Oct 06

Some of SF’s Steepest Streets are in the Portola District

Read it and weep Cole Valley, number #16 & #19 go to the Portola.

Read it and weep Cole Valley, number #16 & #19 go to the Portola.

This nifty little chart has been making it’s way through the internet lately and look which neighborhood made #16 and #19 AND wasn’t mislabeled as “Excelsior”?!  – Not that we aren’t proud to be associated with our sister neighborhood to the west, it’s just nice to be noticed sometimes. This is all probably old news to the long time Portolans but for a newbie like myself, it’s a pretty cool fun fact to add to the Portola’s repertoire of San Francisco-ness.

As everyone knows, one of of San Francisco’s defining features is its hills and according to this chart of mysterious origins, the Portola is home to two of the steepest streets in the city!  Both of Portola’s ranking steep streets are located on the north slope of Burton High School or “Dwight Heights” as some locals call it.

View of the steepest street in the Portola with the King of steep streets (Bernal) mocking us in the background.

View of the steepest street in the Portola with the King of S.F. steep streets (Bernal) mocking us in the background.

If we rank neighborhoods by the number of steepest streets they contain – because who doesn’t love a good ranking to make themselves feel good – we are rubbing elbows with Pacific Heights and Portrero Hill to tie for the 4th place participatory ribbon. Finally getting the chance to look down our noses at Nob Hill and it’s measly 25% grade from our nearly vertical 30%.

Permanent link to this article: http://portolaplanet.com/2015/10/some-of-sfs-steepest-streets-are-in-the-portola-district/

Sep 24

2015 Portola Garden Tour Sneak Peek


Portola is known as San Francisco’s Garden District but on outward appearances that name may seem a bit misleading to the casual outsider.  The Portola’s wide canals of asphalt, lined with pastel houses and older Japanese cars, seem to be rarely pierced by the odd tree or a burst of colorful bougainvillea.  The lush gardens here are even more secretive than the neighborhood itself, behind the impenetrable stucco facades that guard each block, often lies a tucked away oasis that is as individual as the residents of our diverse community.


Featured in Sunset Magazine, a garden on Princeton demonstrates the beauty of up-cycling.

Featured in Sunset Magazine twice.  (Elisa and Bill modeling exterior daybed)

Up cycled beauty in the Princeton St. garden.

Demonstrating the beauty of up-cycling in the Princeton St. garden.















The P.ortola Garden Tour, now in it’s 9th year, is one of the few times we get to peek behind the steel security gate into these private worlds of horticultural wonder. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity when I was invited to attend the pretour by Ruth Wallace – the creator, organizer and Queen of the Portola Gardens.  I will admit though, I was a little skeptical at first when Ruth said that I would be pretty surprised by what I saw. I knew many homes in the neighborhood must have spectacular views while others might be making good use of their very deep 120′ lots but how unique could these spaces really be?


Asian inspiration in the Cambridge St. garden.

Asian inspiration at the Cambridge St. garden.

A perfect entertaining space on Olmstead St.

A perfect entertaining space on Olmstead St.














After touring the first several gardens my skepticism was quickly dissolved into genuine disbelief and an inspirational urge to start work on our own yard.  These aren’t the faceless professionally designed and built types that you will find in Pacific Heights, the Portola gardens are as authentic, diverse and individual as the people who have spent years creating them. They range from the simplicity of the Olmstead St. gardens which feature serene sitting areas, hugged by walls of greenery to the jaw dropping grandness of the Princeton St. garden.  While this surprisingly detailed space has been featured in Sunset magazine twice now, the entire creation is purely the result of endless creativity and 20 years of dedication from the owner Randy. The variety goes on from here with the Bowdoin street garden that is an artistic collection of mermaid murals and installations from Burning Man.  A lovely hillside retreat is featured on Brussels St. that feels more like a classic Sausalito hillside cottage with spectacular views of the Bay.  There is even a well manicured garden on Wayland St. that leads back to an unexpected shared urban farm complete with veggies, chickens and rabbits.


Hillside escape on Brussels St.

Hillside escape on Brussels St.

Lush greenery on Brussels St.

Lush greenery at another Brussels St garden.














Every level of gardener is proudly on display at the Portola Garden Tour, which gives the event an approachable and inspiring view towards gardening.  The Henderson’s garden on Olmstead St. has clearly been a labor of love for many years.  They have terraced their yard and spent years creating this mature garden that marches down the hill with breathtaking north-east views of downtown, the Bay Bridges and Oakland. On the other end of the spectrum there are the gardens on Goettingen Street which are making their debut this year.  These are in their beginning stages after a summer of what I’m sure was exhausting work by two next door neighbors.  Both families have transformed their back yards into new entertainment areas and a formally barren front yard into an artistic display of materials and succulents.


