Looking out on San Francisco from Bernal Hill (©Telstar Logistics)
As new high rises reshape many San Francisco streetscapes, the city’s Bernal Heights neighborhood retains a secluded, small-town vibe. Just south of the Mission District and bordered by highways 101 and 280, this community has quaint shops, urban parks with spectacular views and no end of things to do. From charming Cortland Avenue, the neighborhood’s retail heart, to the lush hilltops of Bernal Heights Park, here’s where to explore.
Ease into the day with a pour-over cup at Pinhole Coffee, a cool and cozy Cortland Avenue spot outfitted with reclaimed wood, playful artwork and pops of vibrant color. The coffee menu features local roasters and a rotating menu of guest purveyors, and area bakeries supply the sweet treats—including a few gluten-free options.
If you’re visiting on a Saturday, head to the Alemany Farmers’ Market on the neighborhood’s southern edge. Featuring regional fruit and veggie growers, bakers, cheese makers, chefs, flower sellers and other producers, this lively weekly gathering has been a community favorite for more than 60 years. Or, make your way to Bernal Heights Park to explore and shoot some photographs. Here, trails wind around Bernal Hill and offer impressive panoramas of Twin Peaks, San Francisco’s downtown skyline, the bay and beyond. From native grasses to Anna’s hummingbirds to California alligator lizards, the park also supports a rich natural habitat.
When it’s time for lunch, stroll back to Cortland Avenue and stop off at Avedano’s Holly Park Market. Pick up some pressed sandwiches—selections are packed with meat and melted cheese—and sit down for a picnic at nearby Holly Park. The dog-friendly spot has benches and tables, along with playground equipment for the kids.
After lunch, search for some out-of-the-ordinary San Francisco souvenirs while browsing the indie retail shops that line Cortland Avenue. Succulence stocks a diverse mix of plants, pots, terrariums and garden supplies, along with gift and garden books, vintage goods, bath items and unique artwork. Just down the block, artsy, airy Heartfelt bills itself as a modern version of the old-school general store. In addition to toys, gifts, cards and home accessories, the store sells whimsical California mementos such as cable car coffee mugs and illustrated children’s books that spotlight San Francisco. (If your luggage is already full, it’s not a problem. These two shops also have online stores, so you can check out the merchandise in person and order select pieces once you get home.)
Cross the street for Bernal Beast, where you’ll find treats and toys for four-legged friends, and then set aside some time to sample artisanal snacks at The Epicurean Trader. The chic store appeals to culinary enthusiasts with cured meats, cheeses and small-batch spirits, plus shelves lined with specialty items by the bag and by the jar. Purchase a gourmet chocolate bar, some coffee beans or a shaker of spice to tuck into your suitcase as a reminder of your San Francisco adventures.
After an afternoon of boutique hopping on Cortland Avenue, refuel with a happy hour drink at Holy Water. Known for creative cocktails and attentive service, this low-key lounge also pours a solid selection of craft beer. From there, head toward Precita Park and sit down for dinner at Hillside Supper Club.
The cozy bistro has become a neighborhood favorite thanks to a thoughtful wine list and upscale comfort food spun from sustainable ingredients. Start with the roasted beets or meatballs sprinkled with fresh herbs, and don’t forget to ask about any off-menu dinner specials. The culinary school friends who co-founded the eatery frequently create unexpected combos using fresh farmers’ market finds. If a nightcap is in order, end the evening with a house-brewed coffee porter (or, for something lighter, a lemon basil saison) at Old Bus Tavern.