Category Archives: Biking & Hiking in the San Francisco Bay Area

Off-the-beaten bike rides and hikes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Carmel Valley Hikes

Carmel, aka Carmel-by-the-Sea, is another of those world famous Northern California places I’m ashamed to admit I’d never visited. Until early November of last year, the closest I’d gotten was Monterey. But a few months ago I had a work reason to go, and made a weekend out of it, though most of what I did had little to do with the small downtown area that’s its biggest tourist draw.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean, viewed from Carmel Valley.

If you like hiking, as I do, the Carmel area has a few spectacular ones. I only had time to do a couple, both in the Carmel Valley, which is just a bit inland from the downtown area. Both were just off the main route going east just south of downtown, Carmel Valley Road. The trail to Inspiration Point in Palo Corona Regional Park is by far the better known of the pair, though even so, it wasn’t so crowded on a Saturday morning.

View of the Valley from the lower part of the trail to Inspiration Point.

The route to Inspiration Point, from a parking lot a couple blocks after turning off Carmel Valley Road at Rio Road, isn’t too long. The 1.3 miles, however, are a little too steep to be called moderate, rising to an elevation of 850 feet at Inspiration Point. You have to wind around a hillside trail that never gets too steep, but the uphill is constant, so you should be in acceptable shape to walk it.

On the way up to Inspiration Point.

The view from Inspiration Point takes in Carmel Beach and the surrounding area, though the water’s fairly distant:

Although there wasn’t abundant wildlife on my hike, I did see a deer, who wasn’t too alarmed by my presence about fifty years away as my camera zoomed in for pictures:

There are a few pleasant bridges on the way up and down, like these:

Carmel Valley Ranch is a few miles east of the trail to Inspiration Point. You’ve got to know exactly where you’re going to find the trailhead, and if I hadn’t driven there with a local, I wouldn’t have easily gotten to the small path that gets you to the ranch’s corral:

Unusually, there are llamas at the corral, though they’re not to easy to photograph when they’re behind a railing:

There are extensive lengthy trails in the ranch that go up quite a ways, and it would take at least a half-day trip to get to hilltop views. At least you’ll likely be undisturbed by crowds, as I only saw about a half dozen others during my walk. I only had between an hour or two, but that was enough to get some of the countless views in the area of the Carmel Valley:

My brief visit was mostly hiking, but it wasn’t all hiking. Here’s some of what you’re likely to see at Carmel Beach, a quick walk from the large free parking lot at the end of the main drag, Ocean Avenue:

San Francisco’s New Tunnel Tops/Battery Bluff Parks

Does San Francisco need more parks? It already has more park space, from the huge and famous Golden Gate Park to tiny near-hidden neighborhood greenery, than almost any other city. Most Bay Area residents, however, would emphatically answer that there can’t be enough parks. And a couple of new ones have opened in an area that, though located near very popular resident and tourist attractions, was until recently something of a barren wasteland.

View of the Golden Gate bridge and the lower (playground) part of the new Tunnel Tops park in San Francisco’s Presidio.

It might be hard to believe when you walk or bike around the waterfront between the Palace of Fine Arts and the Golden Gate Bridge today, but it wasn’t that long ago that the area between the trail that goes along the water and the Presidio was kind of dumpy. Crissy Field was spruced up for the better with its transformation from a waste dump to a restored wetlands habitat, complete with walkable trails and occasional temporary public art installations. But the incline between the road on the south side of Crissy Field and the main part of the Presidio was pretty scrubby and uninviting, with no special reason to spend time there, though a bike path went through part of it. The busy highway connecting the Marina district to the bridge runs through here, and seemed to inhibit much natural or human activity along this border of sorts.

