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5 of Our Favorite Public Open Spaces in San Francisco

5 of Our Favorite Public Open Spaces in San Francisco

Have you ever heard about the POPOS in San Francisco? Don’t worry, lots of people, including locals have not… If you live or work in a building near the downtown area, chances are you've probably come across a few. Not only do they add charm in between busy streets and towering office buildings, but they also are great spaces to work from if you want a change of scenery or a break from your home office. 

What exactly is POPOS? 

The term POPOS stands for Privately Owned Public Open Spaces. They are publicly accessible spaces in forms of plazas, terraces, atriums, small parks, and even snippets which are provided and maintained by private developers in San Francisco. 

By sharing our favorite spots, we aim to guide you to uncover intriguing yet often overlooked corners of this beautiful city, especially those we might miss in the hustle and bustle of our daily commutes… Or give your options to visit nearby on your next lunch break. 

But First… A Quick History of POPOS in San Francisco

The Privately Owned Public Open Spaces in San Francisco is a concept that dates back to the late 1950s, with the very first location at 1 Bush Street in the downtown area. 

Until the mid-1980s, POPOS were not mandatory but rather incentivized as the city experienced rapid growth. While some developers occasionally included them voluntarily, the primary motivation stemmed from density bonuses offered by the city’s Planning Department. By incorporating larger public open spaces into their building plans, developers could increase their allowable building size proportionately.

In 1985, the Planning Department introduced an official Downtown Plan, which mandated the incorporation of Privately Owned Public Open Spaces (POPOS) into the development blueprints of larger hotels and office buildings. These spaces were required to prioritize accessibility and amenities, with guidelines even specifying factors like sunlight exposure and wind protection.

After that year, the number of POPOS proliferated, with over 80 of them now dispersed throughout Downtown and SoMa, often marked by identifying plaques. 

 

Image via: Yelp

 

Here are some of our favorites! 

1 Kearny St:

Looking over the edge on the 11th floor rooftop of this unique architectural fusion, this POPOS offers a glimpse into San Francisco's past, before the dominance of sleek glass-and-steel skyscrapers. The view captures a nostalgic essence, particularly the captivating sight of the red-painted transit lane along Third Street. 

 

Image via: Yelp

 

1 Bush Plaza: 

Situated at 1 Bush St, you will find a ground-level urban garden with pathways, a water sculpture, and a few seating options in the shade. Take a look at the river rock embellishments in the pathways and the sculptures positioned within the garden's interior. And since this is the very first Privately Owned Public Open Spaces in San Francisco, we say it is well worth the detour. 

 

Image via: Yelp


199 Fremont St: 

Sculptor Paul Kos and poet Robert Hass joined forces to craft an urban garden seamlessly blending art and landscape. What is worth noting is the striking rock landscaping, which includes an 86-ton boulder serving as both artwork and canvas for Hass's engraved poems. Additionally, a fountain adds a soothing ambiance reminiscent of the rhythmic ticking of a clock.

 

Image via: Yelp


Crocker Galleria Rooftop Terrace: 

Nestled atop an historic building, you'll find two somewhat concealed rooftop sun terraces. However, due to post-Covid circumstances, only one terrace is presently accessible. This open terrace boasts an abundance of trees, shrubs, fountains, and shaded areas perfect for unwinding. While tables are not available, visitors can find seating on benches scattered throughout the space.

 

Image via: Yelp

 

222 Second Street:

This one is probably one of the POPOS you have seen before without knowing it was one. It hosts a vast indoor space directly accessible from Equator Cafe, situated on the ground level of the LinkedIn office building. While greenery may be absent, the sleek ambiance is characterized by wooden walls and ceilings, abundant natural light, abstract artwork, and large tables for seating. Complementing the space is the added convenience of free WiFi, which is perfect to go work remotely during a weekday. 

 

Image via: Yelp

 

Want to visit some of the best Privately Owned Public Open Spaces in San Francisco next time you go for a walk in the Downtown area? There are a few useful resources online to help you plan your route, including the SF POPOS repertory. Make sure to stay updated with new developments or renovations across the area by visiting the San Francisco Planning Department website. 

To conclude, San Francisco is a dynamic city with evolving neighborhoods and urban landscapes, and each of them has its own unique culture, history, and atmosphere. Taking a few minutes to explore new parts of the city can offer a refreshing change of scenery and perspective. In San Francisco, taking the scenic route provides an opportunity to escape the routine and discover hidden gems, parks, and scenic viewpoints – especially if you get a chance to do so on your regular commute to work. 


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