Which San Francisco park to visit between roughly 6-8 pm tomorrow night?
July 9, 2019 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I'll be in SF for work and I want to take advantage of summer's late sunsets to visit a park with great views in between the end of the work day and my dinner plans with a friend. Looking for (1) opinions on the best park to visit given (2) the logistics laid out inside, and (3) help with getting around.

I should be ready to leave my office in the Financial District by 5:30/6 pm. Have a dinner reservation near Alamo Square Park at 8:30 pm. So I'm guessing I'll need to budget at least 30 min for transit on each side, leaving about 1-1.5 hours in the park itself. Given these constraints, what park would be best? Golden Gate? Presidio? Somewhere else? And how do I get from FiDi to the park and then from the park to the restaurant? I'm open to BART, Uber, or something else. I'm from NYC so I am comfortable with public transit, though I admit my SF transit experience on previous trips has been confusing (though I always got where I planned to go).
posted by CiaoMela to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure some SF natives or locals will have smarter options, but I thought the views of the Pacific from the San Francisco Art Institute in the Russian Hill area were pretty wild. There is also a Diego Rivera mural there that I am pretty sure you can see at any time. It looks like a 30 minute bike ride to Alamo Sq from there (according to google maps) so maybe you could do it with transit in less. Maybe not.
posted by pilot pirx at 8:48 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would take the N train to Ocean Beach. You could also get off earlier, at 9th and Irving by another part of Golden Gate Park, and there's a great view from the top of DeYoung Museum (free to access even if you don't go in the museum). If you're near the DeYoung/botanical garden you could walk through the park and Panhandle back to Alamo Square.
posted by pinochiette at 9:22 AM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

One obvious answer is "Salesforce" park, which (re) opened a week ago, which you can easily walk to and take a bus from, and which is pretty neat -- SF's version of the high line.
posted by alexei at 9:26 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think it depends on what kind of "park" you want. On a nice day after work (you have your layers packed, right?) pretty much any park, even the smallest neighborhood ones, is going to have a bunch of people walking their dogs, but I assume you're not looking for wilderness. The sun is not actually going to be down until your dinner reservation, so I would probably skip, say, Ocean Beach on the west side of Golden Gate Park. Golden Gate Park is slightly larger than Central Park and has varied topography, but it's also a really nice park. Transit there sucks but Lyft is very convenient and inexpensive in terms of money. You might choose to start near the manicured area by the de Young / Academy of Sciences and walk over to the Botanical Garden. Or maybe by the Stow Lake Boathouse and Strawberry Hill, which is an island. I would avoid the eastern end near the panhandle, lots of human waste. The Presidio has the best views of Marin, Crissy Field and the Golden Gate, even better than the actual endpoints of the bridge, again transit is very slow for your timeline. The national cemetary there is impressive. Dolores Park in the Mission is very convenient to transit, loaded with people, but a fun scene, in my opinion. I recommend taking the MUNI to the top of the park, being careful not to look to your left as you ascend the hill. Then when the train pulls away it's like one of those Extreme Home Makeover reveals of one of my favorite views of the city. Plenty of places to get a snack or a drink nearby. If you want a small, locals-only park, Lafeyette Park overlooks the historic Spreckels mansion, built by a sugar magnate and now housing novelist Danielle Steel, and it has nice views from the top, though somewhat limited.
posted by wnissen at 9:33 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

My favorite place to watch the sunset is from Sutro Baths at the ocean end of Geary. Take an Uber or hop on the 38L. The area at the entrance to the park is a cliff overlooking the ocean, or you can walk down to the water and hang out in the ruins themselves. Gorgeous and unique!
posted by ananci at 9:34 AM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

If it's views you are after, I'd head to Corona Heights or Tank Hill. Corona Heights has incredible views of downtown, the Castro, the Mission, and points South, while Tank Hill sits higher, on a ridge with views to the Golden Gate and Headlands to your left and the Castro, the Mission, and South to your right.

A bus (the 37, caught on Market St. in the Castro) will get you close to both if you don't mind walking a little at the end of the journey, though if you're unfamiliar with the area I'd just take a taxi.

Alamo Square (I'm assuming your meal is along Divisadero) is walkable/downhill from both of these, probably a pleasant 30 min walk.
posted by niicholas at 9:47 AM on July 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

At the risk of being somewhat obvious - Dolores Park is a perfectly nice place to sit for an hour and soak in a very san francisco scene - and its pretty scenic although maybe in a different way than the other options folks have suggested. You should take the J church there and grab yourself happy hour in a brown bag, pull up some grass and just sit and watch the view/people/scene. From there its about a half hour of mostly-flat walking to alamo square (the last few blocks are steep/unavoidable).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:51 AM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Avoid going too far by Ubers, cars, and buses at this time. Attempting to leave and then re-enter the downtown area will take a lot of time in a vehicle because you will be gridlocked.

Dolores Park
is beautiful and not too far away from where you will be. It's not a sunset over the ocean, but it is just a lovely place to be at dusk. And it's iconic-ly SF. You'd probably take a bus from Market Street, and I think it is close enough that the traffic might not effect you too much.

San Francisco has a large number of not-very-well-known privately owned public spaces, many of which feel like parks. Many of them are a few levels above the ground. Many of them around the financial district.

One non-park idea is to visit the View Lounge in the Marriot Marquis in the Financial District. This is your backup plan in case somehow time gets away from you. It would have a clear view of the sunset through it's gigantic windows. It won't be very crowded on a Tuesday.
posted by jander03 at 9:53 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

100% get yourself out to the beach & Land's End. Absolutely glorious.

