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|Name||Hours||Phone||Address||City||State||Zip||Type||Park Sevice Area||District||ADA||Parking||Restrooms||Acreage||SqFt||Latitiude||Longitude||Description||Photo URL|
|15th Avenue Steps||5am to Midnight||(415) 831-6326||15th Ave & Kirkham||San Francisco||CA||94122||Natural Area, Park||PSA 4||District 8||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||0.26||37.7595649||-122.4722678||
Native oaks cling to the steep hillside alongside this stairway, providing habitat for both resident and migratory birds. Visitors to this small natural area enjoy dramatic views of St. Anne’s Church, the Inner Sunset, Golden Gate Park, and beyond.
|Balboa Natural Area||5am to Midnight||N.E. Balboa & Great Highway||San Francisco||CA||94121||Natural Area, Park||District 1||Limited Wheelchair Access||Yes||No||1.84||37.7759129||-122.5110395||
This park features excellent views of the Pacific Ocean and has an elevated boardwalk providing access to one of the few remaining foredunes in San Francisco. From this park you can connect to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area at Ocean Beach, across the Great Highway, and at Land’s End, a few blocks to the north. Playland at the Beach occupied this site from the 1920s until 1972. Prior to restoration the area was used for construction staging for the Richmond Transport Project. The boardwalk and dune construction began in 2002; sand from the De Young Museum construction site was used to create dune mounds. Foredune vegetation was planted by GGNRA and Natural Areas Program staff and volunteers in 2003, 2004, and 2005.
Until recently, most of western San Francisco was covered by a patchwork of windblown sand dunes, patches of flowering shrubs, and occasional oases of ponds edged by willow, wax myrtle, and oak. Some of these dunes were over 50 feet tall. The sand was originally deposited on the broad coastal plain of the Sacramento/San Joaquin River system, which extended from the Golden Gate to the Farallon Islands (some 20 miles away) during the last glacial period, when sea level was as much as 300 feet lower than present. As sea level rose rapidly between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago, the rising ocean transported the sand from the coastal plain onto the rising shoreline; from there it blew in dunes across the city to what is now downtown.
Foredunes are the area in which plants and blowing sand mix. Closer to the ocean, wind and blowing sand are too strong for most plants to become established. Beyond the foredune, where winds are less strong, it is easier for plants to grow, and the sand is stabilized by carpets of vegetation. Plants that grow in this foredune area, like sand verbena, silver beach bur, and coast strawberry, are uniquely adapted to grow in low-nutrient sands buffeted by high winds, often buried by constantly shifting sands. It is truly amazing anything can grow here at all.
|Bayview Park||5am to Midnight||LeConte Ave||San Francisco||CA||94124||Natural Area, Park||PSA 3||District 10||Accessible||No||No||46.63||37.7152613||-122.3926708||
Bayview Park supports perhaps the most diverse assemblage of plants and animals in the natural areas system. Its grassland has some of the most beautiful wildflower displays in San Francisco. Other plant communities here include coastal scrub, eucalyptus and oak groves, and the largest Islais cherry population in the city. On a sunny day you are likely to encounter western fence lizards, California alligator lizards, or one of many non-poisonous snakes, such as the common garter snake, Pacific gopher snake, or Pacific ring-neck snake. Red-tailed hawks are often seen soaring overhead. Great horned owls rest in the notches of trees during the day, and woodpeckers can be heard hammering for an insect snack.
The primary trail is a paved road that loops through the park, beginning and ending at the eastern end of Key Avenue. Remnants of stairs and retaining walls built by the Works Progress Administration during the Depression can still be seen along the roadway.
Around 1900, the parkland known today as Bayview Park was nearly lost to development when George Hearst and the Bay View Land Company proposed to develop the area into an exclusive district for the wealthy. Fortunately the land was considered too far removed from downtown, and development plans were dropped. In 1902, the Bay View Land Company sold a large portion of the hill’s crest to the city, which apparently had plans to build a “pest house” (isolation hospital) on the hilltop. Charles Crocker, a nearby landowner, offered to give his portion of the ridge to the city on the condition that it not build the hospital. One city official explained, “Charles Crocker didn’t want a pest house close to his other properties.” As a result, the hilltop was officially declared a park. In 1997, the City and County of San Francisco acquired an additional 16 acres of the upper northeast slope to be used as open space.
|Bernal Heights Park||5am to Midnight||Bernal Heights Blvd||San Francisco||CA||94110||Natural Area, Park||PSA 6||District 9||Accessible||Yes||No||26.34||37.7430988||-122.4140468||
Bernal Hill provides visitors with a breathtaking 360-degree panorama and clear views of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown, San Bruno Mountain, and the hills of the East Bay. These windswept slopes are still sunny when Twin Peaks is shrouded in afternoon fog. Red-tailed hawks soar overhead, the breeze sends waves undulating through the native grassland community, and visitors hike around the hill’s peaceful summit to escape from the complexities of urban life. As one of the few remaining natural refuges in San Francisco, Bernal Hill is a special place for the city’s human and wildlife inhabitants.
