So, you’ve hopped a ride on a cable car, gotten spooky on Alcatraz, and gone for a stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge. Maybe you’ve even snapped your picture at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury and worn your legs out climbing up to Coit Tower. You’ve hit all the tourist hot spots, and now you’re thinking you've got San Francisco's go-to guidebook neighborhoods all checked off.
Not quite. Just where the guidebooks leave off, the real San Francisco begins -- even in the most tourist-trodden areas. The city is full of secret spots hiding right in plain sight, and today we’re uncovering a cluster of the very coolest for you.
Where? The Financial District.
True, visitors have long flocked to the city’s downtown neighborhood for its skyscrapers, cable cars, and department stores. But look a little closer and you’ll find a few surprises, too. About 70 of them, actually, in the form of Privately Owned Public Open Spaces, or “POPOS.” These lush plazas, hidden gardens, rooftop terraces, and even miniature forests are funded and maintained by downtown property owners, but they’re free for everyone to enjoy.
Many POPOS can look off-limits to the public at first glance, and some are so cleverly tucked away that even the locals don’t know they’re there. But with a little pluck and some inside knowledge, it’s easy to enjoy dozens of urban oases hiding just off the beaten path. Plan your own itinerary with a free guide to every POPOS in town from SPUR, or just start out with some of our favorites. Then cement your reputation as an in-the-know traveler by passing the secret along!
600 Montgomery St.
The Transamerica Pyramid is the tallest skyscraper in the city. And at its base, you’ll find examples of some of the tallest trees on Earth. Coincidence, or poetic urban awesomeness? Decide for yourself as you sit amid a half-acre grove of redwoods, listen to a burbling fountain, and admire a playful bronze sculpture of children holding hands.
Tip: If these redwoods leave you hungry for more, check out our list of the best places in Northern California to walk among the giants.
343 Sansome St.
City-dwellers pay a premium for rooftop access, whether at their apartment buildings or out at bars and restaurants. But you can lounge in a landscaped rooftop garden for free at 343 Sansome St. Head in through the building’s front doors with confidence, ride the elevator alongside office workers, and step out on the 15th floor. You won’t believe the peaceful rooftop terrace – complete with flowerbeds, olive trees, shaded benches, colorful public art, and aerial views – is right in the middle of bustling downtown.
Tip: Because this POPOS sits atop an office building, it’s only open during normal business hours. Plan to visit between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
101 California St.
This is the perfect place to sit and read a book, sip a latte, people-watch, or catch up with friends. Multi-tiered granite pyramids dotted with giant flowerpots and seat cushions make the plaza in front of a massive office building an unlikely – but inviting – place to relax.
Tip: Around noon, follow the crowds of office workers to their favorite take-out lunch spots. Then bring a sandwich or salad back to 101 California Street and eat your lunch al-fresco with the locals.
1 Sansome St. (Citigroup Center)
Yes, you can hang out in the giant conservatory at the entrance to the Citigroup building even if you don’t work upstairs. The endless marble, elegant palm trees, and vaulted glass ceiling that give this space its French Riviera feel are no mere decorative whim: this was once the site of the Anglo & London Paris National Bank.
Tip: Feel free to sit at the café tables scattered around the greenhouse. The bank of seating at the back wall, near the Art Deco “Star Maiden” statue, is open to everyone!
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