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Top 10 Hidden Rooftop Escapes in San Francisco

A piece of public art provides a centerpiece to the Crocker Galleria Roof Terrace at 50 Post Street, San Francisco. © Sylvie Sturm
A piece of public art provides a centerpiece to the Crocker Galleria Roof Terrace at 50 Post Street, San Francisco. © Sylvie Sturm
Did you know there are more than 60 so-called ‘privately-owned public open spaces’ that can be accessed freely in San Francisco? If you didn’t know they existed, you’re not alone. Luckily, legislation enacted more than 20 years ago means you can explore these hidden treasures that are built atop, in, and around many of the office buildings that crowd downtown. Here are ten of the best spots to soothe nerves frayed from too many tourist traps.
“Public Open Space” signs, like the one at One Kearny Street, are posted at the entrance of hidden terraces throughout downtown San Francisco that are freely available for public use. © Sylvie Sturm

One Kearny Street

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A stylized sundial graces a vast rooftop garden open to the public weekdays at 343 Sansome Street in San Francisco’s Financial District.
A stylized sundial graces a vast rooftop garden open to the public weekdays at 343 Sansome Street in San Francisco’s Financial District. | © Sylvie Sturm
The 11th-floor terrace of the building at One Kearny Street and 23 Geary Street makes up for its tiny size with plenty of charm. The small scale of this rooftop garden makes it perfect for a conversation with a friend away from the din of the city. Enter through the Geary Street entrance and enjoy a lobby full of public art. Ask the guard for directions to the terrace. As you step out of the elevator, you’ll be hit with a scene of beautiful architecture set against a backdrop of hills. Seemingly built specially for office workers, the terrace is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 5pm. It also offers restrooms, which you won’t necessarily always find in such spaces. It’s worth noting that no shade is available during exceptionally hot and sunny days.
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Sansome Street

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In the thick of the Financial District, a 15th-floor paradise awaits at 343 Sansome Street. This huge patio is circled by benches and trees. Visitors are welcome to use the 18 chairs, some small tables, and 50 other seats along planter boxes. The urban canyon views are striking. Look way up for a close-up of the looming Transamerica Pyramid. Another piece of public art — a stylized sundial — lets you know how long you have until the 5pm closing time. The space is only open on weekdays, offering a sanity break for office dwellers.
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Mon:
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Tue:
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Wed:
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Thu:
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Fri:
9:00 am - 5:00 pm

515 Mission Street

Visitors to 515 Mission Street may be thrown off by a confusing address above the building’s garage entrance, an abandoned lot across the street, construction scaffolding on the way to the rooftop, and the absence of a sign announcing the POPOS. Do not be deterred; perseverance pays off. Next to the tall brown building at 100 First Street, enter the terrace through the stairs in between the parking garage and the building itself. The second floor reveals a beautiful terrace with fragrant flowers, well-kept topiary, a rippling water feature, convenient tables, and comfortable lounge chairs. Gleaming buildings surrounding the terrace provide comforting isolation for those looking for a break. The breeze seems gentler, as the city drops away. This clean, quiet spot is also open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

A piece of public art provides a centerpiece to the Crocker Galleria Roof Terrace at 50 Post Street, San Francisco. © Sylvie Sturm

50 Post Street

Striving to fan the flames of a budding romance? Try the Crocker Galleria Roof Terrace — a hideaway in the heart of the Financial District at Union Square. Take an escalator up to several available lunch spots on the third floor of the Crocker Galleria, then go up one more flight of stairs to the fourth-floor roof garden. You’ll find numerous benches, clipped shrubbery, and a fountain. It also provides an excellent view of Market Street, which is good to keep in mind during the city’s many parade days. A second sun terrace can be accessed by an obscure staircase in the northwest corner of the Galleria’s top floor. It is a quiet refuge, offering sunny and shady places, many benches, a trellis, and planters.