A paved limited-access road and a network of well-defined dirt trails wind around the hill’s flanks and provide access to the summit.
Bernal Hill was originally part of a 4,446-acre land grant awarded to José Cornelio de Bernal, a soldier in Juan Bautista de Anza’s 1776 expedition. The grant extended south from current-day Cesar Chavez Street to Daly City. The Bernal region became a squatter’s paradise over the next several decades, until the Van Ness Ordinance of 1855 decreed that these illegitimate tenants were in fact bona fide landowners and citizens of the city.
In the mid-1800s, as San Francisco began to outgrow the capacity of the downtown district, the Bernal Heights neighborhood emerged. The streets were laid out and many small- to moderate-sized homes were built. A tight-knit community, including many Irish, Scots, and Scandinavians, took up residence in the shadow of the hill, which residents used extensively for cattle and dairy ranching.
One of the most dramatic tales of Bernal Hill took place in May of 1876. The Bernal Heights community caught the California gold rush fever after Frenchman Victor Resayre announced his discovery of gold on the Bernal summit, ore that he claimed would fetch $1 million per ton. For several days the hill was the site of extensive mining efforts, until it was revealed that the original discovery consisted of the considerably less valuable quartz.
During the 1906 earthquake, homeowners in Bernal Heights were some of the luckiest in the city because of the hill’s stable rock. Few homes here were damaged, compared to those in parts of the city that were built on landfill or former sand dunes.
Bernal Hill’s steep slopes support a thriving grassland community, suggesting how much of the northern San Francisco peninsula might have looked 250 years ago. In the summer and fall its grasslands are dry and parched, and Bernal appears from a distance to be a tawny, uninhabitable monolith. The native grasses and wildflowers have dropped their seeds, which wait patiently in the soil for the winter rains to awaken them. By early February, the hill is transformed into a palette of brilliant colors as a multitude of native wildflowers bloom, including footsteps of spring, sun cup, blue-eyed grass, checkerbloom, and shooting star. Native purple needlegrass and red fescue blow in waves from the almost constant ocean breeze.
With a diversity of plant life, an assortment of native animals can survive. More than 40 species of birds are known to use Bernal Hill, including Anna’s hummingbirds, dark-eyed juncos, American kestrels, western meadowlarks, and Townsend’s warblers. These birds forage and hunt in the grasslands in search of a tasty meal of seeds, berries, nectar, or invertebrates. The American kestrel effortlessly hovers above the steep slopes of the hill, waiting patiently for its next meal to reveal itself among the lupines, fragrant coyote mint, and red fescue.
Kestrels, like all raptors, are excellent hunters, aided by their specialized hooked beaks, keen eyesight, swift flight, and curved talons. Any insects, field mice, or small birds and reptiles on Bernal Hill could fall prey to this falcon. As rodents scurry through grasslands, they mark their trails with urine, which absorbs ultraviolet light. Raptors such as kestrels can see UV light, a trait that enables them to track the rodents along these “urine highways” through the grasslands. Smaller rodents such as voles urinate almost continuously, so a kestrel can simply follow the fresh trail directly to its prey.
California alligator lizards and Pacific gopher snakes bask in the sunny warmth provided by Bernal’s rocky outcrops. Other wildlife, such as Botta’s pocket gophers, California slender salamanders, arboreal salamanders, and raccoons, call Bernal Hill home. In recent years coyotes have been spotted at Bernal Hill; this native mammal, once prevalent in San Francisco, had gone extinct from the city but now is making its way back. If you are lucky enough to see one of these elusive creatures, please don’t try to approach or feed it, for its safety and yours. Remember that a fed coyote is a dead coyote: While not normally a threat to humans, coyotes that become too accustomed to being approached can become aggressive. Keep your dog on leash in areas that coyotes are known to frequent, for its own safety. For more information about learning to coexist with coyotes, see Project Coyote.
In 1973, Bernal Heights residents Barbara and Roland Pitschel began organizing volunteer projects on Bernal Hill. Originally the work concentrated on park beautification and trash removal, but gradually the focus turned more to invasive plant removal. In 1980 the group received official authorization from the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department to pursue grassland habitat restoration, the first project of its kind in the city. Today, the Natural Areas Program and the Bernal Hilltop Restoration Project are working together to preserve and restore Bernal Hill’s natural history. Through invasive plant removal, revegetation with native species, erosion control, and biological monitoring, they hope to re-establish the indigenous, healthy grassland ecosystem of Bernal Hill.