That changed in the spring with the opening of small Battery Bluff Park, and then in mid-summer with the opening of the larger Tunnel Tops park. Tunnel Tops will get more use, in part because it’s easier to walk there from Crissy Field, and in part because there’s more to do there, especially for kids in the lower part nearest the road:

The upper part has fairly large green spaces to walk around, as well as curved benches to take in the view of the bay and the bridge:

If you take a space on those benches, it seems like the view would be a lot more interesting than whatever’s on your phone:

To the east, you get a view of the city skyline as it overlooks Russian Hill, including the Transamerica pyramid and the city’s newest tallest building (Salesforce Tower):

There are already a few food stands/trucks, and will likely be more as the park gets more popular. The few I saw on my first visit in early August, refreshingly, were more ethnic and imaginative than the typical hot dog stand:

With six acres, Battery Bluff Park is a little less than half the size of Tunnel Tops. It’s only a few minutes walk (only about two or three by bike) up from the upper level of Tunnel Tops, though, and likely to be less crowded. You also get good views of the bridge from here, though sometimes with the remains of batteries, reminding us the Presidio used to be employed for military purposes:

You can see Alcatraz in the distance:

Across the street, there’s another reminder that the Presidio used to be a major military base, with a large national cemetery:

More so than at Tunnel Tops, there are reminders that these parks were built on top of highway tunnels:

To the west, the bike path winds down past some buildings and then up toward the bridge. Although it’s not too well known to the public, one of the buildings houses the Presidio Park Archives and Records Center, which has a large collection of historical photos. Many of them are related to the military and the Presidio’s connection to it, but some of them aren’t, and have a surprisingly wide range of unusual shots of other aspects of Bay Area life. It’s free and open to the public for research at specified hours:

There’s info about Tunnel Tops park at; about Battery Bluff at; and about the Presidio Park Archives and Records Center at

Lands End Exhibit at the Cliff House

San Francisco’s Cliff House has seen its share of turbulence since the first one was built in the 1860s. It burned down a couple times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and then it underwent multiple renovations and ownership changes. At the end of 2020 it closed, like many restaurants have over the last couple years. Permanent closure seems unimaginable, as it’s a landmark with views of nearby Ocean Beach and offshore rocks that are magnificent even by San Francisco’s high standards.

Ocean Beach, as seen from inside the Cliff House.

It’s likely to be bought and operated as a restaurant by new entrepreneurs in the near future. But at this point, it’s kind of in limbo, though it remains owned by the National Park Service. So why write about it now? Well, from November through March, it hosted a Lands End exhibit of art with the stated goal “to discover artwork in unlikely places and to consider the planet’s health.”

Kitchen art made from ocean detritus, as part of the Lands End exhibit

And why write about the exhibit now that it’s closed? It’s a modest record of how the building was used for an unexpected purpose that might, unfortunately, be the only such use in its long history. As most Bay Area residents know, as well as many tourists, the Cliff House usually houses average, overpriced restaurants and a gift shop, patronized by at least as many out-of-towners as locals. If you do eat there, it’s mostly for the views, although you can get similar ones for free walking around nearby. This marked a perhaps one-of-a-kind opportunity both to get somewhat different views unobstructed by restaurant crowds, and see the large multi-level space used much differently than it usually has.

Worn downstairs booths remained in place in the middle of the exhibition.

It used to be that if you ate in the Cliff House, there was lots of the standard restaurant clutter—patrons, staff, tables, kitchens, bars—interfering with the views and generally creating a slightly hectic atmosphere. Admittedly, I only ate there once, for a birthday, when we were fortunate enough to get a windowside table with good sunset views of ocean rocks, and (on the evening of Martin Luther King Day) might have been less busy than usual. As you can see in what remains of the upstairs dining area, though, it was a fairly crowded layout:

Especially as the exhibit had timed admissions so there weren’t many people there at any given point, there were clearer panoramic views of the ocean and water. As San Franciscans know, though it seems to be constantly surprising to many visitors, fog can roll in quickly on a sunny day. That’s what happened during our visit:

Ocean Beach before the fog
Fog roling into Ocean Beach, just a few minutes later
Fog on the water