Maritime Plaza Park

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The massive art installation, Arch by Ed Carpenter, hangs over visitors of the hidden garden terrace at 150 California Street, San Francisco.
The massive art installation, Arch by Ed Carpenter, hangs over visitors of the hidden garden terrace at 150 California Street, San Francisco. | © Sylvie Sturm
Located above Front Street between Clay and Washington is the sun-drenched, expansive rooftop oasis that is Maritime Plaza Park. The staircase up to the park can be tricky to see — it’s near the parking garage entrance. Look for one of the few staircases or bridges near the Maritime building. The area is more popular than other similar spaces, making for entertaining people-watching as yoga groups, boot camp participants, and tourists mingle among locals. Surrounding the park are views of the Transamerica Pyramid and the Embarcadero Center. In keeping with the city’s dedication to public art, visitors can also view world-class sculptures, including ‘Knife Edge‘ by Henry Moore and ‘Horse‘ by Marino Marini.
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150 California Street

Six floors above street level, the garden terrace at 150 California Street offers long periods of sunlight and several types of seating, with 40 chairs and ten tables. The terrace also offers mesmerizing views of the Financial District’s shining office towers, and Ed Carpenter’s ‘Arch‘ – a huge metal art installation. To access the space, head to the second set of elevators towards the back of the main entrance. Once on the sixth floor, sprawling glass doors give way to a garden of nicely manicured trees and flowers. Visitors will find some tables in the sun and others in the shade.

Take a break from shopping with some sunshine and scenery at the Westfield Center Mall Sky Terrace at 845 Market Street. © Sylvie Sturm

845 Market Street

Get away from the crowds around Westfield Center Mall by stealing away to the ninth-floor Sky Terrace. The rooftop looks onto the mall dome and provides westward views of City Hall and surrounding hills in the bright sunlight. The terrace also offers about 60 chairs and other seats along planter boxes. It’s a great place for lunch; visit the mall food court and enjoy a picnic. This one’s the hardest to find, however. Don’t go into the mall, but into the building to the left at 835 Market. Past the guard in the lobby are the elevators, only one of which goes to the ninth floor. And there’s no need to be offline; Westfield wi-fi is available on a good day.

Cozy lounge chairs greet the public at The Intercontinental Hotel’s open space at 888 Howard Street. © Sylvie Sturm

888 Howard Street

Get two rooftop terraces for the price of one at The Intercontinental Hotel at 888 Howard Street. The hotel provides two POPOS, one each on the fifth and sixth floors. Enjoy a variety of seating arrangements and landscaping, all with views of the city. The fifth floor terrace includes seating arrangements for private events, and the sixth floor area offers 49 chairs and six chaise lounges. The public is allowed onto the terraces on weekdays from 9am to 5pm.

543 Howard Street

You can’t get much cozier than the fifth-floor rooftop at 543 Howard Street. This POPOS offers a comfortable spot for lunch with tables and chairs. Grab takeout from any of the Financial District neighborhood eateries and bask in the peace and quiet. Afterward, climb into one of the lounge chairs to digest in reclined comfort. The chairs are even flanked by parasols that can be opened or lowered. The aesthetics are improved even further by a sculpture of an enormous black heart.

The interior public space at the KPMG Building at 55 Second Street has plenty of room to accommodate anyone wanting to get out of the rain for a bite to eat or to read the daily paper in comfort. © Sylvie Sturm

55 Second Street

Now this gem is well and truly hidden. The Green House and Galleria in the KPMG Building at 55 2nd Street is one of the few indoor, elevated POPOS in the city. Enter through a beautiful lobby of marble and granite from Stevenson Street and take a few steps to the left, inside the historic building. The second floor area is open weekdays from 8am to 6pm. It offers dining tables and chairs, wooden benches, and large leather chairs, plus restrooms. The vast space basks in sunshine from several large skylights in the high ceiling and massive arch windows along a wall. Framed artwork lines another wall above stylized benches and planters.