Your Official Guide to the Real Microhoods of Bernal Heights


Yesterday, realtor Eileen Bermingham posted an article about the geographic subregions that exist in Bernal Heights:

Bernal Heights has many distinct areas within its neighborhood. From the hip enclave of Precita Park to the winding streets on the East Slope, the price of real estate literally varies depending upon which part of Bernal you’re in. So it’s important to lean heavily on sales in your particular part of the neighborhood when you’re accurately trying to determine property values in Bernal.

To help buyers and sellers with that task, I’ve deconstructed Bernal Heights into seven unofficial microhoods, complete with their respective price averages and low/high prices, as well as recent sales volume.

In this way, we are introduced to the comparative charms (and average home prices) of such areas as “The North West Slope,” and “Precita Park,” and “South of Cortland.” Unfortunately, it made us feel so… commodified. Ew.

That said, the idea that Bernal Heights consists of several distinct microhoods actually makes a lot of sense. After all, Bernal is a neighborhood defined by its topography — Remember, our last name is “Heights!” — so there’s an intuitive logic to the notion that different parts of the hill have very different subcultures and identities. Yet we are far more than our cost per-square-foot; we are a federation of nooks and crannies shaped by timeless geological features, historical quirks, and neighborly idiosyncrasies.

So please allow us to propose this homegrown draft guide to the Subdistricts of Bernal Heights, produced in collaboration with Burrito Justice, chief spokesblogger for the La Lenguan separatists. To wit, and roughly clockwise from the map shown above:

Precitaville – With the Mission as a front yard, Precita Park as the living room, and Bernal Hill as a backyard playground, Precitaville is perhaps the most cosmopolitan part of Bernal Heights. Perhaps.

Santana Rancho – Carlos Santana used to live here; Janis Joplin used to party here. The steep slopes and meandering streets of Bernal’s northeast corner have made it a secret haven for generations of local artists, musicians, and eccentrics.

The Sutrito Canine Republic – Located atop Bernal Hill in a public park, The Sutrito Canine Republic is patrolled by packs of very happy dogs who frolic off-leash and worship the microwave antenna array mounted atop Sutrito Tower.

The Hill People of Powhattan – With their homes clustered around Powhattan Avenue in the high-altitude reaches of Bernal Hill’s southeastern quarter, the Hill People of Powhattan are easy to recognize: Just look for their massive, hill-toned calves and slightly elevated demeanor.

Alemanistan – Dry, rocky, and sun-baked, Alemanistan retains a wild, untamed feel. Perched in the shadow of the Spaghetti Bowl, at the crossroads of two major highways, this  is Bernal’s frontier borderland.

Cortlandia – The heart of Bernal’s historic commercial district has now become the ideal setting for a contemporary situation comedy about bourgoise-bohemian urban culture in the early years of the 21st century. Which is funny, except that it’s also rather lovely, and we are very lucky to have it. The residents of Cortlandia are justifiably quite proud of this.

Baja Cortlandia – Perhched just south and slightly below Cortland Avenue, Baja Cortlandia is scrappy place of haphazard hills, multigenerational residents, and intense, superhyperlocal pride.

Portola Norte – As if unfazed by the barrier created by an interstate freeway, this area of Bernal Heights  feels contiguous with the pre-gentrified ethos that prevails on the other side of I-280.

St. Mary’s Park – Developed during the 1920s on the site of the former St Mary’s College campus, this self-contained, bell-shaped enclave feels like a little slice of the Sunset District, right in our own corner of Bernal Heights.

Lost Tribe of College Hill – Separated from the Bernal heartland by Mission Street, yet isolated by freeways from Glen Park, College Hill’s de facto independence is symbolized by a recent redistricting that saw the area transferred to Supervisor Scott Wiener’s District 8.

Holly Park – This ancient district of Bernal Heights is home to one of San Francisco’s oldest parks and a covered reservoir that has long been the setting for much local scandal and drama.

Foggy Vista – Rising above Mission Street on Bernal’s west slope, the groovy people who live here enjoy a commanding view of Nature’s own lava lamp: the massive banks of fog that cascade over Twin Peaks. Residents eagerly await construction of the Esmeralda Funicular to facilitate transit to and from the bustling Mission Street corridor.