If you are interested in helping to continue transforming Bernal Hill into a thriving natural area, please visit our opportunities page for information on volunteering.
|Billy Goat Hill||5am to Midnight||30th & Castro||San Francisco||CA||94131||Natural Area, Park||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||3.67||37.7414138||-122.4331794||
This hilltop park in the Diamond Heights neighborhood has amazing views of the city and bay, and a mix of urban forest and grassland plant communities. American kestrels and other raptors often soar overhead, hunting small mammals and reptiles. As rodents scurry through grasslands, they mark their trails with urine, which absorbs ultraviolet light. Raptors such as kestrels can see UV light, a trait that enables them to track the rodents along these “urine highways” through the grasslands. Smaller rodents such as voles urinate almost continuously, so a kestrel can simply follow the fresh trail directly to its prey.
|Brooks Park Natural Areas||6am to 10pm||373 Ramsell St||San Francisco||CA||94132||Natural Area||PSA 4||District 11||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||86,316||37.7172426||-122.4671831||
Located on the southwestern-most hill in San Francisco, Brooks Park has sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, the Farallones, and Mt. Tamalpais. Wildlife such as grizzly bears, elk, and foxes once roamed the area, as did a wide variety of birds. Some of the plants once used by Native Americans have survived and are still growing in the park; for example, you can see the flowers of bulbs (Ithuriel’s spear, blue-dicks) they roasted and ate.
|Buena Vista Natural Areas||5am to Midnight||Waller St & Buena Vista Ave West||San Francisco||CA||94117||Natural Area||PSA 5||District 8||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||Yes||266,801||37.7697948||-122.4412080||
Buena Vista Park, located in the center of the city, is named for the spectacular views from its upper slopes. The oldest park in San Francisco, it features secluded, winding trails and one of the city’s few remaining coast live oak groves. Buena Vista’s natural area is on the park’s northern side.
Oak woodlands have always been considered special places, and many cultures have deemed the oak sacred. A world of creatures thrives among the shadows of an oak woodland. The acorn crop comes in the fall when other food sources dry up and many animals must put on fat for the winter. Several species of the birds known as sapsuckers drink from the trees’ phloem (vascular tissue that transports sugars throughout the tree), just below the bark. Western harvest mice strip the bark, and Botta’s pocket gophers eat the roots of saplings. Insectivorous bird species such as brown creepers and nuthatches scour the trunks, branches, and leaves for the many insect species that live in oaks.
Acorns from the oak trees are the main food source for squirrels. Some species of squirrels gather nuts for the winter and store them in any accessible hiding place, usually by burying them. Although squirrels generally have excellent memories for their caches, many an oak tree has gotten its start from a forgotten acorn.
If you look carefully into one of the trailside drainages in Buena Vista, you might see fragments of engraved marble. The park’s meandering trails and drainage system are lined in part with headstones. Starting in 1914 and continuing through the 1940s, San Francisco removed all the cemeteries within its limits except the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio and the cemetery at Mission Dolores. Headstones and monuments of the dead were relocated to Colma, although remains were not always moved with them. Unclaimed headstones were recycled for building sea walls, landfills, and park gutters such as those found in Buena Vista Park.
|Corona Heights Natural Areas||5am to Midnight||Roosevelt & Museum Way||San Francisco||CA||94114||Natural Area||PSA 5||District 8||Limited Wheelchair Access||Yes||Yes||9.12||37.7651069||-122.4387495||
This park has some of the best views in San Francisco, but don’t overlook the wonderful wildflower display that carpets the grasslands each spring. Among the flowers you may see here are checkerbloom, California poppy, footsteps of spring, Douglas iris, mule’s ears, and Johnny jump-up, a sensitive species that is the only host plant for the callippe silverspot butterfly. Also look for anise swallowtail, a big yellow butterfly with black shoulders that frequents San Francisco’s hilltops. A network of dirt trails wind around the hill and lead to the summit.
Corona Heights’ prominent red rock outcrop, visible from many parts of the city, began to develop about 200 million years ago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Magma emerging through the earth’s crust at the spreading center between the Pacific and Farallon plates contacted sea water and cooled to form pillow basalt, the bedrock of oceans everywhere. Over the next 75 million years, radiolaria—amoebae-like unicellular organisms with silica-rich exoskeletons—lived, died, and drifted down through the deep waters to the ocean floor. Eventually the combination of pressure and time turned these microscopic organisms into the rock we call radiolarian chert.
The movements of the tectonic plates brought the Corona Heights rock close to the North American continental shore tens of millions of years ago. Sand eroding from the Sierra Nevada washed into the ocean and turned to sandstone layered atop the chert. As the Farallon plate subducted under the Continental plate, the rocks of Corona Heights were scraped off, scrambled up, and pitched onto the land, forming the park’s current landscape.
On the northeast slope, at the base of the hill, is an excellent example of “slickensides,” a smooth, polished surface between two masses of rock that is created by tectonic sliding. Usually slickensides are found in softer rock; this example in chert is highly unusual. This slick vertical rock face can best be seen from Beaver and 15th streets.