Urban agriculture on Wayland St.

Urban agriculture on Wayland St.

Say hello to the Chickens in Wayland St. shared garden.

Say hello to the Chickens in Wayland St. shared garden.















Just as much fun as the gardens featured on the tour, is the opportunity for a rare peak over the fence into the ones that are not. The Cambridge St. garden utilizes pavers and found objects to create a unique space that includes miniature pagodas, a reclaimed cast-iron sink turned planter and a scale model farm house with a tiny garden – I geeked out over this one.  Be sure to peek over the fence on the north side to see a large scale vegetable production garden and over the rear fence to see the remnants of a small green house – I love discovering anything crumbling and abandoned and this neighborhood seems to be full of elements dating back to it’s agricultural past.


shed high above the neighborhood, fiery sculptures adorn the garden of Portola's Garden Queen.

shed high above the neighborhood, fiery sculptures adorn the garden of Portola’s Garden Queen.

Garden Tour newbie and blossoming green thumb Jeanette shows off her transformed entertaining space.

Garden Tour newbie and blossoming green thumb Jeanette shows off her transformed entertaining space.















In many ways the Garden Tour is the Portola’s version of a neighborhood festival. It’s a fantastic representation of our diverse community and it’s agricultural and flower producing history. It’s also an opportunity to spend a day strolling around our corner of San Francisco, running into old and new neighbors and popping into lush gardens to experience a hidden space while enjoying a bit of refreshments. None of the crowds or the food lines associated with a typical festival, this is a neighborhood event done Portola style; leisurely, authentic and incredibly diverse.

Creativity welcomes you at Bowdoin St.

Creativity welcomes you at Bowdoin St.

Discover artistic flourishes all over Bowdoin St.

Discover artistic flourishes all over Bowdoin St.















In the essence of time I’ve only managed to scratch the surface in this post, unfortunately leaving out many beautiful spaces and only giving the most basic descriptions for the ones I’ve included. With 25 gardens to experience Ruth urges everyone to please start early and give yourself plenty of time to view it all Saturday.  The tour is this Saturday (9/26) from 10am-3pm and is self guided.  Tickets are available online here,in local stores (complete list here) and can be purchased the day of the event at the Garden Tour H.Q. and starting spot, 749 Colby Street.  Tickets are $20 and all proceeds benefit the Garden District Scholarship Fund and Portola Work Projects.  The after party which will be held at Ruth & Floyd’s house (749 Colby) this year is open to all ticket holders and there will be a $100 Flora Grubb gift certificate door prize.


Bay views at this contemporary spot on Goettingen St.

Bay views at this contemporary spot on Goettingen St.

Urban serenity on Olmstead St.

Urban serenity on Olmstead St.

A peek over the fence into the past.

A peek over the fence into the past.

Best seat for morning coffee or afternoon cocktail on Olmstead St.

Best seat for morning coffee or afternoon cocktail on Olmstead St.

Permanent link to this article: http://portolaplanet.com/2015/09/2015-portola-garden-tour-sneak-peek/

Sep 18

HGTV Show Calls the Portola “Up and Coming”…then we get dissed.

HGTV Show Calls the Portola District"Up and Coming"

HGTV Show Calls the Portola District “Up and Coming”

Well it was bound to happen, we have traveled under the radar for far too long. The best neighborhood that nobody has ever heard of is officially a one time reality TV star on basic cable!  If you didn’t catch it, Portola was recently featured on HGTV’s new show A Sale of Two Cities where the ‘hood was called “up and coming” by the show’s real-estate agent.  Depending on your perspective this might be time to pop the champagne and sit tight until a new locally produced stroller store opens on San Bruno OR it’s time to let your paint peel and spread car parts across your sidewalk to ward off the impending gentrification.

HGTV on location at Burrows Pocket Park

HGTV on location at Burrows Pocket Park

A Sale of Two Cities is another reality show that features two buyers in two different cities shopping for a home with a budget of $650,000.  In this episode it was our “Bohemian” city vs. Charleston – spoiler alert – you get a lot more for your money in Charleston.  The San Francisco couple featured in this episode are described as “Techies” who enjoy game nights and getting married at Burning Man.  They are looking to buy a two bedroom house in the Mission for $650,000 – and they clearly have a great sense of humor too!  After their Realtor slaps them on the face with a little S.F. real-estate reality, she coerces the couple to take the exhausting journey two exits south on 101 to some unheard of place called “The Portola District”.  In what I’m assuming was an attempt to justify the couple’s whining about this far off land, they inaccurately describe the Portola as being 12 miles from downtown and use a distorted perspective of a map to back it up.

Glamour shots of Girard St.

Glamour shots of Girard St.

