Close to the southernmost reach of San Francisco, nestled beyond Bernal Heights and Glen Park, you’ll discover the Excelsior District — and a few of its more off-the-beaten track areas: Balboa Park, Mission Terrace and Crocker-Amazon.
Ocean Avenue, Mission Street and Persia Avenue crisscross these three adjacent communities, which snugly abut Interstate 280. These streets offer the surrounding neighborhoods a distinct experience that evokes the spirit of a small town’s “Main Street.”
On Saturday, Nov. 11, join a walk with Eric Chase, a veteran monthly and Peak2Peak volunteer walk leader, special guest Jon Winston, a member of the Friends of Monterey Boulevard and the Balboa Reservoir Community Advisory Committee, and Natasha Opfell, Walk San Francisco’s neighborhood organizer, to explore these less familiar and still tourist-free areas of The City.
Previously part of the Rancho Rincon de Las Salinas y Potrero Viejo, a Mexican land grant given to José Cornelio Bernal, the Excelsior was formally established in 1869. It’s distinguished by its street and avenue names, which are drawn from capitals and countries. During the height of one San Francisco’s more xenophobic periods — culminating in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — China, Japan and India Streets were all renamed to Excelsior, Avalon and Peru.
Today, the Excelsior is home to one of The City’s most ethnically diverse communities, including descendants of the first wave of Italian, Irish and Swiss immigrants, followed in the 1970s by Latinos, and later by African-Americans, Filipinos and other Asian groups.
Given this rich cultural tapestry, November’s 2.75-mile long walk begins appropriately at the Ingleside’s newly dedicated Unity Plaza, at the intersection of Ocean and Phelan avenues. This public gathering space near the Phelan Loop connects City College’s Ocean Campus with nearby businesses, homes, schools and transit-accessible destinations.
Travel from Unity Plaza along a new pedestrian path to discover the thriving and vibrant commercial district along Ocean Avenue. You’ll pause at the site of the Balboa Reservoir, a large 17.7-acre parcel slated for a mixed-use development, which will include a target of 50 percent affordable housing units (for the 1,100 planned), an on-site childcare center, as well as four acres of open space.
Next, meander through City College and Balboa Park, which once served as the site of temporary veteran housing in the late 1940s. In 2012, Balboa Park received a $3.5 million dollar renovation to continue its legacy as the destination for generations of children in the south of The City.
Then, make a stop at Persia Triangle — a temporary plaza that opened in 2014 with the support of the Excelsior Action Group, then-Supervisor John Avalos, San Francisco Parks Alliance, San Francisco Public Works, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Planning Department — to learn about a site known as the “Heart of the Excelsior.”
Community efforts led by EAG are still underway to convert this underutilized location into a permanent plaza, as well as bring a number of traffic safety improvements to Mission Street, one of The City’s high-injury corridors (the 13 percent of streets that account for 75 percent of call severe and fatal crashes).
Finally, meander through the Mission Terrace neighborhood to the Balboa Park BART and Muni station, where walk leaders will share details about ongoing work to improve the station and better integrate this important transit hub into the surrounding urban fabric.
End with an optional lunch at Tortas Boos Voni.
IF YOU GO:
Exploring the Heart of the Excelsior
When: Saturday, Nov. 11, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Where: Unity Plaza Steps (Ocean and Phelan avenues)
Info: Walk space is limited; $10 minimum donation to Walk SF; RSVPs required at walksf.org/event/heartofexcelsior