On nice days, San Francisco is rife with gorgeous areas in which to enjoy our very brief spells of sun. Here now are our picks for the best places for taking advantage of the outdoors.
What can we say about the phenomenon that is Dolores Park that hasn't already been said? Did you know that as recently as 2005 it was full of needles and totally scary at night and no one hung out there? And then somehow, with the blossoming of food culture and youth culture and coffee culture and whatever else in the Mission came the colonizing of this open space on any and every sunny day. But it's not entirely monopolized by the plaid-and-PBR set. Families go, dog people go. There are sometimes barbecues and quinceañeras. And obviously the gays claimed the best real estate, on the highest ledge with the best views. We dread the disruption to come as the park gets renovated and retooled later this year. But we hope for the best that this place will always be the fair-weather shitshow of patchy grass and pot truffles that we know and love.
18th & Dolores (neighborhood: Castro & Mission)
As Divis becomes the new Valencia, it only stands to reason that the neighborhood needs its own Dolores, and on certain sunny days that role is being filled by dog-friendly Alamo Square. The desirable open space, with that dramatic cityscape behind the Full House houses on Postcard Row, is pretty small, and can be quite windswept given the geography directly inland from Golden Gate Park and in the path of the first fog off the ocean. But given the right conditions and the right amount of wine, a party can be had here on a Sunday that will make everyone say, 'Who needs Dolores?' Until summer comes, and then it's never warm in Alamo Square, like ever.
Steiner & Hayes (neighborhood: Western Addition)
Baker Beach (photo credit: Erik Wilson)
BAKER BEACH & MARSHALL'S BEACH
Let's say there are ten days in the year where it's legitimately acceptable beach weather. That's being generous. And then there are maybe twenty more days when it's questionable, but for at least two hours between approximately 2 and 4 p.m. you can probably get away with lying close to the sand in a swimsuit and staying warm in the sun. So that means that one of the city's sluttiest and nakedest places is really only good for anything for the equivalent of one month out of the year. We've seen straight couples canoodling here in their birthday suits while gay men watched. We've seen many an elderly penis here, bouncing against the backdrop of the Pacific. And how can you go wrong with the Golden Gate Bridge right there, making all your Instagram friends elsewhere in the country jealous. (Sidenote: This northern end of the beach was the original site of the Burning Man festival from 1986 to 1990). As an added bonus, if you know the route, there is an even gayer, dirtier beach just beyond the rocks at the north end, closer to the bridge, accessible via the cliff above and the parking lot next to the old Presidio military bunker up there. The official word from the Parks Service is that Marshall's provides a "quiet and contemplative" experience, but it's actually quite pervy. Don't go there unless you're gay, and/or prepared for that.
Gibson Road in the Presidio
Crissy Field (photo credit: Bob Horowitz)
With grassy open space, running and biking paths, room for your canine companions, a real beach and even a surf spot, Crissy Field has everything your SoCal friends think they can only find in Santa Monica — except it's all within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. Don't let the overrun bro scene at Fort Mason distract you: keep carrying your boozy picnic west past the Marina Green and the yacht clubs until you cross the footbridge and can set yourself up on the beach like a professional.
1199 E Beach in the Presidio
Corona Heights Park (photo credit: Gerard Livernois)
CORONA HEIGHTS PARK
Twin Peaks gets all the tour buses and Buena Vista Park gets all the junkies, but the jagged peak at Corona Heights Park makes for a perfectly secluded spot to perch with a hot beverage and cuddly companion. It takes a little climbing to get to, but early risers can do stair runs without fear of waking park sleepers, evening visitors can watch the sunset over the Sunset and midday visitors get a scenic view while Fido chases down the tennis ball.
Roosevelt and Museum Ways (Corona Heights)
Telegraph Hill (photo credit: Jason Rodman)
Despite the constant stream of tourists huffing up the stairs from North Beach, Telegraph Hill still has the only lookout in town where you can take in views of a Diego Rivera mural, Lombard Street, Al Capone's former home, an Eichler skyscraper, and two famous bridges. Work up a thirst spotting the wild parrots on the Filbert Steps and descend the opposite side to reward yourself with a drink on Grant Street.
Filbert & Sansome (North Beach/Telegraph Hill)
Public privately-owned space at 1 Kearney (photo credit: Brock Keeling)
PRIVATE PUBLICLY OWNED SPACES
A slew of private publicly-owned spaces are just waiting for you to stop by for a spell. Our favorite? The lovely rooftop terrace atop 1 Kearny. The bathrooms are spotless and, if you can manage not getting caught, it's a choice place for smoking a joint on your lunch hour. Other noteworthy spots include the Skygarden at the Federal Building and the 4 Terraces at the Intercontinental Hotel.
Financial District (photo credit: Bhautik Joshi)
WALKING AROUND DOWNTOWN/FiDI ON THE WEEKENDS
For those of you who, say, work from home or aren't saddled with having to traverse to an office in downtown San Francisco, we recommend walking around the city's Financial District during sunny days. It's quiet and a great way to catch only a little bit of sun (perfect for redheads!) while taking in the massive structures looming overhead.
Ariel view of Golden Gate Park. (photo credit: Wikipedia)
GOLDEN GATE PARK
Above Dolores Park, Alamo Square and lesser parks stands the almighty Golden Gate Park, the birthplace of the Summer of Love. Sure, it's got its faults (too foggy!) and some sketchy characters, but it's the park of San Francisco, period. It's got it all: Kezar Stadium, Conservatory of Flowers, Music Concourse, Japanese Tea Garden, the windmills, and some of the finest patches of grass on which to trip your balls off.
Jay Barmann, Andrew Dalton, and Brock Keeling contributed to this article.Alamo Square (photo credit: Darwin Bell)