Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in SF Right Now
All social distancing approved.
In San Francisco, there’s a never-ending amount of fun things to taste, see, explore, and discover. Or... there usually is, anyway. Obviously, due to COVID-19, times are a little different right now. Bars are still closed, restaurants are only open for outdoor dining (and delivery and takeout), the Giants are playing without any fans in the stands, all of the museums are closed, and... well, you get it. You’re living it.
But that doesn’t mean there’s not still fun to be had. In fact, of all of the cities in the US to live in right now, we’re gonna say that SF must be one of the best, and that’s not just because we’re way better at wearing masks and following rules than everyone else. It’s because there’s still plenty of cool stuff to do right now, including urban hikes, DIY picnics, and a couple of virtual events that actually promise to be entertaining, AND we have the weather year-round to make it all enjoyable, especially in fall, which is when we have our warmest temps and an abundance of sunshine.
Just be sure to wear a mask indoors and out and to stay six feet apart from people, but we don’t have to tell you that. After over five months of this (and counting), you’re basically a pro.
Your home or anywhere with internet
Okay, so the best part of NightLife is that you get to cruise around the Academy of Sciences and check out all of the exhibits with a cocktail in hand, then hit the dance floor, visit another galaxy in the Planetarium, and interact with some smart scientists. For obvious reasons, the museum is closed right now, which means it’s not possible to do all of those things, but you can attend Virtual NightLife events every other Thursday, an “eclectic mix of science, music, and art” streamed live. BYO cocktails. Miss those smart scientists also? NightShool, an online deeper dive into a "single science-related theme” happens on the Thursdays when NightLife isn’t happening.
Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Alamo Square, McLaren Park, etc.
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 the pandemic hit, 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 (six feet away from other people, of course), and let the relaxation and indulgence (usually in the form of food and an adult beverage or three -- which is legal in most SF parks) begin.
Golden Gate Park
At the end of April, London Breed closed a large portion of John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park to vehicles. Frankly, we think this should be how it is all of the time, regardless of if we are supposed to stay six feet apart from each other, but for now it does make social distancing much easier. Our favorite walk is from the park entrance to the beach with stops at the Redwood Grove, Prayer Cross, and Bison paddock along the way. Fall isn’t the best time for the gardens since most things aren’t in bloom, but the roses do bloom for one last time in September. It’s also the last time to enjoy the flower beds at the Conservatory of Flowers, so be sure to arrange at least one picnic there.
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The historic Ferry Building is a stunning piece of architecture (completed in 1898 and the largest construction project in SF at the time), but what’s really amazing about it is all of the delicious artisan food, lots of which is available right now since both the inside and outside are open to visitors (not for dining, but for buying). There is outdoor dining though: get lunch on the water at Hog Island Oyster Company or a delicious burger and milkshake on Gott’s Roadside’s patio. The Ferry Building has also created a huge outdoor dining space for al fresco dining with views of the Bay (complete with a very busy janitorial staff), so you can pick up food at any of the to-go spots and enjoy it immediately. The beloved farmers market that’s operated by CUESA is still popping up on Thursday, Tuesday, and Saturday, so you can also shop for high-quality products from small, sustainable growers and producers who need your support now more than ever.
In “normal” times, most people drive up to the Twin Peaks, the second highest point in SF (922’), but the one with the best views by far. If they want to get the really good 360 degree views, they have to hike a short trail to the north or south peak overlooks, but basically the heavy lifting is done for them. Unfortunately, there’s not a great way for pedestrians to ascend that doesn’t feel a little dangerous since it involves walking next to traffic. However, the winding road up to this scenic overlook is currently closed to all cars, which makes it the perfect time to do this urban hike, get your heart rate up, and take in this city in all of its glory.
Between Sutro District and Lincoln Park
The Lands End Trail “hike” -- it’s very mellow, so it’s more of a walk -- is the perfect SF activity for three reasons: 1) It’s an easy way to appreciate how beautiful this place is thanks to views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, and coastal terrain; 2) There are tons of only-in-SF hidden treasures, like the rock labyrinth, Mile Rock Lighthouse, and abandoned Octagon House; and 3) It’s an urban hike, which means you get to bask in SF’s natural beauty and get in a “workout” at the same time. While you’re there, check out Sutro Baths, the ruins of an enormous ocean-filled swimming facility destroyed by a fire in 1966 and the USS San Francisco Memorial.
You may still have to wait in line and, for now, you definitely won’t be able to sit at Swan’s tiny lunch counter, which unfortunately means a smaller dose of the amazing hospitality (often paired with a side of playful sarcasm) the seafood spot and fish market is known for, but you can still feast on smoked salmon, twice cracked crab, double seafood cocktail, and, of course, oysters. You’ll just have to do it at home.