In the late 1800s, Corona Heights was quarried for brickmaking materials. The infamous Gray brothers had a brick kiln on States Street, where remnants of the brickyard buildings can still be seen. The kiln burned during the 1906 earthquake, causing some people to think a volcano had erupted on Corona Heights. After repairs, quarrying continued.
The Gray brothers were seen as “constant law breakers,” and were accused of injuring neighbors and damaging property with debris from illegal rock blasting here and in other quarries in San Francisco. In 1914, George Gray was murdered by a former employee who was owed back wages. An unsympathetic jury acquitted the defendant.
All the steep, exposed rock faces and the “crown” we see today at Corona Heights are the result of quarrying, as are some early names used for this hill: Rocky Mountain, Red Rock, and Rocky Hill. Today, tennis courts, playing fields, and the Randall Museum all occupy large quarried areas.
A natural history museum for children, the Randall Museum was the inspiration of Josephine D. Randall, San Francisco’s first superintendent of recreation. “Rocky Hill” was purchased by the city in 1940 and renamed Corona Heights. In 1947, Ms. Randall shepherded a $12 million bond issue for recreation capital projects, including a new junior museum building, which opened in 1951 on Corona Heights.
Corona Heights has a lot of poison oak, which provides food for dark-eyed juncos and white-crowned sparrows, and shelter from predators and habitat for many of the insects that birds feed on. However, poison oak can give humans an itchy rash. Learn to recognize this plant by its three shiny green (sometimes red) leaves and tan spine-free stems. Poison oak oils can be transmitted to humans via dog hair, so be sure to keep your dog on leash and on trail.
|Corona Heights Park||5am to Midnight||Roosevelt & Museum Way||San Francisco||CA||94114||Natural Area, Park, Trail||PSA 5||District 8||Accessible||Yes||Yes||13.38||37.7649767||-122.4387969||
This park has some of the best views in San Francisco, but don’t overlook the wonderful wildflower display that carpets the grasslands each spring. Among the flowers you may see here are checkerbloom, California poppy, footsteps of spring, Douglas iris, mule’s ears, and Johnny jump-up, a sensitive species that is the only host plant for the callippe silverspot butterfly. Also look for anise swallowtail, a big yellow butterfly with black shoulders that frequents San Francisco’s hilltops.
Corona Heights has a lot of poison oak, which provides food for dark-eyed juncos and white-crowned sparrows, and shelter from predators and habitat for many of the insects that birds feed on. However, poison oak can give humans an itchy rash. Learn to recognize this plant by its three shiny green (sometimes red) leaves and tan spine-free stems. Poison oak oils can be transmitted to humans via dog hair, so be sure to keep your dog on leash and on trail.
|Duncan & Castro Open Space||5am to Midnight||Duncan & Castro||San Francisco||CA||94131||Natural Area, Park||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||23,958||37.7459757||-122.4333985||
This small neighborhood park has beautiful springtime displays of Ithuriel’s spear, Johnny jump-ups, and other striking wildflowers, as well as views of Diamond Heights and Noe Valley. Although it is a relatively small natural area, Duncan-Castro provides habitat for a variety of birds and butterflies.
|Edgehill Mountain||5am to Midnight||Edgehill & Garcia||San Francisco||CA||94127||Natural Area, Park||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||2.33||37.7420303||-122.4597647||
Edgehill Mountain is mostly developed, but a small urban forest remains on the south side. Originally part of Adolph Sutro’s San Miguel Ranch, the Edgehill Mountain land was sold following his death in 1898. It became one of the city’s first subdivisions, known as Claremont Court. Houses were built on the mountain’s western and southern slopes. The first major erosion problems began in 1952-53, when winter rains sent part of Edgehill Way and one home sliding down the mountain. Edgehill Mountain Park was established in 1985, when the city purchased one acre of the mountain’s undeveloped western slope. In 1997, a slope above newly constructed homes collapsed during a rainstorm, cascading mud and rock onto the houses below and sending an unmistakable warning that the mountain’s steep slopes could not survive the environmental destruction generated by further residential development.
To protect the park, the community, represented by the Greater West Portal Neighborhood Association, formed the Edgehill Mountain Open Space Committee (EMOSC) with the goal of acquiring seven lots adjacent to the park. From this effort to protect the park, the Friends of Edgehill Mountain was founded and continues to work to preserve the park’s native flora and fauna today. Volunteers have contributed many thousands of hours of work on monthly workdays, helping to improve trails, eliminate non-native invasive plants, and plant indigenous plants. EMOSC also works with local schools and youth organizations to involve young people in learning about and protecting the environment. At nearby Herbert Hoover Middle School and West Portal Elementary School, students in science and ecology classes have used the park as an environmental laboratory, and Boy Scouts have helped with the restoration project as part of earning their Eagle Scout badges in community leadership.
