Tom Rates Hills: Tank Hill
I’ve never lived in the west side of San Francisco, where the Sunset District is forty-five avenues of flat suburban-style development, to the south of Golden Gate Park. So I’ve always approached San Francisco’s column of major hills - Twin Peaks, Corona Heights, Mount Davidson - from the north and the east. I think it’s this approach, from Twin Peaks Boulevard, that managed to hide Tank Hill in plain sight.
It’s just above a set of stairs off the side of the road, but I was always intent on climbing Twin Peaks, or continuing through to the bigger hills behind it. Stairs in San Francisco are ever-present and sort of a grab-bag - from the street, I can’t tell if they’re leading to another road, a view, or someone’s secluded mansion.
Tank Hill feels like Corona Heights or Kite Hill - gorgeous views mostly in the direction of downtown. But I think it’s important to note that, while you can easily make the trek from the Castro to Corona Heights, Tank Hill is a small hill on top of a large hill. It’s not terribly convenient, except for folks who live in Cole Valley to the north or the relatively tony neighborhood in lower Twin Peaks.
But the Tank Hill view is really engaging! It’s not just what you can see, but how it juxtaposes San Francisco’s geographies on top of each other.
Seeing Corona Heights on top of downtown is weird and cool - it makes you wonder if a city could have that kind of rocky peak actually in its city center. I think there are cities that do?
Of course, Twin Peaks is that 360˚ experience, with wrap-around views of everything. But the difference in altitude felt significant: from Twin Peaks, you’re in the clouds, from Tank Hill, you can see both tankers in the distance and people walking around a few streets over. It feels connected, and unique.
This is basically like Kite Hill or other minor hills for running: you can’t actually run “on the hill” because its area is so tiny, but you could build it into a run as a treat.
Tank Hill has lots of spots to eat and a sandwich and take in the views - there’s a bench, a bunch of rocks to sit on, some exposed roots, everything you need. I think it’s the perfect combination with Twin Peaks - do a walking loop of the peaks to see the city in a crazy sweeping overview, and then walk down the boulevard to Tank Hill and grab a sandwich with a slightly more intimate view.
I’ve read elsewhere that the hill is too windy for this kind of activity. It wasn’t when I was there, and, well - exposed hills are windy. It’s worth it.
Fancy sandwich shops are easy to find in Cole Valley, or if you’re coming from the Haight, dragoneats is always good. The area right around Tank Hill and Twin Peaks, though, is homogenous high-end mostly-single-family residential.
The “Tank” in Tank Hill is a water tank, which was there from 1894 to 1957. There aren’t a lot of photos of it, probably because it was kind of odd and low-slung.
What remains of the tank is a massive circle of concrete. There’s also a small tank of something that’s half-buried in the ground.
I give this hill novelty points because it’s weird and creepy: the circular platform in the secluded interior of the park, surrounded by trees. If it weren’t easily explained by the historical record, conspiracy theories about rituals or something would probably abound.
Tank Hill has, as is becoming a pattern in these reviews, a lot of eucalyptus trees. According to someone from Friends of Tank Hill, the trees were planted to disguise the tank during WWII.
I bet the hill would look nicer, and be a more balanced environment with more native trees and tree variety. But long-time homeowners with an anti-eucalyptus fixation don’t need another blog post.
Tank Hill is pretty neat - its unique combination of position and altitude make for views that frame the city in a new and unexpected way. I can’t imagine going to it without also visiting Twin Peaks - it’s just up the road! and for running, is unbeatable - but the peaks-for-activities, tank-for-sandwich combo is a winner.