Bernal Heights: A Guide to San Francisco Neighborhoods

san francisco neighborhood guide to bernal heights
Bernal Heights has long been known as a family-friendly neighborhood. It’s primarily residential with several parks in the neighborhood and a strip of shops and restaurants along Cortland Avenue. For a long time, its real estate prices were relatively reasonable compared to other sections of the city, but as more people have looked to live in the southeastern section of the city to commute south, it’s grown in popularity. Sitting south of the Mission, its close proximity to I-280 and I-101 and the opportunity to purchase a “fixer-upper” home has made this a popular spot to settle.

We polled local moms to find out what makes this neighborhood a good fit for their families. Want to get the scoop directly from the experts? Join our Mission/ Bernal Heights Neighborhood Group.

Why Moms Love It 

Moms love the friendly neighborhood atmosphere full of families and the fact that parks, shops, and restaurants are all within walking distance. The location makes it convenient to leave the city for big shopping trips in suburban strip malls, but the northern section also offers convenient access to the Mission, its nightlife, and activities.

Local Family Favorites 

Bernal Heights Rec Center & Playground

This welcoming neighborhood center is particularly busy after Story Hour at Bernal Heights Public Library. Parents often socialize over coffee while their children frolic in the fenced playground and sandbox, and just about every kid on the Hill learns to ride a bike on this blacktop.

The newly renovated clubhouse and gym offer a variety of afterschool and Tiny Tot programs for young ones, along with Open Gym hours for everyone.

Bernal Heights Branch, SF Public Library

This is a very active library branch with story times and other activities planned for children and families. It’s next to the Bernal Heights Rec Center & Playground.

Precita Park

The gated playground at this neighborhood gathering spot means parents can relax while keeping an eye on their little ones. The butterfly garden and large grassy field are other popular features of this small park that sits in the center of a square.

Bernal Heights Park

As one of the few remaining “natural refugees” in San Francisco, Bernal Hill, at the center of Bernal Heights Park, is a truly special place. Hike the dirt trails to reach the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking 360-degree views of the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown San Francisco, San Bruno Mountain, and the hills of the East Bay.

Holly Park

The playground is situated at the top of this hill, giving you beautiful views while you tend to your children. The picnic area with BBQs is also a popular spot for picnics and birthday parties.

Situated in the southern part of Bernal Heights bordering Excelsior, St. Mary’s recreation center has programs for tots, youth, adults, and seniors, and includes a gymnasium, community rooms, sports courts, athletic fields, and the city’s largest playground for kids of all abilities.

On the border of Bernal and Mission, STEMful encourages children ages 1-12 years old to “sprout curiosity” in STEM. Parents are invited to bring their children to learn, play and sprout. Younger siblings are welcome. They offer daily play pass for parents to drop in with their kids, classes, camps, birthday parties, movie nights and event venue in the 2475 sq ft, 2-level community play and education space. 

Precita Park Cafe

This popular neighborhood spot centers it menu around local, sustainable fare, but includes all the comfort foods you and your kids would want, including handcrafted pizzas and pasta, as well as craft beers and California wines.

Philz Coffee

In a city with a lot of great coffee options, Philz is one of the best, so having a coffee shop in the neighborhood is a true treat for residents. 

Childcare and Schools

Here’s the thing about childcare and schooling: Your personal situation will determine the right fit for you, and, while there are options in this neighborhood, your best bet is to check out for an interactive map and comprehensive list of daycares and preschools across the city.  

Likewise, for K-12 schools, we can’t tell you whether the schools here are “good” or not because a good school is based on so many other factors besides test scores. Check out our Tips for Moving to San Francisco with Kids for more help navigating childcare and schooling and a local mom’s take on raising a family in San Francisco.

Learn More 

To get an even better feel for what it’s like to live here, scan our list of 100+ kid-friendly restaurants in the city, find the nearest branch of the public library, and check out the area’s trick-or-treating hotspots.

Check out the other areas featured in our San Francisco Neighborhood Guide for Families.