By the end of our visit a couple hours later, the beach was completely fogged in:

That meant the Camera Obscura, a staple of the Cliff House for many years, had to be closed:

Youngsters near the Camera Obscura

As for the exhibit, first of all, it gave visitors a chance to ramble through large parts of the building—especially the kitchen and maintenance areas—that were inaccessible to the public, revealing just how big a place it is. One part even had a large screening room of a quirky environmental film:

Also quirky was the art, illuminating various environmental topics, especially climate change:

A docent said that, sadly, this is almost certainly the only exhibit that will take place, as bids are currently being made by prospective restaurant operators. At least the surrounding Golden Gate National Recreation Area, itself called Lands End, will remain free and open to locals and visitors. These are just some of the highlights of a walk around the area:

The long abandoned Sutro Baths, on the beach just to the east of the Cliff House
Tunnel in the Sutro Baths
Tip of the Golden Gate Bridge emerges from the fog, as seen from the Lands End walk that runs about a mile east of the Cliff House
Rocks just offshore from the Cliff House

Cable Cars: A Free Ride

When I post about things to see and do in the Bay Area in my blog, I focus on biking and hiking. I also focus on sights and locales that are off the beaten path. San Francisco cable car rides are not off the beaten path, and they don’t involve biking or hiking, either. They’re among the city’s biggest tourist attractions. So what gives with this post?

View from front of the cable car, looking toward downtown from Powell and California Streets.

My excuse, if you want to call it that, is that for the entire month of August, all San Francisco cable car rides were free. They’d been out of commission, like so many things all over the world, for almost the last year and a half. This is part of a city plan to test the equipment after they’d been out of service for so long. Maybe that doesn’t make the most cautious of riders feel so easy when the cars stop and start down some of the steepest urban streets in the country, though the risk seems pretty minimal, or at least not appreciably greater than taking the cars has always been.

Here’s an embarrassing confession: although I’ve lived in the Bay Area for about 35 years, it had been decades since I’ve taken a cable car. Rides are a lot more expensive than they are on the city’s regular streetcars, buses, and trains: $8.00 one way. Cable cars go to Fisherman’s Wharf, which is considered a tourist ghetto by San Francisco residents. Sure, some snobbery comes into play – why pay extra to jam yourself onto a car with a bunch of tourists to someplace you don’t want to go, when you have more important things to do?

The view up Powell Street from the line waiting to board at Powell and Market Streets.

You can’t turn down a free ride, though, so I took a couple in August. So here’s another confession. The ride’s great, fun, and not an overblown tourist hype. Not worth the $16 roundtrip in normal times, perhaps, but certainly worth a ride at some point. Even if, by the time you read this, the free rides will be over, and who knows if they’ll ever happen again.

As far as I could tell, the only line in service during this free month test run was the one people usually take, running downtown from Powell and Market Streets to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was a twenty-thirty-minute wait, but there’s some entertainment on offer when the operators make the manual turnaround at the terminal:

There are some mediocre street entertainers at the stop that are too loud for my taste. Surprisingly, however, one dancer played Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Firecracker” on his boom box at one point during his routine. That’s not exactly standard fare for street entertainment. (Trivia note: Japan’s YMO were one of the few non-African-American acts to appear on Soul Train.)

There’s no canned music on the cable car, and plenty of views as it makes its way up Powell and then down Hyde to Fisherman’s Wharf. This is from the stop at Lombard (where it’s, famously, the world’s crookedest street) and Hyde:

From Powell and California, the Transamerica Pyramid:

You can see the Bay Bridge at some point, though usually not too much of it:

This isn’t the kind of scenery that will draw many photos from tourists, but near the end of the ride, you’ll see a significant new park (to be called Francisco Park) under construction where there used to be a reservoir:

The ride ends just a few blocks down the hill from there:

There’s another turnaround when you take the ride back to downtown from the Hyde Street terminal. There’s a line, too, though it was more like ten minutes instead of twenty-thirty the second time I took it:

