You can explore two of San Diego's most beautiful old neighborhoods -- Mission Hills and Banker's Hill -- on the seven-mile, self-propelled tour outlined here. We'll define "self propelled" as walking, jogging, or bicycle riding. It is impossible, and illegal in fact, for cars or motorcycles to complete a key link in the route described here.
San Diego's version of the old-fashioned California dream is amply illustrated by the swaying palms and splashy decorative landscaping you will see along the route. With our recent heavy rains followed by sunshine, and ably aided by irrigation, front-yard gardens in the two old neighborhoods are probably at their best right now. There is also architectural and historic interest: The route passes by or very near more than a dozen homes and buildings cited in San Diego's historical register.
Begin at Presidio Park, the postcard-perfect park overlooking Old Town. From the upper (south) side of the park, follow either Presidio Drive or Marilouise Way up the hill and into Mission Hills, where well crafted Spanish-style homes, old and new, squeeze into postage-stamp lots. Turn left at Arista Street, and right on Fort Stockton Drive. After about one-half mile, bear left onto Lewis Street, following the designated bike route. You pass into and out of a compact, mom-and-pop/new-age business district on Lewis Street in no time at all. Just north, a maze of dead-ending residential streets perches above Mission Valley. Tracing them is a good diversion if you have time.
On the main route, turn right on busy Goldfinch Street, go a block or two south, and then head east on either Washington Street or University Avenue. When you reach First Avenue, make a right. As you go southbound on First, notice the sequence of intersecting, east-west streets. They bear the names of trees -- Upas, Thorn, Spruce, and so on, in reverse alphabetical order. Cedar, Beech and Ash streets in downtown San Diego mark the end of the sequence.
As you approach S (Spruce Street) you enter the Banker's Hill district, so named for its prominent citizens of a century ago. Turn right and continue west on Spruce Street. Very soon make your way over the thin, swaying deck of a 1912 suspension footbridge, dangling over a narrow, finger canyon below. Walk your bicycle, if you have one.
Just west of the bridge, turn left on Curlew Street. Continue south on Curlew, bend right on Palm Street, then go left on Dove Street. At the next intersection, stay right on Eagle Street. Follow Eagle down to Reynard Way, and then go north on Reynard. Reynard becomes Goldfinch Street as you return to Mission Hills.
A slight variation on your earlier route through Mission Hills takes you west on Fort Stockton Drive, and west on palm-lined Sunset Boulevard. When Sunset starts curving, make a sharp right on Witherby Street. You then circle the rim of a small canyon, going left on Hickory Street and left on Trias Street to Presidio Drive. Presidio takes you straight back to your starting point.