Buena Vista Park to Stern Grove

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Sometimes, when I go into San Francisco I combine a museum visit with a city walk.  That’s exactly what I did on this occasion, a beautiful warm spring day.  I began by attending an exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, near the Civic Center, and then continued my Bay Area Ridge Trail journey by walking from Buena Vista Park to Stern Grove and back.

Even in the Civic Center area of the city there were tour buses full of visitors enjoying the nice weather and snapping pictures of the beautiful Civic Center Plaza.  A notable sight was a play area with bright blue structures and a sign stating “No adults allowed unless accompanied by children” and citing a CPC section.  Initially I thought the sign was amusing, but later looked up the CPC section and was sobered to find that it’s part of the California Penal Code and therefore, more than likely, a safety measure for children using public playgrounds.

The Ridge Trail section is basically a city walk connecting beautiful city parks.  My starting point, at Buena Vista Park, was my turnaround point for an earlier walk.  This time I skipped the park on my outbound trip, since I’d climbed up to enjoy the view on my previous walk.  But I made sure to take the available detours to Mt Olympus and Twin Peaks, and the views were stunning.  I was originally considering turning around at Twin Peaks, but the day was so nice I just kept walking, continuing to Stern Grove, where I’d turned around on my walk from Ft Funston.

GPS track

GPS track

Everyone knows that San Francisco is not flat, but when I added up all of the hills and smaller climbs, both outbound and return, the total was almost 1800 feet of elevation gain and loss in a 10.6-mile hike.  That’s an average grade of almost 6.5%!

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

From Buena Vista Park the route proceeds roughly southwest toward Mt Olympus.  Along the way there are numerous views of always-recognizable Sutro Tower.  The smaller broadcast towers at the left are on Christmas Tree Point.  I think the street snaking up the hill is Twin Peaks Blvd.

image of Sutro Tower (right) and Christmas Tree Point (left)

Sutro Tower (right) and Christmas Tree Point (left)

Mt Olympus was once considered the geographic center of the city.  Stairs climb to the top of the hill, where a pedestal remains where a statue once stood.  For some reason, I found myself trying to imagine what the Greek gods felt looking out from the original Mt Olympus.  The city views are, of course, completely different – and the views from here were only a preview of those to come!

photo of view of San Francisco from Mt Olympus

View of San Francisco from Mt Olympus

I had a little trouble finding the stairs descending the south side of Mt Olympus (and, in fact, went uphill along a street and found the north stairs only on my return trip) but was soon on my way again.  The route follows Twin Peaks Blvd for about 0.3 mi, then takes a series of streets to bypass the actual peaks.  Near the intersection of Mountain Spring and Glenbrook there was a great view – one of many – across downtown toward the East Bay.  When reviewing my pictures afterward, I recognized the Campanile (Sather Tower) on the UC Berkeley campus, next to the physics building where I did my graduate work.

Near the intersection of Palo Alto and Glenbrook there was a beautiful view of Tiburon and Angel Island to the north.

picture of Angel Island, with Tiburon behind

Angel Island, with Tiburon behind

At the intersection of Marview and Farview a trail goes off to the left, and this is the route to take to go up to Twin Peaks.  I generally climb to the top, wherever that may be, whenever possible, so I took the detour to explore Twin Peaks.  Before reaching these peaks the trail passes Twin Peaks Reservoir and Christmas Tree Point.  From Christmas Tree Point there was a wonderful view of Mt Tamalpais and the Golden Gate Bridge looking northwest across the northeast corner of Golden Gate Park and the Presidio.

image of Mt Tamalpais and Golden Gate Bridge from Christmas Tree Point

Mt Tamalpais and Golden Gate Bridge from Christmas Tree Point

Although you can walk or cycle around the peaks on Twin Peaks Blvd, I took the trail up and over both peaks.  The north peak, also called Eureka Peak, is just over 900 feet high.  The south peak, also called Noe Peak, is 920 feet high.  They are the 2nd and 3rd highest points in San Francisco after Mt Davidson, which is slightly higher at 928 feet.  This is an interesting view from the north peak showing the south peak, Twin Peaks Blvd, and Mt Davidson in the background to the right.

photo of Twin Peaks (south peak, from north peak) and Twin Peaks Blvd

Twin Peaks (south peak, from north peak) and Twin Peaks Blvd

The trail up the south peak is also visible in the picture.  My understanding is that, after some trail improvements, the Ridge Trail route will cross over Twin Peaks.

From the north peak there is a spectacular view of downtown San Francisco, bisected by Market St.  Recognizable buildings include the Transamerica Pyramid, hiding behind another building, the Bank of America Center (now called 555 California St) just to its right, and One Rincon Hill South Tower at the right of the picture, next to the Bay Bridge.  The tower of the new Bay Bridge East Span is just visible behind Yerba Buena Island.

picture of downtown San Francisco and Market St from Twin Peaks (north peak)

View of downtown San Francisco and Market St from Twin Peaks (north peak)

The views from the peak tops are 360-degree views.  The Pacific Ocean was visible – always a treat – though foggy on the day of my walk.  The view of Mt Tamalpais and the Golden Gate Bridge was obscured by trees on an intervening hill.  After visiting the north peak I proceeded to the south peak.  Here I noticed a couple of butterflies flitting around.  I was lucky to get a picture of one, here heavily cropped and digitally zoomed.  As far as I know it is a common species.

image of butterfly on the south peak of Twin Peaks

Butterfly on the south peak of Twin Peaks

After enjoying my visit to Twin Peaks I retraced my path past Christmas Tree Point to the main Ridge Trail route following several streets.  Along the way I noticed these beautiful flowers in someone’s tiny garden.

photo of beautiful flower in an urban garden

Beautiful flower in an urban garden

The elevation gradually descends, and the route passes several pretty churches.  There are also views of San Bruno Mountain to the south.  The route follows Ulloa St below Mt Davidson, passing an interesting-looking pedestrian bridge that crosses Portola Dr.

picture of pedestrian bridge along Ulloa St

Pedestrian bridge along Ulloa St

Just after passing the major transit station the route turns west on Vicente, passing through a residential neighborhood.  Here I found an elegant house.

image of elegant house

Elegant house

Not far from an elementary school I decided to cross Vicente, and was kindly ushered across by a school crossing guard.

After reaching the edge of Stern Grove, my previous turnaround point, I retraced my path northeast, bypassing the detour to Twin Peaks but once again climbing Mt Olympus (and finding the north steps that I’d missed on my outbound trip).   Walking along Upper Terrace toward Buena Vista Park I paused at Masonic, then made a short detour for this view of Mt Tamalpais, with beautiful St Ignatius Church in the foreground.

photo of St Ignatius Church and Mt Tamalpais

St Ignatius Church and Mt Tamalpais

I was considering climbing to the top of Buena Vista Park again, to savor one more set of spectacular city views.  However, fate took over as my camera announced that I needed to change the battery pack and I didn’t have my spare with me.  (After this experience I always carry a spare!)  But what a wonderful walk it had been!

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6 Responses to Buena Vista Park to Stern Grove

  1. Pingback: Fernandez Ranch and Pinole Watershed | trailhiker

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  4. Ellen Myers says:

    Best yet.

  5. Pingback: San Francisco: Arguello Gate to Buena Vista Park | trailhiker

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