What to see, eat and do in San Francisco

Lately, it seems as if the news headlines from San Francisco have been negative, from the city’s homelessness crisis and highly publicised recall elections to the area’s astronomical cost-of-living and worsening fire seasons.

But San Francisco is still San Francisco. The fog still rolls in from the Pacific to blanket the city’s jumbled hills, the sunset still flames crimson behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the smell of salt and eucalyptus still hits the moment you step outside of San Francisco International Airport.

Always a city for lovers of the outdoors, pandemic restrictions led to the near-universal embrace of an indoor-outdoor city life.

And at its core, the city’s spirit, a heady brew of creativity, progressivism and experimentation, remains unbreakable.

San Francisco’s pandemic recovery has been slower than other major metropolitan areas in the US; according to data from the San Francisco Travel Association, forecasts for 2022 estimate 80% of 2019’s visitor volume.

While the downtown and Union Square neighbourhoods remain quieter than pre-pandemic times, the city’s singular neighbourhoods, from the Mission to Russian Hill and the Outer Sunset, are vibrant with packed restaurants and bars, and many boast of new parks and in-person events.

San Francisco no longer imposes a mask mandate, but some businesses still require or request masks; many indoor events, including concerts and theatre productions, require proof of vaccination to enter.

The Conservatory of Flowers perks up with the return of in-person events. Pictures: The New York Times

New parks and slow streets

San Francisco’s wealth of green spaces has increased, thanks to a trio of new parks, including the Presidio Tunnel

Tops, 5.7 hectares of new national park land hugging the city’s north coast 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, check out Francisco Park in the city’s Russian Hill neighbourhood, which opened in April on the site of San Francisco’s first reservoir.

In the southeastern Mission Bay neighbourhood, largely protected from the city’s frequent westerly winds, Crane Cove Park has become a warm, sunny desti[1]nation for stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and lounging since it opened in 2020.

In addition to new parks, San Francisco has become more walkable and bikeable with the pandemic-driven development of the slow streets programme, which limits or prohibits car traffic on streets throughout the city.

Francisco Park, which opened in April, is in the Russian Hill neighbourhood, which is vibrant with packed restaurants and bars. Picture: The New York Times
The Great Highway along Ocean Beach is part of the slow streets programme to make San Francisco walkable and bikeable. Picture: The New York Times

In-person music events

Golden Gate Park is also playing host to a number of major inperson events this year, including

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free, three-day music festival being held from 30 September to 2 October.

This year’s lineup will feature Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Buddy Miller, with more artists to be announced soon.

Contemporary Art

With its opening in October, the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco (ICASF) aims to provide a fresh approach to the ways in which contemporary art should be showcased and shared.

Tied to its core tenets of equity and accessibility, ICASF will have free admission and plans to show[1]case local artists and artists of colour in an environment that is welcoming to all.

Eat and drink. Picture: iStock

Eat and drink

San Francisco’s restaurants have struggled from pandemic restrictions, but also the high operation[1]al costs and high costs of living limiting the workforce.

Many storefronts remain empty and a number of legacy businesses close.

While undoubtedly challenging, the past two years have had a silver lining: outdoor dining and drinking cropped up everywhere, from long-established restaurants such as Nopa to brand-new spots such as Casements, a modern Irish bar in the Mission that opened in January 2020.

While marquee openings are still a major part of the city’s food fabric – recent ones include the opulent Palm Court Restaurant in the new RH Gallery and a new Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience store – some of the most exciting developments centre on low-key projects from high-end chefs.

In the Mission, Corey Lee of three Michelin-starred Benu opened San Ho Won, a Korean barbecue spot with classic dishes and riffs on tradition, such as a blood-sausage pancake and kimchi pozole.

Natural wine is nothing new in San Francisco, but low-intervention bottles – small-batch, often funky wines made utilising organic ingredients, native yeast and usually, little to no sulphites – are dominating new restaurants and bars.

Shuggie’s, a pop-art explosion with a lively bottle list from the West Coast and beyond, features $2 wine shots and a “trash pizza” made from repurposed food.

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