"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ten AWESOME hikes in the southeastern part of San Francisco

McLaren Park's southside

The following hikes are within city limits, so you could combine several in one day, or fan them out through the long weekend. This is a partial list, and as a local who lives in Visitacion Valley, I lean towards introducing hikes within the southeastern quadrant of this city. Here there's sunshine more often than nought, less people and dogs on the trails, stunning views, and perhaps most exciting, native species that have not been eradicated, like in the more groomed parts of the city.

On Bayview Hill
1. Bayview Hill -- It's springtime now and the hill is covered with long green grass and patches of wildflowers, and hawks soar overhead. Enter on Key Avenue, walk uphill on the fire road to a one-mile loop at the top. You won't be disappointed. Look for lupine flowers (don't pick them!) and the Islais cherry, a food source for the Ohlone people, and one of the last stands of this endemic plant remaining in San Francisco. You could combine this hike with Candlestick Point, the Visitacion Valley Greenway (stopping on Leland Avenue for refreshments), and/or McLaren Park.

Trail off Ervine; McLaren Park

2. McLaren Park's southern slope -- There are two humble entrances that I recommend; the first is at the intersection of Wilde and Ervine where a concrete path meanders up to an old, defunct observation tower at the first peak; the second is a narrow dirt trail at the end of Ervine where coyotes wander and the hill slopes precariously, and excitingly, to either side of the path. The views are amazing, and perhaps one of the best times to visit is at sunset, or even when the moon is rising over Bayview Hill to the east. You and your friends will be amazed at the tranquility of the scene, and fall in love with San Francisco all over again. You could combine this hike with finding McLaren Park's labyrinth and/or the Visitacion Valley Greenway. 

Visitacion Valley Greenway
3. Visitacion Valley Greenway -- Most city locals still haven't heard about these parks, but they are perhaps the most beautiful in the city. Start at Hans Schiller Plaza on Leland Avenue, and walk uphill, passing through the Greenway's many connected parks that were once barely used, overgrown DPW land. Now there is a community garden, an herb garden, a children's garden, a native plant garden, and more. You could easily combine this hike with McLaren Park's southern slope and/or Bayview Hill. 

Candlestick Point
4. Candlestick Point -- Come here and imagine what it was like a hundred years ago when oysters were still good to eat from these waters. You'll find birds, and sometimes seals, and the quiet beaches are good for relaxation and introspection. You could combine this hike with India Basin, Bayview Hill, Heron's Head, and/or McLaren Park. 

Marshland along Heron's Head
5. Heron's Head Park -- This long stretch of land licks out onto the bay where seals bark and seabirds soar, and you are so close to the big ships you can see people on their decks. Heron's Head is an amazing place that shows what humans can do to recover blighted land and restore the orginal marshland, or a near equivalent. Check out the off-the-grid headquarters near the bathrooms at the start. Also, across the street from the parking lot is a native plant nursery that should be on every plant-lover's map. You should and could combine this hike with a walk to India Basin, which is visible across a short bay, and accesible by a dirt trail along the perimeter.

Pickleweed at India Basin
6. India Basin -- One of the last remaining vestiges of San Francisco marshland, and hallelujah, it is coming back. The powers that be are creating the Blue Greenway, which is essentially going to be a walking and bicycling area on the southeastern edge of San Francisco. Ultimately this will mean more people, but also more awareness for the natural beauty of the marshland, the birds that use it, and the ability to clean (t a limited extent) polluted waters that are our Bay. India Basin is a great place to wander around and identify pickleweed, for example, which is an edible plant normally (but don't eat it growing along the SF Bay, please). You can easily walk from here to Heron's Head. 

"Secret" trail up Bernal Hill
7. Bernal Hill -- The doggie folks have adopted this as their hill, but there is still room for wildlife. My 70-year-old mother hiked there the other day and saw a five foot snake with its head down a gopher hole. And on last year's winter solstice I sat at the peak where a klezmer band played to an audience of three as thick tongues of fog rolled across the city on either side of us.

8. Crocker Amazon -- Technically this is a separate park from McLaren, but you could fool me. If you go to the end of Dublin Street, or off of Moscow in the Excelsior, you can bypass the athletic fields and find the gem of a community garden, but further in is the absolutely beautiful park. There are trails lacing the hillsides, and walking right into McLaren Park is probably inevitable and highly recommended. It would be silly to not combine this hike with adventuring throughout McLaren Park, and if you are ambitious you could wind your way through the Visitacion Valley Greenway and end up on Leland Avenue for refreshments.

Labyrinth of McLaren
9. The labyrinth of McLaren Park --  The labyrinth is made of stone and love, and sits upon perhaps the highest part of the park. If you want to find it, you will. No more directions needed. Blessed be. 

Trail off of Arkansas Street
10. Potero Hill -- It is with hesitation that Potrero Hill is included as a hike, as it's not so wild, but I did grow up in this neighborhood and my heart remains on these streets that the 48 Quintara drives across, on the nearly hidden staircases, and on the two parks that have always been a refuge in my teenage years: Snake Park (officially McKinley Square), which runs along the curviest part of Vermont Street; and the unpaved parts of the Potrero Hill Recreation Center, off of Arkansas Street (which has just had a gentrified facelift that will thrill all lovers of playgrounds). But the best little area to hike on this hill is the wildish open space along Carolina and 23rd Street. Right now the grass is green with spring, but come Indian summer there still might be kids with pieces of cardboard who slide down the steepest part of the hill.  

On top of Corona Heights
 11. Corona Heights -- This is technically not in the southeastern quadrant, so we will consider this the odd man out, but not to be ignored in a list of great hiking spots with San Francisco. Like giant teeth poking out of the top of the hill, Corona Heights is a great destination with its 360-degree view that makes you feel like you are in the center of the city. This would be a great place to bring a date at night (a date who likes to walk, drink out of bag, and breath fresh air instead of perfume), where you could canoodle and notice how much the lights of city look like stars. Or come here in the day with a kid and throw down a blanket to have a picnic and cloud gaze. You could shake a stick at the Randall Museum, on its lower flanks, one of the best museums in this city, replete with native animals, and free to boot.

Lupine flowers in McLaren Park, found on the trail off of Ervine on the southern slope.