La Lengua Autonomous Zone – This territory has been an integral part of the Dominion of Bernalwood since the 19th century, but today the uppity people of La Lengua enjoy limited autonomy under the terms of the 2010 Proclamation to the Vassals of La Lengua.

The Principality of Chicken John – Though located within the territorial boundaries of Bernal Heights, Chicken John’s warehouse residential complex and bus depot on Cesar Chavez functions as a world unto itself. Operating under its own sovereign codes, aesthetics, and social norms, and with it’s own 4.5 star rating on Yelp, The Principality of Chicken John is, in effect, Bernal’s version of the Vatican.

Serpentinia – Named after a long-gone street that used to mirror Precita on the northern side of Army/Cesar Chavez,  Serpentinia is today defined by the major thoroughfare that now slices through its center. After decades of indifference and neglect, recent  infrastructure upgrades on Chavez may bring new cultural vitality to this region.

So there you have it. Neighborly comments, suggestions, rants, and proposed revisions  are most welcome, with an eye toward future iteration of this map.

REVISION NOTE: March 20: Based on comments provided by Bernal neighbors, the former “Outer Cortlandia” was  renamed “Baja Bernal,” and then renamed again to “Baja Cortlandia.” The map has also been updated to include this change.

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101 Responses to Your Official Guide to the Real Microhoods of Bernal Heights

  1. OK, I think we’ve reached new depths of micr-hood navel gazing with this one… In fact I think this has now officially “Jumped the Park” (Holly Park, Bernal Heights Park, Precita Park, …what/whichever, w/apologies to The Fonz)

  2. Eric says:

    Wait, is it Santana Rancho (map), or Santana Vista (text)? How about Rancho Santana Vista?

  3. joyceonholly says:

    I don’t know about real estate prices, but splitting Holly Park into two different micro hoods is a mistake. Living on the park is a defining commonality among us, much more than whether we live on the south, west, east or north side of it.

  4. Steve Sisler says:

    So glad that I’m in Cortlandia proper or I might request a vote on redistricting,

    • lil salvador says:

      Vote, schmote! A few people from the College Hill Neighborhood Association were able to get redistricted without including any neighbors in their activity and you can, too! Send in an email to the ReDraw task force and call yourself the president of your made up association. As CHNA proved, you don’t even have to live in the neighborhood for more than a minute to redraw district lines.

  5. Richard says:

    Might pay to consider terrain as well as streets when assigning borders. Those of us that live along Jarboe can walk quite easily to Cortland’s commercial strip (as Jarboe more or less follows the ridge line), even if we’re pretty far to the east. I’d be interested in an alternative map where microhoods are bounded strictly by elevation contours.

    • Tim says:

      Living on the border between Cortlandia and Alamanistan, I am tempted to concur. Jarboe is indeed the link that binds eastern Alamanistan to Cortlandia. However, Alamanistan cannot really be Alamanistan without Putnam St, which is the true link to the Farmer’s Market. So the northern Alamanistanians will likely live forever with a bit of Cortlandia envy.

      • Tim says:

        Ah, forgive me, of course, the proper spellings are Alemanistan and its people are the Alemanistanians.

      • Richard says:

        Sigh. Living with envy is difficult, but I reckon I shall content myself with the fact I can walk to Lowe’s in 5 minutes.

  6. Sorry Todd—one correction—what you have as “Outer Cortlandia” is actually officially known by residents as “Baja Bernal”…

  7. Matt23 says:

    Portola Norte? no me gusta!
    keepin it real (sometimes, too real) South of Crescent (aka Crescent Fresh) in what we call Bernal Depths!

    • Todd_Lappin says:

      Ooh. That’s a good name. I LOVE learning the names that the natives of each microhood use self-referentially. So fun.

      • Matt23 says:

        I definitely stole it from someone. iirc, I know the illustrious Vicky Walker is down with the name.

      • R.A. Davis says:

        Here at the end of Moultrie, we too find the ‘portola norte’ moniker a bit confusing and inexact. We go by The Crescent; anchored by the San Francisco Islamic Center and Mosque and their own spiritual crescent at Andover and Crescent. It would be weird to me to refer to a neighborhood as ‘norte’ since it lies the southern part of bernal. And I think if I look across the freeway I’m actually staring at University Mound and the bible school on the hill. Love the map, lots of fun, but that norte nonsense has been sticking in my craw since I saw it on the burrito network.

