Have Y’all Ever Really Been to Bernal Heights?

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A view.

The views of the city from Bernal Heights are pretty unfair. (Paolo Bicchieri)

When I first moved to the Bay Area, I landed in a San Francisco neighborhood that most don’t give the respect it deserves. That’d be the Bayview, where I called a little corner of Silver Avenue home for the first two months or so before moving to the Sunset — the west side of the city a true delight, even if we are full of NIMBYs. I used to lug my shitty Columbia Commuter moped over Cortland Avenue to get in and out of the Bayview. That’s the main corridor of Bernal Heights, and I always thought it seemed charming. Little did I know how right I was: At least in spring 2023, Bernal Heights might be the most scenic, active part of the city.

This could be common knowledge for San Franciscans in the central and south part of the city. But I’m not talking about a peripheral “oh yeah Bernal Heights is super nice” throwaway observation. I’m saying that in a moment captured by San Francisco doom loop controversy and such a strong sense of pessimism department stores are pulling out of downtown without any serious crime even happening at their stores, it’s kind of wild to remember there are parts of the Baghdad by the Bay where things feel like COVID never even happened.

With golden hour descending over the hill, at about 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, the heart of the neighborhood is alive with laughter. Local favorite bar Holy Water has so many customers they’re spilling down the steps, and Vega Pizzeria sees families with young kids taking up every table inside and outside; the frightening, crime-ridden Gotham described in major media outlets this is not. Third Cousin keeps the fine dining vibes alive for the street, with cafe culture heads sipping espresso outside the Epicurean Trader. And let me tell you about Bernal Heights Park. 

It’s an uncanny experience to trek to the top of Nevada Street and see the shock of purple flowers blowing in the sunny wind. The further east you go in the city — for those uninitiated who don’t know this rule of thumb — the later the fog takes to roll through San Francisco off Ocean Beach. So high up, amongst houses a bit more stylish than those in Pacific Heights but no less moneyed, it’s like being in a different city. Couples walk their dogs through the mostly empty streets. The views of San Francisco are mythic, like a postcard from a long time ago sprung into a present unsure how to make sense of the foreign beauty.

So don’t give up on San Francisco just yet. If you think you’ve seen what the city has to offer, make sure to take a trip to Bernal Heights. And if you’ve been to Bernal Heights, make sure to take a trip again soon. And if you are fortunate enough to call the neighborhood home, or to make trips there on the regular, then do some evangelizing and help remind our fellow citizens there’s still a city worth fighting for.

A house and a view.

A sliver of Bernal Heights Park. (Paolo Bicchieri)

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Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri (he/they) is a writer living on the coast. He's a reporter for Eater SF and the author of three books of fiction and one book of poetry.