Bernal Heights

Summary: Bernal Heights is a family neighborhood featuring good parks, a smattering of restaurants and good views of the city.

Bernal Heights is where hipsters and lesbians go when they tire of Mission craziness and want to settle down. Dubbed “Maternity Hill,” Bernal Heights has a mix of historic Victorians (the neighborhood was spared during the 1906 earthquake when the hill was mostly known for its dairy farms) with a sprinkling of newer homes and boxy modernist two story apartments. A smattering of restaurants cater mostly to locals, with few attractions to lure tourists or even SF denizens. This lack of outside interest gives Bernal its quiet, small town feel and is actually one of its most cherished qualities. This has also allowed Bernal Heights to remain relatively affordable and to avoid the pressures of gentrification.

Ensconced between two of SF’s highest crime districts, the Mission on the north and Hunter’s Point on the south, Bernal Heights has not completely managed to escape the problems that plague these areas. Gang violence and property crime are a problem along the major thoroughfares and though police have cracked down Bernal Heights is still a higher crime area than some of its similarly positioned neighbors. The area also has a relatively high murder rate given its size, with almost two murders per year on average.

Most of these problems are confined to the lower elevations, however. At the crest of Bernal you find great views of the Mission to the north and Noe Valley to the east, along with a number of leafy parks. Bernal Heights Park is a doggy heaven, where dogs frolic off-leash to their heart’s content, while Holly Park is for the little ones of the two legged variety, with an extensive renovated play area. The neighborhood has even cleaned up Precita Park making it not quite as intimidated for young moms during the day as it once was.

Several local events help create a sense of community in Bernal Heights. Bernal is home to SF’s oldest farmer’s market for example. Every Saturday, rain or shine, you will find the Market along Alemany [Q1]. Bernal Heights is also home to annual Illegal Soap Box Races, one of the few events that draws residents from outside the neigbhorhood to come race down its hills in makeshift racers. (The event is actually illegal, as it says, and authorities occasionally shut it down before it gets going.) The neighborhood also has official days when they put on an outdoor film festival, an annual street fair and a garage sale night. All of these add to making the neighborhood feel more like Mayberry than Pacific Heights.

Of course, no SF neighborhood would be complete without a clutch of notable restaurants, and Bernal Heights certainly does have these. You can have Italian at Caffe Cozzolino[Q2], for example, or Mexican-Salvadoran at El Zoccalo[Q3]. The most famous restaurant in the area is Emmy’s, which typifies the Bernal Heights eatery, laid back, casual dress, with big portions and virtually no pretension. You are, of course, still in the Bay Area so you do get a few exceptions to this rule, and a couple of odd ball places worth checking out, such as Zante’s[Q4], an Indian joint that features pizza. Overall, however, places like Maggie Mudd’s[Q5] ice cream parlor prevail.

For now, Bernal Heights remains a quiet hillside enclave where people can live a progressive suburban life just moments from the heart of the city. It remains to be seen whether it will remain so.