      • Todd_Lappin says:

        Great thoughts. Yes, that name is definitely a candidate for reconsideration. Another reader suggested “Bernal Basin”

      • Brandon says:

        The Crescent seems apt.

    • kerry says:

      Agreed. Also on Moultrie. Portola Norte??? We aren’t Portola. I like The Crescent or even just lumped with SoCo. Bernal Basin has a ring too.

  8. I am not so sure about Foggy Vista. Foggy View, maybe? The view is but one aspect of our local identity.

  9. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

    La Lengua is not, had never been, and shall never be a part of Bernal Heights. You want to call it “Bernal Flats” or “Bernal Lowlands” or something? Sure. But to be Bernal Heights, you have to be on the hill.

  10. fenderhardt says:

    Wait! How could half of Precita Park be in “Serpentinia” instead of in “Precitaville”? And I live on Precita Ave., exactly one block from the park, but I’m in “Santa Rancho”? There’s some serious gerrymandering going on here…

  11. friscolex says:

    Priceless in every way. Great write-up.

  12. Tony Tavares says:

    For those of us on the Western North Slope, a bit too far from Precita Park to be part of “Precitaville”, and with street names like Montezuma and Aztec, I propose the micro-micro-microhood of “Alta Mexico”.

  13. someJuan says:

    What’s going on with Chicken John’s building? I saw lots of work being done inside recently and now there’s sign above the door. I can’t read what it says as it’s dark when I drive by there. Is it becoming a bar or restaurant?

  14. bether24 says:

    As long as residents of Serpentinia in no way need to be associated with, or endorsers of, Chicken John, then I am supportive of this map. I would hate to have to move

  15. Lupe says:

    What’s truly wild and untamed in “Alemanistan” are the nearby streets on the weekends, when the world descends onto the Farmer’s Market. Chaos reigns as drivers try to figure out who has the right of way on the narrow streets leading to the market, and illegal and unsafe parking becomes the norm. Yee-haw!

  16. bmeabroad says:

    As a Fog View I could not agree more about the funicular. If they can do it in Valparaiso why not here

  17. Tia says:

    How about “Niebla Vista” en vez de Foggy Vista. NEE-ebb-la Vee-sta has a lovely ring to it.

    • doug says:

      As a Niebla Vista resident, I second this. Usage begins… now.

      I’ll leave it up to residents of the respective zones, but I’ll second (or tenth) killing the Chicken John reference. No personal offense intended, but he isn’t exactly Emperor Norton.

      • Todd_Lappin says:

        Liking the Niebla Vista…Thanks.

        As for Chicken John… from a cartographic standpoint, the point is simply that he occupies a world unto himself.

  18. Jessica says:

    I’ve been calling my Precita hood ‘Bernal Flats’ for eight years… still hoping it’ll catch on!

  19. BREAKING NEWS- Bernal Heights Real-estate prices just jumped 20% after the release of this list!

  20. lynn says:

    i would just like to say how much i LOVE and appreciate this blog, and the HUGE effort that goes into making it creative, fun and reason for us to have pride in our incredibly special neighborhood (and now, microhoods, of course). love all of the names but as a resident of the ‘foggy vista,’ think we need to keep on working on that one. in the meantime, THANK YOU and keep up the amazing work (to you as well, burritojustice)!

  21. Kathy says:

    I want a copy of this map — where to get??

  22. Alys L. says:

    Lynn – i second that awesome endorsement of our gracious, hilarious, hardworking Bernalwood and Burrito Justice hosts. You guys rock! You brighten my day and feed my mind. Community and neighborhoods are such an interesting layered construct.
    I stand united with my mini-micro-neighbors The Nebraska Street Regulars.
    Oh wait, that makes us sound like were all two and half feet high. Well, you get the idea…

  23. Gina Luciano says:

    You can insist on La Lengua all you want but the residents of Tiffany Ave and surrounding areas will NEVER adopt this moniker. If we must call us (the denizens of this area) anything at all, it will be BernMissNoe (or BurnMissNoe). Please refrain from using La Lengua, which in certain Spanish-speaking countries can be vulgar.