On their first trip to Edgehill Mountain, visitors are often surprised to find this oasis of natural beauty in the middle of the city. The wooded hillside presents a stunning view of Mount Davidson, the Sunset District, and the Pacific Ocean. Red-tailed hawks hunt in the area and nest in its pine trees. EMOSC’s Joan Kingery said, “We want to preserve this unique spot in the center of the city for residents who enjoy the peace and charm of its setting, now and in the future.”
|Fairmont Plaza||5am to Midnight||Miquel & Bemis||San Francisco||CA||94131||Natural Area, Park||PSA 6||District 8||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||0.74||37.7384923||-122.4291315||
Find picturesque seclusion on this leafy hilltop, shaded by eucalyptus trees. Bird watchers take note: although small, the Natural Area provides important forest habitat for a variety of birds, from resident chestnut-back chickadees to migratory warblers.
|Glen Canyon Natural Areas||5am to Midnight||Diamond & Farnum St||San Francisco||CA||94131||Natural Area, Trail||PSA 5||District 8||Accessible||No||Yes||55.72||37.7409258||-122.4429925||
Beyond Glen Canyon Park’s recreation center, ball field, and tennis courts lies a large urban canyon that has incredible spring wildflower displays, dramatic rock (chert) formations, and Islais Creek, one of the few remaining free-flowing creeks in San Francisco. This 60 acres of wilderness, formerly referred to as the San Miguel Hills, not only provides critical habitat for a wide array of wildlife, but serves as a relaxing sanctuary from the city’s urban bustle. An extensive network of hiking trails leads through a variety of habitats, from the lush creekside vegetation to the rocky grass- and scrublands of the canyon’s steep eastern slope, where a profusion of wildflowers blooms each spring.
|Golden Gate Heights Natural Areas||5am to Midnight||12th Ave & Rockridge||San Francisco||CA||94116||Natural Area||PSA 4||District 7||Limited Wheelchair Access||Yes||No||6.95||37.7499897||-122.4703690||
Golden Gate Heights combines the amenities of a city park—playground, tennis court, lawns, and trees—with a hilltop dune that provides a good example of San Francisco dune plant life. The rare San Francisco spineflower and San Francisco wallflower both bloom on this small dune patch. Walk west around the trees to see the remnant dune and ocean views. Similar to Grandview Park but not nearly as large, this sandy natural area requires a soft touch. Erosion is a serious problem at Golden Gate Heights Park, so please stay on the trails.
|Grandview Park||5am to Midnight||Moraga & 14th Ave||San Francisco||CA||94122||Natural Area, Park||PSA 4||District 7||Limited Wheelchair Access||Yes||No||3.98||37.7564562||-122.4718048||
This aptly-named hilltop park in the Sunset District has stunning views stretching from downtown San Francisco and Golden Gate Park to Pt. Reyes and around to Lake Merced. The park features a dune plant community atop 140-million-year-old rock called Franciscan chert, which was first formed when the region was part of the ancient sea floor. Most carbonate shells dissolve in ocean waters before they reach the sea floor, but radiolarian shells are silica-based and do not readily dissolve. Millions of years ago, countless radiolaria combined with mineral dust blown from inland deserts to form layers of chert, which were later uplifted to land.
The brightly colored, nickel-sized green hairstreak butterfly is found in only two regions within the city: the coastal bluffs of the Presidio, and here along Golden Gate Heights, in the nearby Hawk Hill and Rocky Outcrop natural areas. The goal of the Green Hairstreak Project is to reconnect and expand the populations found here so they can interbreed; the group leads spring walking tours of the neighborhood to look for the butterflies.
The predominant plant community at Grandview Park is coastal scrub (bush lupine, dune tansy, beach strawberry, bush monkey flower, and coyote brush). The hill is a harsh environment for plants; the sand retains very little moisture and the plants must survive without rain for six months of the year.
Grandview has a small trail network, consisting of 0.2 miles ascending to the top of the park hill. The majority of the climb is made up of wooden stairs. The short trail around the hill top is made up of soft sand like soil.
Since the supply of wind-blown sand from the ocean has been cut off by urban development, sand eroded from Grandview does not replenish itself. The hill’s fragile plant community and animal habitat depend on stopping erosion. When visiting Grandview Park, please stay on stairways and established paths. You can enter the park via two sets of stairs: a concrete stairway at 14th Avenue and Moraga on the east side, or a wooden staircase that ascends the hill’s southwestern flank from Noriega Street.Street parking is widely available around the park. Muni line 66 has stops near the park.
|Hawk Hill||5am to Midnight||14th Ave & Rivera St||San Francisco||CA||94116||Natural Area, Park||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||4.85||37.7465410||-122.4686581||
Hawk Hill is a magnificent remnant hilltop dune with ocean views of southwestern San Francisco. The shifting sand supports a wide variety of dune plants, including the locally rare California croton and the San Francisco wallflower. The brightly colored, nickel-sized green hairstreak butterfly is found in only two regions within the city: the coastal bluffs of the Presidio, and along the ridge of Golden Gate Heights, here in this and the nearby Rocky Outcrop natural areas. The goal of the Green Hairstreak Project is to reconnect and expand the populations found here so they can interbreed; the group leads spring walking tours of the neighborhood to look for the butterflies.
