Rightfully considered a tourist attraction, Mountain View Cemetery was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same man who laid out Central Park. Besides incorporating a Transcendentalist’s fascination with Asian design, he chose the trees that still impress: stone pines, magnolias, huge specimen oaks and cypress. Three-hour tours of the 226-acre grounds are given every second and fourth Saturday, but solo walkers are also welcome.
Entering through the lofty gates, you pass an enormous fountain and Gothic chapel, surrounded by tulip beds in full bloom. The sidewalk continues along a broad boulevard, past the long, white mass of the main mausoleum and under a vine-covered pergola. At the sidewalk’s end is a smaller fountain surrounded by cypress. A pair of bluebirds, such a vibrant shade they could never be mistaken for scrub jays, lights on the marble obelisk of Jane E. Reno, who “died at Fruitvale” in 1883.
From there, you can follow a variety of gravel paths, stairways and narrow roads uphill towards Millionaire’s Row, the final resting place for various Ghirardellis, Kaisers, Merritts and Crockers. The list of notable inhabitants of Mountain View includes architects, artists, several governors and even one mayor of San Francisco.
Above Millionaire’s Row, the hill becomes steeper, and you follow a series of switchbacks, gradually leaving the Victorian era and entering the modern one. By the time you reach Golden Lotus Mountain, a newer section designed with “excellent feng shui,” you will command a stunning view of the Bay.
On your way back, stick to the road lined with liquidambars till you spot another small fountain circled by cypress. At the top of the path leading to the fountain is the grave of Fred Korematsu, the civil rights activist who challenged the WWII internment order in court. The rough-hewn granite headstone tells part of his story as well as giving his dates.
Getting there: Mountain View Cemetery is at the eastern end of Piedmont Avenue, and is open from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Cool stuff in the neighborhood: Chapel of the Chimes, a huge mausoleum and columbarium designed in part by Julia Morgan, offers the occasional concert and is the home of the annual Garden of Memory new music event on the summer solstice. Piedmont Avenue itself offers a wide selection of restaurants and other shops.