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The 6 Best Rooftops Open to the Public in San Francisco

Updated: Nov 17, 2022 09:55
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photo by JP Cavender

By JP Cavender

POTUS? PoMo? No it’s POPOS: Privately Owned Public Open Spaces. Throughout SoMa and the Financial District, these little parks, atriums, alleyways and rooftop gardens are nestled in private buildings and totally open to the public — for free.

Many of these spots were made as a result of a 1985 law that required private buildings to allocate a certain amount space for public use. We checked out the few open spaces that are on rooftops (because obviously the rooftop ones are the most exciting), and compiled a list of the best. Hopefully this list will give you some new places to lunch at!

1. 343 Sansome St.

photo by JP Cavender

This rooftop garden is all the way up on the 15th floor — you read that right, the 15th floor. It’s epic. If you walk along the edges of the space there are some incredible views, because, of course, you are 15 floors up. We can’t get over it.

photo by JP Cavender

This view of the Transamerica Pyramid from the rooftop garden’s west side is pretty unbeatable.

photo by JP Cavender

You can also get a good look at the three hooded statues at the top of the 23-story building at 580 California Street.

Throughout the space, there are plenty of benches for visitors to sit down under the shade of olive trees to have lunch or just relax. There are also a number of tables for eating or working at.

photo by JP Cavender

The views are great, the seating is plentiful, and how could you go wrong with a colorful obelisk sundial? This rooftop is a must-see.

Directions: Enter the lobby and go past the front desk to take the elevator to the 15th floor. As with all of these open spaces, if a security guard or doorman asks where you are going, tell them you want to see the building’s open space. The spaces are all open to the public.

2. 100 1st St.

photo by JP Cavender

This rooftop garden is a popular lunch spot; although you’ll find it full of people on a weekday at lunchtime, there is still plenty of seating. Tables, chairs, and benches are scattered throughout the space, and the collection of flowers, bushes, and trees is extensive. The garden even offers free wifi, which is a huge plus.

photo by JP Cavender

Directions: The roof garden sits atop the 100 1st St. garage which is accessible on Mission St. Just go up the stairs beside the garage and you’ll be there.

3. Crocker Galleria (50 Post St.)

photo by JP Cavender

This spacious rooftop terrace includes ample seating area, great views onto Market Street, a fountain, and an intricate metal compass sculpture. It is always worth stopping at if you are in the area.

photo by JP Cavender

It is the perfect place to sit down and eat any meals you pick up in the Crocker Galleria.

photo by JP Cavender

The terrace is closer to the ground than the higher up Sansome rooftop garden, so it serves as a good vantage point for watching the hustle and bustle of Market.

Directions: Take the escalator to the third floor of the Galleria and head to the left down the hallway marketed “Garden Terrace.”

4. 1 Kearny St. (Entrance at 23 Geary Blvd.)

photo by JP Cavender

Although this rooftop terrace features some benches to sit on, the real reason to come here is to marvel at the city bellow you. The 11th floor terrace may be small, but it has some spectacular views.

photo by JP Cavender

Another perk is that the terrace includes a bathroom — you just have to get a key from the front desk to use it.

photo by JP Cavender

Directions: Enter the lobby at 23 Geary Blvd. and sign in at the front desk. Be sure to bring an ID with you, because they ask to check it before you go up. Take the left elevator up because the right one only goes to the 10th floor.

5. 150 California St.

photo by JP Cavender

This garden terrace is ideal for a quiet meal; only a few people come up to it during their lunch hour, so it’s rarely crowded. The terrace includes an assortment of flowers, and the large metal arch gives the space some character.

Directions: Enter the lobby and take the elevators on the right to the 6th floor. Out of the elevators head right to the terrace.

6. 555 California St.

photo by JP Cavender

In the shadow of the high rises during the afternoon, this terrace is cool and relaxing. It looks down onto California Street, so it’s perfect for taking a break from the bustle of the Financial District. Bamboo grows in the center of the terrace around pools of water — quite relaxing.

Directions: The terrace connects to the sidewalk at the cross section of Kearny St. and California St.

Find out more about POPOs and get some maps of where to find them here.

Which rooftop open space is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

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7 Comments

  1. beavis
    November 14, 2022 at 2:03 pm — Reply

    555 california is a plaza.
    It’s accessible from the first floor from Kearny.
    Hardly a rooftop.

  2. November 14, 2022 at 2:17 pm — Reply

    Where can someone find the full list?

  3. Cris kintero
    November 14, 2022 at 3:09 pm — Reply

    What 😮 dude

  4. Sandina
    November 17, 2022 at 4:31 pm — Reply

    Thanks for reminding us of these hidden gems! I got the SPUR map & listing of 56 Popos from the article’s link, but it’s a bit dated and does not include the new Transbay Terminal Rooftop, which is also spectacular.
    https://www.localecology.org/images/popos_SF.pdf

  5. Sue Englander
    November 18, 2022 at 12:34 pm — Reply

    Thank you for promoting and making visible these great spaces. I like 1 Kearney from this list, sweet spot with a view. My absolute favorite is 642 Commercial St, which used to be an alley, streetlet with lush greenery and easy access. Perfect for lunch or a nap. Here is the link with that one and others, and a sub-link with many more.

  6. Sue Englander
    November 18, 2022 at 12:36 pm — Reply
  7. Chizzi
    December 1, 2022 at 1:19 pm — Reply

    You left out the most magnificent of all: the garden on the roof of the Transbay Terminal. Sloppy reporting.

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