San Francisco, which depends on tourists as the Golden Gate Bridge depends on towers and cables, is ready for you. Nearly.
With the city reopening a few weeks before Southern California due to improved COVID-19 test numbers and vaccination rates, a visitor can now expect busier restaurants, revitalized museums, lower room rates and fewer amenities in hotels, a new Ferris wheel in Golden Gate, Park, and a higher Fisherman’s Wharf Ratio for generations.
However, this image also includes no working cable cars, a locked Coit Tower, eerie silence between the downtown skyscrapers, less fancy grocers in the Ferry Building, and an awkward pause at the entrance to restaurants when guests return.
“Would you like to sit inside or outside?” A host asked for dinner at Gracias Madre restaurant on Mission Street. It was 48 degrees and humid.
“Outside,” said the diner. Every diner had said that – seven tables occupied, all outside. As of March 3, restaurants have been able to accommodate customers at 25% of their capacity in-house, with a 50% relaxation this week. However, Server Korina Wilson said, “A lot of people don’t want to sit inside just yet. ”
These cable cars are expected to have at least one of the city’s three lines running in the fall, and trams could return to Embarcadero and Market Streets as early as May.
Is it time to visit? This is your call With restrictions easing across the state, Sacramento health officials still advise against vacationing more than 120 miles from home. In LA County, public health officials are still urging residents to postpone the trip. But these are recommendations now, not mandates.
Although the city’s hotels have been allowed to accept tourists since January 28, around a third were still closed in mid-March.
Here are some voices from San Francisco about what they saw and expected.
Don’t be fooled on Valencia Street
On a cloudy Tuesday afternoon in mid-March, Debbie Horn and her husband Paul Miller were cycling on Valencia Street in the Mission District.
Miller said, “There are so many more people who ride bikes. We’ll be more like Copenhagen and Amsterdam. “
Horn said, “You can people watch more than ever before.”
In Golden Gate Park, the SkyStar Ferris Wheel reopened on March 4, carrying passengers 15 floors above the de Young Museum (reopened March 6) and the California Academy of Sciences (reopened last week). The Japanese tea garden is open to individuals and the guide volunteers are again taking walks.
Although shops and many hotels around Union Square are open and others are soon to follow, the square was so sleepy in mid-March that a weekday hiker could hear birds chirping and the distant voice of a ragged man asking for money – noises that it could have been drowned out two years ago by cable cars, street musicians and other city rattles.
Room rates in San Francisco are “much lower” than they were two years ago, said Joe D’Allesandro, executive director of the San Francisco Travel Association.
Rooms for less than $ 150 a night are common, but many hotel restaurants are closed and service will be restricted.
But the new energy is bittersweet. Because they have lived in the mission district for years and jointly own the nearby Royal Cuckoo Organ Lounge, he and Miller know that “even if you see a place that looks like it’s blocked, you’re still likely to lose money.”
“Don’t be fooled,” said Horn. “Everyone is a year behind their bills.”
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reopened on March 7th. A few days later, Chief Administrative Officer Noah Bartlett stood near the entrance, remembering the start of the pandemic a year ago.
“We assumed it would be six weeks,” he said. “So naive, right?”
Since then, Bartlett and key museum staff have rescheduled exhibitions, rethought budgets, and mapped “every surface people would come into contact with,” including elevator buttons now covered with self-cleaning NanoSeptic pads.
“We would like to say that we are one of the safest indoor experiences one can have. You and I can walk through this building without touching anything, ”said Bartlett.
But he also understands that recovery may be slow. The three restaurants in the museum will remain closed. The Moscone Center across the street, once one of the busiest convention venues in the country, is a vaccination center.
Prior to the pandemic, Bartlett said, up to 60% of museum goers came from outside the Bay Area, and daily admissions rarely fell below 2,000. For the reopening, the museum drew around 3,500 visitors over two days.
