clock menu more-arrow no yes

16 Secret Gardens, Parks, and Green Spaces in San Francisco

View as Map

Here now, a map of San Francisco's best secret gardens. On the map you'll find historic gardens being preserved on Alcatraz Island, a forest in the Tenderloin, a mini park rich with flowering foliage on an otherwise nondescript Sunnyside residential street, plus more.

micro-week

Oh, and a slew of privately owned public open spaces (POPOS) in the FiDi and SoMa districts. We didn't include private gardens for obvious reasons and community gardens didn't make the cut because we found that the majority are often locked. Below, our favorite secret gardens in San Francisco. B

ummed your favorite secret garden didn't make the list? Drop us a line or let us know in the comments.

Read More

1. Historic Gardens of Alcatraz

Copy Link
Pier 41
San Francisco, CA 94133

The mission of the Gardens of Alcatraz Project is to preserve and maintain the gardens created by those who lived on the island during its military and prison eras. The garden started to come back to life in 2003 when the Park Service manager, California garden preservation advocates, and the Garden Conservancy and Parks Conservancy hired a project manager and horticulturist to work with volunteers all the time to weed. The work gradually revealed the structure of the old gardens. The four areas that offer the greatest potential for preservation are the main entry road, officers' row, the warden's house and the cellhouse slopes. The best time to visit the gardens is from January to September. Photo via Elizabeth Byers

2. Tenderloin National Forest

Copy Link
Cohen Place
San Francisco, CA 94109

Since 1989, artists Daryyl Smith and Laurie Lazer of the Luggage Store have been transforming an alley in the Tenderloin into a garden where local community members gather for all sorts of events, including performance art and group gardening projects. Lazer and Smith have organized murals to be painted on all sides of the alley. The forest has trees, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Other highlights are a small "green" structure with a living roof, and a clay oven. Photo via Sally Kuchar

3. Dogpatch-Miller Memorial Garden

Copy Link
Brewster Street & Rutledge Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Take the staircase at the corner of Brewster and Rutledge until you reach the community garden on the left. Swing a right and walk maybe ten feet (past the bulletin board) and bam, you've reached one of San Francisco's most magical and funky gardens. The 8,750-square-foot spot is one of the 35 city-owned community gardens that's overseen by San Francisco Parks and Rec. Department. However, it's run by a group of volunteers who meet regularly to maintain the 20 plots in the terraced gardens. Unlike the majority of community gardens, this one is open to the public. Photo via Sally Kuchar

4. Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden

Copy Link
John F Kennedy Drive & 47th Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94121

The western edge of Golden Gate Park is known for quite a few attractions, but one of its best kept secrets is a tulip garden that's planted just below the Dutch Windmill. It features thousands of tulips interspersed with Icelandic poppies, which are in full boom in March and April. Why's the garden named after a former queen of the Netherlands? Because she donated the Dutch Windmill to San Francisco in 1902. Photo via Left Coast Cowboys

5. Havens Street

Copy Link
Leavenworth Street
San Francisco, CA

This dead-end lane starts on the west side of Leavenworth, just north of the corner of Union and Leavenworth. Walk up a steep set of stairs to find this urban gem. The small lane is lined with homes that all cater to their own gardens. At the end of the lane (roughly half a block) there's a bench you can sit on and enjoy the surrounding environment. Photo via Sally Kuchar

6. The Westfield's Sky Terrace

Copy Link
835 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

There's a terrace on the 9th floor of the Westfield Shopping Centre. It's very difficult to get to. To get to the terrace you need to enter 835 Market Street, right next door to the Westfield Centre's main entrance. Walk a bit and you'll come across a guard. Explain that you're going up to see the terrace, they'll know the drill. The guard will escort you to the proper elevator. You'll be asked to get out of the elevator on the 8th floor by a different guard, and then you have to take another elevator to get to the 9th floor which is where the Sky Terrace is located. If that sounds confusing just ask the guards for help. It's only opened during business hours. Photo via Yelp

7. Empire Park

Copy Link
Montgomery Street & Commercial Street
San Francisco, CA 94111

The park is tiny, and is mostly a courtyard with foliage surround its borders. There's a delightful water feature that's the focal point of the courtyard. The entrance is draped in white wisteria. Other highlights are gigantic tree ferns planted throughout, and potato vines climbing up the surrounding buildings. Photo via Yelp