There’s also a view of Golden Gate Bridge from the terminal, though it can be pretty foggy:

What to do in Fisherman’s Wharf? The only thing I like to do, except bicycle through it, is check out the sea lions on Pier 39. There’s always a crowd on the benches, but it’s worth the view:

Hiking The Elkhorn Slough Reserve

Earlier this month, I traveled outside of the San Francisco Bay Area for the first time in a year and a half. Not that far outside of the Bay Area, I admit. In fact, I took about as short a drive as I could—around two hours—that would technically get me outside of the region. All the way south to Watsonville, about eighteen miles southeast of Santa Cruz.

The view from where I stayed in Watsonville, at the restful artist retreat the Git Gat Gîte, hosted by former new wave musician Judy Gittelsohn and Greg Gatwood – info at

What do you do in Watsonville, once you’ve gotten your day trip to Santa Cruz out of the way? Well, I wasn’t looking to do much. The main thing was to be able to relax, read, and work a bit for a few days in a place other than my usual home base. I was especially eager to do so after a year and a half of being, like most of us, confined to a limited space due to circumstances beyond our control.

Social distancing poster in Santa Cruz health food store.

Watsonville isn’t that big (a little more than 50,000 people), and neither is Santa Cruz County compared to the Bay Area. But you wouldn’t always know it from the way cars crowd onto and speed along the highways, and the traffic snarls in Santa Cruz itself, which isn’t that much bigger than Watsonville.

There are a few sloughs (pronounced “slews”) with short walking paths in downtown Watsonville. But it’s far more rewarding to venture a little outside the center for something far more isolated from traffic, with far more abundant trees and water. It’s in the five miles or so of walking paths in the Elkern Slough Reserve—the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, to use the official name.

On the South Marsh Loop trail in the Elkern Slough Reserve.

The small visitor center by the parking lot doesn’t give out physical maps, though they have a big one they have available for reference photos. It’s not such a huge place, however, and you can just pretty much wander around without worrying about getting lost, as I did for the three hours it took to walk most of the paths.

Marshy view from the South Marsh Loop Trail.

The best destination, if your time is shorter or you just want to cut to the chase, is the small Hummingbird Island. I always find it interesting to see abandoned crumbling buildings of unexplained origin, and there are a couple shortly into the walk:

Hummingbird Island is pretty small—about as small as an island can be, really—and to get there, you have to cross active railroad tracks. Park staff gently warns you to be careful of oncoming trains, though I didn’t see or hear any the morning I was there.

Bridge to Hummingbird Island.

The trail rims around much (though not all) of the island, ending up at a finger shooting into the water. Be careful at the very tip—it looks fairly solid, but it’s marshy and you’ll slip in regular walking shoes.

Fingertip at Hummingbird Island.
A view from Hummingbird Island.

If you like weird trees, there are a few here and there throughout the reserve, though for the most part it’s standard if pleasant foliage, water, and marsh:

Although I went on a Saturday morning, it wasn’t very crowded with hikers, and I guess it probably seldom does get crowded, owing to its fairly remote location (though it’s actually not too far from central Watsonville or hard to reach). If you like solitude, there wasn’t a single other person on the Long Valley Loop and Murphy Trail that are pretty near the visitor center, though it’s nearly as pretty as best sections of the other trails:

On the Long Valley Loop.

A visit to the Elkern Slough Reserve doesn’t require any advance planning, but note that it’s only open Wednesday through Sundays 9am-5pm. There’s plenty of info, including a trail map, on its website at

Biking on Treasure Island

Bay Area residents see Treasure Island a lot, since the middle of the Bay Bridge passes over it, and it can be seen from numerous spots on both sides of the bay. Not too many people actually set foot on the island, however, considering how often millions drive right by the exit ramps that lead down there. Few have biked on the island who don’t live there, either. But it’s become a lot more accessible for bikers recently, with a path winding down from the bike/pedestrian path on the eastern part of the Bay Bridge – which itself only opened a few years ago.