Before western San Francisco was settled, ocean winds deposited sand on Hawk Hill from dunes to the west of the park. Now development has spread over most of the Sunset District over the dunes west of Twin Peaks dunes, leaving no source of sand to replenish Hawk Hill. Because of the sensitivity of this site and the potential for erosion, there are no designated trails and public access is discouraged.
|India Basin Natural Areas||204 Arelious Walker||San Francisco||CA||94124||Natural Area||PSA 3||District 10||Accessible||Yes||No||6.15||267,930||37.7331636||-122.3719646||
Just 150 years ago, San Francisco Bay was ringed by wetlands, valuable ecosystems that supported many plant and animal species. Over 90 percent of these wetlands have been lost to development, but a few can still be found. India Basin is one of these precious wetlands, and is the only natural area within the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department system that borders the bay.
Restoration began at India Basin in 2000 as part of a mitigation project associated with San Francisco International Airport. Today the park features tidal salt marsh and upland habitat that provides food and shelter for a variety of shorebirds and foraging habitat for raptors. It also boasts excellent views of the bay, trails that link to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, access for kayakers, and fantastic bird watching.
Wetlands, including mudflats, ponds, tidal channels, and salt marshes, are home to a wealth of plants and wildlife. Specially adapted plants such as cordgrass, toad rush, pickleweed, and marsh rosemary can withstand the changing environmental conditions of the India Basin tidal salt marsh. These plants triumph over the daily adversities of inundation, exposure, extreme temperatures, high salinity, turbidity variations, and oxygen-poor water. Not only do they survive in the harsh environment, they flourish to the point of creating some of the most productive ecosystems on earth. Countless organisms feed, take shelter, and nest in salt marsh foliage.
More than 75 species of birds have been observed foraging in the salt marshes and mudflats of India Basin. A few common inhabitants are the snowy egret, American avocet, northern harrier, brown pelican, and great blue heron.
Healthy wetlands provide countless environmental benefits in addition to their significance as habitat. They reduce bank and shoreline erosion and damage caused by stream runoff, tidal waters, flooding, and wave action. By trapping pollutants, wetlands improve the water quality of urban and agricultural runoff into the bay. They also trap and stabilize sediment suspended in the water that would otherwise hinder fish and plant growth.
|Interior Greenbelt||Stanyan St & Belgrade St||San Francisco||CA||94131||Natural Area, Park, Trail||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||21.35||37.7597547||-122.4533682||
The Interior Greenbelt is located on Mt. Sutro, south of Golden Gate Park and north of Twin Peaks. This park is almost entirely covered by blue gum eucalyptus forest. Small remnant native plant populations exist here in the understory, including three locally sensitive plants species: sweet cicely, fairy bells, and thimbleberry. There is also an old creek bed that carries water through the park at times during the rainy season. This urban forest provides habitat for a variety of birds.
|Kite Hill||Yukon & 19th St||San Francisco||CA||94114||Natural Area, Park||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||2.87||37.7581718||-122.4416511||
Kite Hill, a small park in central San Francisco with excellent views of the city, is home to a grassland plant community. During summer and early fall, the land is parched and golden brown, and native grasses drop their seeds and await the winter rains. By February, the hill transforms to a verdant green. In spring a variety of native wildflowers, including California poppy, checkerbloom, Ithuriel’s spear, and soap plant add color to the grassland.
Soap plant is a lily found only in California. The flowers open up late in the day and are pollinated by moths and bumblebees. Native Americans used the bulb of the plant for many purposes: crushing it into a foamy lather for cleaning, making it into a glue, and cooking and eating the bulb like a potato. Early San Francisco settlers harvested the soap plant tubers for mattress stuffing.