8. Fay Park and Garden

Copy Link
2366 Leavenworth Street
San Francisco, CA 94133

Fay Park is actually the backyard of the Fay-Berrigan house on Russian Hill. The Berrigan family commissioned landscape architect Thomas Church to design a garden for the house in 1957, which features twin gazebos that are still there today. In 1998, the city of San Francisco accepted Mary Far Berrigan's bequest to turn the backyard into a public park. The garden was renovated in 2005. Photo via Sally Kuchar

9. Baden and Joost Street Mini Park

Copy Link
Joost Avenue & Congo Street
San Francisco, CA 94131

This park is between two residential properties on a street lined with houses. The park is managed by the SF Rec and Park department and is kept quite clean. At the opening of the park there's a bench to enjoy the surrounding view, but the real fun is in the actual garden. If you go deep enough into the park (it stretches to the back of the lot) you'll come to a landing where a small tile project is installed on the stairwell. Photo via SF Rec and Park

10. 100 1st Street Sun Terrace

Copy Link
100 1st Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

Squashed between 100 1st Street and its parking garage is a 4-flight staircase leading to a terrace that's on the roof of the garage. Miss grass because you spend all your time South of Market or Downtown? Then this terrace is for you. In addition to some impressive water features (including a water garden) this terrace has plenty of sculptured grass areas for you to enjoy during your lunch break. Although it's a POPUS, the terrace is open 24/7. There's aluminum tables and chairs sprinkled throughout the entire space. It's mostly empty on weekends. Photo via Sally Kuchar

11. Filbert Steps and Grace Marchant Gardens

Copy Link
Filbert Street
San Francisco, CA

Rumor has it, Grace Marchant moved onto the corner of Napier Lane and Filbert Street in 1949. At the time, the Filbert Steps was a staircase through a slope that was used as an informal garbage dump. Marchant spent the majority of her life cleaning up the slope (at one point commissioning the city to burn the debris so she could start anew- which it did), and was very casual about property lines. Highlights: You will most likely encounter a flock or two of wild parrots. Photo via Alexandra Jones

12. Beale Street Plaza

Copy Link
50 Beale Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

The Beale Street Plaza is a large and open space surrounded by towering buildings. It's quite serene, especially on the weekends when no one's around. It's loaded with beautiful foliage, and we'll get to that.

We first have to tell you about the Bechtel Museum, which is centrally located in the plaza (technically it's in the Bechtel Plaza, but there are no clear boundaries). It's a railroad car. In the 1920s, the railroad car WaaTeeKaa was home to Steve and Laura Bechtel and their family at remote construction sites in the West. The vintage railroad car that's in the plaza today has been restored to replicate the original WaaTeeKaa. You can tour it Monday through Friday from 11AM to 2PM.

The plaza has an abundance of Japanese maples. The gardens are dotted with a rich mix of annuals. The plaza has comfortable benches backed by large planters filled with everything from flowering plants to ferns. Photo via Sally Kuchar

13. Michelangelo Park

Copy Link
Greenwich Street
San Francisco, CA

This magical wonderland on Russian Hill was a result of community fundraising and advocacy. In the center is a large grassy area surrounded with large flowering foliage. It also has a children's playground, basketball hoops, handmade pathways, and benches. There's also a community garden but we won't get into how long the wait list is. Another highlight is a corner area with benches that's usually shaded. Perfect for taking in the surrounding beauty and enjoying a good book (that you're reading on your iPad). Photo via Sally Kuchar

14. Transamerica Redwood Park

Copy Link
600 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94111

This park was built in 1972 on a half-acre filled with redwood trees. To make sure all feel welcome, the park's entrance has a sign that reads "provided for the enjoyment of our employees, tenants and friends." In the center of the park is a fountain decorated with frog sculptures, a tribute to Mark Twain's story "To Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." In addition to the towering redwoods, there are also flowerbeds and ferns. The park's open during business hours and closed on weekends. Photo via Sally Kuchar

15. 343 Sansome Rooftop Deck

Copy Link
343 Sansome Street
San Francisco, CA 94104

It's also been called the FiDi's best outdoor lunch spot - if you know about it. There's tables, benches with cushions, a nice view of the surrounding area and even a portion of the Bay. Foliage wise there are planters filled with seasonal flowers (including beautiful tulips in the early Spring months). A quick search of its Yelp reviews reveal that more than half of the reviews bring up being hesitate to write about this FiDi gem because it's never crowded and they want to keep it a secret. The space is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Photo via Yelp

16. Crocker Galleria Roof Terrace

Copy Link
50 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94104

The Crocker Galleria Roof Terrace has it all: shrubbery, flowering plants in larger planters, a great view, plenty of seating, and a fountain. It overlooks Market Street and the surrounding skyscrapers. Photo via Yelp

Loading comments...