“The energy has changed,” said Bartlett. “We’re going to stay in a depressed state, I think, probably for a couple of years,” said Bartlett. “It really accelerated our focus on the local audience.”
On the fifth floor, the museum will shortly be opening an exhibition entitled “Contemporary Optics”. As a plumber was preparing the galleries, Bartlett stepped onto the Oculus Bridge – the showcase walkway that hangs four floors above the museum lobby – and entered the “One-Way Color Tunnel” by artist Olafur Eliasson, which sparkled like purple ice.
This, said Bartlett, is a silver lining: a visitor can now “really gain the experience of the museum insider – time alone with works of art”.
Breakfast at the Boudin
In the Boudin bakery in Fisherman’s Wharf, a baker was standing in the picture window kneading the dough into the shape of a crab. A few yards behind the open door, visitors Dakota Cooley and her wife Amanda sat down for breakfast.
“We came from Arizona and only traveled as safely as we can. Which one drives, ”said Amanda.
“It’s the perfect time to drive for someone who doesn’t know this traffic,” said Dakota. “Nobody drives stress from work.”
Since arriving a week earlier, they had admired many churches and architecture by the water, often from their car. It reminds them of Europe, said Amanda, and it’s a world away from Arizona, “where a lot of people don’t want to wear masks”.
In the neighboring blocks, the shops and restaurants at Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square were open with reduced capacity.
Seats on Green Street
The Sotto Mare restaurant is located on a short stretch of Green Street in North Beach that was a bright spot in the pandemic. The street is full of noise from guests relaxing as several restaurants have their tables grouped outside.
“On the weekends it can take two hours,” said manager Ria Azzolino Pesenti. More than 1,700 companies have signed up for the city’s Shared Spaces program, which allows restaurants and retailers to expand into sidewalks and parking lots. Many restaurants upgrade their patios to last longer and look better.
“We have now seen what is possible,” tweeted Mayor London Breed on March 12th.
In addition to struggling to keep the tables 6 feet apart, Pesenti and her team are juggling delivery services and Plexiglas partitions (which everyone likes so the restaurant can keep them after the pandemic). Then there is the Cioppino question.
Tourists, who used to make up half of the restaurant’s business, almost always order it because it’s the trademark of Sotto Mare. Locals who have kept the place alive for the past year often choose dabs of sand, scallops, or the fish of the day.
How soon will tourists return and where will they sit? It is impossible to know. But many local Sotto Mare customers are ready to get out of the cold. On March 8th, Pesenti said, “It was the first night we had more people waiting to be inside than sitting outside.”
City Lights Bookstore
A few decades ago, co-founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti hand-inscribed a sign on the wall of the City Lights bookstore: “Have a seat and read a book.” It’s a great idea, but a tricky one for manager Andy Bellows.
Ferlinghetti, the hero of beat culture who died in February at the age of 101, believed that people should be able to sit and read for hours without buying anything. Accordingly, the shop had around 20 seats on its three levels. However, with the business struggling with pandemic limits and a drop in sales of around 60%, many things had to change.
City Lights is doing so much out-of-towers business that it typically sells more books in July and August than in November and December. There was almost none of this in 2020. The temporary closure of the Vesuvio Cafe next door and the Specs Bar across the street didn’t help either. The future of the business looked dubious until a GoFundMe campaign raised more than $ 510,000.
“We had floors. Flooring, ”Bellows said.
The store has kept its staff, Bellows said, but now opens eight hours a day instead of 14. Customers (no more than 20 at a time) enter through a door, disinfect their hands, and exit through the door at the till. Eight places remain, along with Ferlinghetti’s shield.
A new website aims to increase online sales. And with one attendant at the entrance, another at the exit, and another roaming the shop, Bellows said, “We have more people on the floor than ever before, and there are benefits to that. More interaction with customers. “
And there is this comforting news: Vesuvius was due to reopen last week. Not a word yet on a schedule for specs’.