SF Rec & Park says it well: Buena Vista Park, located in the center of the city, is named for the spectacular views from its upper slopes. The oldest park in San Francisco, it features secluded, winding trails and one of the city’s few remaining coast live oak groves. Buena Vista’s natural area is on the park’s northern side.
Oak woodlands have always been considered special places, and many cultures have deemed the oak sacred. A world of creatures thrives among the shadows of an oak woodland. The acorn crop comes in the fall when other food sources dry up and many animals must put on fat for the winter. Several species of the birds known as sapsuckers drink from the trees’ phloem (vascular tissue that transports sugars throughout the tree), just below the bark. Western harvest mice strip the bark, and Botta’s pocket gophers eat the roots of saplings. Insectivorous bird species such as brown creepers and nuthatches scour the trunks, branches, and leaves for the many insect species that live in oaks.
Acorns from the oak trees are the main food source for squirrels. Some species of squirrels gather nuts for the winter and store them in any accessible hiding place, usually by burying them. Although squirrels generally have excellent memories for their caches, many an oak tree has gotten its start from a forgotten acorn.
If you look carefully into one of the trailside drainages in Buena Vista, you might see fragments of engraved marble. The park’s meandering trails and drainage system are lined in part with headstones. Starting in 1914 and continuing through the 1940s, San Francisco removed all the cemeteries within its limits except the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio and the cemetery at Mission Dolores. Headstones and monuments of the dead were relocated to Colma, although remains were not always moved with them. Unclaimed headstones were recycled for building sea walls, landfills, and park gutters such as those found in Buena Vista Park.
Donald Rumsey Collection
Buena Vista oaks in San Francisco's
Buena Vista Park, photo: Ed Brownson