Friday, November 2, 2012

Urban Hiker SF’s Urban Foraging Field Guide

Urban Hiker SF has been around for a few months now, and since I started my company, I’ve become much more connected with the city. I now notice minute architectural details, hidden alleyways...and, for the first time in my life, plants.

I had never been a plant person, but, one day as I walked around the city with my father, a lifetime plant lover, he pointed out a nasturtium plant and told me that it was edible. Now he had my attention: as a foodie, I find plants infinitely more interesting when I also see them as food. Now that I know what to look for, I see numerous edible plants on a daily basis on my hikes. While the summer’s blackberries and plums have disappeared until next spring, there are a number of other edible plants around the Bay Area that you can enjoy year-round. Here’s a mini field guide to help you on your urban foraging expeditions.

1. Nasturtium
You can identify nasturtiums by their jewel-toned yellow, orange, and red flowers as well by their lilypad-shaped leaves. The flowers can be enjoyed as a colorful and spicy salad topper, and you can also eat the leaves. I’m intrigued by this nasturtium pesto recipe that makes use of both parts of the plant.




2. Fennel
Fennel is easy to spot with its long stalk, feathery dill-like leaves, and yellow flowers. You can also often smell the plant’s licorice scent before you see it.

In restaurants, you’re most often eating the fennel bulb, but on hiking trails, it’s much easier to eat the flowers and seeds. These above-ground parts of the plant have a lovely anise flavor and act as a great natural breath freshener.

3. Lavender
There are multiple of varieties of lavender all over the city, but the ones I most often see are English lavender hybrids (left) and Spanish lavender (below left). An easy way to make sure you’re dealing with lavender and not something like Mexican Bush Sage (below right), which is not edible, is to give the plant a pinch and sniff your fingers. If you smell the signature lavender smell, you’ve hit ‘purple gold’. Most people don’t eat lavender by itself, so inspired by the Bi-Rite honey lavender ice cream flavor, I’ve taken to making these honey lavender cookies.





4. Rosemary
If you’re not seeing rosemary everywhere in the city, you may not be looking hard enough. I’ve seen rosemary in almost every neighborhood, and sometimes it can dominate entire walls and gardens. As with lavender, there are many varieties of rosemary: it can be “creeping,” it can grow as a bush, and it can feature blue, pink. or white flowers. Since there are so many types of rosemary, do a sniff test before you eat to make sure you’ve got the right plant. Lately, I’ve been using rosemary to make these delicious biscuits.

Before you head out into the streets and woods, remember that foraging can quickly become dangerous if you accidentally ingest the wrong plant. You should be meticulous in your plant identification in order to stay safe.

Once you know you’re indeed dealing with an edible plant, enjoy! The city is your salad, so get outside and start snacking.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

San Francisco - A (Literal) Playground for Adults

When I refer to San Francisco as a playground for adults, I mean it in the most innocent of ways. While standard playgrounds are designed strictly with children in mind, scattered throughout the city are the unofficial playgrounds of slides and swings where kids of all ages can relive their childhoods. Here's how to find them:

Slides
1) According to the SF City Guides, The Seward Street slides were born in 1973 when then 14-year-old Kim Clark won a contest to design the lower part of the Seward Mini Park. The slides are centrally located, and you can walk to them easily from the Mission or Castro. I've loved these slides in the past, but have been slightly turned off of late by a grumpy neighbor who occasionally threatens to call the police on visitors. You can read the Yelp reviews for more information on that situation.

2) I recently learned about the Bernal Heights Mini Park slides through one of my urban hikers (thanks Anita!). On Yelp, the first picture alone makes me want to run over there well...now! These slides are located right next to Bernal Hill, so you could visit both spots easily on the same walk. These slides look so fun that I may have to create a new urban hiking route to add to my route portfolio.

Swings
1) Located in Glen Park, Billy Goat Hill gives you a downtown and southern city view, and can be reached via the Church Street MUNI lines or Glen Park BART. As you walk toward the top of the park, you'll find a rope swing hanging from a tree. The swing has two loops for your feet, and when you hop on, you'll feel like you're flying high over the city even though the ground is safely within reach.

2)  Golden Gate Heights Park in the Inner Sunset boasts a simple, but lovely tree swing. While this neighborhood isn't the most central location for many, the park and swing are worth a visit if you're in the area. Or, if need an extra reason to make the trek, head a little north to check out Grand View Park and the ever-amazing 16th and Moraga mosaic steps.

Do you know of any other city slides or swings that fit for adults? If so, I'd love to add them to my list. You can reach me at alexandra@urbanhikersf.com.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Walk, Hike, Run Bernal

I don't think I could love Bernal Hill more than I already do. Maybe it's the houses cozily nestled into the hillside, maybe it's the contrast of the light-colored land with the dark trees up top, or maybe it's the fact that it's close to my home. Whatever it is, the hill always draws me in.

Photo courtesy of: http://aios-staging.agentimage.com/tmontgomery_pending.com/htdocs/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/bernal-1.jpg

And I'm not the only fan of the hill. Bernal has a great vantage point over the city, so it's a popular neighborhood spot to bring your dog for a walk, to have a picnic, or to read a book.

