At 938 feet, Mt. Davidson is the highest point in San Francisco. Its most noticeable feature, aside from its height, is the 103-foot concrete cross at its peak. Seen from above, there is a clear division between the mountain’s eucalyptus forest on the west and coastal scrub and grassland on the east. Mt. Davidson has significant natural and recreational resources. The diversity of vegetation provides habitat for a wide range of migratory and resident birds, including 18 locally sensitive species. Myriad trails traverse the western slopes, where the densely overgrown vegetation and fog drip give a hiker the feeling of being in a rainforest.
Coastal Scrub and Grassland
Mt. Davidson’s northeast slope contains coastal scrub and grassland plant communities that are home to two uncommon plant species, California huckleberry and Pacific reed grass. Coastal scrub provides important structure and cover for bird nests, and the plants are an incredible food source for birds. Coyote brush alone provides habitat for more than 250 species of insects, which in turn are a critical food source for birds and other animals, such as California alligator lizards and western fence lizards. The thorny strands of California blackberry often wind their way around the coyote brush, bearing fruit for birds, raccoons, and humans throughout the summer. Bee plant is aptly named, as it attracts not only bumblebees and honeybees, but more than 20 species of non-stinging solitary bees.
During summer and early fall the grassland is parched and golden brown, and native grasses drop their seeds and await the winter rains. By February the grassy slopes transform to a verdant green. In spring a variety of native wildflowers, including California poppy, blue-eyed grass, hog fennel, checkerbloom, and mule’s ears, add color to the mountain.
Mt. Davidson’s forest accounts for more than 30 of the park’s acres, and is mostly blue gum eucalyptus. These trees were planted around San Francisco beginning in the 19th century and have significant value for both wildlife and people, even though they are an invasive species. Owls and hawks rely on them for nesting and hunting, and human residents appreciate the respite that the urban forest offers.
Mt. Davidson was originally named Blue Mountain for the lupine, Douglas iris, and California lilac that painted its hillsides in the spring. In 1911, at the urging of the Sierra Club, the mountain was renamed after George Davidson, the geographer who surveyed it. The fight to save this peak from urban development was won when Maddie Brown, president of the Commodore Sloat Elementary School PTA, arranged for students to flood a city Board of Supervisors hearing with wildflowers gathered from the hill.
The forest on Mt. Davidson can be traced back to Adolph Sutro, who at one time owned one-twelfth of the acreage of San Francisco, all the way from Parnassus Avenue to Ocean Avenue, and from Stanyan Street to Junipero Serra Boulevard. This included what is now Sutro Heights Park and the ruins of the Sutro Baths, as well as Mt. Sutro. In the 1880s, Sutro recruited schoolchildren to plant saplings of fast-growing trees on his property, including Mt. Davidson. Sutro’s planting spree was spurred by the city’s adoption of rules granting tax-free status to forested lands within city limits. Although Sutro planted a diversity of tree species, it is mainly the blue gum eucalyptus that has survived and spread.
The concrete cross atop Mt. Davidson, erected in 1934, was one of a series of five crosses built during the Depression using donations. In 1997, San Francisco voters approved the monument’s sale to the Council of Armenian-American Organizations of Northern California.