Secret San Francisco city parks

I love San Francisco! This weekend I took Moomin to Caffeinated Comics at Mission and 30th, an Internet cafe and comic book store. We had to repeat a bit of comic book store ethics, to wit, don’t stand there reading a whole comic book: if you’re going to read it, buy it. The food selection isn’t very wide at this brand new cafe, but the coffee is excellent and the entire store is “green”. The wireless was fast and there are power outlets. Also a plus for me, it is very wheelchair accessible, with no steps, a gently sloping ramp to an accessible bathroom, and very wide aisles, so that I can get to every part of the store. Moomin got a big book of Avengers comics and an issue of Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius. There was not a big selection of comics, but what was there was solidly interesting, and I trust it will expand as the store becomes established.

Then we drove up Bernal Hill a little ways to the corner of Winfield and Esmerelda to the Winfield Stairs Slide.


A metal double slide goes halfway down a city block rather steeply through this narrow shady garden full of flowers. There’s rubberized stuff and a sand pit at the bottom of the slide. If you bring a cardboard box or waxed paper then the slides are a lot faster. Moomin and Rook went down the slide dozens of times on cardboard boxes and raced to the top while I watched them from a shady spot on the wall at the top and read my book. (Some other day when I don’t mind killing my leg and hip, I might brave the slide and stairs back up.) That would have been enough but… I was greedy to show Moomin more of the city, so we got back in the car and drove up to the top of Bernal Hill to the park where a lot of people bring their dogs.

From the top of the hill park, I had thought Moomin and Rook might wander around or climb the hill while I stayed near the car on crutches. The view at that point in the small parking lot is to the south and east. But we ended up trying the path, which to my surprise was paved! So my wheelchair could get nearly to the top of the hill. I could not quite have done it alone but with some extra elbow power it was fine! We saw a huge gopher snake. At a point where the path turned I stopped at a park bench to look out over downtown and the bay. We could see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, all the great buildings downtown, the tree-ish line of Folsom Street, San Francisco General, the harbor and stadiums, and all of Hunters Point. Moomin and Rook continued on up the hill. I watched people running with their dogs along the gravel paths on the ridge of the hill. A guy nearby was playing guitar, there were kids with kites and someone in a tie dye shirt was blowing soap bubbles which floated down over the hill dizzyingly into infinity. You couldn’t get more san franciscoish if you tried.

bernal hill

So that was 30 bucks for the comic books and coffee and donuts, which you could get away with $20 less by avoiding buying a giant book, and, say, just buying a couple of comic books and a donut. The parks are free and surprisingly not crowded. I’ll be back at the secret slide and the not so secret top of the hill! I’m in Bernal Heights and the Mission a lot because Zond7 lives there. I want to do a bit more local blogging this summer, about the parks and small things to enjoy about those neighborhoods.

Moomin liked the rock formations on the hill. I talked a bit about subduction zones, serpentinite (California state rock) and the Franciscan melange, which is kind of a mess of old, somewhat metamorphosed, ocean floor shoved up by more ocean floor coming in underneath it, like the whole Coastal Range around here. At the other park I pointed out fennel, a jade plant, and mallow, which is a very attractive weed flowering right now; you can tell it because the leaves look a bit like geranium leaves. It is not the same as the marsh mallow (it is Malva neglecta, a good Latin name for a weed found on disturbed soil; the marsh mallow is Althea something-or-other, not Malva, but is related). I stole a piece of jade plant from the inside of a bush where it would not be missed and will try to go back in a couple of months to get an envelope-full of fennel seeds. I want some fennel in our front yard, but always seem to miss the seed harvest!


Anyway, I don’t always need every part of a park to be wheelchair accessible, and for me what is more important is having parking and a fairly clear trail and then a place to sit down (if I’m on crutches). So both the slide and the top of the hill worked out fine for me. I can’t say this too often: accessibility is not binary. It is not “yes” or “no”. For example, on the SFKids site review of the Winfield Street Slide, it just says “accessible: no.” also just has a yes/no binary about accessibility. I need to know more than that to find out if a site is accessible. What is the distance from possible parking to where I want to go? Is there a curb cut? How many stairs? Do the stairs have handrails? Is there a place to sit? Are all the paths covered in gravel? That’s what I want to know!

Here is an interesting historical tidbit about the slide:

A more boisterous park amenity–the city’s longest pair of outdoor slides–greets visitors to Bernal Heights Mini Park just a few blocks away at Winfield and Esmeralda. In the late 1970s, neighborhood activists, with help from then-Mayor George Moscone, turned the empty corner lot into a garden spot with spectacular views and a twin, 42-foot sloping steel slide. The highlight of its dedication in 1979 was the photograph of Mayor Dianne Feinstein flying exuberantly down the chute.

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