As Covid restrictions began to lift in 2022, we saw some big changes in San Francisco’s public spaces. Some places were remodeled, some had their big debut, and some became free to visit! Read on for a list of the most exciting changes to free public spaces this year, ranging from the brand-new Institute of Contemporary Art to the highly-anticipated 14-acre Presidio Tunnel Tops. Have you visited them all?
Opened July 17th, 2022
For years now, San Franciscans have heard tell of Presidio Tunnel Tops, a massive new 14-acre public park designed by James Corner Field Operations (the same team behind NYC’s High Line). The new park connects the Presidio’s Main Post with Crissy Field through a series of bluff landscapes, pathways, and gathering places. As of July of this year, the park is officially open! Visitors can take advantage of excellent food truck pop-ups, park ranger campfire talks, lovely art installations, and so much more.
Opened April 23rd, 2022
Battery Bluff is the Presidio’s smaller park overhaul that opened ahead of Presidio Tunnel Tops. Six acres of restored park land were unveiled on April 23rd, showcasing four historic military batteries which haven’t been seen by the public since 1936. Visitors can also explore new sweeping gardens, picnic tables, overlooks and viewpoints, and a multi-use trail.
Opened April 27th, 2022
This 4.5-acre park in Russian Hill was a huge deal when it opened, as it’s city’s largest public park in its “urban core” since 1983. The park’s position between Francisco, Larkin, Bay, and Hyde streets means visitors can enjoy epic views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Palace of Fine Arts. It also has a sprawling central lawn, a fenced-in dog run, a children’s playground and nature exploration area, accessible pathways, a community garden, and a sustainable rainwater catchment system.
Opened October 1st, 2022
The highly-anticipated Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco (ICA SF) finally opened in SF’s Dogpatch neighborhood this year. It’s an innovative new gallery space that is completely free to all, working to uplift artists and individuals while promoting equity and representation. ICA SF works to “create a paradigm shift in the art world” by exhibiting civically engaged creators who are ready to shift the hierarchies and traditions rampant in the art world.
Opened in 2020, made permanent in November 2022
This popular thoroughfare in Golden Gate Park closed to cars at the beginning of the pandemic to promote social distancing, and quickly became a go-to spot for locals to go walking, biking, skating, and running. It wasn’t long before park visitors and city officials considered making the change permanent, and after several years of debate, San Franciscans voted to officially keep cars off of JFK Drive in the November 2022 election. As a result, GG Park has implemented additional blue zone parking, more frequent free shuttle service, better connections to public transit, an adaptive bike program, and more.
In October of 2022, SF Rec & Parks launched their popular Promenade Play Days programming, which brought public art, pianos, more seating, and food trucks to the Promenade. We look forward to seeing how else the city makes use of the space in 2023!
Opened in 2020, extended in December 2022
This 3.8-mile-long highway along Ocean Beach also went car-free during the pandemic to promote social distancing. It was received with much enthusiasm by the public, who have used it for running, walking, skating, and biking; but also with frustration by commuters who see the highway as an essential roadway for vehicle traffic.
The highway reopened to vehicles on weekdays only starting in April 2021, but the SF Board of Supervisors recently voted to maintain its car-free status on weekends as part of a pilot program through December 2025. The city will use the time to gather public feedback and study the highway’s role as both a public promenade and as a roadway. The promenade becomes car-free on Fridays at noon and re-opens to cars starting on Mondays at 6am. It’s also car-free on national holidays.
Re-opened June 10th, 2022
Golden Gate Park’s popular Skatin’ Place has long been a mainstay for the roller skaters of San Francisco, but it got a facelift in 2022! This massive 28-foot by 93-foot ground mural was revealed over the summer and pays tribute to the city’s counterculture movement with swirling colors of yellow, orange, red, teal, and purple. Bay Area artist and skater Aimee Bruckner designed the mural to celebrate Golden Gate Park’s roller skating history, which goes back all the way to 1891 when park superintendent John McLaren installed the first roller rink.
The mural is designed to support skaters and help them maintain their balance on top of it thanks to durable asphalt acrylic paint and a weather resistant coat. Grab your skates and find it east of the 8th Avenue entrance off of JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park.
Re-opened October 25th, 2022
Golden Gate Park’s Waller Street Skate Park celebrated the site’s $218,000 makeover in October. The updated park features an inclusive design that honors the skate park’s street skateboarding roots. The project was spearheaded by local skaters, community groups, and skate shop owners including Justin Marks of Low Key Skate Shop, who worked to establish the skate park more than a decade ago.
Notable improvements to the site include high-quality asphalt repaving topped with an acrylic overlay, which is ideal for skating. Some of the other elements like k-rails, granite blocks, and curbs are also a boon to the skate park. As a nod to SF’s urban skate history, the granite ledges at Waller come from Market Street where the City fought a constant battle to prevent skaters from utilizing them over the years.
9. Free admission to Golden Gate Park gardens for SF residents
Began April 22nd, 2022
In January of 2022, SF Mayor London Breed proposed legislation to make admission free for SF residents visiting Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers. The legislation was approved and put into effect on Earth Day (April 22nd)! The SF Botanical Garden was already free for SF residents, but now all three gardens are accessible free of charge to anyone living in San Francisco.
SF City & County residents need simply provide proof of residency when visiting the gardens, which may be a California drivers’ license or ID showing SF address; a photo ID with a recent utility bill, lease, or other documentation showing SF address; or digital proof on your phone showing SF ID, a screenshot of a utility bill, or similar.
10. Free vehicle passes to CA state parks with a public library card
Began April 5th, 2022
As of April 2022, all Californians can access over 200 state parks for free with a library card thanks to the Outdoors for All Initiative. The California State Library Parks Pass is now available at public libraries throughout the state in an effort to provide safe and equitable access to the outdoors for CA residents.
The pass grants you one free vehicle day-use entry for a passenger vehicle with nine seats or less — here’s an interactive map of participating state parks and library branches where you can get the pass. Some nearby parks include Mount Tamalpais, Tomales Bay, Gray Whale Cove, and Half Moon Bay.