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San Francisco

Actually Cool Things You Can Do in San Francisco This Summer

Let’s make up for time lost!

Presented by
pride parade
Flickr/David Yu

Ah, summer in San Francisco. When the temps drop, the fog rolls in, and everyone busts out their warmest puffy. But just because we’re wearing ski jackets when the rest of the country is in shorts and t-shirts doesn’t mean we’re gonna have any less fun. Especially now that California is (tentatively) scheduled to reopen on June 15th (as long as we can keep our COVID numbers down, so get vaccinated and wear your masks!). Sure, summer 2021 isn’t going to look exactly like 2019—there’s a bunch of stuff that’s not going to happen or has been postponed, like Burning Man (coming back in 2022 for better or for worse) and Outside Lands, which has moved to Halloween weekend (which is probably a good thing since the weather will be much more likely to cooperate). Still, this summer is also not going to look anything like 2020, thank goodness (and Dr. Fauci). So go forth, wear layers, start swiping, hug friends, and have fun. You deserve it now more than ever.

Photo courtesy of Merchant Roots

Eat your way through an exquisite tasting menu unlike anything you’ve ever experienced

$$ to $$$
The Fillmore
Merchant Roots changes its tasting menu (and the ambiance/decor of its two-to-four-person private dining areas) every few months. That means this summer, you can experience “In Bloom,” a stunning nine-course culinary ode to the beauty and flavor of flowers, as well as a summer spectacle featuring 42 dishes that honor summer’s bounty. Yes, you read that right: FORTY TWO dishes. Per person. You’ll have to eat it to believe it. “In Bloom” blooms through June, and “Around the Summer in 42 Plates” ripens in July.

Spend a weekend eating chocolate and drinking wine

Free to $$
Wineries all over Lodi
Choose your own wine and chocolate adventure at this decadent festival in Lodi, where 20 wineries pair delicious wine with delicious chocolate, which is precisely the kind of indulgence you need right now. Lodi is only about an hour and a half away, but depending on how much wine you plan on consuming, you may want to make a weekend of it and book a room at Wine & Roses where you can drink by the pool and also get spa treatments when you’re not shoving chocolate and wine in your face.

Dance in the streets

Free
All over SF
Some of SF’s staple street fairs (Union Street Fair, Haight Street Fair, North Beach Festival) haven’t confirmed yet if they’ll be taking place this summer, but the Fillmore Jazz Festival is definitely happening over the 4th of July weekend, which is great news for musicians as well as the businesses along Fillmore Street. If you’re looking for a place to get weird with other weirdos, you’ll bug out when you hear that the How Weird Street Faire will be back on Sunday, September 12. Keep an eye out regarding those aforementioned festivals, which usually happen the first three weekends in June.

Show your support and pride for SF’s LGBTQ+ community

Mostly free
All over SF
Pride is back, baby! And for #SFPride51, we’re “All in This Together.”  Okay, so the parade and the official celebration aren’t happening this year, but that’s not going to stop us from waving our rainbow flags for the entire month of June. You’ll have to check the official website, as well as the websites of all your favorite gay bars a little closer to the date to get the details, but two official events we know about now are Movie Night at Oracle Park (June 11 and 12) and a Black Liberation Event with the African American Art and Culture Complex (AAACC) (June 18). Tons of the events are free, but it takes a lot of work to make this event the wild success that it always is, so if you can donate, that would be fabulous.

Gilroy Garlic Festival

Eat garlic everything

$ to $$
Gilroy
The Gilroy Garlic Festival is back and better ‘cause now there are not one but two weekends of live music, cooking competitions, and a “gourmet alley” where you’ll find not just garlic fries, but garlic everything. Garlic bread, garlic calamari, garlic shrimp, garlic popcorn, even garlic ice cream. This year there will also be a farm-to-table dinner and a golf tournament. And on the off chance that you don’t like garlic, there will be some non-garlic options as well, but be warned: the delicious, pungent smell of garlic will be delightfully impossible to escape.

Listen to live music at a stunning outdoor amphitheater

Free (but bring cash to donate)
Stern Grove/Outer Sunset
Thanks to the Stern Grove Festival’s return, you won’t be without a Sunday activity for at least ten Sundays this summer (mid-June to mid-August). All you need to do is pack a gourmet picnic with a bottle of wine or two (okay, that part is optional), add some layers to the bag (that part is not), and head to Stern Grove to listen to all kinds of live music that will get you off of your blanket and onto your feet. The schedule hasn’t been announced yet, but there are usually performances from the SF Symphony and SF Opera, and the musical lineup is created to appeal to all ages and tastes. The festival kicks off every season with The Big Picnic, an annual fundraiser so the show can continue to go on. Donate big and you’ll get parking and a reserved picnic table, so you don’t have to fight the crowds for a good spot.

Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

See a stage performance that is so fetch

$$
Golden Gate Theatre/Mid-Market
It’s like we have ESPN or something because we’re here to tell you that Broadway SF is raising the curtain once again for its 2021-2022 season. First up: The stage production of “Mean Girls,” a musical version of the movie you’ve now been faithfully quoting for 17 years. (And if you go on a Wednesday, obvi wear pink. It’s just what we do.)

Eirik Uhlen / Unsplash

Enjoy a picnic in the park

$
Various
How lucky are we that San Francisco has 220 city parks (one every half-mile), more than any other city in the US? If you weren’t taking advantage of them before COVID, you probably are now since they’re full of hiking trails, green spaces, gardens, and, maybe our favorite: lots of places to unfurl a blanket, and let the relaxation and indulgence (usually in the form of food and adult beverages—legal in most SF parks) begin. 

Walk, run, bike, skateboard, rollerskate, or juggle while riding your unicycle down John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park

Free
Golden Gate Park
Last spring, London Breed closed a large portion of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park to vehicles. Frankly, we think this is how it should be all of the time, and so do most people who live in SF, but there are a few meanies who cannot fathom the idea of losing 300 parking spaces, so its car-free fate is undecided. Our favorite walk is from the park entrance all the way to Ocean Beach with stops at the Redwood Grove, Prayer Cross, and Bison Paddock along the way. Plus, a reward beer or two in Park Chalet’s garden. It’s about seven miles round-trip but mostly flat, so you won’t huff and puff too much.

San Francisco Ferry Building

Eat your way through the Ferry Building

$ to $$
Embarcadero
The historic Ferry Building is pretty to look at, but, more importantly, behind those good looks is a fantastic personality in the form of delicious artisan food. Enjoy lunch by the water at Hog Island Oyster Company or a delicious burger and milkshake on Gott’s Roadside’s patio. Grab a canned cocktail at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and a cupcake from Miette to enjoy while sitting on a bench with views of the Bay Bridge. The beloved farmers market operated by CUESA is still popping up on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, so you can also shop for high-quality products from small, sustainable growers and producers who will definitely appreciate your support.

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Courtesy of Fort Point National Historic Site

Ride your bike or walk to Fort Point

Free
The Presidio
Crissy Field has beaches, tidal marshes, picnic areas, and also one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge you’ll find anywhere in SF. Start with a picnic and then take in that aforementioned amazing view as you walk or bike along the waterfront promenade to Fort Point. Take pics of the bridge, watch surfers narrowly miss jagged rocks, and high-five or high-10 Hoppers Hands before you turn around to head back (just make sure you use hand sanitizer before and after because that’s who we are now).

The Buena Vista

Get an Irish coffee at Buena Vista Café

$
Fisherman’s Wharf
Stave off SF’s constant chill with the famous and delicious Irish coffee from Buena Vista, the first place to serve Irish coffee in the US. Usually you have to enjoy it inside of the always-crowded restaurant, but since things are the way they are, the restaurant is offering a to-go version of the boozy pick-me-up. Sure, you’ll have to enjoy it in a paper cup instead of the signature curved glass, but the fact that you can easily make it a double (by adding your own whiskey), enjoy it outside with water views, and that you’re even able to get a Buena Vista Irish coffee at all right now will soften the blow of sipping through a plastic lid. Prefer to enjoy it there? Buena Vista is also open for indoor and outdoor dining.

Walk all the way across San Francisco

Free
Bayview to Outer Richmond
Put on your most comfortable sneakers and head out on the Crosstown Trail, a 17-mile urban hike that takes you through tons of SF neighborhoods, including McLaren Park, Glen Canyon, Golden Gate Park, and Seacliff. The trail is a mix of paved roads/paths and trails, is about 2,600 feet of elevation, and offers great views, cool tiled staircases, a chance to see SF in a whole new way, and satisfaction for having actually done it. 

San Francisco Botanical Garden

Spend an afternoon exploring the Botanical Garden

Free for SF residents
Golden Gate Park
The 55-acre “urban oasis” with more than 9,000 plants from around the world is always beautiful, but, for obvious reasons, is the most magical in the spring and early summer when so many flowers are in bloom (though it’s legit impressive whatever time of year you go). Pack a picnic to enjoy on the grounds or wander through the gardens and visit flora from Australia, Chile, South Africa, and more, all in one afternoon. You’ll just have to pop open a plant app to see what you’re enjoying since we aren’t exactly certified botanists.