View of San Francisco from the Treasure Island bike path.

There’s actually not too much to see, and maybe less to do, on Treasure Island. It’s most known for hosting the Golden Gate International Exposition, i.e. a world’s fair, back in 1939. A naval station was there for 55 years, but closed in 1997. Now there are just a little more than a couple thousand residents, clustered in blocks whose bland architecture reflects its past as a military base.

It’s easy enough to get to by bike now, however, and worth thirty to sixty minutes of your time if you ride the Bay Bridge. Bike westward until the bike/ped path ends just before the tunnel. On weekends and holidays only, you can take a path that winds down from the left and goes under the bridge, Then a short steep uphill, and a long steep downhill, gets you down to Treasure Island.

The entrance to the bike path from the Bay Bridge to Treasure Island.
The entrance is just to the left of Vista Point, which marks as far as you can go on the bridge’s bike/pedestrian path.

Certainly the most scenic part is the bike path that runs along the water on the island’s western and northern side. Almost as soon as you reach the bottom of the hill, cross over to get on the path. It only goes for about a half mile or so, but you get some nice views of San Francisco and the bay. There are likely to be few people about, so it’s quieter than much of the Bay Area as well:

The path doesn’t go around the whole island’s perimeter, and in fact only for a fairly brief part of it. Here’s an outpost near where it terminates on the north side:

You can also bike around the neighborhoods – more like a neighborhood – with little traffic. A little to the south of the residential area are some pretty decrepit buildings. This used to be an education center, but it doesn’t seem to have been in use for some time:

There’s a market here and at least one cafe, though it’s hard to tell what might have shut down in 2020-21 and when or if they’ll be active again. The same thing goes for occasional festivals that are held on the island. Bringing your own food seems advisable if you want to picnic.

Be advised that the path back up to the bridge is a really steep and long uphill. The photo here doesn’t really reflect how tough the upgrade is, and you should be in good shape to pedal the whole stretch without interruption. Don’t be a hero if you’re having trouble breathing; walk part of the way if you have to.

Of course, you can’t bike to the island from San Francisco, though you can put your bike on a bus rack and take it there by public transit. If you don’t live in the East Bay, the nearest BART station to the Bay Bridge bike path is MacArthur. It’s only a mile or two to the entrance, opposite the IKEA on Shellmound Street in Emeryville.

On the Treasure Island bike path, with the Bay Bridge in the background.

Free Hours at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

When I write about places to see and walk, bike, or hike, I try to find ones that aren’t so well known. The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, in contrast, is very well known. Built in 1894, it’s the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. It’s a major attraction in a park that itself is a huge tourist attraction. So why post about it?

The Japanese Tea Garden, as it looked around the time it opened in 1894.

It’s not so well known that on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, entrance is free about 9am and 10am. It’s hard to get into anything free these days, let alone in the Golden Gate Park museum concourse, where it costs $18 to ride the new ferris wheel, $15 for the de Young art museum (special exhibits not included), and more than $30 for the California Academy of Sciences.

The tea garden is $12 ($10 in the winter, $7 for San Francisco residents), and while that’s not wholly unreasonable, plenty of people have less money to spend over the last year or so. That also means some people have more time to take advantage of freebies. Unlike the nearby botanical garden, this free admission is for everyone, not just city residents, no matter what part of the Bay Area or indeed world you might call home. (The botanical garden is free for everyone between 7:30am-9am, but only free to city residents otherwise.)

Of course, a lot fewer tourists from around the world are traveling  anywhere anywhere these days. But if you do live in the Bay Area, that also means you’ll find the tea garden pretty uncrowded, even during free admission hours.  That’s how it was last week when I took advantage of the free hour for the first time, though I’ve been there a few times over the last few decades during regular paid admission hours.

