Looking for an area with a neighborhood feel and more privacy, but still want a happening main drag to stroll on Saturdays? Are you a dog owner and/or lover?
If so, Bernal Heights won't let you down. This eclectic neighborhood has great weather, hills for those awesome views, and Cortland Avenue full of delish chow, groceries, and nail places galore for the ladies (and men, if you're so inclined).
People in their '20s will think it's too far away. People in the East Bay will say, "Where?" And that's not a bad thing, because Bernal Heights is a secret that is almost--but not quite--out.
Pros & Cons
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Bernal Heights is a great area in the heart of the city if you are looking for space, yards, and nice homes. The area is actually good place to raise a family in the city, with lots of space. If you are a young professional looking for a busy city life, this area is a bit far from some of the social spots. But Bernal Heights has some very nice streets, lined with trees, plush front yards, and a very nice residential feel.
Bernal has become more diverse in recent years. Before the '90s, it was mostly White and Latino. Homes tend to be small here: If you see a big fancy house, odds are it's a remodel. The hood still retains a strong family feel. Bernal also has a pretty solid gay population. You'll see many lesbian couples with children, and a handful of gay men as well. This area's a bit cheaper than the Castro, and safer than SoMa. Perhaps best of all, people are very open and welcoming here.
Bernal Heights is apparently growing in popularity as a bedroom community for tech workers in the Silicon Valley. As the first hip SF neighborhood you approach off of Highway 101, it's a natural fit. Money from Google, Oracle, and Cisco has been used to buy up a number of houses in the neighborhood in recent years.
This is a great neighborhood if you're looking for a real community feeling. You can spend sunny Saturdays in the backyard of Wild Side West, a lesbian bar that's been around for years (you can also shoot pool there), and Skip's Tavern across the street offers live music. If you want more of a DJ experience, check out the Stray Bar, which hosts DJs every so often. You can also catch episodes of "The L Word" there.
If you own a pooch, you can talk dog with anyone and everyone at Bernal Hill, where people tote their coffees along and let their dogs run loose overlooking one of the city's best views. Bring your friends up there, and watch them turn green with envy.
Is it a good value? Depends on what you're looking for. If you're in your '30s or older and looking for an SF atmosphere that includes trees, nature, and quiet, you won't find a better place. Whatever you pay will be well worth it.
The quality of life here is excellent. You can walk to coffee, quality bars, and restaurants (where quality = friendly). You can enjoy a fun, relaxing, productive, or social day without ever needing a car. There are a few parks, many coffee bars, an organic grocery store, and more. It's probably cheaper to rent here than to buy, as the housing prices have held steady despite the recession, which means rentals prices won't be sinking soon.
Were you beginning to wonder if there were any negatives about Bernal Heights? If you've been waiting for them, here they come.
The area isn't very well served transpo-wise. For those poor people who live in St. Mary's Park, all they get is the bus (when it decides to show up). People who live close to Mission St. have the 14 and the 49; if they live in west, north, or northwest Bernal, there's also the 24th St. BART. The 24 bus runs through the Castro and Noe, then up Cortland to Bayshore and back, so if you live near Cortland, that's a possibility. If you live on Cortland and work downtown, you'll have to walk/bus to Mission St., bus to BART, and then take BART. As a result, it could take you 45 minutes to get to work.
Parking isn't great, either, and break-ins along Mission St. are a common occurrence.
You'll love Bernal, but getting to live here is another matter. Finding rentals in this neighborhood isn't easy, especially in the more sought-after parts in the northwest and around Cortland Ave. There are reportedly many people who've been living in their Bernal rental properties for years, and they don't dare leave because they know they'll never get a better deal anywhere else. This doesn't bode well for the new folks.
Bernal Heights is the kind of neighborhood that advertises for rentals with signs in the window (this old SF trick is a landlord's snobby way of keeping perspective renters confined to neighbors and friends of neighbors). Those looking on the Internet might not find much available, but you could get lucky, too. Many people post "Looking for Rentals" notices in Bernal Hill Park and by Good Life Grocery, which could be a good way to go. Come prepared with references and a completed application if you can.
In a word (or two), pets abound, especially dogs: This neighborhood is incredibly dog-friendly. Many of the local businesses leave bowls of water on their porches and have jars of treats by their registers. If you don't like dogs, it won't be impossible to live here, but it'll be tougher.
You can spot many a schnauzer, beagle, or Boston terrier tied up on Cortland on any day of the week, and the dog parks are choked with dogs on the weekends. Bernal Beast on Cortland is a great bet for scoring your dog's food, leash, and treats; They also host Rocket Dog Rescue on Saturdays several times a month, so if you're in the market for a new friend to add to the family...
Where to start? First, for exercise-lovers, you can kick off your day with a jog through Bernal Hill Park. Run along the trails on the hill and take in the view. Or do an urban hike with friends and end up on Cortland for coffee. Don't forget the pooches!
There are no gyms in Bernal, but there are a few martial arts and boxing places on Mission St. near Cesar Chavez. You won't need much, as you'll get a workout just walking home.
For the lazier bunch, start off the day with brunch on Cortland or Mission (Red Cafe is great!). Keep the social activity going with late-afternoon drinks at El Rio (that goes triple in the summer when you can hang out in their backyard). Feel like making new friends? Grab coffee and take the dog to Bernal Hill Park, where you can schmooze with other pooches and owners.
Just like with any other hood, you've got a more expensive side and a less expensive side. In Bernal, anything north of Cortland is going to be pricey, but as long as you live near Cortland, you're golden. This street has everything from an upscale hair salon to vegan ice cream to a gaggle of restaurants.
If you're looking for fewer hills, consider south Bernal. Need to be by the bus? Stick closer to Mission or Cortland. Need to be by BART? Stay closer to Cesar Chavez.
Mission St. has more restaurants and bars, but Cortland is fun and has a super-friendly neighborhood feel that you won't find as prevalent on Mission.
There's a bit of everything in Bernal, except for a gym, which you really don't need. There are several BofAs (on Mission and on Cortland). There's a Good Life Grocery on Cortland, a Safeway on Mission, and plenty of independently owned grocery stores on Mission.
There's no post office proper, but there are two in the Mission. There are also lots of dry cleaner, bakery, and nail salon options.
There are a few schools here. People say good things about the Catholic school across from Precita Park, and there are many Catholic churches in the area. There are a few other random churches, too.
If you're Jewish, there's a synagogue in Mission Dolores, and the Mission Minyan--though not a synagogue--is an interesting group to check out.