Great Explorations: Billy Goat Hill Park And Walter Haas Playground

Great Explorations: Billy Goat Hill Park And Walter Haas PlaygroundPhoto: Taylor Hanigosky
Laura Thompson
Published on July 08, 2016

The blue-and-gold season is still very much alive in San Francisco’s parks. This time of year, the dry grass takes on a golden hue, in contrast with the deep blue sky (at least until the fog rolls in).

It’s true that "Street View" on Google Maps can take you off-road to see panoramic views from the top of Billy Goat Hill, but there's no substitute for actually visiting the park. The ridge rises dramatically from the corner of 30th and Laidley streets, up a series of wooden stairs and a steep dirt path, switchbacking to an observation point under two large eucalyptus trees.

Here, laid out before you, is a sweeping eastern view of the city, capturing everything from downtown to Bernal Heights' Holly Park, including the East Bay hills and Mt. Diablo.

View from Billy Goat Hill Park observation point. | Photo: laura Thompson/Hoodline

Take note of the ropes hanging from one of the trees. This is an adrenaline-seeker's chance to grab on and swing out over the entire city, skimming the tops of the downtown skyscrapers—or so it seems.

Stairways ascending Billy Goat Hill Park. | Photo: laura Thompson/Hoodline

Ascend further up a long flight of stairs and a dirt path, and you'll find a shady grove of trees. This land was quarried by the notorious Gray Brothers in the late 1800s, blasting the hill’s rock face apart to create stones and bricks for city streets. Found SF has assembled a series of historic photographs of Billy Goat Hill, which chronicle the dramatic changes that have been made to the landscape.

1927 view of Billy Goat Hill, from Castro Street near 29th Street. | Photo: courtesy of San Francisco Public Library History Center

Diamond Heights was developed in the 1950s and '60s, and in 1977, its land was set aside as part of a citywide open space program, after an effort by citizens to preserve the hilltop. Today, Billy Goat Hill’s 3.5 acres are part of the San Francisco Recreation & Park Department's Natural Areas Program, preserving a mix of urban forest and native grassland habitats on the hill.

Entrance to a new trail off Beacon Street, connecting Billy Goat Hill Park and Walter Haas Playground. | Photo: laura Thompson/Hoodline

Cross Beacon Street and head for the hiker sign to continue ascending the hill, on a new trail connecting Billy Goat Hill Park and Walter Haas Playground. This trail opened in late May, replacing an informal path that had been created to connect the two parks. The new trail is designed to minimize the impact to the hillside, incorporating steps and compacted dirt that follows the contours of the hill.

The new trail connecting Billy Goat Hill Park and Walter Haas Playground. | Photo: Laura Thompson/Hoodline

After passing through a wooded area, the trail pops out into Walter Haas Playground, a 4.4-acre park at the intersection of Diamond Heights Boulevard and Addison Street.

Grass field and trails at Walter Haas Playground. | Photo: Laura Thompson/Hoodline

A large grass field welcomes picnics and sunbathing. There’s a basketball court, a fenced off-leash dog run and a two-tier playground for toddlers and older children. A reservable picnic area is located adjacent to the playground. The views are jaw-dropping, making this a pleasant place to visit, with or without children and dogs in tow.

Walter Haas Playground. | Photo: Laura Thompson/Hoodline

The playground is named after Walter A. Haas, a  San Francisco philanthropist and longtime member of the Recreation and Park Commission. In the mid-1970s, he donated funds to help secure public ownership of land originally slated for commercial development, resulting in the expansion of an existing playground at this site.

Shooting hoops at Walter Haas Playground. | Photo: Laura Thompson/Hoodline

If you'd like get involved in preserving the parks, Friends of Billy Goat Hill hosts cleanup days, in partnership with Rec & Parks.

A Rec & Park trail map of the two parks.

Getting there: To reach the lower Billy Goat Hill Park entrance, take the 24-Divisadero bus to 30th and Noe streets, two blocks downhill from the park. The J-Church streetcar and the 24-Divisadero bus stop also stop at 30th and Church streets, three blocks downhill from the park. To reach the Walter Haas Playground, take the 35-Eureka bus to Diamond Heights Boulevard and Addison Street. A trail connects the two parks.

Walter Haas Playground is wheelchair accessible, and Billy Goat Hill Park has limited accessibility from the Beacon Street entrance. There are no restrooms at either park. Street parking is available.

You can celebrate the opening of the new trail with a ribbon-cutting on July 14th.