Otto in Bernal's secret garden. (CC)ejbSF
Bernal Heights Park is something you don’t expect to find in a densely populated city: 35 acres of rugged, often windswept terrain that can feel more like a wilderness than an urban playground. Your dog can be off-leash here so long as she comes when called—and you definitely won’t want an eager canine pulling at the leash as you huff and puff up the steep, grassy hill that once served as a rock quarry. Several paths loop around the park, which is forested on top and can feel like a different place every time you visit, depending on the weather.
Save time for exploring the quaint Bernal Heights neighborhood at the base of the hill. It sprung up after the 1906 earthquake and is clinging hard to its bohemian character even as inevitable gentrification creeps in.
The main commercial strip here is Cortland Avenue, which boasts many eateries (Bernal Star, Holy Water and Martha & Brothers Coffee Co. among them) that welcome dogs at their outdoor tables. Be sure to dip into Bernal Beasts, a pet store specializing in raw and organic goodies.