The Castro and Twin Peaks

Today's field trip starts here, at the corner of Cortland and Bocana in my beloved Bernal Heights.


We're going to do something today that I've never done before--walk to the top of Twin Peaks. Until today, I wasn't even sure how to do that, but I found these most excellent directions posted on the Internet by a man named Bill Choisser:
"Twin Peaks is the highest point in San Francisco with a view. Tall buildings with rooftop view areas have never really caught on in San Francisco, because Twin Peaks is much higher, and the view is much better! Twin Peaks is free, but you have to get there. If you have the time, one of the most enjoyable ways is to walk. If you follow roads the route is very long, but it is much shorter following stairways..."
Indeed! Choisser's stairway knowledge is key for this journey. Without it, I would have no hope. Walking back and forth up miles of switchbacks and terraced streets? I enjoy a long walk, but come on. Also, there are so many stairways--who knows how they all fit together. See how vital that little piece of the puzzle is from this excerpt:
"At the top of Hopkins Street you will see a stairway but don't take that one. Look off to your left, down Burnett Street and spot a stairway at the bend. Take that one."
Ah, the stairway at the bend. But of course!

Let's go!

We start here in Bernal Heights by waiting for the 24-Divisadero bus to take us to Market and Castro. Once upon a time, I considered this to be San Francisco's most unreliable bus line. You could spend an hour waiting for a 24 in your direction while five went by in the other direction. I tend to drive more now, so I don't really know what the buses are like. Today, I only waited 15 minutes.

The 24 is also what I like to call "an odyssey line", meaning that if you take it from one end to another you will pass through some very different San Francisco communities and geography. After leaving Bernal Heights, the 24 skirts the Mission, passes through yuppie Noe Valley, descends into the gay Castro, crosses Market Street, cuts between the upper and lower Haight-Ashbury, continues north through the African-American Western Addition, crosses Geary, and finally rises up in to San Francisco's wealthiest enclave, Pacific Heights, where it turns around and does it all over again in the other direction. For an even better odyssey, I suggest the 22 Filmore.

The drive through Noe Valley Valley has a lot of hills. If you're intimidated by the thought of driving a car on San Francisco's hills, imagine driving a bus. I tried to take still photographs from the bus, but I should have taken movies. D'oh!



I drive these hills all the time, riding them in a bus is always a bit of a thrill for me. For everyone else, it's just another bus ride.


We pass several Chinese businesses and I can see they're getting excited about the upcoming Chinese New Year celebration.


Say Gung hei fat choi, "which loosely translates [as] 'Congratulations and be prosperous'. Often mistakenly assumed to be synonymous with 'Happy new year', its usage dates back several centuries.. The saying is now commonly heard in English-speaking communities for greetings during Chinese New Year in parts of the world where there is a sizable Chinese-speaking community..." Link.

It's a short ride to the Castro.


The Castro Theatre is a city landmark.


A film noir festival is currently underway.





Usually, the Castro is an art house theater.


Milk played for here for several days and it was quite the to-do. I'm sorry I missed it, but I see there's a return engagement beginning on Feb-15, so that's excellent. San Franciscans love to see their city in the movies, and it's fun to see a San Francisco movie in San Francisco. The audience cheers and goes nuts.


My other favorite place in the Castro is Cliff's Variety.


Equal parts hardware and home furnishings, Cliff's has it all. For example, this is where you can get a ceiling fixture molding to restore your old Victorian.



And pick up Auto Bingo cards.


Bernal Heights doesn't have a board like this and I think that's a shame.


If I need gay hypnotherapy, I have to come all the way down here to get the number.


On the other hand, if I need to come together and create a vibrant, healthy body and mind, that's something I can do in Bernal Heights.


If you're going to get hair extensions, maybe you don't want it to be fast and cheap.




Okay, moving on...


The Patio was a storied neighborhood institution for years. It's been closed for a long time, but the sign's back on and there's work going on inside. Very exciting.


This mosaic is on the side of a school.





Houses in this neighborhood tend to be especially cute.


And over-the-top, whenever possible.




There is my first stairway. As I begin to climb it, I'm thinking this day has a certain air of following the yellow brick road.


It's a doozy.


The people who live here have their front door off the side of these stairs.



Farther along, my destination comes in sight.


And looking back, the view is starts to come into scope.



I've driven under this pedestrian bridge over Market Street hundreds of times. I'm finally going to walk on it.





The view from the pedestrian bridge lines up with Bernal Hill.



Onward and upward....




It's very quiet up here, near the top.


The view gets bigger. Another view of Bernal Hill in the distance.


I like the shape of this tree.

Cupressus macrocarpa


More stairs. First I did this set:


And then I climbed these...


and then I sat down!

)Pant, pant, pant...!(

These are my new shoes.


We're almost there. I just have to climb that mountain. The plant life is mostly Baccharis pilularis and different kinds of Artemisia.


One of the streets up here is named Grandview. Indeed.

Bernal Hill in the distance





I've made it to the perimeter road. The southern peak is on my left and those are my last stairs...


And now I'm on top of the southern peak--mission accomplished!



In the distance, Mount Diablo (3849 feet).




The Farallon National Wildlife Refuge is 25 miles away. Another 25 miles beyond those islands, the continental shelf drops off 10,000 feet to the floor of the Pacific Ocean.



The clouds are doing some interesting things with the light.






I want to explore the other peak.


Franciscan chert.


The landscape doesn't change much. I like to zoom in on the city below.




And... that's it! We're done up here. I was going to take us home through Noe Valley, but I've decided to do that in a different post.

Special thanks to Bill Choisser for an excellent morning/afternoon.


