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Maximizing the Fun Factor in Mission Bernal

Updated: Jan 13, 2023 08:12
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This column is in the spirit of a “Dear Abby”, with a focus on solutions in the form of micro SF neighborhood deep dives and curated holistic health-centered itineraries


Listen to this article read by the author: 7min 46 sec

Dear BBB,

It’s been over two years since the pandemic clock chimed loud and clear, and though others are back to mingling and planning trips, I’m still stuck tending to my own garden. This may sound poetic and philosophical but seeing so many friends dive into the joys of hanging out, I too want to catapult myself back onto the scene. 

However, where to begin? 

From growing my own heirloom tomatoes, and mastering Italian cooking, I’m at a loss when I think of something that doesn’t involve burrata and EVOO. 

Please guide me into a sensorial adventure that doesn’t start with pasta, pizza or limoncello. It’s possible I’ve hit my Marzano max. Need to remember what it’s like to party with the best of them, and by them I mean real folks and not my Early Girls. 

Can’t wait to hear from you,

Bonanza Or Bust in Mission Bernal

Hey BOB,


You’ve come to the right place. 

Sounds like you should have written a while ago, but you’re here now so let’s get this non pomodoro party rolling. Life is too short to stay in one tiny garden patch forever, even one with gorgeous bio veggies and imported Sicilian olive oil and dare I imagine, massive amounts of Mt Etna organic grapes.

* Mt Etna photo & painting by My Brilliant Friend Colette Hannahan 

I’m going out on a limb BOB and assuming you’re also interested in some other bevs, that may include natural fermentation, volcanic sediment or bubbles, but not immediately linked to the Godfather’s old country. Throw me a bone while I muse about your letter because I’m still processing White Lotus and I too am stuck in a SEE-CHEE-LEEAN phase. See what I did there.

Wait, maybe I’m wrong and you should stay, fling open your doors and invite the circus in (or just me) because it sounds like paradiso. My mouth started to water as I was temporarily transported back to my last trip to Palermo. Pizza pie, pizza pie, who wants a pizza pie?! 

And I won’t kick a glass of COS natural wine out of bed, if that’s your jam (hint: it’s mine!!!). The Rami, their skin contact orange, is a hard fave from the land of the OG cyclops. Does one ever need anything more than this salt, fat, acid & heat combo? 

Better yet, meet me out so that we can chitty chat café re: Samin Nosrat’s book (love her so much), get to know each other a bit more than our mutual love of the red, white and green AND THEN bring me back to your slice of Mediterranean heaven. It’s clear that you love olives as much as I do. 

For now, marinate on this fun sesh in Mission Bernal to pump up your festive social juices. 

Call your besty, grab your mini speaker then jump on MUNI or a Lyft bike and head up to Bernal Peak for some huge sunset views. Park that bike near the Bernal Heights Park Parking Lot, and with your favorite kombucha (natural fermentation IS our friend) or Topo Chico, hike up to the top of the hill. 

Bernal Hill is a magic fusion of hillside dirt path hiking, roads, stairs, sweeping views and puppy playground. Keep heading up, up and away until you bag the peak, and are suddenly standing on top of the world. Cherry moment: What’s more fun than a tree swing overlooking THE CITY?! 

Yes, there’s a big ol swing attached to a giant tree once you’ve summitted Bernal. Get yourself up on it, and blast “Thee Sacred Souls” during the back and forth. Listening to “Can I call you Rose” is like you traversed a portal transporting you to 1965. No lowriders up here (because they’re down below cruising the Mission) but your body is gonna melt into this song. 

In any case, you’re welcome. You said you wanted a sensoriel adventure. You could call it a day with just this one stop, but BOB…I am here for you and there’s so much more to come. 

Once the album wraps up, or you’ve come down a bit from your swing high, guzzle that Topo Chico and stroll down hill towards the Esmeralda Street Slides. You asked for fun and nothing delivers fun more than a swing AND slide combo. 

