Gail Todd

Gail Todd

DIY Hike: Creek Walk in Mission Bay, S.F.

Once Mission Bay was a crescent-shaped cove that was part of San Francisco Bay, and Mission Creek – a hefty stream that flowed from its headwaters in the San Miguel Hills (including Twin Peaks) – meandered through the Mission District, and emptied into the bay. Later, the cove was filled and the creek covered, except for a short channel in its eastern portion.

Today, Mission Bay is being reborn as a thriving SoMa neighborhood. South of the remaining creek, a huge UCSF Medical Center opened in 2014. On the north side, thousands of homes have been constructed, including affordable and senior condos and apartments. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for stem cell and biomedical research set up shop at 210 King St.

The surviving stretch of Mission Creek also is being reborn. A new park lines its banks, with cordgrass and pickleweed replacing invasive plants. Until the 1980s, Mission Creek was infamous for its sewage smell. Today, however, a storm water pump station separates rain runoff from sewage flow and the problem is mostly solved.

Bascule bridges

Begin your walk at AT&T Park at Second and King streets. Cross to the north side of King and in the middle of the block (in front of 162 King) note the historic “South Beach Shoreline” marker in the sidewalk. Everything south of this marker, including the ballpark area, was water. Walk to Third Street and cross King to spy the statue of Willie Mays on the corner. Continue on Third to the dramatic Lefty O’Doul bascule bridge, named for the beloved San Francisco baseball legend and two-time National League batting champion. “Bascule” is the French word for “seesaw,” and this drawbridge works exactly like a seesaw. When the bridge must open to let a ship pass underneath, huge weights descend on one end, raising the other end up.

Turn right before the bridge on the public access path, with Mission Creek flowing vigorously in a channel on your left and McCovey Cove behind you. At Fourth Street, cross another bascule bridge, the Peter R. Maloney Bridge, named for a San Francisco police inspector and founder of the South of Market Boys Club. Both bridges were designed by Joseph B. Strauss, chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge.

South shore

Once across the bridge, cross Fourth and continue along the creek in Mission Creek Park, a newly developed greenbelt with little hillsides, benches, strolling paths, restrooms and water views. Look on the bird perches for great blue herons, black crowned night herons, snowy egrets, cormorants and even brown pelicans.

You will shortly come to a collection of well-lived-in houseboats bobbing incongruously against a backdrop of modern condos. The boats vary enormously from ragtag constructions to architecturally designed dwellings. These houseboaters came to Mission Creek in the 1960s, when they were relocated from Islais Creek to the south.

Huffaker Park picks up along the shore when Mission Creek Park ends. Named after boat dweller and creek activist Ruth Huffaker, this more natural landscape is maintained by the houseboaters who have been good stewards of the creek and its shores. The houseboaters also maintain a community garden.

North shore

The path ends at Sixth Street. However, if you don’t mind detouring through a rather grungy construction area, continue around to the north side of the creek on Berry Street. (The creek goes underground west of Berry.) You will pass Mission Creek Park’s off-leash dog run. Other amenities on the north side are basketball and volleyball courts. There is also a boat launch (nonmotorized vehicles only) and a UCSF kayak hut. UCSF occasionally offers free kayak lessons to the public. For information, call (415) 476-2078.

As you walk, you will pass the collection of new condos and apartments that make up the Mission Bay neighborhood. If you need a rest, stop off at the Mission Bay branch of the San Francisco Public Library at Berry and Fourth streets.

After the walk

Because of the ballpark, the Caltrain Station (Townsend and Fourth), and the new housing developments, there are lots of restaurants and cafes in the area. If you just want coffee and a pastry, stop in at Philz Coffee (201 Berry St.). For outdoor seating near the bay, try the South Beach Cafe (800 Embarcadero), which serves breakfast, pizzas, salads and sandwiches. If you’re heading toward the Caltrain station, stop in at Panera Bread (301 King St.) for pastries, soups, salads or sandwiches.

Getting there

From downtown San Francisco, take the Muni N-Judah or T-Third inbound and get off at the ballpark and Second and King streets.

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