Here are some images, taken during my visit, of what you’ll see in the small but meticulously maintained grounds:

Near the entrance
House and waterfall
Fish in pond
Bonzai tree
Tea house, if you want modest food and drink
Small bridge, a big favorite of kids
Bridge steps

As noted, nearby is the new ferris wheel, though it’s not yet known if this will be a permanent addition to the museum concourse. It was so foggy when I took this at 8:45am that someone said it looked like a photo from the 1890s:

Art in the Albany Bulb

The Albany Bulb is not a light bulb, and it’s not in Albany, New York. Just north of Berkeley, California, the Albany Bulb is an open space/parkland by the San Francisco Bay. Part of the small town (again, just north of Berkeley) of Albany, it’s easily reached by going all the way down Buchanan Street toward the water. You wouldn’t necessarily guess that it occupies former landfill, as it’s filled with vegetation, walking paths, and, more unusually, public art.

The most prominent piece of public art in the Albany Bulb, reached by walking down the main path to the edge of the water.

When you start your walk near the end of the parking area and small beach, you wouldn’t suspect the northwest area is full of public art, as nice and scenic as the main approach looks:

Near the start of the main Albany Bulb trail.

If you veer to the left where the trees are in the distance, instead of following the main trail, you’ll come across some interesting rock graffiti:

And some yellowstone — and we don’t mean the huge national park:

Going back to the main path and then turning toward the smaller paths that run near the water’s edge, more dedicated standalone artwork appears:

But the bulk of the sculptures are found by following the main path north until it hits the water. This curved space has not only the big statue featured at the top of this post, but also several other sculptures from scrap:

Creature with jaws

Plus smaller wire sculptures:

And yet more modest ones:

You might call this one “somewhere there’s a feather,” in honor of the early Jackson Browne song Nico put on her first album:

And a reminder, on rock graffiti, that we’re in the year 2020:

Plenty of dogwalkers are on the route, and while it’s hard to know what they think of the art, some of them sure like the water:

Some artwork’s off the main path, like this piece you might see on your walk back:

For a spot so peaceful on a warm summer day, with a bunch of relaxed socially distance walkers, the Albany Bulb’s sparked its share of controversy over the years. It was established as a public parkland of sorts after efforts from citizens over years to prevent development in the area. Exposed to the elements, much of the artwork that’s been there in the 21st century has deteriorated or disappeared. So what you see on any given visit may well vary. But there should be quite a bit of it, if my visit in August 2020 is any indication.

Biking the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge

Although it’s not nearly as famous as the Golden Gate Bridge or the Bay Bridge, the Richmond-San Rafael bridge has its own appeal. Connecting Marin County to the East Bay in the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s also pretty long. In fact, at five and a half miles, it’s a mile longer than the Bay Bridge. I never thought I’d see the day when there was a bike/pedestrian path connecting both sides, much like I’m not sure I’ll ever see a bike/ped path connecting both sides of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge (though one opened on the Bay Bridge a few years ago connecting the East Bay to Treasure Island).

The new bike/pedestrian path on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge.

Well, the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge path still seems a decade away at best. But to my surprise, a Richmond-San Rafael bike/pedestrian path opened in November 2019. I rode it for the first time in January, and while it doesn’t have views as spectacular as those on the Golden Gate Bridge (or even the Bay Bridge), it’s well worth cycling.

It’s not as easy to get onto as the other bridges, however. I haven’t yet done so from the San Rafael side, but starting from Berkeley as I did, it’s a good dozen miles or so, including some fairly heavily trafficked wide boulevards near the bridge. There still isn’t a good site for mapping the ride from the East Bay, and Google Maps, as is often the case, gives some twisted directions if you opt to take the Ohlone Greenway and Richmond Greenway bike paths. It’s better, and more scenic, to take the Bay Trail, which runs close to the water for a big chunk before getting to those Richmond streets.

