Tom Rates Hills: Kite Hill
I’ve rarely gone to Kite Hill on purpose, but I’ve stumbled upon it countless times. Mid-run I’ll see the street narrowing into a path, and upon following the path a few strides I’d see the massive vista that the hill frames. Even this time, when I was explicitly aiming for the hill, routing toward it with the precision of Apple maps, I thought I was a half-mile away, right before I arrived.
A rough typology is emerging which puts this in the category of ‘neighborhood hillsides.’ What Billy Goat Hill is to Noe Valley, Kite Hill is to Eureka Valley, a neighborhood best known for containing The Castro.
Kite Hill doesn’t have the sort of 360° panoramic view that you’ll find at Twin Peaks or Corona Heights, but it has something truly unique: on one side, you see the downtown skyscrapers with the East Bay far in the distance. On the other, you see this:
This kind of view, of houses seemingly stacked on top of each other, seeing people pass through the vertically arranged streets, is something that I love about San Francisco and rarely see anywhere else - maybe little houses dotting oceanside Italy are similar. Spinning around here you feel like you’re in a bowl, and the amount of life that surrounds you is overwhelming.
The only downside is that the hill itself is little more than grass, a few gravelly trails, a few benches, and a tree trunk. It’s a place for gazing out at the macro.
Kite Hill isn’t much of a destination: it’s tiny, and the paths are narrow, windy, and steep. But it’s also a great little segment of a larger run, a place where you can take in a quick dose of the city’s beauty, stretch for a moment, and then continue on to Twin Peaks or running along Dolores Street.
I think Kite Hill is one of the best hills for sandwiches: its nearby convenience store, Rainbow Market, is similar to R Image Market, which is the sandwich hub for Bernal Heights, and it has plenty of places to sit, eat, and enjoy the view. But it’s not quite as ideal as the other spots, because it’s geographically isolated and Rainbow Market really is the only nearby spot. This part of Eureka Valley is a quiet, heavily gentrified-in-place, car-dependent neighborhood.
Kite Hill doesn’t really have anything on it. It doesn’t have much of a story. It’s a lovely place to sit and think, and the constant presence of beautiful dogs will perk up anyone’s mood. But it’s hard to compete with places like Corona Heights or Twin Peaks, which are nearby and far more interesting.
Kite Hill doesn’t have a compelling history to anchor it. Looking around for one, you can find a grumpy man complaining on Found SF that ‘newcomers’ renamed it from Solari Hill to Kite Hill, destroying what it meant to him, but sure, he flew kites there. It was called Solari Hill because of the Solari ranching family who were milk ranchers - as an SF Planning document can confirm. According to Sarah Beth Goncarova, the hill was named for the kites the bird. Another old and grumpy post indicates that Michael Phillips and his neighbor ‘Ms. Ortiz’ were the ones that downzoned, purchased, and dedicated the park. According to a Stairway Walks book, Doris Murphy was the one who led the efforts in 1976. According to SF Planning, it was bought in 1977. According to another SF Rec Park document, Native Ohlone were active on Kite Hill before European settlement, doing controlled burns to manage the vegetation.
So Kite Hill was a place for Native Ohlone to produce food, then a dairy farm for European settlers, then the site of a bitter and mostly-forgotten environmental/proto-NIMBY activist pissing match, and is now a minor park where folks walk their dogs.
Kite Hill doesn’t have any trees to speak of: its main flora is grass, flowers, and a few interesting plants. Part of the year, SF Rec & Park warns, the hill is dry and dead, but the rest of the time it has interesting species like soap grass. Unfortunately I’ve rarely seen the flowers and plants that the city documents on the hill – most of the time, it’s dominated by ordinary grass, clovers, and crabgrass. I hope the native species are still present when the weather’s good.
Kite Hill is a great example of a neighborhood hill: a shared resource that easily could have been real estate but instead is a place to think, meet, walk dogs, and stumble upon. Unless you live in the neighborhood, it probably doesn’t – and shouldn’t – rank on your top hill destinations. But if you run in the city, then I expect that one of these days, you’ll stumble upon a little gravel path, and you’ll follow it to a lovely little hillside, and you’ll be at Kite Hill.