Take the #5 Fulton or the #38 Geary bus all the way to the end of the line. It leaves every block or two from Market Street. Check out nextmuni.com for arrival/departure times and stops. It'll be $2.25 each way, and you can't get change back. (You can overpay if you don't have quarters, though.)

From the end of the bus line, walk out to the beach and then up around the curve of Land's End as far as you want/can. Start by scrambling on the ruins of the Sutro Baths; check out the little cave/tunnel just north of the ruins. Then follow the trails around the curve to the N/NE, they will periodically pop out to give you views of the Golden Gate. Get a cocktail or hot toddy in the Cliff House if you get cold or have time to kill.

If you don't make it out to the beach, Alamo Square itself has great views!!

I also love Corona Heights, mentioned above, if you want something closer.
posted by amaire at 10:08 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thirding Dolores Park. It's obvious, but it's great and has impressive views and transit is easy.

Getting to the Ocean Beach, the Prisidio, or most of Golden Gate Park and back downtown between 6:00 and 8:30 and having any time to actually see things sounds like a challenge, though it might be possible.
posted by eotvos at 10:49 AM on July 9, 2019

Buena Vista Park is lovely, though there aren't as many views as nearby Corona because it's heavily forested. But there are beautifully-framed views through the trees and it's a very pleasant place to wander the paths.

From FiDi the N streetcar will get you pretty close to the park or the 6 and 7 buses will take you right to it. Afterwards it's only about a 15 minute walk to Alamo Square.
posted by theory at 10:50 AM on July 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Unless you really want to sit somewhere for a while, I think you could visit Dolores Park, head to Corona Park and Buena Vista and then to Alamo Square within your 2 hours and it will be a pretty nice neighborhood walking tour if you use the side streets. It will likely be in the low 60s and the views may or may not be socked in with fog. Here's a Dolores Park webcam.
posted by vunder at 11:02 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think folks have the public transit and parks aspect covered, so I will just add that Ubers and Lyfts are abundant and easy where taxis are a bit harder to find. If it were me I would be Lyfting but I'm not a big public transit user generally and I agree that depending on where in the FiDi you are you may have some traffic issues. Google Maps lets you look at normal traffic for a route of your choice at the time of your choice, so might want to check out the route/time you're thinking of and see how the traffic looks.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 11:07 AM on July 9, 2019

When I was meeting my husband for dinner on Divis last month, I had some time to kill. I took Muni to the Castro (the K, L, M, or T would work for this if you're coming from the FiDi), walked up to the top of Corona Heights, and enjoyed the panoramic views. Then I meandered down the other side, and up and over through Buena Vista Park, with slightly more peekaboo views. Come out of Buena Vista at the corner of Haight and Baker, and you're a 10- to 15-minute walk away from your dinner plans.

If you want something a little less active, you can climb to the top of Alamo Square Park (less of a hike than the other two) and flop down somewhere and people-watch. Lots of tourists trying to get the Full House shot, but also families with their kids and dogs just doing their thing.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 12:13 PM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Come up to the "neighborhood in the sky," Bernal Heights. The 'hood is built around a hilltop park (Bernal Heights Park, aka Bernal Hill) that is covered in nice trails (and off leash dogs, and at least one chill resident coyote). The hill isn't wooded, so you get wraparound views of downtown, the Mission, the bay, Twin Peaks, San Bruno Mountain, etc. etc. It's on the sunnier side of the city, so it's not going to be socked in with fog like everything on the western half of the city. If the fog is tipping over Twin Peaks (as it's wont to do this time of year), it's a great vantage point to watch it streaming over into the city. If you get in the mood for a coffee or what have you, Cortland Avenue is a five minute walk from the park and is the main commercial street for the south side of the neighborhood.

From FiDi, take BART to 24th St. Mission and catch the 67 bus from the BART station--it stops right up at the edge of the park. Walk around, enjoy the views, then Lyft/Uber out to your dinner.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:21 PM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hey you could go to Ina Coolbrith Park for some great views east over chinatown, the financial district and onward over the bay.
posted by notyou at 12:34 PM on July 9, 2019

It'll be $2.25 each way, and you can't get change back. (You can overpay if you don't have quarters, though.)

FYI, Muni fares just went up last week. Cash price is now $3 on any bus or light rail. (it's $2.50 if you're paying with a Clipper card).
posted by brainmouse at 12:52 PM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Sutro Heights or Presidio, for sure.
posted by Riverine at 1:20 PM on July 9, 2019

If you're imagining watching a mellow summer sunset with a great view in the background, don't go to the west side of town (Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park, Presidio). It's been overcast, windy, and chilly all week -- typical for July in S.F.-- and you are likely to find it dispiriting rather than inspiring. Stick to the parks on the east side, like Bernal Heights or Dolores Park, for a better chance of having sunny/pleasant weather in the early evening.
posted by clair-de-lune at 1:27 PM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

I just came back to say something about the fog, as I'm watching it roll in where I am right now. There's a decent chance that you could go to a hilltop and not be able to see very much. A lot of people here are mentioning a sunset, but I think the OP was just saying they wanted to make use of the extra daylight hours, not see the sunset. I mentioned Ocean Beach earlier (I like it even when it's gloomy! and the extra trip to Lands End would be even prettier)...when I checked the forecast now, it looks like it will be only partially cloudy tomorrow night, though that could change.
posted by pinochiette at 3:27 PM on July 9, 2019

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