The Ultimate Guide To S.F's Bernal Heights

For those who think the Mission is where it’s at these days, we’re here to put you in check. We’d be lying if we said Bernal Heights is an on-the-rise 'hood, because the truth is, it’s already at the top. To prove that it’s the happening place to be, we’ve created this definitive short list of must-visit spots.
You might want to clear out that iCal, because we’re unloading a whopping 22 spots to set your sights on, pronto! Whether you’re in the mood for a brand-spankin’-new pizzeria or a jaw-dropping view of the city, it’s time to show Bernal some much-deserved love. Put on your exploring gear and make your way over. Don't think you could fall any more in love with this city? Think again.
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Grab your fanny packs and comfy flat boots for plenty of walking, because here's the map route you'll be trekking to explore the heart of Bernal Heights — get to steppin'!
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Bernal Hill
This stop on the agenda is a place that really needs no introduction. If you’re looking for some fresh air, moderate exercise, and a burst of inspiration (and, really, who doesn’t want all three?) then get into high gear and make your way to Bernal Hill. Bring your sweetie and your pup, and climb hand in hand up the minor hill that you’ll quickly see leads to an impeccable vantage point of the entire city and beyond. We recommend going on a clear day to really get the most of the looking point. Be sure not to mess up the rock-made crop circle on the way up.
Bernal Hill, at the top of Folsom Street; No phone.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Hillside Supper Club
Hillside Supper Club feels like such a hidden gem, that we almost don’t want to tell you all about it to keep it all to ourselves. Once you taste the fresh, seasonal California fare that restaurant chefs, Tony Ferrari and Jonathan Sutton, churn out, you’ll want to keep it a secret, too. If you come for brunch, do your palette a favor and order the comforting goetta inspired by the popular German-American dish from Ferrari’s childhood in Cincinnati. It’s also the only restaurant in the city to carry the slightly spicy Chicaoji sauce so that is reason alone to wander in. When you’ve got an appetite for a charming, park side eatery, a tight knit friendly staff, and food that tastes like home (if Ma got some serious culinary training, that is) then head to Hillside.
Hillside Supper Club, 300 Precita Avenue (at Folsom Street); 415-285-6005.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Badger Books
Cramped bookstores with a limited supply and that give you the stink eye for sitting down with a good read are so not the business. That’s exactly why we love Badger Books, because the open, airy space with every subject under the sun, encourages sit downs with the materials. Plus, we’re willing to bargain it has the largest children’s section in the city — some days you can even see parents reading to their little’s ones, and yes it’s too cute for words. Don’t neglect the magazine rack either, it has a periodical to please everyone from the fashionably inclined to science enthusiasts. We’re pretty sure we gained brain cells just by browsing through it all.
Badger Books, 401 Cortland Avenue (at Bennington Street); 415-648-5331.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Bernal Yoga
Balancing out the neighborhood’s horde of restaurants, dessert-filled bakeries, and cocktail bars is fitness destination Bernal Yoga. And, trust us, your waistline will thank you for this one. The studio prides itself on being an all-level community for both yoga and pilates, and teaches everything from vinyasa to restorative flow, making it the perfect spot to achieve some zen after a long day of exploring the area. If you’re more into intense exercise for a burst of endorphins, sign up for its strength training courses in the morning, and if you’ve got a mini-me in your life, we hear the kids yoga class is utterly adorable.
Bernal Yoga, 908 Cortland Avenue (at Folsom Street); 415-643-9007.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Holy Water
Get acquainted with the new kid on the Cortland block by saddling up to Holy Water’s bar. The freshly opened drinking spot, if you haven’t guessed yet, is a play on the religious blessing ritual that will have you feeling spiritual, indeed. There’s a cocktail made of every liquor to ensure you get to pick the poison you prefer, and on the craft beer list you’ll find a hefty sour selection and some Belgium ales. So, if you’ve been praying for a cool new spot to imbibe at, consider the call answered.
Holy Water, 309 Cortland Avenue (at Bocana Street); 415-555-5555.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Rock Bar
A bar with a theme might come across as too kitschy, but Rock Bar’s miner motif is right on the money. The lantern logo, stonewall façade, décor, and drink menu all play homage to the owners' dads who worked the collier trade. Once a month, you can come in and experience an artful indie flick, like Can’t Stop The Lobster and imbibe one of its rotating speakyeasy beers. Since it shares the same management as The Front Porch, you can even order anything off the restaurant’s menu, and it’ll deliver it to you at the bar. Yep, coming here will make you feel like you struck gold.