Thystle said...

Lovely photos and post. But a slight correction. Twin Peaks isn't the highest point in SF, that honor goes to Mt. Davidson, a wee bit to the south and slightly west of Twin
Peaks in Miraloma Park (my hood). It has similar views of the eastern half of the city but its western side is covered in eucalyptus so no views towards the ocean. Perhaps Bill was referring to the highest point with 360 degree views. :)


Michelle said...

What a grand adventure! Loved the bus ride and the haul up the stairs. Sure is different from the hikes I take. You're making me miss "The City". Gonna have to visit someday soon. Thanks!

chuck b. said...

"Perhaps Bill was referring to the highest point with 360 degree views."

I think it's pretty clear that's what he meant. The view from Mt. Davidson is not very good.

Delphine said...

What a great and lovely place, iwould like to visit one day the US and especially your city. Thank you very much, my dear Chuck, for the walk. merci mille fois !

your french fan

Les said...

My calves hurt.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the tour! Your blog is one of my favorites. I really hope you make it to 300!

weeder1 said...

I love your "tours"!Thanks!

Bonnie Story said...

My goodness, what a Tour De Force!!! You have awakened a kaleidoscope of great memories from my (recent) CA days!! Some of my faves:

1) Happy Halloweens spent frolicking in the disco-throbbing Castro amid naughty drag nuns and cute bare buns in cowboy chaps! Whoopeee!

2) The stuff that blooms down there in JANUARY!!!! Brugmansia (be still my heart), a Tulip Tree - holy moly - and the glorious CA poppies. What a shot in the arm on this sleet-y WA day here.

3) Adorable Victorians as only SF has 'em. Gawd I love the attention to detail, the colors and shapes, and the apartments clinging to the hills remind me of great after-hours parties from back in the day ;~}

4) The splendid bay and GG bridge. Wow. Double-wow.

5) The moody Farallones, playing tag with the fog. Always there, but sometimes not... Great White Shark Club Med... Distant, foreboding, riveting, unattainable.

6) Cliff's variety. That was a great place to browse for anything. Really, anything.

Thanks for the great, crisp photos. What a gas. I'll be back - great blog!! Bonnie

Anonymous said...

This is a truly great blog post. I feel like I just followed the mysterious sequence of stairways myself.

Anonymous said...

Oh Chuck, I am so glad you are posting this frequently and such magnificent subject matter! I am out of breath, literally for I am very suggestible. I am glad you sat down and showed us your shoes, a bit of a shoe fetish too. :-) You must be in terrific shape to make this climb and thanks for showing us the sights along the way! Everything was photo worthy!

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

Another nice tour. We happened to be in town during the opening of "MIlk". There was a huge candlelight vigil going on. My brother in law lives in twin peaks, not far from the tower. Those hills are killers on the legs. There are some really pretty gardens in front of some of those houses. Looks like you had great walking weather.

Adriana said...

Thanks for taking us along... It makes me want to recreate your steps.

Ann Atkinson said...

Chuck, Great post! As I was climbing the stairs with you, I was saying Go Chuck Go!
(I don't think I would've made it to the top);-)
Glad the day was beautiful - your photos were WOW.

Chloe Marguerite said...

Fantastic post - there is nothing like San Francisco.

I love your new shoes but please, please tell me you don't normally wear 'high water' pants like that. (Just kidding around)

Chloe M.

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

What a wonderful photo journey. I'm so sorry I didn't know about this when i visited SF a few years back. That kind of journey would have been just my thing (and I also like riding the bus!!).

Anonymous said...

Nice pictures! You made me tired, but excited at the views! Very cool way to explore san francisco neighborhoods...keep it up!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tour. It is nice to see people excited by touring their own city. Be a tourist in your own town. I will once the 9" of snow melts.

Christopher C. NC said...

That was an awesome tour Chuck. San Francisco must have its own unique architectural style. Is there any other city like it?

I was wondering if Twin Peaks was the hill with the tower we see from your view at times. You need to circle your house in the view looking back.

If only I knew what my mega wealthy friend's house in Noe Valley looked like, I might find it on that upcoming tour. I really should write her and say hello.

lisa said...

I really enjoyed this adventure!! I especially like the fact that you started at "Chuck's" :)

Anonymous said...

Next time you follow the Yellow Brick Road, I hope you end up in the Emerald City!


Ondrayuh said...

Hey Chuck,

This is Erick Lux's girlfriend. I'm lying in my hospital bed right now totally pleased and inspired by this blog entry of yours. I really am in love with San Francisco and your pictures have brought it to life in such a unique and expansive way. It has really brought me so much pleasure; I love your pictures! It has also given me the impetus to one day also take on the challenge of those stairs just to see the very sights that your camera captured. Hope you are well. I have heard so many good things about you. Wishing you the best, -Andrea

Unknown said...

What most people don't realize is how rare that clear view at the top is. I drove up to the top a month or two ago and the fog was so thick, and the wind blowing you couldn't see a thing. Although I enjoyed it, you could see the look of frustration of the tourists faces.

Reminds me of the stairs by Coit tower. I think it's actually part of Filbert St. Most people have no idea they exist. I love finding the unusual small streets, stairs, crooked streets, etc.

I love The City!

Unknown said...

Oh, and by the way here is a great link to a website about the stairs of San Francisco. http://www.sisterbetty.org/stairways/coit.htm

Phillip Oliver said...

Thanks, I don't know how I missed this earlier. I actually felt my head get lighter as the photos progressed. I love those beautifully painted houses. And how neat it must be to have a theater that shows old classics like that. Fascinating city!