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Twin Peaks in 20 Minutes... On Foot!
By Jim Christie
It's true. You can walk up to Twin Peaks from Grand View Avenue and 24th Street in just 20 minutes. Actually, you can complete the ascent in less time than that, but who's racing?
Last summer I climbed several of Noe Valley's hills (September 1998 Voice), but failed to attempt the "grandmaiden" of them all: Twin Peaks. (The Peaks' original Spanish name is Los Pechos de la Choca, which translates as "breasts of the Indian maiden.")
Now I'm not saying that Twin Peaks is part of Noe Valley, despite our "manifest destiny" of incorporating all of our surrounding neighborhoods. No, my omission of the Peaks wasn't a matter of their location, nor even of my own fatigue. I simply didn't know that the second and third highest summits in the city could be reached so quickly and with such ease from Noe Valley. Okay, relative ease.
I also should admit that I'm no trailblazing reporter: In 1980 an intrepid Voice staffer named Frank Ahern made the climb and survived to write about it in the paper's May 1980 issue. The bread crumbs he sprinkled to mark the trail disappeared soon after his trek, but luckily I found Ahern's old article and decided to discover for myself what 19 years' passage had done to his route.
I was afraid I might find the stairways gone, blocked, or posted "Private," or perhaps the bases of the peaks themselves would be encircled by fences.
Well, good news. If anything, it's easier to make the hike today than it was back then. Just head west up 23rd, Elizabeth, or 24th Street to Grand View, and get started.
From Grand View, go over or under Market Street to Corbett. (See sidebar for more specific directions.) Take a right on Corbett and then a left on Hopkins, which goes up to Burnett. Take the stairs from Burnett up to Greenside and then more stairs up to Parkridge. Turn right toward Crestline, and you're there! Almost. Turn left on Crestline and then take the dirt trail up to the road that circles the two peaks.
Here's an excerpt from Ahern's 1980 description of that point in the hike: "Crossing the last piece of man-made pavement, you approach the raw hillside with a deep sense of kinship with the earth. You grasp the sun-hot red rock and start to clamber up the steep slope. Loose stones clatter down in a mini-landslide as your feet grope for a sure footing, sometimes slipping to pitch you forward on your hands. But you adapt quickly and, like a goat, carefully negotiate a safe path upward."
Don't worry, it's not quite like that anymore. At least not the clambering, slipping, mountain-goat part. These days there are nice railroad-tie stairs leading you to the top.
Frankly, the journey from Grand View to Parkridge Drive is pleasant enough, but it pales in comparison to the panoramic views you'll be rewarded with on top of Twin Peaks. The various streets and stairways ascending to your destination take you through quiet residential areas of small homes and big apartment buildings, and you'll have plenty of opportunities along the way to rest and admire the downtown skyline and the East Bay views.
When you reach Parkridge, there's a lush median strip bursting with agapanthus, brilliant wild mustard, feathery pampas grass, and yes, pines that whisper. Over to the right is Crestline Drive, where you'll see the thick, low-lying shrubbery that covers the Peaks. Perhaps you'll notice some "yerba buena" (literally, "good herb"), the wild mint plant for which Yerba Buena village was named before it became San Francisco.
One thing's for certain: you'll enjoy an abundance of bird life swooping overhead and fluttering and chirping from within the surrounding thickets. Of course, you've come here for more than the fauna and flora, so pick a Peak and head on up to the top.
The south peak is the second highest summit in San Francisco, at 910 feet, while the north peak is third at 904 feet. Mount Davidson, about a mile to the southwest, marks the city's highest elevation at 925 feet. Across a small valley to the north stands Sutro Tower, the region's radio and microwave transmitter. Whether you think it's interesting or insidious, you can't miss it.
You'll also have a hawk's-eye view of nearly all of San Francisco's neighborhoods as well as the tourists gathered at the semicircular lookout point below the northern peak.
Gaze out to sea for epic views of the Farallone Islands and to the right for the Golden Gate Bridge and ships a-sail around Angel Island and Alcatraz. Look east for the Bay Bridge, U.C. Berkeley's Campanile Tower, and Mount Diablo, or simply admire a couple Noe Valley landmarks like St. Paul's Church and James Lick Middle School.
All of this spectacular scenery might render you speechless, or perhaps you're just tired from the climb. No worries -- just congratulate yourself for making it to the top, and remember: it's all downhill from here. M
In an upcoming issue, Voice staffer Jim Christie will be doing a story on places in Noe Valley to relax or meditate. These could range from the Noe Valley Library's outdoor patio to the inside of St. Paul's Church. Please mail your suggestions to the Voice at 1021 Sanchez St., San Francisco, CA 94114, or e-mail Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DIRECTIONS: Walking to Twin Peaks from Grand View
Ready to go to the mountaintop? Here are your directions to Twin Peaks, field-tested in March 1999:
Z Go to the top of 24th Street, where it dead-ends at Grand View Avenue. At Grand View, look to the left. Next to a large green apartment building you'll see a stairway going underneath Market Street. Follow that to the juncture of Cuesta, Portola, and Corbett.
Z Turn right on Corbett Avenue and walk 300 yards to Hopkins Avenue.
Note: An alternate route -- if you don't mind crossing a pedestrian bridge over Market Street -- is to take the spiral ramp and overpass at Elizabeth and Grand View, which will take you to Corbett and Hopkins.
Z Turn left on Hopkins and walk up to Burnett Avenue. Directly across Burnett, you'll see a stairway beneath some pine trees. (A note about all of the stairways: They often look as if they dead-end. They don't. You just can't see that they take a turn and continue upward.)
Z Follow the Burnett stairs up to Gardenside Drive. (You can also turn left on Burnett and find another stairway about 50 yards away, which also ascends to Gardenside.)
Z At Gardenside, look across the street to the left. You'll see a dirt trail angling up to an apartment complex parking area, and also a stairway farther down to the left. Take either route.
Z If you take the dirt trail, turn left at the top to find the next stairway up to Parkridge Drive. If you take the stairway route, you'll be led directly to the next stairway. This last stairway will lead you up to Parkridge.
Z At the top, look to your right. You'll see Crestline Drive and the top of Sutro Tower jutting above the hill. Turn left on Crestline and you'll find the dirt trail leading up to the Peaks.
Have fun, and don't forget to bring a jacket -- it's windy up there.