The neighborhood is primarily residential, with a commercial strip along Cortland Avenue featuring restaurants, a bookstore, bakeries, a fish and butchery shop, multiple salons, the second "The Good Life" natural grocery store (first is on Potrero Hill), a wine and beer store, cafes and bars. The local branch of the San Francisco Public Library at 500 Cortland was built by Frederick Myers with funding from the Works Progress Administration and dedicated in 1940. After closing for nearly two years for renovations and after much long-standing contention over the murals that adorn the library's exterior, the library reopened in January 2010. There is also collection of restaurants and cafés at the bottom of the northern slope, near the Cesar Chavez border. They center around the newly renovated, rectangular Precita Park. Also notable is Precita Eyes, an esteemed mural art center.
A strong tradition of neighborhood activism led to the establishment of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center in 1979. It works to promote community organizing, affordable housing services, senior services and youth services. Additionally, the neighborhood center hosts "Fiesta on the Hill", one of the last street fairs of the summer festival season. The fair takes place on the third Sunday in October. The family-oriented event includes attractions such as a petting zoo and donkey rides.
Bernal's north slope has been referred to as one of San Francisco's "banana belts", with warmer temperatures from the San Francisco Bay and less marine fog making its way inland.
The grassland on the hilltop is home to a remarkable urban ecosystem, including the majority of native north-coast wildflowers-most notable of which is the California state flower-the California poppy, raccoons, opossums, skunks, a variety of raptors (including American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Sharp-Shinned Hawks, and Great Horned Owls), and, at times, at least one coyote. The radio tower, known locally as "Sutrito Tower," is a major connection point for the metropolitan San Francisco area. Bernal Hill Park is a designated "off-leash" park for dogs, and it is a destination for many dogs and their owners as it is one of the largest parks in San Francisco. Bernal Heights Boulevard, which circles the hill top, has about a one mile (1.6 km) long path of asphalt and hard packed sand for walking and running that is closed to motor traffic. It is also the site of the San Francisco Illegal Soapbox Society's annual derby.
Precita Park and Holly Park provide grassy play areas for children and adults to the north and south of the hill, respectively. The southeast corner of Bernal Heights is home to the open-air Alemany Farmers' Market, one of the oldest extant farmers' markets in the US, operating every Saturday in this location since August 4, 1947. A flea market occupies the market area on Sundays.
The park is also known for its unusually steep streets. Bradford above Tompkins, with an alleged 41% grade, is claimed to be the steepest in the world, but this has yet to be graded by Guinness World Records.