1. Historic Gardens of Alcatraz

Pier 41, San Francisco, CA 94133

The mission of the Gardens of Alcatraz Project is to preserve and maintain the gardens created by those who lived on the island during its military and prison eras. The garden started to come back to life in 2003 when the Park Service manager, California garden preservation advocates, and the Garden Conservancy and Parks Conservancy hired a project manager and horticulturist to work with volunteers all the time to weed. The work gradually revealed the structure of the old gardens. The four areas that offer the greatest potential for preservation are the main entry road, officers' row, the warden's house and the cellhouse slopes. The best time to visit the gardens is from January to September. Photo via Elizabeth Byers

Pier 41
San Francisco, CA 94133

2. Tenderloin National Forest

Cohen Place, San Francisco, CA 94109

Since 1989, artists Daryyl Smith and Laurie Lazer of the Luggage Store have been transforming an alley in the Tenderloin into a garden where local community members gather for all sorts of events, including performance art and group gardening projects. Lazer and Smith have organized murals to be painted on all sides of the alley. The forest has trees, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Other highlights are a small "green" structure with a living roof, and a clay oven. Photo via Sally Kuchar

Cohen Place
San Francisco, CA 94109

3. Dogpatch-Miller Memorial Garden

Brewster Street & Rutledge Street, San Francisco, CA 94110

Take the staircase at the corner of Brewster and Rutledge until you reach the community garden on the left. Swing a right and walk maybe ten feet (past the bulletin board) and bam, you've reached one of San Francisco's most magical and funky gardens. The 8,750-square-foot spot is one of the 35 city-owned community gardens that's overseen by San Francisco Parks and Rec. Department. However, it's run by a group of volunteers who meet regularly to maintain the 20 plots in the terraced gardens. Unlike the majority of community gardens, this one is open to the public. Photo via Sally Kuchar

Brewster Street & Rutledge Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

4. Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden

John F Kennedy Drive & 47th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94121

The western edge of Golden Gate Park is known for quite a few attractions, but one of its best kept secrets is a tulip garden that's planted just below the Dutch Windmill. It features thousands of tulips interspersed with Icelandic poppies, which are in full boom in March and April. Why's the garden named after a former queen of the Netherlands? Because she donated the Dutch Windmill to San Francisco in 1902. Photo via Left Coast Cowboys

John F Kennedy Drive & 47th Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94121

5. Havens Street

Leavenworth Street, San Francisco, CA

This dead-end lane starts on the west side of Leavenworth, just north of the corner of Union and Leavenworth. Walk up a steep set of stairs to find this urban gem. The small lane is lined with homes that all cater to their own gardens. At the end of the lane (roughly half a block) there's a bench you can sit on and enjoy the surrounding environment. Photo via Sally Kuchar

Leavenworth Street
San Francisco, CA

6. The Westfield's Sky Terrace

835 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

There's a terrace on the 9th floor of the Westfield Shopping Centre. It's very difficult to get to. To get to the terrace you need to enter 835 Market Street, right next door to the Westfield Centre's main entrance. Walk a bit and you'll come across a guard. Explain that you're going up to see the terrace, they'll know the drill. The guard will escort you to the proper elevator. You'll be asked to get out of the elevator on the 8th floor by a different guard, and then you have to take another elevator to get to the 9th floor which is where the Sky Terrace is located. If that sounds confusing just ask the guards for help. It's only opened during business hours. Photo via Yelp

835 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

7. Empire Park

Montgomery Street & Commercial Street, San Francisco, CA 94111

The park is tiny, and is mostly a courtyard with foliage surround its borders. There's a delightful water feature that's the focal point of the courtyard. The entrance is draped in white wisteria. Other highlights are gigantic tree ferns planted throughout, and potato vines climbing up the surrounding buildings. Photo via Yelp

Montgomery Street & Commercial Street
San Francisco, CA 94111

8. Fay Park and Garden

2366 Leavenworth Street, San Francisco, CA 94133

Fay Park is actually the backyard of the Fay-Berrigan house on Russian Hill. The Berrigan family commissioned landscape architect Thomas Church to design a garden for the house in 1957, which features twin gazebos that are still there today. In 1998, the city of San Francisco accepted Mary Far Berrigan's bequest to turn the backyard into a public park. The garden was renovated in 2005. Photo via Sally Kuchar