The Realtor seems to get the coolness of the Portola and gives a nice and somewhat accurate description about how authentic we are with all our local businesses and amenities.  So maybe the shots of BART or the mention of a major grocery were a little misleading but who really needs all that stuff anyway, we are blue collar realness! Things go a bit down hill from here when the couple arrives wind blown and rattled from their trip over the Berlin Wall of 280.  We get the somewhat familiar comment that we are too far out and then totally slapped in the face with: “I know this is technically San Francisco but this doesn’t feel like San Francisco” – she has no idea what real San Francisco feels like.    The show goes on with some more nonsense and the couple ends up picking a T.I.C. in the Mission, oh sorry, spoiler alert!

The charming blue Victorian on Silliman representing the Portola on HGTV.

The charming blue Victorian on Silliman St. representing the Portola on HGTV.

In the end we faired a bit better than Bernal which was recently (and absurdly) called “a crappy neighborhood” by Bravo’s cringe inducing show Million Dollar Listing San Francisco.  We spoke to Todd Lappin at the world famous Bernalwood blog about his reaction to all this reality TV showing dissing going around District 9:

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that there’s not much reality in reality television. Shows like this are created as entertainment, so being entertaining is more important to them than being accurate.  Beyond that, it’s probably best not to worry too much about what anyone in the media has to say about your neighborhood. Low-key authenticity is what makes The Portola such a cool place to live, and everyone in the know already understands that. For the most part, media exposure is only likely to screw things up. I’ve long said that smart wannabe homeowners aren’t complaining about prices in Bernal or the Mission; the smart ones are buying in Portola.

Todd gets it, they aren’t interested in our authenticity, we aren’t all Mission style hipness with Edison light bulbs and reclaimed wood – I’ll just pretend FourBarrel doesn’t have any of that or that I don’t actually like a little bit of that stuff within reason – we are real San Francisco; diverse, a bit weird and a little rough around the edges.  Besides, change is already happening in the Portola, home values are soaring and investment seems to be happening on all levels.  Our status with the Mission Tech-sters can remain as too far out and “not San Francisco enough”- their version of San Francisco that is – while we hold onto our little corner of urban calmness.  For now at least, we will continue to fly under the radar with our giant park, expansive views and sunny weather.

San Bruno Ave. making it's reality show debut!

San Bruno Ave. making it’s reality TV show debut!

Watch the full episode below and fast forward to 25:00 minutes for all the good Portola stuff.


Permanent link to this article: http://portolaplanet.com/2015/09/hgtv-show-calls-the-portola-up-and-coming-then-we-get-dissed/

Sep 14

Goettingen St. (and beyond) Neighbors Beautifying the Portola

Merry gang of gardeners

Merry gang of gardeners

Gardeners all over the neighborhood are scrambling with last minute weeding, mulching and planting in preparation for the upcoming 9th annual Portola Garden Tour. The neighbors of the G.N.G (Goettigen Neighbors Group) are no exception as they spent Saturday together sprucing up the Goettingen Street staircase. Work began very early (10 a.m.) with some light sweeping and continued into early evening with weeding, trash collecting, planting and heavy lifting of newly donated slate flag stones.

All smiles

Pulling weeds and still smiling

Doing the dirty work, trash dean up.

Doing the dirty work, trash clean up.


“stop chit-chatting and look like you are working”

Crocodile Dundee came to lend a hand.

Crocodile Dundee even came to lend a hand.


The G.N.G. was formed almost a decade ago by neighbors on the 700 block of Goettingen St.  The group organized in response to the blighted hillside that was nothing more than a mud slide and dumping ground at the time. The neighbors have transformed the once barren hillside into a thriving garden and the G.N.G. has grown to include members from as far off as Hamilton & Colby Streets. In addition to regular hillside maintenance, the G.N.G. is currently fundraising and working with local artist Phillip Hua to create an art installation to further beautify and activate this once forgotten space.  If you would like to learn more or help with future efforts, you can visit their Facebook group here.

The staircase before the G.N.G.

The staircase before the G.N.G.

The staircase Saturday

The staircase today

Permanent link to this article: http://portolaplanet.com/2015/09/goettingen-st-beyond-neighbors-beautifying-portola/

Sep 09

Portola small business booming in the San Francisco heat!


And some of our fellow Portola residents are taking advantage of this heat to drive business. This weekend past saw one such entrepreneur take to the streets with a perfectly timed lemonade stand.


As you can see from the serious look on the young business woman’s face, she was intent on making some money and then donating it to the San Francisco Animal Shelter. Her business mentor told the Planet that they raised $31 in only 90 minutes and a check was delivered to the shelter on the very same day.

