Lately, it seems like headlines in San Francisco have been negative, from the city’s homelessness crisis and high-profile recall elections to the region’s astronomical cost of living and worsening fire seasons. .
But San Francisco remains San Francisco. The fog still rolls in from the Pacific to blanket the tangled hills of the city, the sunset still blazes purple behind the Golden Gate Bridge, and the smell of salt and eucalyptus still hits the moment you step out of the international airport of San Francisco. Always a city for outdoor enthusiasts, pandemic restrictions have led to near-universal adoption of indoor-outdoor urban living. And at its heart, the spirit of the city, an intoxicating mix of creativity, progressivism and experimentation, remains unbreakable.
San Francisco’s pandemic recovery has been slower than other major US metropolitan areas; according to data from the San Francisco Travel Association, forecasts for 2022 estimate 80% of 2019 visitor volume. While downtown and Union Square neighborhoods remain quieter than in pre-pandemic times, The city’s singular neighborhoods, from Mission to Russian Hill and Outer Sunset, are bustling with crowded restaurants and bars, and many boast new parks and in-person events. San Francisco no longer imposes a mask mandate, but some businesses will require or request masks; masks are recommended but not required on MUNI and BART, the city’s public transportation systems. Many indoor events, including concerts and theater productions, require proof of vaccination to enter.
New parks and slow streets
San Francisco’s richness of green space has grown thanks to a trio of new parks, including the Presidio Tunnel Tops, 14 acres of new national park along the city’s north shore that opened this month. Boasting panoramic views of the bay, the park was designed by the same group behind New York’s High Line and is home to a changing roster of food trucks, art installations and performances. For more views, visit Francisco Park in the city’s Russian Hill neighborhood, which opened in April on the site of San Francisco’s first reservoir. In the southeast neighborhood of Mission Bay, largely sheltered from the city’s frequent westerly winds, Crane Cove Park has become a warm and sunny destination for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and relaxation since opening in 2020.
In addition to new parks, San Francisco has become more walkable and bikeable with the development of the Slow Streets program, which limits or prohibits car traffic on city streets. Destinations of interest include the Great Highway, which runs along Ocean Beach on the west side of the city (it’s currently closed to vehicular traffic on weekends and often on windy days) and JFK Promenade in the Golden Gate Park, which could be made permanent car- free in November. The one-and-a-half-mile stretch from JFK takes you to destinations such as the Conservatory of Flowers and the Rose Garden, as well as Skatin’ Place, where you’ll often find a wheelie disco.
A return to in-person music events
Golden Gate Park is also hosting a number of major in-person events this year, including Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free three-day music festival taking place September 30-October 2. This year’s lineup will feature Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Buddy Miller, with more artists to be announced next week. The Outside Lands Music Festival runs August 5-7 with artists including Green Day, Post Malone and Lil Uzi Vert (one-day tickets from $195; three-day passes from $409 ). Find even more music in the Sunset District at the Stern Grove Festival, now in its 85th year. The free weekly concert series, which runs from Sunday through August 14, includes acts ranging from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to Phil Lesh.
The Portola Music Festival (one-day tickets from $200, two-day passes from $400), a new music festival coming to San Francisco from the team behind Coachella, takes place on the 24th and September 25 at Pier 80, and will feature electronic acts including Flume, James Blake, The Avalanches and MIA
A new destination for contemporary art
With its opening in October, the San Francisco Institute of Contemporary Art aims to offer a new approach to how contemporary art should be presented and shared. Tied to its core principles of equity and accessibility, ICASF will have free admission and plans to showcase local artists and artists of color in a welcoming environment for all. The opening lineup includes a solo exhibition by Jeffrey Gibson, a Choctaw-Cherokee painter and sculptor, a group exhibition curated by Californian artists and curators Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon, and works by local artists Liz Hernández and Ryan Whelan.
Eat and drink
Restaurants in San Francisco have struggled with pandemic restrictions, but also high operational costs and the high cost of living limiting labor. Many storefronts remain empty and a number of legacy businesses have closed, including Alioto’s, an Italian seafood restaurant that sat on Fisherman’s Wharf for 97 years, and Cliff House, an iconic destination along the jagged Pacific coastline ( a new restaurant may open there by the end of the year).
While undoubtedly tough, the past two years have had a silver lining: al fresco dining and drinking has popped up everywhere, from long-established restaurants like Nopa to brand new spots like Casements, an Irish bar modern Mission that opened in January 2020. The bar originally planned to be a cozy, reserved indoor affair, but instead now serves stellar cocktails (from $12) on one of the best patios in town, with a semi-private outdoor space, live music, DJs and colorful murals of Irish rock musicians, including Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries and Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy.
While marquee openings are still an important part of the city’s food fabric – the most recent include the opulent Palm Court Restaurant in the new RH Gallery and a new Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience store – some of the most exciting developments center on discrete projects by high-end chefs. In the mission, three-Michelin-starred Corey Lee of Benu opened up San Ho Won, a Korean barbecue with classic dishes and riffs on tradition, like blood sausage pancake and kimchi pozole (starters from $16 , BBQ starting at $26). Matthew Kirk, a sous chef at Lazy Bear, opened Automat, a day-and-night destination in the Western Addition for baked goods, breakfast sandwiches and burgers ($9-$16 sandwiches).
Natural wine isn’t new to San Francisco, but low-intervention bottles — small-batch, often funky wines made with organic ingredients, native yeast, and usually little to no sulfites — dominate the new restaurants and bars. Shuggie’s, a pop-art explosion with a bustling bottle list from the West Coast and beyond, offers two-dollar wine shots and a “trash pizza” made from repurposed food scraps (wines from $15 a day). glass or $51 a bottle; pizzas from $19). Palm City Wines opened in the Outer Sunset in the spring of 2020 as a take-out-only natural wine bottle and deli store; now it also serves small plates, wines by the glass, Northern California beers, and forearm-sized hoagies (appetizers from $8, sandwiches from $19). Raising the bar is Bar Part Time in the Mission, a natural wine-fueled nightclub with a rotating roster of DJs and wine producers.
Where to stay
1 Hotel opened in San Francisco in June on the Embarcadero near the Ferry Building. The striking space features reclaimed wood and native greenery, recyclable key cards and hangers in all 186 rooms and 14 suites (from $500 per night), plus a rooftop spa, garden chef and beehives. Terrene, the hotel restaurant, offers a farm-to-table inspired menu and a wide selection of mezcal and tequila.
LUMA, which also opened in June, is the first resort in the Mission Bay area. With 299 rooms (from $329 a night) and a rooftop lounge opening later this summer, the hotel is close to Oracle Park and the Chase Center. And on June 30, the longtime Sir Francis Drake Hotel in Union Square reopened as the Beacon Grand with 418 renovated rooms (from $249 per night), a lobby bar and in 2023, will reopen a redesign of the famous top floor bar, the Starlite Room.