With quaint footbridges spanning two wooded ravines, scores of historic homes, plus mature landscaping, Banker’s Hill speaks to historic elegance and the preservation of nature. The following short ramble through canyon bottom and along quiet city streets takes you there — north and south, top and bottom.
Begin walking at the east end of Maple Street, just north of downtown’s Little Italy. There are actually multiple aligned and discontinuous segments of Maple Street stretching eastward for several miles. This particular Maple Street segment ends two blocks east of Reynard Way at a sign indicating Maple Street Open Space Park.
Make your way up the wide, smooth path in the canyon bottom ahead, noting the mix of native sage-scrub/chaparral vegetation and the nonnative eucalyptus trees and palm trees, the latter trees giving plenty of shade.
At about 100 yards into the canyon, notice the steep slope to the right. At the top, on the canyon rim, lies a historical marker commemorating the early (1909) aviation feats of Waldo Waterman, who sailed off this perch on a homemade contraption and glided into the canyon bottom without breaking his neck. The plaque, at the corner of Albatross and Maple, is better suited for a drive-by visit than a side trip on foot.
Farther up the canyon floor, you pass under the tall and graceful First Avenue Bridge, erected in 1912. Last year the steel bridge was rededicated after about two years of extensive retrofitting. After nearly 0.5 mile, you reach the wooden supporting beams of the equally historic Quince Street footbridge. A steep path on the left with log stairs connects to Third Avenue and houses above. Trudge upward and make a right on Third Avenue.
After only a half-block, turn left on Redwood Street and continue two blocks to First Avenue. You’re now squarely in the historic Banker’s Hill neighborhood, where many of the city’s elite resided a century ago. Once you reach First, gaze across the street to spot the Self-Realization Fellowship, formerly Bishop’s Day School (1908), designed by San Diego’s renowned architect Irving Gill. The Gill-designed wing wraps around an older Tudor structure and epitomizes Gill’s philosophy of simplicity and — using his own phrase — “monastic severity.”
From Redwood and First, continue north on First Avenue to Spruce Street. (In case you hadn’t noticed, east-west streets are ordered alphabetically from Ash and Beech in downtown San Diego, to Redwood and Spruce and beyond in Banker’s Hill.) Make a left on Spruce Street and head west (downhill) to cross the 1912 Spruce Street suspension footbridge over a ravine commonly known as Arroyo Canyon. Pause in the middle of the swaying bridge, 70 feet above the canyon floor, and feel the breeze sweeping up-canyon from the bay.
On solid ground again at Brant Street, continue west another block to Curlew Street and turn right -- all the while taking note of the varied architectural styles of the homes, most of which date back to the early 20th century. Many of the properties display historic plaques indicating the date of original construction.
Heading north on Curlew, you soon make a right on Thorn Street. Zigzag east on Thorn, north on Brant Street, east on Upas Street, and north on Albatross Street. On the east side of Albatross are some of Irving Gill’s “canyon houses,” dating from 1912-13 and designed to blend harmoniously with the natural landscape of the ravine below. From Albatross, make a right on Walnut Street and proceed two blocks to First Avenue. Turn right and within a short block reach the Royal Food Mart/Café Carpe Diem, housed in an early 1900s structure whose exterior appearance and interior furnishings are suggestive just that time in history. Take a break for food or beverages here, if you like. Outside tables are available.
From the restaurant, go one block east on Upas Street to Second Avenue, and turn right. Enjoy the grand old homes in the next three blocks ahead. When you reach Redwood, go left for a block, turn right on Third, and finally make your descent into Maple Canyon, retracing your former route in the canyon bottom and back to your starting point.
Maple Canyon to Banker’s Hill
Explore the canyons, bridges, and city streets of San Diego’s historic Banker’s Hill neighborhood.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 1 mile
Hiking length: 2.3 miles