|Lake Merced Natural Areas||Skyline Blvd & Harding Rd||San Francisco||CA||94132||Natural Area, Trail||Accessible||Yes||Yes||391.00||37.7213584||-122.4934098||
Lake Merced, a freshwater lake in the southwest corner of San Francisco, is a major water, recreational, and natural resource for the City and County of San Francisco and the surrounding area. It is also an important stop for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. More than 250 species of birds can be seen throughout San Francisco during the year, most of which migrate from as far as South America to the Arctic and back. Many of these migrating birds stop only briefly at Lake Merced to feed and rest as they continue their journey to the north or south; others mate, build nests, and nurture a new generation of young birds in San Francisco before returning to their wintering grounds elsewhere. Lake Merced has an extensive network of hiking trails, including a 4.5-mile paved trail circling the lake
|Lakeview & Ashton Mini Park||6am to 10pm||Shields St & Orizaba Ave||San Francisco||CA||94132||Natural Area, Park||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||0.51||37.7180915||-122.4625727||
This rocky outcrop is part of a ridge of sandstone in the Merced and Ingleside Heights neighborhoods. While the park is very small, its grassy and rocky slopes are home to a variety of native plant species, including buckwheat, dudleya, farewell-to-spring, coast onion, and soap plant. This diversity of plants means there are flowers in bloom at Lakeview/Ashton Mini Park through most of the spring and summer. This wide window of flower availability provides a crucial long-term food source for many local butterflies and other insects. In 2003, a locally rare arboreal salamander was found hiding amongst the rocks. This relatively large brown salamander, four inches long when mature, has a whitish belly that in juveniles is darker and covered with light-blue spots. Arboreal salamanders have tails that are well adapted for grasping branches to help climb trees.
|McLaren Park Natural Areas||Mansell & Shelley Dr||San Francisco||CA||94134||Natural Area, Trail||Accessible||Yes||Yes||161.30||37.7176894||-122.4195263||
McLaren Park, the second largest park in San Francisco, was named for John McLaren, the superintendent of Golden Gate Park from 1887 to 1943. It includes a natural area rich in native plants and animals, as well as picnic areas, playgrounds, lawns and planted gardens, a golf course, tennis courts, and an amphitheater. Miles of paved and unpaved trails wind through the park, many of them built during the Depression by the Works Progress Administration. You can hike through a variety of habitats, both native and introduced, including forests, grasslands, and marshy riparian areas, where springs feed Yosemite Creek.
|Mt. Davidson Park||Myra Way||San Francisco||CA||94127||Natural Area, Park||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||40.71||37.7390642||-122.4546452||
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.
|O’Shaughnessy Hollow||O'Shaughnessy Blvd||San Francisco||CA||94127||Natural Area, Park||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||3.75||37.7401690||-122.4448760||
This steep cliff towering above O’Shaughnessy Boulevard has beautiful grasslands and magnificent rocky outcrops. The folds and fractures within the chert are some of the most dramatic in San Francisco. Although technically a different park, O’Shaughnessy Hollow is only separated from Glen Canyon by a road, and its grassland and scrub plant communities are quite similar. See the description of Glen Canyon Park for more information.
In the early 1980s the area was considered for a development of 16 single-family homes. Ultimately these parcels were purchased by the City and County of San Francisco with open space funds to preserve the area’s natural biodiversity.
|Oak Woodlands Natural Areas||5am to Midnight||Stanyan St & Fulton St||San Francisco||CA||94117||Natural Area||GGP||District 1||Limited Wheelchair Access||Yes||Yes||22.82||37.7732900||-122.4555400||
While most of Golden Gate Park has been landscaped with lawns, flowerbeds and other ornamental features, a few remnants of San Francisco’s oak woodlands still exist in this world-renowned park. The northeast corner of Golden Gate Park is home to some of the oldest coast live oak trees in San Francisco.
|Palou & Phelps Natural Areas||Palou & Phelps St||San Francisco||CA||94124||Natural Area||92,578||37.7353812||-122.3946339||
This small park has a playground at its northern entrance, the only place where it is flat. The rest of the park is primarily a steep grassland with trails, city views, and habitat for a variety of bird species. During summer and early fall the land is parched and golden brown, and native grasses drop their seeds and await the winter rains. By February the hills transform to a verdant green, and in spring a variety of native wildflowers, including California poppy, blue-eyed grass, checkerbloom, and mule
|Pine Lake Natural Areas||6am to 10pm||Sloat Blvd & Vale St||San Francisco||CA||94132||Natural Area||Accessible||Yes||Yes||5.40||37.7363044||-122.4887371||
Pine Lake Park, in western San Francisco and contiguous with Stern Grove, is an elongated valley with steep, forested slopes. Pine Lake is one of the few remaining natural lakes in San Francisco, and is fed by the same aquifer as Lake Merced. The willow, tule, and other wetland plants that ring the lake provide habitat for a variety for resident and migratory bird species. A trail encircles the lake, providing opportunities for viewing birds, and connects to the larger trail network that winds through Stern Grove, including a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
Pine Lake is an important stop for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. More than 250 species of birds can be seen throughout San Francisco during the year, most of which migrate from as far as South America to the Arctic and back. Many of these migrating birds stop only briefly at Pine Lake to feed and rest as they continue their journey to the north or south; others mate, build nests, and nurture a new generation of young birds in San Francisco before returning to their wintering grounds elsewhere.