Children are great muses. Watch them because they gravitate naturally towards awesome adventures. However, there is no need for cardboard today because these babies are pure steel. Once, twice, or hella times….you and your BFF decide how often you need to careen yourself torpedo-style. 

At this point, all this playing has surely worked up another sweat AND your appetite so time to get into the food and bev portion of your evening.  There are so many amazing spots to eat at in this neighborhood but tonight I recommend The Front Porch for their cozy, quirky, cool vibes and southern cooking. 

If there’s a wait, head across the street to Rock Bar for a cocktail (loads of classics like Old Fashioneds as well as a wide variety of House Cocktails. Did someone say “Sonora Sunset”?). I literally don’t know what not to recommend from these places. 

They’re famous for their bucket o’ fried chicken and bomb sides (fried okra, mac n’ cheese, collard greens, grits….) but their vegan food is also amazing as is their burger. The culinary experience here rules. Rad staff, tasty AF grub, a full bar and a lit mood. Literally, what more would you want?

the front porch sf

Belly full of spice mélanges and warm thoughts, this is where you collide with the ol fork in the road. You can either call it, and get that night cap in the form of a scoop of ice cream from Mitchell’s down the block. 

I used to come to this family-owned joint as a kiddo because their flavor profiles rock this world AND THEY ARE SO NICE. Where else can you satisfy your rainbow cravings and taste needs simultaneously? Choose between: Strawberries n Cream, Pumpkin, Mango, Madagascar Vanilla, Grasshopper Pie, Ube, etc….Or a traditional Coffee for the win, obviously with rainbow sprinkles.

However, if you ONLY eat gelato and prefer to rage a bit more then by all means, head on over to The Knockout to check out their gigs or Thrillhouse Records for a basement punk show or record browsing blowout. 

Depending on the night at The Knockout, you might find yourself in a metal show, a reggae DJ dance party, karaoke fest or a bingo game. Whatever is happening, come for the tunes and stay for the Photo Booth. 

Similarly at Thrillhouse, there’s plenty of shenanigans to be had with their free arcade machine, weekly movie nights and all ages shows. Browse the vinyls and tape racks or deep dive into the comic bins. Are you having fun yet?????

Post mosh pitting or dancing your Front Porch meal off, if you find yourself hungry again (it’s happened before) then the best veggie burrito in town is next door to the Knockout at Taqueria Cancun. I’m not even a vege, but when it comes to satisfying your salt needs at the end of a sensoriel adventure, this is ANOTHER cherry (tomato?!) on top. 

Too exhausted to type any more. 

BOB, I’m proud of you and your quest request. Now, invite me over to your garden so that I can recuperate, share a glass of COS vino and discuss the White Lotus ending.

Take BIG care,


Outer Mission Recap:


** This article is only part Satire, i.e. ALL the characters and quotes are fictional BUT the recs are pure gold.**

BBB, i.e Big Belly Breathing, is Vanessa Hutchinson-Szekely’s latest project. She is born and raised in THE CITY and using her background knowledge of local landscapes, the constant search to maximize the fun factor and her holistic health and wellness expertise, she will listen to your problems and propose excursions to help you reset, recalibrate and explode back onto your scene

Join her on IG @BigBellyBreathing or visit www.bigbellybreathing .com 


  1. 12/1/22: Reset & Boost Your Vibes in The Inner Richmond 
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  1. Raina
    January 1, 2023 at 2:31 pm — Reply

    Love this! Makes me wanna get out of my neighborhood and support some hardworking peeps making our city fun and delicious.

  2. Mary Cryns
    January 3, 2023 at 1:27 am — Reply

    I’d swing over the city if I could just get back to 1965! It was such an idyllic time in San Francisco.

  3. Curtis
    January 7, 2023 at 11:50 am — Reply

    Great recs but gotta end this night at Royal Cuckoo

  4. Vanessa Hutchinson-Szekely
    January 10, 2023 at 10:47 am — Reply


    Thank you for chiming in!

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