April 2000

Type: Municipal Hilltop Park, SNRA Park, 37 acres, elevation 589.'
Entrance Location: Multiple access points along Buena Vista which circles the park to and from Haight St. Main entrance points are from the cornices of Haight & Baker and Haight & Central. Easiest to park at Buena Vista Av & Park Hill. Favored entrance near Java St.
Facilities: Paved paths. Restroom, phone, and water undetected. Tennis courts, playground and picnic area exist but these features are unexplored.
Fee-Hours: No fee. No curfew noted.
Dogs: Fair. Trails better suited to people than dogs. No good off-leash areas.

Hilltop parks in San Francisco usually distinguish themselves for their views. Buena Vista distinguishes itself as a park. For its own internal park features it is perhaps the finest hill park in San Francisco, and by a mile this is true - not a meter. It is selected as the second finest park in the city in general for its fine development and beautiful location. This is a park which has somehow arrived at a perfect synthesis between that which is managed and that which is seems natural. The result is a forest of absolutely magnificent huge trees which form an almost indoor expanse of space which is most graceful. From an 'architectural' point of view, the park must take its place with the great doorways of the Palace of Fine Arts, or the gothic interiors of the great cathedrals. Contributing greatly to the wonderful effect is the layering of long receding spaces down the slope of this hill. The hill itself plays a large part in the aesthetics of the space. Also amazing are the individual trees, not exotic, but certainly special examples of cypress, eucalyptus, pine; some very old and probably dating back to 1867 when the park was established. This is not just lip service to large trees. Many trees is Golden Gate park are large, but are often awkward, graceless behemoths of montery pine and cypress, lumbering to 100' or so. The trees here are not just large, they are masterpieces of tree 'character.' They are beautiful.

The park looks better today than it ever did before. All formerly neglected areas are graced by specially planted things, a large diversity of special flowers, trees and shrubs. The park seems to be used as a vigorous experimental testing ground to see what will grow in San Francisco. The successes make this park a very interesting garden of locally unusual flowers. That it is not a 'botanical garden' proper makes this even nicer. The aspect of weedy areas (once prevalent) is almost completely gone.
There is one particular area which humbly receives special notice as one of 15 specially selected highlight spots of San Francisco parks. It is a rare opening, sunny until early afternoon, which is not a lawn area (there are two modest open lawn areas in the park). This spot has a partial view out towards Sutro Tower. A makeshift semi-enclosure of wood creates a kind of of couch close to a very special and beautiful eucalyptus tree. Qualities converge here in a most intimate and charming way. Look for this spot near the peak on the south slope.

Another quality of this park is access; the abundance of small paths weaving through the various areas. Amidst this labrynth there is a main paved path which spirals up to the peak where a flat lawn area has been cleared. This sunny, flat lawn is perhaps the most popular spot in the park and can fill with people on the weekend. Although some recreational facilities are noted, the park is more notable simply as a work of art in park development. Few parks have the opportune location to achieve what this park has, or do it so well. It is a park filled with scenes one might find in a Maxfield Parrish painting. THAT kind of beauty is what distinguishes Buena Vista. Some city views exist here, always 'framed' by trees or amplified by a balcony. But views are not the main aspect here for it is not an open park. Still, it nowhere feels cloistered either. It is mostly characterized by graceful understory space under tall trees.

It is interesting to note that this is the oldest city park in San Francisco. It was designated 'Hill Park' in 1867 and dedicated as Buena Vista Park in 1894. John McLaren, the famed superintendent of parks and designer of Golden Gate Park, supervised the original forestation of the hill after its dedication. For an interesting history of this park and key contacts, visit

Best Features: This is an excellent park for taking a slow walk; jungular open space with great cityscape vistas through holes in the tree cover. Nice neighborhood. Abundant entrance points all around the periphery. Incredible trees.

Worst Features: Parking can be difficult, worst close to Haight St. Try the south end near Park Hill St for best results. Confined to trails in most places due to heavy underbrush. Steep climbing is inevitable. Few open areas exist and they tend to be crowded where they do.