Forgotten Hills: Golden Gate Heights or Sunset Heights

Normally, a high and prominent peak it get's noticed. However, when it's a ridge, often shrouded in fog, and has two different names, you get confusion. On top of that, in San Francisco, it's a crowded field of peaks, so it's hard to get noticed if you don't have a monument, lavish homes or a radio tower on top. Welcome to Golden Gate Heights, err Sunset Heights - some of the highest peaks in San Francisco you never knew existed.

In this installment of Forgotten Hills, we look at the Forest Hill-adjacent hill, that's really a ridge that has two competing names. The hills are less like Mark Twain/Samuel Clemmons, and more like Franklin W. Dixon/Carolyn Keene/Edward Stratemeyer of the the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book series. You probably barely know of the authors' existence, let alone the fact that the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were originally written by the same man

The name "Sunset Heights" dates back to the late 1880's when the company Easton, Eldridge and Co. marketed a block as "Sunset Heights" according to Lorri Ungaretti. Although Aurelius Buckingham and Sol Getz tried to claim credit, Ungaretti's book Stories in the Sand gives Easton Eldridge and Co. the credit. However, these 1880s "Sunset Heights" were what started the "Sunset" name for western San Francisco, but are not now considered the current Sunset Heights. In fact, they are considered part of the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. 

I could not find any "history" on the name of Golden Gate Heights. I can only speculate that the area may have changed from Sunset to Golden Gate as a way to differentiate further that it is not the Sunset District.
Name: Golden Gate Heights. Also known as Sunset Heights
Height: 812 feet
Ridge/Hill Group: Sunset Heights - part of the central San Francisco "massif', which includes Mount Davidson, Twin Peaks, Mt. Sutro and Sunset Heights. The geographic heights include Forrest Hill.
Prominence: 312 feet (450 feet from west). Forest Hill is the 3rd most prominent peak in San Francisco.
Confusion: The names "Sunset Heights" and "Golden Gate Heights" seem to describe the same neighborhood and hills. Golden Gate Heights may be the high elevations of the neighborhood, while Sunset Heights is the greater neighborhood that includes the slopes leading from the "flats" of the Sunset District (both Inner and Outer Sunset).
Where: Western San Francisco, west of Twin Peaks and Mount Sutro, and South of Golden Gate Park.
Cross Streets: Between 7th and 16th avenues. South of Lawton St, and north of Taraval St.


Golden Gate Heights are a north-south ridge between Kirkham St to Taraval St. The ridge has four peaks, although the USGS map technically shows six peaks. To me, GG Heights is essentially a prominent and high ridge with three somewhat prominent peaks: 
  • Grand View Hill (666 feet)
  • Larsen Peak (761 feet)
  • Forest Hill (812 feet) 
The heights lie due west of Twin Peaks and slightly southwest of Mt. Sutro and Clarendon Heights with the Midtown Terrace neighborhood and Laguna Honda ravine lying between them. To the east is the Sunset District gradually sloping down to the Pacific Ocean. The West Portal neighborhood to the south. To the north is the Inner Sunset neighborhood, with Golden Gate Park with Strawberry Hill a further north.

Note that geographically, the heights are one ridge - Golden Gate Heights. The neighborhoods of Forest Hill and Golden Gate Heights sit atop and on the slopes of the heights.

As mentioned earlier, Sunset Heights as a name is first found in the 1880s. Naming of current Sunset Heights or Golden Gate Heights ridge is hard to find now. The neighborhood is called "Golden Gate Heights" in the real estate industry, and the park on the second highest peak has the same name. However, the neighborhood group is called Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People. I hope that is sufficiently confusing. 

Even the peaks have naming confusion. Grand View Hill is sometimes called Turtle Hill, and has also been found misnamed  as Larsen Peak. Larsen Peak is sometimes called Golden Gate Heights or Sunset Heights. Hawk Hill is not really a hill, but rather a steep slope of the southwest flank of Forest Hill. The only peak void of confusion is Forest Hill, the highest peak. Below is a breakdown of each peak, going from north to south.

Peak #1: Grand View Hill
Elevation: 666 feet
Alternate names: Turtle Hill, incorrectly named Larsen Peak
Coordinates:  37°45'22.32"N 122°28'18.60"W

Peak #2: Unnamed Hill (north)
Elevation: 750 feet
Alternate names: Cascade Hill (after the Cascade Walk steps)
Coordinates:  37°45'11.91"N 122°28'12.62"W (approximate)

View of Unnamed Hill (north) from Funston Ave (top two images)). View southwest to the Pacific Ocean at Aerial and Funston near Unnamed Hill (north). Images: Urban Life Signs
Peak #3: Unnamed Hill (south)
Elevation: 725 feet
Alternate names: Funston Court Hill (after Funston Street and the private court off the street), incorrectly named Larsen Peak
Coordinates: 37.751284°N, 122.469783°W (approximate)

