The Bernal Heights swing faces expansive views of the bay.
The Bernal Heights swing faces expansive views of the bay. Photo by Gilare Zada.

Mimi Klausner remembers the day when a group of Japanese tourists on Bernal Hill approached her for help, looking around in confusion and flashing a picture of the Bernal Heights swing.

Whether the swing was there could never be guaranteed: In the last six years, the swing has disappeared and reappeared every other month. For locals, it is unclear who takes the swing down, and who keeps putting it back up.

“Whoever’s doing it,” Klausner said, pointing to tight knots that fixed the wooden plank to its ropes, “they clearly know what they’re doing.”

The swing, which dangles from a tree at the apex of Bernal Hill, has become the subject of hyper-fixation and mystery, a local attraction beckoning to tourists and locals alike, and its origins are completely unknown.

“If you ever see tourists here, it’s for the swing,” said Barbara, a longtime Bernal Heights resident, walking her small white chihuahua on a recent Tuesday afternoon.

As Barbara and her chihuahua, Rosalita, peeled around the corner of Bernal Hill, she pointed up to a tree whose trunk was largely obscured by a gray, runged power structure. 

“The swing was there, last I checked,” she said, “but if it’s missing, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

While locals aren’t entirely sure of the exact date when the swing first emerged, many of them have seen it for years — even stretching back to 2008, according to some in the neighborhood. The swing faces expansive views of the city, a panoramic display of the skyline, bridges and the bay.

Well, here ends the mystery.

“​​Our staff takes the swing down,” wrote Daniel Montes, a communications manager for the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. “We know it’s a bummer for fans of the swing. We really aren’t trying to be the fun police, just prevent injuries.”

Montes understands that Rec and Parks’ involvement in the swing’s removal may be disappointing to its visitors. “On the plus side, we have a lot of great swings at our more than 225 parks, of which we can guarantee the safety.” 

Klausner, for her part, understood that the city may be apprehensive about keeping the swing up. “If somebody fell, it would not be good,” she admitted. “But I think the joy is worth the risk.”

“A lot of the change [in San Francisco] is not always for the better,” she added. “But there are still things that are wonderful. And this swing is one of them.”

Klausner enjoys seeing tourists stopping in her serene, otherwise uneventful neighborhood for the local attraction. She believes that other features of Bernal Heights park are worthy of adoration and exploration, like a pair of great horned owls who live in a nearby tree.

“It’s just adorable to see them,” she explained. “If people come for the swing, they should try to see the owls, too.”

And they do. Near the base, a group of people gathered around a massive tree.

“Why, we’re looking for those owls!” one of them said.

The owls, too, were absent.

“Gone hunting,” one observer guessed.

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Gilare Zada is a Kurdish American, hailing from San Diego, California. She attended Stanford University, where she earned her bachelor's in English and her master's in journalism. During her time writing for the Stanford magazine and the Peninsula Press, she grew passionate about narrative form and function within the reporting sphere. At Mission Local, Gilare hopes to use her data skills to deliver human stories, as well as add Spanish to her list of four languages.

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  1. I am surprised that the Department of Recreation and Parks is admitting to taking the swing down on a regular basis, because the last time it was removed (or at least one of the recent times), I, a Bernal Heights resident, wrote to the department myself asking if they were the culprit.

    Here is the reply that I received:

    “Hi Matthew,

    Thank you for reaching out. Our department is responsible for illegally installed swings on trees in parkland due to safety concerns. We routinely do this throughout the system at a number of sites. When swings are reported a work order will be submitted with our Urban Forestry Unit to remove the swing. *We do not know who installed or cut the swing in question on the Bernal tree.* [asterisk emphasis added]

    Let us know if you have any further questions.

    Thank you,
    SF Rec and Park”

    I received this reply on February 14, 2023. It bolsters my suspicion that in some instances the swing is cut down by self-appointed, non-government individuals. As for my position on the controversy, I am still not sure what I think. I am just adding what I know to the discussion.

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  2. “like a pair of gray-horned owls who live in a nearby tree.”
    Actually they are Great Horned Owls.

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  3. For a city department that has a logo of a kid on a swing *on their trucks*, SF Parks and Rec sure loves to cut down tree swings!

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  4. Great article. As far as how long the swing has been there, I’ve seen it on (and off) since at least 2008.

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  5. “While locals aren’t entirely sure of the exact date the swing emerged, none of them recall seeing it before 2017.” Really? I lived in Bernal, at the point of Elsie and Virginia, for ten years, from 2005 – 2015. The swing was up often in that period. We used to go up there regularly for the peace, the view, and the thrill.

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