If you’re not going to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge (or even if you are), head to Crissy Field and walk along the waterfront promenade until you get to this fort built for the Civil War that overlooks the Golden Gate. It’s a great place to take pics of the bridge, watch surfers narrowly miss jagged rocks and, though you can’t go inside right now, take in a little piece of history while you’re at it. Don’t forget to high-five or high-10 Hoppers Hands when you get there (just make sure you use hand sanitizer before and after). The picnic areas are closed, but you can bring a blanket and enjoy a sandwich and a beer on the beach or one of the lawns.
This one is also pretty obvious, but it should still be said: Now more than ever, we all need the joy that is a ginormous and filling Mission burrito. A burrito to rule them all. All of our favorites, La Taqueria, El Farolito, are Taqueria Cancun (okay, a little more Bernal than Mission, but beggars/choosers and whatnot) are still open for takeout.
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, and 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. One more thing to appreciate right now are the circles on the lawn intended to remind people of and help you naturally enforce social distancing. They aren’t always being used properly, but hey, at least they’re there.
This is one of those touristy things to do that’s totally worth it because, well, it’s the Golden Gate Bridge -- the most photographed bridge in the world and one that was both the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1937. What better time to see it than when there’s about a third of the usual traffic? Once you’re on the other side, walk down to Sausalito and eat some pizza on Bar Bocce’s waterfront patio before taking the ferry back to SF. One thing to note: If you want to take the ferry back, you’ll have to do this excursion during the week as right now Golden Gate Ferry doesn’t have weekend service. Of course, you can always walk. After all, what else do you have to do?
Is Lombard Street technically the crookedest street in San Francisco? No, it is not. But the actual crookedest street in Potrero Hill isn’t paved with red brick and lined with perfectly manicured greenery and colorful hydrangeas. Which means THIS is the crookedest street you want to Instagram.
Buena Vista is known for being the first place to serve Irish coffee in the US, and it’s damn delicious. Usually you have to enjoy it inside the always-crowded restaurant, but now there’s outdoor seating, so you can sip yours six feet apart from other diners. If you’re not dining outdoors, you can also get a to-go version of the boozy pick-me-up, which means you’ll have to enjoy it in a paper cup instead of the signature curved glass. Still, the fact that you can easily make it a double (it’s add-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.
Artist Andy Goldsworthy is known for creating sculptures that use natural materials and capture the essence of the place where they were made. The Presidio has four of his installations, the most of any place in North America, and though you can’t see them all right now (two of them are inside buildings near the Main Post that are temporarily closed), you can see two of them that are only a short one mile walk from each other: Wood Line, a literal winding wood line made with eucalyptus branches that will one day return to the earth and Spire, made with 37 Monterey cypress trunks that tower 100 feet into the sky and, sadly, after a human-caused fire in June, was badly damaged, but still remains in place.
Golden Gate Park
You may have noticed that things are a little tense lately. If you agree, plan a trip to the oh-so serene Japanese Tea Garden to unwind as you meander on the winding paths past koi ponds, a Zen garden, native Japanese plants, and pagodas. Safety is being taken very seriously, so only 100 visitors are allowed in at one time, and several of the pathways are now one-way. Also -- and sorry to be the bearer of bummer news -- but you can’t climb on the Drum Bridge right now.
While people outside of San Francisco look forward to Fleet Week every October (which was canceled this year), the locals are eagerly awaiting Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a festival with a name that explains itself. In-person festivals aren’t a thing that are happening in SF right now, but the producers want to “Let the Music Play On” via a three day program (October 2 - October 4) with newly recorded performances, archival footage, interviews, and more.
If you’re sick of long walks and picnics, but still want to get outside, then Stagecoach Greens is the place you’ve been looking for. Not only is it SF’s only outdoor miniature golf course, but even cooler than that, it tells the story of Boom and Bust in California in a completely creative and informative way, which means you’ll putt the ball into a Barbary Coast Saloon, through a gold mine, around “Golden Gate Park,” and more. To help maintain a safe environment, you’ll have to make a reservation, which involves a little planning, but it’s totally 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.
Bayview to Outer Richmond
Put on your most comfortable shoes 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.
Free for SF residents
Golden Gate Park
Outdoor space is more important than ever right now, and if anywhere in SF brings it, it’s the Botanical Garden, a 55-acre “urban oasis” with more than 9,000 plants from around the world. There are some things that shine year-round, like the conifers and palms, but the fall is also a great time to visit the Mesoamerican, Andean, and Southeast Asian Cloud Forests, a jungle of exotic plants that thrive in foggy SF. Even if you’re not really into horticulture, this is still a great spot for some picnicking action.
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