Golden Gate Heights, a little-known enclave in San Francisco, has been named one of the hottest neighbourhoods of 2017 by real-estate site Redfin.
Located on the outskirts of the Sunset District, the charming micro-neighbourhood has no shops or restaurants. But it draws homebuyers with its affordability, suburban feel, and great views. A whopping 86% of homes in Golden Gate Heights sell above asking price, according to Redfin.
I moved to San Francisco more than two years ago and I’d never heard of Golden Gate Heights before. I recently set out for a day of exploration in the micro-neighbourhood to see what the hype is. Then I lost my phone.
When I told my office that Golden Gate Heights had been named one of Redfin's hottest neighbourhoods of 2017, you could almost make out the record scratch sound effect.
Golden Gate Heights sounds like a realtor's attempt to rebrand an existing neighbourhood with a pleasant-sounding moniker in order to lure prospective homebuyers, like New York's SoHa.
None of us had ever heard of it.
A quick search revealed that at least Google Maps thinks it's real. Golden Gate Heights is tucked between the popular Inner Sunset and Forest Hill neighbourhoods on the west side.
The neighbourhood is stretched across two of the tallest hills in San Francisco: Larsen Peak at Golden Gate Heights Park and Grandview Park. I wanted to go from one peak to the other.
I passed a few people walking their dogs but was otherwise totally alone. The fog rolled in through the tree tops, making me feel like I had been transported to an episode of 'The Twilight Zone.'
It was then that I realised I left my iPhone in the backseat of the Uber car.
For context, I can't make it out of a driveway without Google Maps. I am certified navigation-challenged. My heart began to race and my fingers itched for the feeling of a phone in hand.
I thought about asking around to find the nearest public transportation stop, but I decided to continue blindly with my tour.
I set off down a residential street and admired the houses, which looked like faded LEGO bricks standing upright on a hill. Street parking was plentiful. Some homes had yards.
Golden Gate Heights is more affordable than some trendy San Francisco neighbourhoods, but it's still expensive. The median sale price is $US1.59 million, 21% higher than the median sale price in the city overall. Homes typically sell at 120% of the listing price, according to Redfin.
Getting around was like a StairMaster workout. In Golden Gate Heights, the streets break away from the grid that patterns much of the area.
I couldn't tell where the hills of Golden Gate Heights started or stopped, and I didn't want to waste my time in the wrong location. So I started asking people where Golden Gate Heights was.
Their answers were surprising.
'I'm not exactly sure,' a middle-aged woman walking her dog told me.
'It's kind of hard to describe,' said a young woman canvassed with tattoos.
I wandered a bit longer before coming across a steep staircase. I figured I could climb it for a better view of the area.
I stopped a local woman with bangs cropped high on her forehead and a bundle of silvery grey foliage in her hand. She told me I was in Grandview Park, the second highest hill in the neighbourhood after Golden Gate Heights Park. A feeling of success welled up inside of me.
I knew that by hiking from Golden Gate Heights Park to Grandview Park, I had -- without my phone or GPS to guide me -- travelled the length of the neighbourhood from south to north.
Still, I asked the young woman, 'Am I in Golden Gate Heights neighbourhood?'
'I don't know if it's technically considered that,' she said.
Three locals told me they didn't know where Golden Gate Heights is, while standing in that very neighbourhood. I started to think the micro-hood was a made-up place after all.
But three people hardly make for a reliable survey. On my way out, I discovered a stone wall at the bottom of the hill that proudly bore the name 'Golden Gate Heights.'
For families looking for a remote neighbourhood within the borders of a major city, Golden Gate Heights -- real or not -- is an ideal spot. But houses there won't remain a bargain for long.
This story has a happy ending: My Uber driver returned my phone to me the next day.
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