In 1847, the Greene family moved from Maine to San Francisco for the excellent grazing and farming land, and purchased a large property of which Stern Grove and Pine Lake were only a small portion. In 1887 the family was forced by lawsuit to give up most of the land and keep only the portion that today makes up Pine Lake and Stern Grove. In 1892, George Greene, Jr., built the Trocadero Inn in what is now Stern Grove. It was a Victorian-style roadhouse that operated for more than 20 years, closing when Prohibition was enacted. Pine Lake was then known as Laguna Puerca, or Pig Lake. The Greenes planted the eucalyptus trees that surround the lake.
In 1931, Rosalie Stern, widow of civic leader Sigmund Stern, was looking for land to purchase and donate to the city as a park in honor of her husband. Her friend, Golden Gate Park Superintendent John McLaren, recommended the Greenes’ property at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard. Sigmund Stern Grove opened to the public on June 4, 1932. A San Francisco newspaper reporter wrote, “Thousands of San Franciscans do not even suspect the existence of the lovely redwood and eucalyptus grove that once was part of the old Trocadero ranch. It is way over by Sloat Boulevard, a beautiful amphitheater of hillside, trees, and greensward.”
Over the following five years, the city purchased land west of the original grove, including Pine Lake, enlarging Sigmund Stern Grove. The grove has hosted free summer music concerts every year since 1938.
|Rocky Outcrop||5am to Midnight||Ortega & 14th Ave Ortega||San Francisco||CA||94122||Natural Area, Park||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||1.40||37.7538449||-122.4708648||
This steep, rocky park has beautiful examples of Franciscan chert. The rocks are home to a variety of plants, including two native succulents, dudleya and stonecrop. Stonecrop is the host plant for the San Bruno elfin butterfly, a federally listed endangered species. Rocky Outcrop is a small park, but it offers habitat for a variety of wildlife. The brightly colored, nickel-sized green hairstreak butterfly is found in only two regions within the city: the coastal bluffs of the Presidio, and along the ridge of Golden Gate Heights, here and in the nearby Hawk Hill natural area. The goal of the Green Hairstreak Project is to reconnect and expand the populations found here so they can interbreed; the group leads spring walking tours of the neighborhood to look for the butterflies. There are no designated trails in the Rocky Outcrop natural area, but it can be viewed from Pacheco Street.
|Tank Hill||5am to Midnight||Clarendon & Twin Peaks||San Francisco||CA||94114||Natural Area, Park||Limited Wheelchair Access||No||No||2.87||37.7599480||-122.4476864||
Tank Hill is one of San Francisco’s secret treasures. Its name comes from the Clarendon Heights Water Tank, built in 1894 by the Spring Valley Water Company to store drinking water pumped from Laguna Honda. Tank Hill became city property in 1930 when Spring Valley was acquired to establish the San Francisco Water Department. The prominent water tank was removed in 1957, and all that remains is its round foundation. Residents remember seeing goldfish flowing down Belgrave Avenue when the old tank was drained. In 1960 Tank Hill was sold as surplus property for $230,000. In 1977, developers proposed building 20 houses, but the community convinced the city to buy the hill back with $650,000 from the recently created Open Space Fund.
At an elevation of 650 feet, Tank Hill’s main draw is its panoramic view, from Pt. Reyes to Bayview Hill. But what makes this small rocky promontory unique is that it is a remnant of San Francisco’s indigenous landscape, containing 60 species of native plants. The easiest access is a stairway at Twin Peaks and Clarendon. There is also an entrance at the east end of Belgrave Street.
|Twin Peaks||5am to Midnight||(415) 831-2700||501 Twin Peaks Blvd||San Francisco||CA||94114||Natural Area, Park||Accessible||Yes||Yes||29.30||37.7512923||-122.4477896||
At 922 feet in elevation, Twin Peaks is second only to Mt. Davidson in height, offers spectacular views of the Bay Area, and is a world-famous tourist attraction. Originally called “Los Pechos de la Choca” (Breasts of the Maiden) by early Spanish settlers, these two adjacent peaks provide postcard views and a treasure trove of animal and plant diversity. Most visitors to Twin Peaks drive (or take a tourist bus) to the north peak parking lot to enjoy 180-degree views of the Bay Area.
Many miss an opportunity to experience the coastal scrub and grassland communities of this 64-acre park. Similar to the Marin Headlands, Twin Peaks gives us an idea of how San Francisco’s hills and peaks looked before grazing and then development changed them forever. The vegetation is primarily a mix of grassland and coastal scrub. Expect strong winds as you hike among plants such as coyote brush, lizard tail, pearly everlasting and lupine. The endangered Mission Blue Butterfly has adapted to the strong winds and flies low to the ground from lupine to lupine. Native plants provide habitat for brush-nesting birds like the white-crowned sparrow and animals such as brush rabbits and coyotes.