A tow driver truck recognized the potential of the business and invested a $1 asking for no product in return and a newly wed, newly Portola couple also dropped by. All in all it was a very American way to take advantage of this stunning heat.IMG_1312

Permanent link to this article: http://portolaplanet.com/2015/09/portola-small-business-booming-in-the-san-francisco-heat/

Sep 09

Hateful graffiti brings the community closer together

Well this just happened :( Which makes us all feel very sad.


BUT then this happened.. Which makes us all proud the Portola community is so strong.


I’m pretty sure the disgusting individual/s who wrote these messages do not read the Portola Planet, irregardless, we’d like to inform the person/s their actions will not be tolerated. It’s totally unacceptable and the police have opened an investigation treating this as a hate crime.

Although, we at the Planet were wondering, maybe the person/s writing these statements are simply trying to maintain our wonderful diverse balance of cultures in the Portola. Maybe they think we have met the neighborhood Chinese quota and we might be seeing some “Welcome Syrian Migrants!” graffiti over the coming weeks?

Anyway, whatever the intent, it’s not going to work. San Francisco is a city of enormous diversity in every direction. Painting a stupid slogan on a few walls is only going to result in police arrests and will only spur Portolans on further to bridge the gap between our cultures.

In response to all of this, there is a community meeting taking place this Thursday evening at 6pm at the Palega Park. Chris Waddling from the Portola Neighborhood Association also had this to say…

This past weekend saw some heinous graffiti scrawled on homes and businesses throughout our community. The Board of the Portola Neighborhood Association condemns these acts, and we join everyone in the neighborhood who is glad to see that ‪Captain Vaswani and the SFPD Bayview‬ station are treating them as hate crimes. While the acts themselves were horribly offensive to us all, there is always hope that through adversity caused by a few misanthropes, we can seek common ground with our neighbors and come together as a community over this. I’m happy to see that we’re already seeing this positivity play out on social media and on the streets of our “small town”.

As a community, we’re grateful to the ‪SF Public Works‬ for responding so quickly to 311 calls to remove the graffiti. Thanks also go out to D9 Supervisor David Campos and Hillary Ronen for their support and hard work to organize a coordinated response from the community’s many organizations and associations, including the PNA. There will be a rally at Palega on Thursday evening.

The Planet will be at the meeting and please knock on your neighbor’s door and invite them as well. Let’s use this incident as an excuse to meet more of each other continue the forming of strong bonds in our community.

Permanent link to this article: http://portolaplanet.com/2015/09/hateful-graffiti-brings-the-community-closer-together/

Aug 27

Free concert in McLaren Park – Flavor of the South Side

Saturday In The Park Header

This Saturday we once again see yet another free concert hosted in McLaren Park! Saturday in the Park – McLaren features free, family-friendly performances that showcase local talent.  Each concert has different themes to cover a wide range of interests and musical tastes.  Flavor of the South Side is a day dedicated to bluegrass, classic rock, folk and jazz music, featuring, Pucci and the Pups, Back Porch Band, and Delmarva.  For a full line up of the 2015 shows, please visit: http://mclarenparksf.org/. So block out your afternoon and head down to the park.

When: Saturday, August 29; 1:00 – 4:00 pm

Where: Jerry Garcia Amphitheatre; 40 John Shelley Drive, McLaren Park

Want a sample some of the music? Here are some awesome tracks from the band Delmarva playing this Saturday.

Permanent link to this article: http://portolaplanet.com/2015/08/free-concert-in-mclaren-park-flavor-of-the-south-side/

Aug 26

Help vote the Goettingen Garden Neighbors Group to win $2,500

In the Portola we have many a green thumb, but on some streets there are small communities who tend to public garden spaces. The best example is the Goettingen Neighbors Group. They work tirelessly to improve the small strip of public land that connects Goettingen St as it climbs past Dwight.

They’ve recently made a video to attract attention and win $2,500 as part of the Retale Community Garden Video Contest. After some hard work the video is a top-10 finalist and they need your help to vote it to the finish line. Simply click on this link and scroll down to the Goettingen Cascade and click on Vote! There is no registration required. It will take a few seconds of your time. Each person can vote one time per day until September 4.They will announce the winners on September 7.

Below is a descrption of what they will do with the money, including the video itself. So vote away!

Goettingen Cascade is a community beautification project in the Portola district of San Francisco. The staircase at the intersection of Dwight and Goettingen Streets is the site of our project. We hope to revitalize the area by creating an innovative public art piece using mirrored tiles and industrial grade glow-in-the-dark paint. The result will be a staircase that becomes a glowing waterfall at night that will not only beautify the area and create placemaking, but also serve as illumination for the staircase at night.

Permanent link to this article: http://portolaplanet.com/2015/08/help-vote-the-goettingen-garden-neighbors-group-to-win-2500/

Older posts «

» Newer posts