Garden Streets of
Bernal Heights

Urban Explorations



• Views of Downtown
• Joy Steps
• Community gardens
• Esmeralda Steps and slide

Difficult hills and stairs
2-3 hours

This urban hike winds its way over hills and stairs on Bernal Heights, a charming low-key neighborhood at the southern end of the Mission. You'll encounter numerous garden staircases and a warren of narrow streets that zig-zag around the hill. The streets sometimes seem almost rustic, recalling a San Francisco from long ago.

Printable Map (pdf file)

Updated 10/20/03

Start at intersection of Cesar Chavez and Mission Streets. The #49 Van Ness bus and #14 Mission bus both go there.


• Facing south where Mission Street angles off 45 degrees to the right, walk 1 block down Mission.
• Left on Precita Street and walk 1 block.
Coso Square
-----Coso Square is a triangular green lined with Victorian homes.
• Cross Coso Street and turn right to walk along the far side of the square.
• Sharp left on Mirabel Avenue at end of square.
• Right on Shotwell Street where Mirabel ends and walk 2 blocks.
• Right at Aztec Street sign and ascend the Aztec Steps.
• Continue along Aztec Street 1 block until it ends at Coso Avenue and Winfield Street.
• Cross Coso Avenue and veer left down Winfield Street 2 blocks.
• Left on Virginia Avenue, ascending the sidewalk steps which raise you above street level.
• Sharp left at next intersection (Elsie Street) and follow narrow sidewalk behind houses 1 block.
• When you emerge, make a sharp right and walk back down Elsie 1.5 blocks.
• Right on Eugenia Street and walk 1 block.
Eugenia Community Garden
-----Residents grow vegetables and herbs in terraces along the stairs.
• Proceed straight and descend Eugenia Garden Steps.
• Left on Prospect Avenue at bottom of stairs and walk 1 block.
Prospect Community Garden
-----Grape arbors arch over this stepped path beside vegetable and herb plots.
• Proceed straight and ascend Prospect Garden Steps.
• Left at Santa Marina Street and walk 1 block.
• Left at Elsie Street and walk 1 block.
• Right at Cortland Avenue, the neighborhood main street, and walk about a dozen blocks.
• Left at Nevada Street and walk 1 block.
• Cross Powhattan Avenue and veer right on Bernal Heights Blvd. about 2 blocks.
• Right on Esmeralda Avenue (NOT the street that drops down the hill on your right) and walk 1 block.
• Right at unmarked set of stairs and descend to Franconia/Brewster Streets.
• Left on Brewster Street and walk about 1 block.
Joy Steps
-----Beautifully landscaped stairs and landings meander down the hillside, with cottages on your left.
• Turn right and descend the Joy Steps.
• Left at bottom of stairs on Holladay Avenue and walk 3 blocks, passing Faith Street.
Faith is a dead-end street
-----Some urban planner had a sense of humor. This small street rises half a block and abruptly ends. As you pass, be sure to look back at the street sign.
• After Costa Street, turn left and climb Rutledge Steps.
Rutledge Steps
-----This set of tree-shaded stairs rises 2 blocks.
• At top of second block, turn left on Brewster and walk 1 block.
• As you reach Costa Street, cross Brewster to the hillside garden on your right.
• Climb the sidewalk steps part way, then turn left into the garden.
Costa Community Garden
-----Residents grow vegetables and herbs in this large patch of land on the hillside.
• Follow the path through the levels of the garden, then take the stairs at the far right end.
• Right at the top of the stairs and walk a few paces to the intersection.
• Toward your left across the street will be a set of stairs.
• Descend the Franconia Steps, part of which is a dirt trail.
• Cross Montcalm Street, descend the steps and continue down Franconia 1 block.
• Right on Mullen Street and ascend sidewalk stairs to a bluff.
Park and Peralta Steps
-----This undeveloped little park has a bench and great views toward downtown. Starting here, Peralta Avenue is broken up into chunks by the hillside, connected by stairs over the course of 3 blocks.
• Take the path through the park, which turns to the left, and climb the steps at the end of the path.
• Cross Montcalm and proceed up Peralta Avenue (a rather humble half block with grand ambitions).
• At dead-end, ascend the stairs.
• Cross Rutledge Street and ascend more stairs.
• You’ll emerge at the intersection of Samoset, Peralta and Ripley Streets.
• Continue straight on Peralta 1 block.
• Right on Esmeralda Avenue and walk 1 block (you may notice you’ve passed by here before).
• Veer left on Bernal Heights Blvd., heading uphill 1 block (several intersecting streets head downhill).
• Left on Carver Street then immediate right on Mayflower Street (looks more like a country road).
• This unmaintained road passes beneath eucalyptus trees then curves downhill.
• At intersection cross Chapman Street and descend Nevada Steps over on your left.
• Right at bottom of stairs on Powhattan Avenue and walk 4 blocks.
• Cross Gates Street, ascend wooden steps and path, then continue 3 more blocks on Powhattan.
• Right on Andover.
• Where street dead ends, take the path over to your left that winds through a cactus garden.
• Keep to the path as it follows the fences behind the homes for about 2 blocks until it ends at stairs.
Esmeralda Steps
-----This enchanting trio of stairs along Esmeralda starts in a wooded glen next to a large vegetable garden and descends past gardens and playgrounds.
• Descend the Esmeralda Steps.
• Proceed straight on Esmeralda Street 1 block.
• Descend the second set of stairs — or, if you’re feeling playful, take the twin slide.
• Continue ahead on Esmeralda 1 block.
• Descend the third set of stairs.
• At the bottom, across Coleridge Street to your right, is a mini-park/playground perched on a hilside.
• Right on ColeridgeStreet and walk 3 blocks back to Coso Square.
• Left on Precita, then left on Mission and walk 1 block back to your starting point.