For runners, the hill has yet another layer of appeal. The roughly circular path around the base of the hill is exactly one mile long, so you can measure your runs in loops around the park.

The microwave tower at the top of the hill is affectionately nicknamed "Sutrito Tower" after its larger to the northwest. The tower even has its own twitter account.

If you want to visit the park and are coming from points north, take Folsom Street south, cross Cesar Chavez past Precita Park, and head all the way up the hill (it's steep, but just for a few blocks). When you see this house, you've almost made it. The park begins where Folsom Street ends.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Getting out of the City by Staying in the City

If you live in or near San Francisco, you are within a reasonably short drive of some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world - Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Napa and Sonoma Counties, and more. People travel from all over the world to visit these spots that are seemingly right in our backyard.

But sometimes you might not feel like going away for the weekend to visit somewhere beautiful, and the reasons for sticking close to home are numerous: you may not want to deal with logistics, pay for a hotel, deal with traffic, etc. Or, like me, you might not even have a car with which to escape the city!

Luckily for those of us who live in the Bay Area, we have many great options for getting out of the city by staying in the city. One of these such options is Glen Canyon Park. Glen Canyon Park is located within a 10 minute walk of Glen Park BART, and contains 70 acres of parkland.

The terrain of the park is varied, but it's hard not to notice the myriad rock outcroppings throughout the park. Some folks think there's not a lot to see here, but I disagree - you just need to get off the main trails. 

If you enter from the southern end of the park either from Bosworth or Elk Street, you'll pass the visitor center as you head North. The trail splits into a "V" in front of you, and you should take the path to the right. It's paved with asphalt for a little bit, and then you'll see some wooden stairs to your right.


When you take the stairs, you're transported off the paved trail and onto some narrow dirt trails where you can climb upward to get an interesting perspective on the park below.

You can visit the park yourself or take my Walk on the Wild Side hike to see more. I've added some photos below, and here's a more extensive photo gallery of what you can expect to see there.





Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Goldsworthy 'Gallery' Tour - See Two Great Works Without Stepping Inside a Museum

Recently, I decided to explore a new hiking route in the Presidio. Enchanted by the name Lover's Lane, I started my walk there with the goal in mind to reach Andy Goldsworthy's 'Spire'. If you haven't already visited this work, you can find it here.


Andy Goldsworthy's Spire

I kept to the Lover's Lane path and in doing so, I almost missed the scene below - a snaking line of logs parallel to where I was walking. When I see nature expressed in an unnatural way, I tend to think Goldsworthy, but was this another one of his works? A quick Internet search revealed that this was indeed a Goldsworthy, and it was called "Wood Line".
 
Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line
According to presidio.gov's website, both "Spire and Wood Line are inspired by the park’s historic forest, planted by the Army beginning in the 1880s and being rejuvenated today. The cypress, pine, and eucalyptus groves have become part of the park’s natural mosaic, where hawks perch and humans find shade. Spire and Wood Line help visitors see the trees with fresh eyes." 

Here's a quick Google Map link on how you can visit the two works yourself. What's great is that you can visit both works while walking mainly on trails.

Can anyone out there name another Goldsworthy work in the city for bonus points? Yes, that's right, it's "Drawn Stone" found at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Like many of his works, if you don't look closely, you'll be sure to miss it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Urban Hiker on the Road: Portland

Urban hiking is about finding opportunity anywhere. Even if I don't know a place well, I try to get the lay of the land on foot. It's often much more interesting and rewarding than exploring by car.

An example of this was that I was recently in Portland for Chris Guillebeau's World Domination Summit. The night before the conference, my cousin, a Portland native, invited me over for dinner. I hadn't rented a car, so I started thinking of ways I could get to his place. I turned to Google Maps and realized his house was located fewer than 5 miles away from my hotel downtown.

When I looked at potential hiking routes to my cousin's home, I saw there were 3 parks on the way. My decision was made - I was going to urban hike to dinner!

This ended up being a great experience. I hiked through Duniway Park, Marquam Nature Park, and Council Crest Park, which I learned is one of the highest points in the entire city. Council Crest was definitely the highlight of the hike as it had views of three mountains from its summit overlook! Here is the route I took.

Wherever you find yourself, it's easy to plan an urban hike. All you need to get started is Google Maps - and if you get lost, just use your cell phone to get back on track.

At the Council Crest Park Summit
Mount Hood as seen from Council Crest Park
Sun starting to set in Marquam Nature Park

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Welcome!

Welcome to the Urban Hiker SF blog! 

The goal of this blog is to discuss urban hiking (I go with definition 2) as a general concept and to help people discover the hidden hiking gems in San Francisco and beyond. I created the company Urban Hiker SF and spend a lot of my time hiking around the city. By writing about San Francisco's hidden stairways, parks, and hiking trails, I want to awaken your sense of adventure, so you can explore these sights with me - or on your own!

Mosaic Steps at 16th and Moraga