Scout Field Notes: Clara Cardillo’s Favorite Hidden SF Spot

Posted by Clara Cardillo

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Scout Field Notes are travel and adventure stories by Scout users and our team. Clara is a San Francisco scout who was born in SF and raised on the beaches, parks, cultures and foods of the Bay Area. 

Of all the beautiful hikes, walks and trails in the city, Billy Goat Hill stands out as one of my absolute favorites — and it’s not just because I grew up right around the corner and have scrambled up it more times than I can count. Okay, so that’s a big part of it… but it’s still worth a visit even if you don’t live in the neighborhood.

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Sandwiched between Glen Park and Diamond Heights, the hill offers sweeping  views of the eastern part of the city and Bernal Hill. The climb to the top starts a few blocks before you even get to the trail, so prepare to be slightly winded when you reach the trailhead.

When you get there, check out the succulents and ferns that cover the rock wall at the base of the hill, vibrantly green after a bout of El Niño rains. Keep your eyes peeled for the untamed blackberry bushes that line the side of the trail as you climb up, and if they are ripe, stopping for a snack is mandatory.  When my brother and I would take our dog, Midnight, up here for a walk, she would race through these bushes looking for anything that moved (don’t worry, she never caught anything).

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The hill’s main attraction is definitely the giant eucalyptus tree at the top that is home to a popular rope swing. Over the years I have watched the dirt underneath the swing slowly erode, making the drop steeper and steeper.There is something magical and freeing about looking out over the city while flying through the air. Or maybe that’s just a fear, knowing that at any moment the questionably sturdy swing could break and send you plummeting into the dirt.

Ten-year-old me witnessed this happen to a friend once, and though the two of us now look back on it and laugh, the incident definitely kept me off of the swing for a few months. If you want to skip the swing or just can’t seem to figure out how to get onto it (trust me, I know it’s hard. Here’s a tip: bring a tall friend), you can also take in the views of Bernal and downtown on the small observation platform nearby.

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A lot of people end their visit to Billy Goat Hill with (an admittedly awesome) photo-op here and then just head back down, but the area has much more to offer. If you keep climbing, a set of wooden steps just above the swing will take you up to to the top of the hill and spit you out onto Beacon Street. Take a left here and walk until you come to a fork in the road — but don’t go down either path! Instead, take a sharp left down the easy-to-miss Harry Street steps.

The steep wooden steps take you through the backyards of charming houses surrounded by exotic plants and flowers. As you descend, make sure to look up from your feet from time to time to sneak a peek at the city through the leaves. As a kid walking down these steps, I would always think of Alice going down the rabbit hole, into the dark and the unknown.

At the bottom you feel like you’ve entered Wonderland when you step out onto Laidley Street and look up at the towering houses built into the side of the hill. The street used to be home to many artists and hippies, and all the houses still bear a lovely, quirky charm.

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Taking just 20 minutes to walk, Billy Goat Hill is a staple mini-hill that everyone needs to experience. It not only provides a home for nature to persevere in the middle of a crowded city and a place for people and their pets to play, but also acts as a portal into the old and curious side streets that characterize San Francisco.

Photos by: The Daily Caro, SF Parks and RecClare Francis, Jenny Odell
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