Why You Should Visit San Francisco This Summer

The Bay Area officially reopened on June 15, with locals and travelers emerging to a city transformed by parklets, a host of new exhibits, and a 17-mile crosstown trail.

Why You Should Visit San Francisco This Summer

Pull up a stool at the Palihotel—they’ve been waiting for you.

Courtesy of Palisociety

America’s cities are back: bigger, bolder, and packed full of exciting events, new outdoor spaces, and reimagined dining. Check out Cities We Love for inspiration this summer.

The first city in the United States to issue a shelter-in-place order last year in response to the coronavirus could also be the first U.S. city to reach herd immunity, with more than 70 percent of residents vaccinated as of mid-June. The Bay Area officially reopened in full on June 15 (in line with the state of California’s reopening), and locals and travelers are emerging to a city transformed by parklets fanning out on sidewalks in front of restaurants, a host of new exhibits and indoor and outdoor experiences, and a downtown area still largely void of office workers.

Summers in San Francisco are notoriously cold and foggy (yes, yes, the Twain quote is true), but for travelers who may have left their heart in this cool, gray city, now’s the time to explore largely free of the hordes of tourists who descend during more typical years. Here are a few of the best things to do in San Francisco this summer, from locals who are so happy to be out and about.

Hike the new crosstown trail

To experience a street-level view and get a sense of the city’s diverse neighborhoods (and infamous microclimates), plot out segments of the new 17-mile crosstown trail—or make a day of it and walk the whole thing from the bay to the ocean (and while you’re out there, stop by Palm City Wines and pick up a hoagie for a beach picnic).

No trip would be complete without time in Golden Gate Park, spread over 1,017 acres and home to the California Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Herzog and de Meuron–designed deYoung Museum (where a new exhibition of Hung Liu paintings opens in mid-July), the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and so much more.

View the latest exhibits at the SFMOMA

On display at the SFMOMA this summer: Diego Rivera’s mural The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and of the South on the Continent (Pan American Unity). Created for the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island, the mural is a vivid 10-panel fresco with scenes of the Bay Area and portraits of artists, artisans, architects, and inventors who used art and technology as tools to shape society.

The new SFMOMA, view from Yerba Buena Gardens

The new SFMOMA, view from Yerba Buena Gardens

Photo by Jon McNeal, © Snøhetta

Get reacquainted with San Francisco’s food scene

San Francisco has no shortage of good food, but remember to be patient as a diner: Many restaurants are still in the process of rehiring teams. Classic spots are Cotogna and Zuni Café. Both restaurants have outdoor tables available and midday lunches can easily turn into many hours filled with plates of roast chicken, shoestring fries, and Caesar salads (at Zuni) and ribbons of homemade pastas paired with crisp Italian white wines (at Cotogna). New and newly reopened places include Californios, a Mexican fine dining restaurant that relocated during the pandemic to what was Bar Agricole; Empress by Boon, a brand-new take on modern Cantonese cuisine in a historic banquet hall in Chinatown; and Nari, where chef Pim Techamuanvivit showcases heritage Thai cooking with a modern California twist.

Where to stay

The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is housed in a landmark building that was once home to MetLife Insurance. Many of the hotel’s 336 spacious rooms and suites feature city views. If you’re staying over a weekend, splurge for the caviar and wine pairings in the hotel’s over-the-top JCB tasting room.

Stay at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco: from $443/night, expedia.com

Farther up the hill, the Fairmont San Francisco’s Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar reopen July 9. Embrace the Tiki camp and order a round of mai tais ahead of the nightly “thunderstorms” over the indoor lagoon, which dates from the 1940s.

Stay at the Fairmont San Francisco: from $308/night, expedia.com

Closer to downtown and Union Square, the Palihotel San Francisco reopened its doors on June 28. And the Hotel Zetta, part of the Viceroy Urban Retreats Collection, is offering a special Workation Package that includes two conjoining rooms for those guests looking to work and play.

Stay at the Palihotel: from $116/night, expedia.com; stay at the Hotel Zetta: from $151/night, expedia.com

Go deeper

Explore the city’s Black history and present. In 1970, African Americans made up 13.4 percent of the city’s total population. By 2019, that number had dwindled to just under 6 percent. Yet Black culture still permeates civic life, from the city’s music, art, and architecture to its restaurants, politics, and activism. In 2015, John William Templeton, author of Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Experience in San Francisco, curated the African American Freedom Trail brochure. It serves as a self-guided tour of 55 important locations around the city. For travelers looking to get out on the water, make a reservation for Templeton’s Black History Boat Tour on the Bay.

>>Next: The Best Cities in the U.S. in 2021

Julia Cosgrove is vice president and editor in chief of AFAR, the critically acclaimed travel media brand that makes a positive impact on the world through high-quality storytelling that inspires, enriches, and empowers travelers who care. Julia lives in Berkeley, California.
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