Babes in Bernal: Secrets of a Family-Friendly Hotspot

Known to some locals as Maternal Heights for its extreme family-friendliness, Bernal Heights rises around it’s namesake hill, which is visible from just about anywhere in the eastern half of the city. Lying just south of the Mission District, Bernal boasts proximity to countless restaurants and shops, plus it’s banded on the east and south by a pair of highways, making getting out of town a snap. It’s this magic mix of geographic convenience, quiet residential streets and lovely parks that earned Bernal Heights the title “Hottest Neighborhood of 2014”. Here, we help you find out what the fuss is all about.


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Bernal Heights Park
Little legs love to climb this
just-right” hill and furry friends are welcome here; enjoy an afternoon on the hill and take advantage of its off-leash dog policies. The 360-degree view at the top can’t be beat.

Bernal Heights Blvd.
San Francisco, Ca

The Winfield Slides
On the west side of Bernal Hill lies a little-known hidden SF gem: a pair of metal slides at Esmerelda and Winfield Streets. Bring waxed paper or wear synthetic fabrics for the fastest ride!

Esmerelda and Winfield Sts.,
San Francisco, Ca

Holly Park
Recently renovated Holly Park entices kids to roll down the hill and climb, slide or run around the playground. There’s even tennis and basketball courts at this circular green spot, one of the oldest public parks in SF, and a popular birthday party venue.

Holly Park Circle
San Francisco, Ca

Precita Park
This kiddie haven offers a gated playground for toddlers, a butterfly garden, and benches for parents to take a breather. It’s located at the northern base of Bernal Hill, and also allows dogs.

3200 Folsom St.
San Francisco, Ca

St. Mary’s Recreation Center
The original home of Moraga’s St. Mary’s College, St. Mary’s Park is a planned community shaped like a church bell, with rows of tidy lawns and homes, many owned by children and grandchildren of the original owners. Sitting on the south side of the hill, it’s a sunny, friendly micro-hood within Bernal Heights. It boasts a newly remodeled playground and community center with basketball and tennis courts, a baseball diamond, a dog run, and more.

Murray and Justin Sts.
San Francisco, Ca


Photo: stu_spivack via Flickr


Alemany Farmers’ Market
Any weekend trip to Bernal should kick off in the far southeast corner of this ‘hood, at the “people’s market.” With a down-home approach to farm-to-table, the market sells local produce and food (including fresh oysters!) from dawn to dusk every Saturday.

100 Alemany Blvd.
San Francisco, Ca

Chloe’s Closet
Don’t pass up the opportunity to tour Cortland Avenue’s shops; drop by Chloe’s Closet for deals on gently used designer kids’ clothing and new and used toys.

451 Cortland Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Browse through the aptly-named Heartfelt for ‘fun frugal finds’; this shop boasts a wide assortment of sparklies, trinkets and toys your kids are sure to love. They even have a pop-up location for holiday shopping at 301 Cortland.

436 Cortland Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Bernal Heights Library
In the mood for something quieter? Check out the story hours (or Lego Night!) at the Bernal Hill Library. If your kids have the wiggles, the play structure out back is the closest playground to Cortland Street.

500 Cortland St.
San Francisco, Ca

Bernal Beast
Want to do something nice for the furry members of the family? Check out Bernal Beast, a full-service pet store featuring pet salons and nummy pet treats. Too bad they don’t bathe muddy toddlers.

509 Cortland Ave.
San Francisco, Ca


Photo: Pizza Hacker by Erin Feher


Bernal Star
Longtime neighborhood standard the Liberty Cafe closed its doors earlier this year, but thankfully the spot has now transformed into Bernal Star, a casual cafe in the same vein as Liberty. The signature chicken pot pie is no more, but there’s an emphasis on grass-fed burgers, and Bernal Star offers a tempting kid’s menu for brunch and dinner. A huge draw for shaking up family fun night: outdoor movies on their patio!

410 Cortland Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Pizza Hacker
When Jeff Krupman moved his streetside pizza operation into a brick-and-mortar restaurant at the western base of Bernal Hill, locals rejoiced. The Neopolitan-style pizzas are some of the city’s most-lauded, and the littles will love watching the cooks toss the dough in their open kitchen or making pizza-inspired art on the giant chalkboard wall.

3299 Mission St.
San Francisco, Ca

Little Nepal
Kids with an adventurous palate may go for the mouthwatering tandoori and curries at this longtime neighborhood staple. At the very least, the Himalayan momos (dumplings) and are sure to be a hit. Remind them to say “Namaste” to the restaurant staff on their way out!

925 Cortland Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

Al’s Cafe
If your kids are more of the pancake and hamburger variety, there’s down-home diner food to be had at Al’s. You can test your movie knowledge (and show your kids how OLD you are) by pointing out the classic Hollywood memorabilia on the walls.

3286 Mission St.
San Francisco,  Ca

Progressive Grounds
Visit Progressive Grounds to feel like a local—this cafe serves a wide variety of delicious treats (including Mitchell’s ice cream by the scoop), but its warm, welcoming atmosphere draws customers from miles around. Make sure to visit the back patio; cozy cushioned seats and a small fireplace give way to an outdoor terrace that has to be seen to be believed.

400 Cortland Ave.
San Francisco, Ca


Photo: Tiffany Ingram at 


Little Bee Baking
A relative newcomer, but already wildly popular is Stacie Pierce’s (of Chez Panisse) Little Bee Baking. Goodies like locally-sourced rosemary cornmeal cookies, flourless brownies, and ginger loaves are among the freshly made daily delights for the sweet tooth.

521 Cortland Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

331 Cortland Market/Suite Foods
One of the most innovative additions to the neighborhood is a quad of food vendors who all have booths within the same storefront. You can grab a bowl of Thai food, a piroshki, and a jar of artisanal pickles all in one spot—but we recommend the Liege-style chocolate waffle from Suite Foods.

331 Cortland St.
San Francisco, Ca
Suite Foods
Anda Piroshki 415-821-9905
Mae Krua  415-574-7334
Paulie’s Pickling  415-285-0800

Sadly, Maggie Mudd’s is no more, but if your youngster has to have a cold, sweet treat, Mitchell’s Ice Cream lies just on the outer edge of Bernal Heights. The line can be intimidating on hot days, but if you hit it when it’s uncrowded, the staff is happy to give lots of samples. Try the ube, halo halo, and coconut.

688 San Jose Ave.
San Francisco, Ca

—Sarah Mueller Bossenbroek

What did we miss from this family-friendly hood? Tell us in the comments below.

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