Hang out in Dolores Park 

Free
Mission
While the cynical side of us may have some issues (13 to be exact) with Dolores Park, there’s no denying that this park is beloved for a reason. Abundant sunshine (yes, in San Francisco), fantastic people watching, gorgeous city views, towering palm trees, off-leash areas for dogs to play—and though alcohol technically isn’t allowed, all of those things add up to make it the perfect place to enjoy that aforementioned burrito, with a cold beer or three from Woods Cervecería. (Some rules, like no alcohol in the park are just meant to be—and are almost always—overlooked.) If you’re a rule follower, substitute the beer for an ice cream cone from Bi-Rite Creamery

Immersive Van Gogh | Photo by Michael Brosilow

Immerse yourself in Van Gogh

$$
SoMa
Step into the world of Vincent Van Gogh at this trippy exhibit with over 500,000 cubic feet of illuminated projections of his work that will make you feel like you’re literally inside of his paintings. The “experiential journey” has been modified for COVID times but still promises to be one of the most unusual and/or cultural things you’ve done in a very long time. The Immersive Van Gogh exhibit runs through the beginning of September, but don’t wait to get your tickets because right now, there’s limited availability for almost every single day.

Go to as many bars and restaurants as possible and maybe even sit indoors!

$ to $$$
Various
San Francisco is easing up on restrictions for dining and drinking, which means that right now we can eat and drink inside and drink (without mandatory food-ordering) outside (including at all of these rad bars). That may ease up even more pretty soon and, hopefully, by June 15, everything will be open the way it was before COVID. All of this means that, if you’re comfortable with it, you can show our struggling restaurant industry some much-needed love. If you’re still mostly chillin’ outside, that’s cool too, as it doesn’t appear the city’s new parklets are going anywhere anytime soon (hopefully ever?). Here are a few of our faves.

Play mini golf and learn about California history at the same time

$
Mission Bay
Learn the story of California’s Boom and Bust by playing miniature golf at SF’s only outdoor miniature golf course. Put the ball into a Barbary Coast Saloon, through a gold mine, and around “Golden Gate Park,” while reading cool factoids along the way. To help maintain a safe environment, you’ll have to make a reservation, which involves a little planning, but is definitely worth it. Especially because the course is also located within Parklab Gardens (a food truck park and beer garden) so you can celebrate your win (or lament your defeat) with some tasty treats and a cold one.

San Francisco Chinatown Gates 2015 | Flickr/Chris Favero

Eat everything delicious in Chinatown

$ to $$
Chinatown
Businesses in Chinatown were the first to get hit last year and a lot of them are still suffering. Help them out by playing tourist for a day and exploring the oldest Chinatown in the US on foot. Shop and snack as you go, a delicious way to support the community and get your steps in. Need suggestions? Check out these favorites from some local experts.

Check out some cool art at all of SF’s museums

$ to $$
All over
After more than a year of binging every streaming show possible, it’s time to reactivate your brain. Luckily, this is very easy to do since SF’s museums are now open to visitors. See all kinds of art at the de Young (the Calder-Picasso exhibit runs through May 23, and all of these exhibitions are waiting in the wings), Legion of Honor (see upcoming exhibits here), SFMOMA (Nam June Paik’s “mesmerizing riot of sights and sounds'' opens May 8), Asian Art Museum (be sure to also check out the online celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month), Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Museum of African Diaspora, and the California Academy of Sciences. (We’re still waiting for the Exploratorium to open, but considering it’s a hands-on museum, we get why we have to wait.)

Soar to new heights on Golden Gate Park’s observation wheel

$$
Golden Gate Park
You’d think with everything happening in this city right now, people would have better things to fight about than whether the ferris wheel in the Music Concourse brought in to celebrate the park’s 150th birthday should stick around for longer than planned because it wasn’t open for most of last year. But this is San Francisco, so there’s not. Unfortunately for the people who wanted the wheel to roll out of town right on schedule, it does look like it’s going to stick around until 2025, but you never know ‘cause again: this is SF. Still, just because it’s probably going to be spinning for a few more years than planned doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make a reservation right now to take it for a spin.

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Daisy Barringer is an SF-based freelance writer who is using this time to explore the city on foot. Follow her on Instagram @daisysf to see secret staircases, spring blooms, gorgeous views, and all over the other magical things in SF that make this place the best place to live.