Hilltop views of the water? Check. Safety? Check. Easy commuting? Check. One couple leaves Lower Fillmore for Portola’s perks.
California natives Jeffrey Allen and Danielle Baer seem in many respects like San Francisco sterotypes: He DJs, she’s an artist who costumes up for ComicCon, and both regularly hit the playa for Burning Man. Yet in other ways, they very much retain their Southern California roots: In surfer fashion, his hair defies gravity while she commutes to her Genentech job. And they were dying for a yard.
The two had cohabitated on Lower Fillmore for four years. But after marrying in 2008, they began looking for a new home that could fit an expanded family and make room for Jeffrey’s home office (he telecommutes as an exec at AT&T). They found they had competing visions of where life might lead them. “I wanted to be more on the outskirts,” explains Danielle, who drives to Oyster Point for work each day. “I was tired of dealing with the central city.”
But Jeffrey wanted to remain in San Francisco. For him, a move to the Peninsula or East Bay wasn’t an option. “I love living in the city, and so we drew a line on a map that was as far out as we were willing to go.” They wound up directly on his pencil marks, in a neighborhood neither of them had heard of: Portola. High atop a hill on the city’s southern border, the neighborhood peeks out at the downtown skyline, offering views of the Bay Bridge and water.
In addition to the views, and the convenience to 101, they also welcome the safer lifestyle Portola offers. Their car had been burgled along Lower Fillmore, and taking the dog out for a late-night walk could be dicey due to nearby gang activity. “We didn’t like to walk around at night,” says Jeffrey, almost sheepishly.
But in Portola, crime is no longer a problem. The neighborhood has a tight-knit community, and the intimidating grade (cars parked along the street look in jeopardy of tumbling down into the Bay) keeps loitering to a minimum. The downside, of course, is that Portola is nowhere near as bustling as Lower Fillmore. Instead, they now spend hours in McLaren Park or renovating their home. “We have a slower pace,” explains Jeffrey. “We’re a little bit more like homebodies now. We may not have found any great secret restaurants, but the big secret is that we’ve discovered Portola.”
What to Do in Portola
Sandwiched between McLaren Park and Highways 101 and 280, much of Portola lies on a steep hillside, looking down at the city. The neighborhood’s commercial strip, along San Bruno Avenue, houses a handful of restaurants that, while not much to look at, do serve up some very decent food.
The newly-opened Queens Louisiana Po Boy Cafe has answered a call for its authentic sandwiches (fried shrimp, barbecued beef) made with New Orleans-sourced French bread. If you need a taste of Arkansas barbecue, head to Johnson’s which smokes its meats over fruitwood.
The Alemany Farmers Market just on the other side of 280, is a gem. From organic hippie farmers hawking dry-farmed tomatoes to Hmong farmers selling bitter melon, you’ll find it all here, including a great Mexican breakfast made by El Huarache Loco. But nothing defines this neighborhood more than
McLaren Park Mansell Street and John F. Shelley Drive, one of the city’s most underused treasures. The park offers 317 acres of recreation, including a dog run that alone is bigger than many of the city’s other parks. There’s also a golf course, McNab Lake, multiple playgrounds, and Jerry Garcia Amphitheater. It even has its own miniature wetlands, Yosemite Marsh.