Peak #4: Larsen Peak
Elevation: 761 feet
Alternate names: Golden Gate Heights Park Hill, Sunset Heights Park Hill, Golden Gate Heights, Sunset Heights
Coordinates: 37°44'59.8"N 122°28'10.9"W

Peak #5: Forest Hill
Elevation: 812 feet
Alternate names: none
Coordinates: 37.748240°N 122.467360°W (approximate)
The five peaks of Golden Gate Heights. Image: Urban Life Signs
Geographically speaking, defining the boundary of any "heights" or "valley" is actually a bit silly because there is not specific boundary. The only definite part of a heights, are its peaks and a ridge. The only definite part of a valley is it's flat or nearly flat parts that have very little slope. It's really the slopes that define the boundaries. 

However, we're talking about a geographic feature AND a neighborhood. When confronted with the street grid imposed on a hilly area, we generally follow streets to define neighborhoods. Several sources have given Golden Gate Heights its boundaries:

Boundaries are described by northern edge, eastern edge, southern edge and western edge

7x7: (N) Kirkham St, (E) 8th Ave, (S) Rivera St, (W) 17th Ave.
SF Association of Realtors: (N) Lawton, (E) Funston-Noriega-11th Ave-Ortega-9th Ave-Mendosa-10th Ave, (S) San Marco-12th Ave-Taraval, (W) 14th Ave-Quintara-16th Ave
Golden Gate Heights Neighborhood Association: (N) Kirkham, (E) 9th Ave, (S) Santiago, (W) 19th Ave
Sunset Heights Association of Responsible People: (N) Lincoln, (E) Arguello, Warren Dr, 7th Ave & Laguna Honda Blvd, (S) Dewey Blvd and Taraval, (W) 19th Ave

The heights themselves seem to have been developed with streets in the 1920s. Most home construction occurred in the 1940s and 1950s.
Grand View Hill. Image: San Francisco Historical Center,
Golden Gate Heights aerial view (1948). North is to the right. Image: San Francisco Historical Center,
The peaks of form a bit of a sloping ridge. Forest Hill rises the highest, up to 812 feet above sea level. The peak is topped by a water tower and a small radio and cellular tower. Several 20th Century condominiums are located at the deadend street of Mendosa Ave where the peak can be reached. 

Nearby Larsen Peak is located in the wooded Golden Gate Heights Park. Rising 761 feet, it sometimes appears closer in height to Forest Hill due to the trees atop it. An unnamed peak is located further north on the ridge, rising to 750 feet, slightly lower than Larsen Peak.

Finally, Grand View Hill ends the ridge to the north. The peak is more prominent that you'd imagine and has a very recognizable peak covered in grass and a single tree.

Views and Prominence
The views from Golden Gate Heights quite stunning. Looking west to the Pacific, you feel as if you're perched above the ocean at 700 feet high, in spite of the 2 mile distance to the beach. To the north, Grand View Hill offers stunning views of much of San Francisco including Golden Gate Park, The Presidio, but also to Marin. I have yet to climb to the top of Grand View Hill, but am due to.

Due to the ridge nature of Golden Gate Heights, only the highest peak, Forest Hill has a higher degree of prominence at 312 feet. The three other peaks have very little official prominence:
  • Golden Gate Heights - 750' elevation, 25' prominence
  • Larsen Peak - 725' elevation, 25' prominence
  • Golden Gate Heights Unnamed peak - 750' elevation, 12' prominence
  • Grand View Hill - 666' elevation, 66' prominence.
However, if you figure in my version of "relative prominence, the Golden Gate Heights ridge overall has the following prominences from each direction:
  • North: from the flats of the Inner Sunset and the manmade rolling lowlands of Golden Gate Park at ~225' elevation, Grand View Hill has a relative prominence of 441', while Larsen Peak has a relative prominence of 536'.
  • East: Laguna Honda (Reservoir) at 371' elevation, GG Heights have a relative prominence of 441'.
  • South: From the ravine of West Portal at 350' (where a creek once ran), Forest Hill's relative prominence is 462'.
  • West: The Sunset District gradually slopes up from the Pacific Ocean all the way up to Golden Gate Heights, giving it a relative prominence of 812'. However, if you consider Sunset Reservoir (400') as the nearest western "peak" or "flat", then its relative prominence is only 412'.
View from Grand View Park. Image: Abe Kleinfeld
If you're interested in finding a more comprehensive list of San Francisco's hills I suggest going to SF Gazetteer, or to SF Gazetteer is true to its word when it states "The most complete and accurate list of San Francisco hills." I am in a huge debt to all the work that SF Gazetteer did to compile its list of over 70 hills and the research on each of them. 47 Hills has a shorter list but many more photographs of the hills, or the view from them.v


Popular Posts