The Secret Retreats of San Francisco

A guide to the city's privately owned public open spaces

San Francisco is blessed with a wealth of hidden green gems, thanks to a construction law requiring privately owned buildings to create and maintain open spaces for public enjoyment. There are 68 of these spaces scattered around downtown, ideal for reading, eating, conversing or meditating. As you’re out and about, consider taking a break in one of these under-the-radar spots. Here’s your guide to the best of the lot.

Redwood Park

A patch of majestic towering redwoods grows right at the foot of the 48-story Transamerica Pyramid. Find a seat on one of the benches and let the bronze sculptures and trickling fountain with jumping frog statues set the tone for your serene moment.

Citigroup Center

At the busy intersection of Sansome and Market streets, this elegant and spacious marble atrium stands at street level. The former location of the 1912 London-Paris Bank building, it maintains a Art Deco look. Café tables and chairs and palm trees make it an inviting place to pause. 

Empire Park

Ferns, ivy and a sculpture fountain decorate this quaint plaza tucked in the alley dubbed Commercial Street, between Kearny and Montgomery. Tables and benches make it a convenient spot to sit a spell.

343 Sansome St.

Follow the signs and take the elevator to the sun terrace on floor 15, where you’ll find tables, cushioned benches and potted olive trees. This landscaped rooftop deck gets great sun and breezes and has an obelisk as its center point.

150 California St.

Let a lobby guard know that you’re looking for the skyscraper’s garden terrace. The sixth floor location has seating, decorative plants and public art.

101 2nd St.

This five-story glass-enclosed space is ideal for chillier days. It acts as a modern and airy urban square of sorts, with designer cafe tables and chairs, trees and art displays.

560 Mission St.

This polished plaza is a 50-foot wide path of granite bordered by a bamboo grove and a reflecting pool with a wind-powered rotating steel sculpture. Chairs furnish the sleek little slice of serenity, and the granite steps can be used as seats too.

Crocker Galleria

Escape the crowds at this sun terrace above the shopping center at Post and Montgomery streets. Here you can snag a bench among the greenery and enjoy the view of the surrounding concrete jungle and the Market Street action below.

100 1st St.

Climb an exterior staircase on Mission Street to this rectangular open-air plaza, which is landscaped with plant and tree accents and features chic seating and a water-spouting, wave-like sculpture of glass and black granite titled “Waterwall” by artist John Luebtow.

1 Kearny St.

This small, secluded 11th-floor perch above Market Street affords a birds-eye view of the principal thoroughfare, as well as glimpses of the bay and the city’s outskirts. Expect to sign in with a security guard before getting in the elevator. Comfy benches and shrubbery add to the ambience.

TIP

Find these spots with the SF’s Secret Spaces and Hidden Oases from SPUR iPhone app.