2366 Leavenworth Street
San Francisco, CA 94133

9. Baden and Joost Street Mini Park

Joost Avenue & Congo Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

This park is between two residential properties on a street lined with houses. The park is managed by the SF Rec and Park department and is kept quite clean. At the opening of the park there's a bench to enjoy the surrounding view, but the real fun is in the actual garden. If you go deep enough into the park (it stretches to the back of the lot) you'll come to a landing where a small tile project is installed on the stairwell. Photo via SF Rec and Park

Joost Avenue & Congo Street
San Francisco, CA 94131

10. 100 1st Street Sun Terrace

100 1st Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

Squashed between 100 1st Street and its parking garage is a 4-flight staircase leading to a terrace that's on the roof of the garage. Miss grass because you spend all your time South of Market or Downtown? Then this terrace is for you. In addition to some impressive water features (including a water garden) this terrace has plenty of sculptured grass areas for you to enjoy during your lunch break. Although it's a POPUS, the terrace is open 24/7. There's aluminum tables and chairs sprinkled throughout the entire space. It's mostly empty on weekends. Photo via Sally Kuchar

100 1st Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

11. Filbert Steps and Grace Marchant Gardens

Filbert Street, San Francisco, CA

Rumor has it, Grace Marchant moved onto the corner of Napier Lane and Filbert Street in 1949. At the time, the Filbert Steps was a staircase through a slope that was used as an informal garbage dump. Marchant spent the majority of her life cleaning up the slope (at one point commissioning the city to burn the debris so she could start anew- which it did), and was very casual about property lines. Highlights: You will most likely encounter a flock or two of wild parrots. Photo via Alexandra Jones

Filbert Street
San Francisco, CA

12. Beale Street Plaza

50 Beale Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

The Beale Street Plaza is a large and open space surrounded by towering buildings. It's quite serene, especially on the weekends when no one's around. It's loaded with beautiful foliage, and we'll get to that.

We first have to tell you about the Bechtel Museum, which is centrally located in the plaza (technically it's in the Bechtel Plaza, but there are no clear boundaries). It's a railroad car. In the 1920s, the railroad car WaaTeeKaa was home to Steve and Laura Bechtel and their family at remote construction sites in the West. The vintage railroad car that's in the plaza today has been restored to replicate the original WaaTeeKaa. You can tour it Monday through Friday from 11AM to 2PM.

The plaza has an abundance of Japanese maples. The gardens are dotted with a rich mix of annuals. The plaza has comfortable benches backed by large planters filled with everything from flowering plants to ferns. Photo via Sally Kuchar

50 Beale Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

13. Michelangelo Park

Greenwich Street, San Francisco, CA

This magical wonderland on Russian Hill was a result of community fundraising and advocacy. In the center is a large grassy area surrounded with large flowering foliage. It also has a children's playground, basketball hoops, handmade pathways, and benches. There's also a community garden but we won't get into how long the wait list is. Another highlight is a corner area with benches that's usually shaded. Perfect for taking in the surrounding beauty and enjoying a good book (that you're reading on your iPad). Photo via Sally Kuchar

Greenwich Street
San Francisco, CA

14. Transamerica Redwood Park

600 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA 94111

This park was built in 1972 on a half-acre filled with redwood trees. To make sure all feel welcome, the park's entrance has a sign that reads "provided for the enjoyment of our employees, tenants and friends." In the center of the park is a fountain decorated with frog sculptures, a tribute to Mark Twain's story "To Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." In addition to the towering redwoods, there are also flowerbeds and ferns. The park's open during business hours and closed on weekends. Photo via Sally Kuchar

600 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94111

15. 343 Sansome Rooftop Deck

343 Sansome Street, San Francisco, CA 94104

It's also been called the FiDi's best outdoor lunch spot - if you know about it. There's tables, benches with cushions, a nice view of the surrounding area and even a portion of the Bay. Foliage wise there are planters filled with seasonal flowers (including beautiful tulips in the early Spring months). A quick search of its Yelp reviews reveal that more than half of the reviews bring up being hesitate to write about this FiDi gem because it's never crowded and they want to keep it a secret. The space is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Photo via Yelp

343 Sansome Street
San Francisco, CA 94104

16. Crocker Galleria Roof Terrace

50 Post Street, San Francisco, CA 94104

The Crocker Galleria Roof Terrace has it all: shrubbery, flowering plants in larger planters, a great view, plenty of seating, and a fountain. It overlooks Market Street and the surrounding skyscrapers. Photo via Yelp

50 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94104