you know that there’s a canyon in San Francisco? I certainly didn’t. Especially one so close to a BART station. It’s located within the vicinity of Sutro Tower (AKA That Big Pointy Antennae looming over the city’s southern skyline) and hidden behind the hills. The climb itself was nothing crazy – I visited Mount Diablo multiple times as a kid – but I managed to get a little scraped up while taking one of the higher, rocky trails. I brought along my hiking stick just in case (man, was that a conversation-starter on BART!), but I never needed it. The pace wasn’t grueling, though I often let myself fall behind the pack (there were about 30 of us, a relatively small group by some accounts) in order to take more photos. Surprisingly, there were only two or three others that brought DSLRs. The trail was pretty busy even without us; I saw several joggers, a rock climber, and in one memorable instance, a man pushing a large stroller down a hill.

The hike was fraught with twists and turns. At a couple of points, we had to turn around and take another path. We climbed hills, stumbled across abandoned homeless camps, took in the scenery, and eventually emerged at the end of a cul-de-sac in some forgotten nook in the city. While I attempted to keep track of our exact route, I eventually gave up and just followed the group’s lead. I occasionally snapped photos of the street signs to give myself a visual record, but I’m still piecing it together. I do know that we climbed/descended at least three hills after leaving the canyon. We passed Saint Paul’s Catholic Church, the slide near the Esmeralda Stairs, gorgeous houses, and several kids eating ice cream.

Just as exhaustion was starting to pull me under, we reached the hike’s culmination: the peak of Bernal Heights Park. San Francisco spread out before us like a ludicrously detailed miniature. Before this, the highest point I’d visited was Coit Tower. But this was different. I could see Japantown, the Bay Bridge, just a glimmer of the Golden Gate on the distant horizon…All of these places I’d walked and seen before dozens of times, but on a scale unlike any seen. And all because I decided to take a chance and do something a little different with my routine. You’ll see the photo of it soon; I took a lot of shots while I was up there, and I’m still sorting through the best of them.

The trip back down was relatively easy. Much like the neighborhood surrounding Coit Tower, there were narrow stairways built into the hillside. Go down a flight of steps, land on someone’s doorstep, go down more stairs, rinse and repeat until the street reappears. The hike ended at the Wild Side West, where we could finally sit and relax in the shade of the beer garden downstairs. I was apprehensive at first; I don’t drink or party, and crowded places feel claustrophobic to me. I was the only one not drinking or speaking; what could I add to this mix of far more interesting people?

After a view quiet, awkward moments, I sat down at one of the big stone tables, sipped my tea, and just rolled with it. I showed off my photos and talked about some of my more bizarre adventures in the city. I met a young Bulgarian woman currently working in the Bay Area for the next couple of months, a mother with an unbridled passion for the Golden States Warriors, and a published entomologist who may be naming his own spider species in the near future. When it was time to go, the latter offered to split a Lyft back to Glen Park BART. Then we discovered that we were a mere 15 minute walk away from the station, so we decided to seize the spirit of the day and finish things off with a little mini hike along the highway. We parted ways at a burrito shop nearby, and I made the long commute back home. I managed to get home just in time to heat up some leftovers, and collapse into bed.

Not bad way to start the month.

A larger version of this photo is viewable here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Renaissance Barcelona Rooftop Terrace

Renaissance Barcelona Terrace

This week’s photo challenge is all about state of mind, so I thought I’d skip way ahead in my travel writing and give you a glimpse of my time in Spain. The Renaissance Barcelona Hotel has a stylish lookout point built into its 8th floor. It’s nice, quiet, and comfortable. If you’ve been walking around the city all day, this is the place to go; you can bring your dinner upstairs, relax on the beds, listen to the chill music (they were playing a remix of Diana Ross’s “Love Hangover” at the time), and get a decent view of downtown. That’s assuming, of course, that you’re a hotel guest; you need a room keycard to access the elevator. A larger version is viewable here.

View From Castle Hill, Nice

View From Castle Hill, Nice

After spending all day walking around Nice, I realized that it was time to start heading back to the bus and Villefranche. On my way out along the coastline, I came across the Ascenseur du Chateau, AKA Castle Hill. I looked at those stairs with a little trepidation; could I climb this gorgeous landmark and still have enough time to make it back to the meetup? Turns out I did, and the effort definitely paid off…A larger version is available here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Waterfront Reflections

Waterfront Reflections

Here’s one of the last shots I took during the 2015 500px/Fujifilm Global Photo Walk in San Francisco. Part of the city’s waterfront has a nice, quiet section decorated with benches and hanging flowers, but few tourists notice it. This was taken on Pier 7, and you can see the top of the illuminated Ferry Building on the left. Larger version is viewable here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Pier 7, After Sunset

Pier 7 After Sunset

In San Francisco, the 2015 Fujifilm Global Photo Walk ended at the iconic Pier 7. However, the group that I was with decided to take things slow; we enjoyed the sights and even had dinner at the Ferry Building. While we didn’t stay with the main crowd, we enjoyed something most of them did not stay for: the view of the gorgeous post-sunset sky from the pier. For reference, you can see the Transamerica Pyramid on the left, and Coit Tower on the right. My group was the first to arrive at the photo walk, and the very last to leave! Thanks for the great time, folks! Larger version is viewable here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Divisadero At Dusk

Divisadero At Dusk

This week’s challenge is all about stuff being enveloped, and I remembered a particularly spectacular February evening in San Francisco. This was taken at the very end of Divisadero Street, by the marina. Not only was the sunset amazing, but the clouds coming in seemed to swallow the city whole. Large version available here.

Municipal Pier Panorama

Municipal Pier Panorama

Fun fact: I’d never been on San Francisco’s Municipal Pier until about a month ago. Lots of fishermen, bikers, and gulls. A shame that large portions of it are fenced off due to disrepair. Great view from the opposite end of Aquatic Park, though. You can see the Balclutha, the Transamerica Pyramid, and even Coit Tower in the distance.