Parklets: Exploring San Francisco’s Urban Rest Stops

Posted on 08/04/2011

So far, hundreds of miles of bike lanes have been either added or improved over the last 10 years, and with that have come parklets—small, park-like spaces built in neighborhoods with high pedestrian and bike traffic, usually on existing sidewalks. If you’ve ever been to Europe, parklets really aren’t anything new. However, in a country where parking and streets eat up a lot of prime real estate in major cities, like here in the United States, there isn’t a lot of room for sidewalk lounging. That was until 2005 when group of artists and activists from Rebar Art and Design Studio popped several quarters in a parking meter, rolled out several pieces of grass sod in a parking space and put a potted tree on top. Hence, the first “parklet” was born. Since then these mini parks have taken on legitimacy in San Francisco among its citizens and in local government thanks to Pavement to Parks—a urban planning project sponsored by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office and the Department of Public Works.

The great thing about San Francisco’s current parklets is not only are they located in a number of well-trafficked neighborhoods, they are almost exclusively bike-accessible and bike-friendly. They are typically near restaurants, coffeeshops, or various shopping areas. Therefore, if you got yourself a bike rental from Blazing Saddles and want to ride around and check out some of the better neighborhoods in the city, check out our mini guide below (or should we say, “guidelet”) to a few of SF’s best parklets:

COLUMBUS AVENUE PARKLET

Located right between Vallejo and Green on Columbus Avenue, this outdoor space sits [Columbus Parklet] right by a number of great restaurants and bars is fairly equidistant between Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. Some of the most popular spots in North Beach are right around here, including Caffe DeLucchi and Stella Pastry Cafe. Tip: recharge with a coffee here before biking down to the Embarcadero.

DIVISADERO STREET PARKLET

One of the newer parklets in San Francisco sits right outside Mojo Bicycle Café - a bike and coffeeshop by day and an eatery and beer/wine lounge at night. Also, this parklet is zoned within Mojo, so you can take your drinks outside. This area on Divisadero between Hayes and Grove is certainly up-and-coming and sits right along an intersection of bicycle paths that will take you all over the city. Tip: sip on a beer, sangria, or wine before dining at Nopa, hitting up a show at The Independent, or dancing the night away at Madrone Art Bar.

CASTRO COMMONS

Arguably one of San Francisco’s most famous districts, the Castro is the city’s gay epicenter; excellent bars, restaurants, and shopping abound here.  [Castro Commons] This parklet sits right at the corner of Castro and 17th Streets across from Twin Peaks Tavern, the so-called “Gateway to the Castro.” Also, you won’t be able to miss the massive signal of pride flying overhead—the rainbow flag. Tip: start your midday stroll along Castro Street here before hitting up the Mission.

22ND STREET PARKLET

Speaking of the Mission District, this parklet occupies a space on [22nd Parklet] 22nd Street and Bartlett and is within easy biking distance of most neighborhood hotspots, even though the space alone is right near Revolution Café and the Make-Out Room, which are all excellent hangouts in their own right. Tip: people watch and relax in the evening before taking in nearby Mexican food, preferably at El Farolito.

 
All images courtesy of Pavement to Parks

One of the great luxuries of traveling to a large city is taking advantage of mass transit. Whether you’re zipping from Montmartre to Montparnasse on the Paris Métro or riding the New York City Subway downtown from the Upper West Side to the East Village, there isn’t really any better way to get from Point A to Point B. But if you actually want to take the time and see what’s going on around you, you might be better served riding a bike. Here in San Francisco, a group of citizens wants to turn this city into a world-class destination for bicycle touring— and they are starting with the concept of a parklet.