What to see, eat and do in San Francisco

Lately it seems the headlines in San Francisco have been negative, from the city homelessness crisis and highly publicized recall elec...


Lately it seems the headlines in San Francisco have been negative, from the city homelessness crisis and highly publicized recall elections to the region astronomical cost of living and deterioration 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 enforces mask mandates, 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.

The richness of San Francisco’s green spaces has grown with a trio of new parks, including the Presidio Tunnel Top, 14 acres of new national park along the north coast of the city which opened this month. Boasting panoramic bay views, 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 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 lazing around since it opened in 2020.

Along with new parks, San Francisco has become more walkable and cycle with the development of slow streets program, which restricts or prohibits automobile traffic on city streets. Those worthy of destination include the big highwaywhich runs along Ocean Beach on the west side of town (it is currently closed to vehicular traffic on weekends and often on windy days) and JFK Promenade in Golden Gate Parkwhat could be done definitely without a car in November. The 1.5 mile stretch from JFK takes you to destinations such as the Flower Conservatory and the rose gardenmore the skating placewhere you will often find a rocking roller disco.

Golden Gate Park is also hosting a number of major in-person events this year, including Barely Strictly Bluegrass, a three-day free music festival to be held from September 30 to October 2. This year’s lineup will feature Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Buddy Miller, with more artists to be announced next week. The Out of Land 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 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, will take place September 24-25 at The Pier 80 and will feature electronic acts including Flume, James Blake, Les Avalanches and MIA

With its opening in October, the San Francisco Institute of Contemporary Art aims to offer a new approach to how contemporary art should be showcased and shared. Tied to its core principles of fairness 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 program includes a solo exhibition by Jeffrey Gibsona Choctaw-Cherokee painter and sculptor, a group exhibition curated by California artists and curators Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon, and works by local artists Liz Hernandez and Ryan Whelan.

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 old businesses have closed, including from Aliotoan Italian seafood restaurant that held court at Fisherman’s Wharf for 97 years, and the Cliff House, an iconic destination along the jagged coastline above the Pacific (a new restaurant could 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, at long-established restaurants like no dad to brand new spots like casementsa modern Irish bar in the Mission which 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 – recent ones include the opulent Palm Court Restaurant in the new HR Gallery and a new one Ghirardelli Chocolate Experience store – some of the most exciting developments center around low-key projects from high-end chefs. In the Mission, Corey Lee of three Michelin stars Benu opened San Ho Won, korean barbecue with classic dishes and riffs on tradition, like a crepe of blood sausage and pozole of kimchi (starters from $16, barbecue from $26). Matthew Kirk, a sous chef at Lazy Bear, opened automatona day and night destination in the Western Addition for baked goods, breakfast sandwiches and burgers (sandwiches $9-$16).

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. Shuggiesa pop-art blast with a bustling bottle list from the West Coast and beyond, features two-dollar wine shots and a “trash pizza” made from repurposed food scraps (wines from $15 a glass or $51 a bottle; pizzas $19). Palm City Wines opened in the Outer Sunset in spring 2020 as a take-out-only natural wine and deli bottle store; now it also serves small plates, wines by the glass, Northern California beers and forearm sized hoagies (starters from $8, sandwiches from $19). Raising the bar is Part-time bar in the Mission, a nightclub fueled by natural wine with a rotating roster of DJs and wine producers.

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 of the chief and the hives. 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 big lighthouse with 418 renovated rooms (from $249 a night), a lobby bar and in 2023 will reopen a revamp of the famous top-floor bar, the Starlite Room.

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