Rock Bar, 80 29th Street (at Tiffany Avenue); 415-550-6664.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Succulence
Stroll into Succulence on Cortland Street, and you’ll feel like you walked into a lush wonderland of the namesake plants that is a botanists’ ultimate dream. The location recently expanded, taking over the previous movie rental spot, making more room for the vertical gardens, terrariums, and colorful cacti. Ready-to-buy pots line the shelves, but if you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, the greenery outpost hosts classes to get your green thumb ripe with experience.
Succulence, 402 Cortland Avenue (at Bennington Street); 415-282-2212.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Cafe St. Jorge
Sure, every neighborhood needs it requisite café, but Café St. Jorge goes above and beyond the just your morning latte stop. Owner Andrea de Francisco, who goes by "captain" at the nautical-inspired coffee bar, churns gluten-free toast out of the oven as well as heavenly orange blossom waffles — oh, and did we mention you can top the delectables with its house made Nutella cream cheese? The menu is dedicated to serving the gluten-free, vegan crowd and has some savory staples to serve all palettes, including some inspired by her native Portuguese roots. Those playful at heart should stop by on Thursday evenings to get in on competitive game night that goes from 5 to 8 p.m. With all that, if you still come by just for a cup of Joe, then you are seriously missing out.
Cafe St. Jorge, 3488 Mission Street (at Cortland Avenue); 415-814-2028.
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Photo: Courtesy of ICHI Sushi.
ICHI Sushi
We love when an already-awesome eatery has something even better in the works, and that’s exactly the case when it comes to Bernal’s beloved ICHI Sushi. The Japanese restaurant, known for its omakase, is expanding just a block down from its current location with some impressive new digs. While the original spot had you rubbing elbows quite literally, new and improved ICHI will be so spacious, it’s actually divided into three different sections: part regular dining space, part Izakaya bar, and part reservation-only omakase. Loyal followers, get ready to get even more excited because the menu is bringing back the yuzu chicken wings that are drenched in potato starch. The space will open its doors officially the week after Valentine’s Day, so don’t get too full on chocolates!
ICHI Sushi, 3282 Mission Street (at 29th Street); 415-525-4750.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Heartfelt Shop
We dare you to enter Heartfelt and not fall in love with every little thing on the shelves. The gift shop on Cortland is the very definition of quirky from its merch to its design. You could find exactly what you looking for by following its wooden aisle signs, or wander through the rows of whimsical trinkets to find things like an Elvis mug, cookbooks, and letter press. Just be sure to say hello to Kikker, the shop’s six-year-old singing parakeet, on the way out.
Heartfelt, 436 Cortland Street (at Wool Street); 415-648-1380.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
The Blue Plate
The sign that reads "eat" outside of The Blue Plate may be a little unnecessary, because once you got a glimpse of the menu, that’s all you’ll want to do. The dishes have a Mediterranean slant to them, but there are also familiar, comforting meals like fried chicken with jalapeno buttermilk dressing that will take your taste buds to another level. The back patio is like a lush oasis that will call your name no matter the weather, and you can bring your four-legged friend so he can get his zen on, too. Order up any bites here, and you’ll leave feeling anything but blue.
The Blue Plate, 3218 Mission Street (at Valencia Street); 415-282-6277.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Sandbox Bakery
While there’s no shortage of carb-tastic bakeries in the city — you could even say they come dime a dozen — but Sandbox has some standout goods coming out of the oven. The owner, Mutsumi, is whipping up batches of Asian delectable’s like negi miso and Japanese breakfast boxes that sell out almost instantly, so get there before the buns rise. Get your hands on any of these yummers and your sweet tooth won’t know what hit it.
Sandbox Bakery, 833 Cortland Avenue (at Gates Street); 415-642-8580.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Suite Foods Waffle Shop
Suite Foods Waffle Shop is taking the Belgium treat back to its roots. Outside of The States, the ironed sweet isn’t reserved for brunch, and instead is eaten by hand as a street food. And, don’t even think about adding syrup — these waffles don’t need it. You’ll choose from sweet or savory options, like maple bacon and sundried tomato, and you’ll only have to wait a couple minutes to dig in. If you like things over-the-top saccharine, order one up completely stuffed with the Frozens Kuhsterd’s creamy goodness — what a load of waffle!
Suite Foods Waffle Shop, 331 Cortland Avenue (at Bennington Street); 415-754-3435.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack
When roaming the streets by day, it wouldn’t be hard to miss Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack, but at night its colorful outside lights twinkle, inviting you into its unpretentious noodle house. Inside, the intimate dark space offers a roadhouse, dive bar feel and its menu is familiar and unfussy — read spaghetti and meatballs and donut and ice cream desserts. The entire place makes you feel like you’re inside the dream restaurant of that cool creative girl in high school, and even the menu is drawn like it was doodled in a notebook. The menu is seasonal, which is as good excuse as any to keep coming back as soon as the leaves change.
Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack, 18 Virginia Avenue (at Mission Street); 415-206-2086.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Precita Park
They say all dogs go to heaven, but what we think they really meant was that they set out to Precita Park. More than half the area is devoted to canine companions that get to race around with other four-legged friends. So, whether you have a pooch of your own, or just want to hang out with your “dawgs” of a different variety, this grassland is the prime choice in the hood. On the other side, there’s a playground for the kiddos to spoil the little ones in your life with some outdoor fun. All in all, chilling here is a wholesome, alfresco way to pass the time sans the crowds at other spots.
Precita Park, 3200 Folsom Street (between Bessie Street and Precita Avenue); 415-513-2577.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
The Front Porch
When it's comfort and southern hospitality you crave, park yourself at one of The Front Porch’s rocking chairs. The New Orleans style menu is most famous for its finger-lickin’-good fried chicken, and its Dr. Pepper braised short ribs and spicy shrimp grits follow along as close runner ups. It has the same owners as Rock Bar across the street, so if you’re waiting to be seated, you can hop over to the watering hole and grab a drink until your table’s ready. There’s no better place to go for a mouth full of south.
The Front Porch, 65 29th Street (at Tiffany Avenue); 415-695-7800.
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Photographed by Jessica Velez.
PizzaHacker
Anyone who’s familiar with S.F. street food should already be accustomed to the pies slung by PizzaHacker. Owner Jeff Krupmen got his start by rigging his at-home oven to reach heats at up to 800 degrees, hence the name. Now, his usual pop-up has turned into a brick and mortar that is a newbie to the upper Mission strip at barely two weeks old. The casual space has cafeteria-style benches and a large, old-school looking green chalkboard that lists the current menu. You’ll always find its classics ready to hit your table, like the Rocket Man and Top Shelf Margherita, while the rest are seasonal — and any pie can easily be vegetarian friendly if you so desire.
PizzaHacker, 3299 Mission Street (at 29th Street); 415-285-6005.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Precita Park Cafe
As if sitting caddy-corner to the oh-so-peaceful Precita Park wasn’t reason enough to enter this cafe, its practically limitless menu has us claiming it as a stomping ground. The oft-sun soaked space recently hired on a new pasty chef from Chicago, so what we’re really saying is: Don’t second guess yourself on ordering that slice of pie. Actually, go to town on the sweets because some of it is gluten-free, and all of it is satisfying. Of course, the cups of Sightglass coffee, the squeezed juice mixtures, and the friendly talkative staff are pretty stellar, too. Pop a squat on one of the mid-century Eames shell chairs, get cozy with a warm mug, and go about your business (read: stare off into the gorgeous park).
Precita Park Cafe, 500 Precita Avenue (at Alabama Street); 415-647-7702.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Mitchell’s Ice Cream
If you scream for yummy ice cream, then Mitchell’s crazy-creative flavors will make you shriek until your voice is gone. You’ll have to wait until the crowd dies down (which is practically never) but it’s worth it once you grab your scoop. May we humbly suggest the Grasshopper Pie? Don’t worry, no insects were harmed in the making of this treat. Instead, Mitchell’s packed together mint chocolate chip ice cream with chunks of Oreos and fudge. No matter your choice, you’re guaranteed to slurp up every last bit.
Mitchell’s Ice Cream, 688 San Jose Avenue (at 29th Street); 416-648-2300.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
El Rio
You may recognize this spot on HBO’s new S.F.-based show, Looking if you haven’t gone in for a wild night already. El Rio is known for its outlandish scheduled dance parties in the tropically outfitted back patio, where folks of all strokes come to shake what their mamas gave ’em. Inside, you’ll find the usual bar past times like pool and shuffleboard — but come Thursday night for intense ping pong competitions! To sum it up, only come to El Rio if you seriously ready to get down and party. Wallflowers need not apply.
El Rio, 3158 Mission Street (at Preciat Avenue); 415-282-3325.
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Photographed by Ashley Batz.
Virgil’s Sea Room
When you’re not in the mood to catch a bout of jungle fever over at El Rio — but still want to soak up some says — there’s Virgil’s Sea Room right next door. It too has a spacious outdoor patio complete with heating lamps (and occasionally a pop up from PizzaHacker!). There, you can sip back specialty cocktails named after infamous denizens like Vicki Marlane, Warren Hellman, and the sartorially eccentric twins Marian and Vivian Brown. Inside’s you’ll find a different vibe, with a dim old-timey saloon feel that will set you right back to the gold rush days, and you’ll feel like a hit a jackpot, too, for choosing this water hole.
Virgil’s Sea Room, 3142 Mission Street (at Precita Avenue); 415-829-2233.
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