At least the path gets fairly well marked and protected by the time you get to the small town of Point Richmond, a couple of miles or so before the bridge. This is how the bridge toll plaza entry looks, more or less, when you’re driving, as I’ve done quite a few times. Not so picturesque, eh?

It’s not that much prettier from the section of the path that runs next to the highway right before the bridge, but it’s a little better:

And just a few minutes later you’re on the bridge:

You should of course be in good shape to bike or walk a bridge that’s almost a dozen miles roundtrip. But although it’s not level, really it’s not too steep or hard to navigate, in spite of what you might think from how it looks almost like a roller coaster from certain angles. It’s not as steep or taxing, for instance, as the uphill path from the Bay Bridge toll plaza to Treasure Island. Here’s a shot at about the halfway point, near the Marin County line:

You get some views of San Quentin prison as you approach the San Rafael side:

If you’re really up for making a day of it, you can continue on bike paths for quite a while on the San Rafael side. There’s nothing too special when you get off the bridge, as you see here:

The path runs along the north side of the bridge, so you don’t get unobstructed close-up views of small, uninhabited Red Rock Island to the south. This is about the best you’ll get:

But you do get a good view of Point Molate, a little to the north of Richmond on the East Bay side:

There’s a narrow beam between the path and the northern edge of the bridge that’s theoretically walkable, as this fellow and his dog prove, though definitely not bikable:

The small town of Point Richmond, an entirely different town than its much larger Richmond neighbor, makes for a quaint if very brief detour on the way to the bridge and back:

All the online info I can find says the path is open 24 hours a day, but this sign at the entrance on my ride seems to indicate that’s not always the case. I can’t find any hotline or website that gives specific hours in the event of changes, and if anyone knows of such a resource, please let me know and I’ll add a link to this post.

Sculptures in San Francisco’s Cayuga Park

Even if you’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for about thirty years, there are still some cool corners of the city you probably haven’t seen. I never knew about, let alone visited, Cayuga Park until last month. I might never have found out if a couple friends weren’t living in the area. It’s only a mile or two south of one of the Mission, one of San Francisco’s hippest neighborhoods. But much of south San Francisco’s seldom visited even by many longtime residents.

Its small size, taking up only a square block or two, and out-of-the-wayness means it will never be a tourist attraction. Yet it’s well worth a look for a few dozen or so sculptures by Demetrio Braceros, who was the park’s gardener for almost a quarter century.

It only takes fifteen or so minutes to take in all of them, though of course there’s no reason not to linger longer if you’re not in a hurry. There are plenty of others besides the ones I photographed for this post, but here are some favorites:

“May unity reign in the whole world.”
Human log.
Hard to tell the model for this San Francisco Giants player for certain. Willie Mays?
More human log.
The track for the BART train is overhead.

The basic background on Braceros is on a page for him on the Spaces site. In brief, he came to San Francisco from his native Philippines in 1973, and in 1986 was made gardener of the park, with a directive to “change the atmosphere.” I didn’t see the park in those days, but that he did, as apparently it was barren and trash-strewn. I’ve only been here a couple times and only this year, but now it’s clean, safe, and family-friendly, certainly during the daytime.

The entrance to Cayuga Park.

When the park was renovated almost ten years ago, about one-third of the sculptures (judged in “fair condition”) were moved to storage, and the one-third in good condition given new protective coatings. The ones in poor condition, according to the Spaces site, “were left where they were to be viewed by visitors, and to slowly decompose in their natural habitat.” So what you see now won’t be there forever.

Rock dedicated to the sculptor.

For the time being, the sculptures are not only integral to the park, but also soften the harsh reminders of industrial civilization. A major highway, and train tracks from the Bay Area’s BART transportation system, are just above the park to the west. That means it’s never too quiet, and sometimes downright noisy when the trains rush overhead.

On the way out, also check the murals just past the steps on the right when you get on Cayuga Avenue. Another reminder that proud idiosyncratic neighborhood spirit is all over San Francisco, not just in the many famous parks and areas known to residents and visitors alike.