An urban oasis blooms south of Market in San Francisco. Yerba Buena Gardens
was conceived and built as the center of an artistic, diverse, and sustainable
urban renewal project encompassing a once-blighted area south of the city's
vibrant commercial arterial, Market Street. Today, the two-city-block site
offers a genuine respite from the clamor of the city in a park-like setting that
includes a meadow, landscaped gardens, restaurants, a waterfall, fountains,
children's areas, and more. Admission is free and the park is open daily from 6 a.m.
until 10 p.m.
What It Is
Yerba Buena Gardens is an urban park and cultural center opened to the public
in 1993. Bounded by 3rd, 4th, Mission, and Folsom streets, it integrates in the
best of nature with the best of mankind in a tidy two-block package.
The Esplanade is a 5.5-acre meadow with landscaping, mature trees,
fountains, and public art. It is a site of a performance platform, a butterfly
garden, children's areas, and a garden commemorating the 13 sister cities of
San Francisco. The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is a theater and visual arts
center with an ongoing schedule of visual arts exhibitions, public theater, and
conceptual arts performances. Other attractions within the park include various
memorials and public gardens, and a multi-faceted children's area.
Things To Do
Hang out in The Esplanade. Take in a lunchtime concert there. Try to figure out
which of the 13 plantings in the sister city garden comes from which of the 13
sister cities. Then stroll across The Esplanade to the Martin Luther King, Jr.
Memorial, taking a contemplative walk behind its majestic waterfall to view
photos and quotations from the civil rights movement. Stop at the Ohlone Indian
Memorial commemorating the Native Americans who once inhabited this region.
Here, a basket-weave-design wall fronts a pool surrounded with redwood and oak
trees. Bring checkers or chessmen and play a leisurely game on one of the eight
granite chess/checker boards available for public use.
If you have kids in tow, your choices are many. The rooftop area, also
called the Children's Block, includes a restored historic carousel, an ice
skating arena, a bowling center, and an interactive museum, plus more outdoor
space. A playground here includes a sand area, a stream, a tube slide, and a
natural labyrinth. Heck, even if you don't have kids with you, this stuff is
capital F -- "Fun."
Naturally, all this art and culture and interaction with the outdoors will
work up an appetite. Fortunately, there are five cafés to take care of that.
What It's Like
It seems, I'll confess, somewhat miraculous to find such a stylish, pristine
oasis in such a high-traffic urban area. Even with the best of motives and a
series of well-intentioned urban renewal edicts on the part of the City
beginning in 1953, such a successful project can (and in this case, did) take
decades to get off the ground. It's not by magic or accident that today's Yerba
Buena gardens has a feeling of safety.
There are rules aplenty to help assure a measure of control: No public
alcohol or drug intoxication; no camping/camping items or overnight sleeping;
no solicitation (including panhandling); no use of wheeled conveyances except
strollers and wheelchairs, including no bicycling, skateboarding,
rollerskating, or scooter use; no team sports; no kite-flying,
Frisbee-throwing, or tree climbing; no pets or animals (except certified services
or companion animals); no entering, bathing, washing, or picking coins in the
fountains; no picking flowers or picking cans and bottles from trash bins; no
making loud noises or engaging in other disruptive behaviors; and, finally, no
posting signs or distributing flyers without a permit. Enforcement is by way of
a very successful and very active management company.
On a larger scale, a great deal of civic effort has gone into making the
entire south-of-Market neighborhood surrounding the new Yerba Buena Gardens
safer and more family friendly in recent years. Galleries, cultural
institutions, and activities aimed at children have sprung up all over the
area, supported in part by the Yerba Buena Alliance
(http://www.yerbabuena.org). The overall area, bounded by 2nd, 5th, Market, and
Harrison streets, was designated as an urban renewal area back in 1966, and
many steps have taken it in a positive direction since, including the opening
of the Moscone Convention Center in 1981 and the San Francisco Museum of Modern
Art in 1995. An area I was a bit hesitant to stroll in the early 1980s has
turned into a very pleasant place for an urban ramble.
Sally O'Neal Coates writes of all things outdoors in her weekly
"Trailside with Sally O'Neal" column on sportsmansguide.com. While her tales tend to focus on wilderness adventures, she also appreciates a
good urban stroll -- not to mention a nice, grilled pear-and-brie foccacia, which
can also be found at Yerba Buena Gardens.