  24. Neil says:

    Any resident of St. Mary’s Park knows it is called St. Mary’s Park, not just St. Mary’s. And…where in the flatlands of the Sunset can you see a whole neighborhood of detached houses with generous, landscaped front yards along streets that lazily wind and slope and curve, and whose streets have no telephone poles and power lines marring the elegance? Not to mention the wide grassy islands and tasteful traffic circles, which are maintained by us residents, not the city.
    And, we have deep roots in Old San Francisco. On the same day a Sacramento newspaper reported on the laying of the cornerstone for St. Mary’s college, in 1851, the article above it told of a recent, bloody Indian massacre perpetrated on a wagon train coming into California.
    A slice of the Sunset district? In a tipsy pig’s eye.

  25. lvukovic says:

    Reblogged this on SF Luxury Living and commented:
    The neighborhood breakdown on Bernal Heights and the micro neighborhoods that have a personality of their own.

  26. Great job on the map, much more fun than mine!

    • Todd_Lappin says:

      Thanks Eileen! This has been in the works for a while; your piece gave me the kick I needed to finish it. Now, won’t you PLEASE begin guiding your clients around Bernal using the official nomenclature? ;-)

  27. I’d like to revive the Peralta Heights moniker for the East slope, roughly Alabama to Holladay, Precita to Esmeralda or maybe Mayflower. But I do like Rancho Santana, too.

    • S says:

      Peralta Heights is the original name for that section back when there was another hill top (later chopped to fill in Bayshore marsh)

  28. Neighbor Alex says:

    The Gillibus considers itself a mobile Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) representing Bernal. If Todd were onboard, it would be like Air Force One or something.

  29. Natives don’t pay attention to this nonsense about Microhoods. I live in the Richmond. That’s it. This microhood stuff is all techy hipster new transplant BS. When I was growing up Bernal was a working class hood that no one ever went to.

  30. kidhack says:

    Wait/ What? Precitaville doesn’t include all of Precita park and the like named cafe? That doesn’t make sense. Meh! Not to mention some of the most choice views in SF. I’m opting for Precita Heights.

  31. lovelycam says:

    Portola Norte? Hmm. Seems kinda mean-spirited to associate us kindly Portolans with your own housing projects and liquor stores.

    That being said… beware!, our pre-gentrification ethos includes enormous pre-gentrified water balloon cannons aimed at targets all over Bernalwood.

    Don’t snub us again!

    Chris, from the Portola Dept. of Defense

  32. M. Labera says:

    It’s not Precitaville ! It’s not Precita Flats ! It’s not Precita Heights ! According to the City and County of San Francisco, it is Precita VALLEY ! (on the property deeds)

  33. “Tasteful traffic circles” makes my day.

  34. Um, that was supposed to go under Neil’s comment. I have disgraced my homeland, Baja Cortlandia.

  35. Chris Doyle says:

    I’m concerned that the revisionist La Lenguans can be trusted with working on a final version of this map. The City and County does not need another Crimea in our midst. Maybe this task should be farmed-out to the trusted indigenous peoples in the Richmond (Inner or Outer, non-exclusively).

  36. micheleg says:

    “That’s cool! So do you still speak Ohlone?” = funniest response I’ve seen EVER today. Thank you for the laugh.

  37. Spinster Sistah says:

    I’m an Old School Bernal native. Finally a t-shirt (hint hint) worthy of our special neighborhood status!

    • Todd_Lappin says:

      Cool idea! So, as an OSBN, you’re saying… you approve (sort of)? ;-)

      I’m listening attentively to all feedback shared here, and in closed session with our La Lenguan conspirator, we will create a final revised version of the map. And from there, yes… prints, t-shirts, etc. become possible. THANK YOU!

      • Spinster Sistah says:

        Why yes Todd, of course I approve. This map has confirmed that I do indeed reside in the center of the universe! I’m in CORTLANDIA! Hahahah!

  38. Jenneflores says:

    As a resident of holly park and frequenter of so called portola Norte I have to agree with a change in name to “the Crescent.” Portola? Ha. I am also friends with someone actually descended from the original Bernal and he would never want to be confused with a portolan.

    • lovelycam says:

      Why so unfriendly? :(

      Our Portolan water balloon cannons have targeted your Holly Park. A deserved chilly soak awaits.

      Seriously, are you trolling?

      Chris, from the Portola Dept. of Defense

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