Spending the day shopping downtown with a squirrelly toddler in tow? Before you let them loose in Bloomingdales to burn off some steam (they break, you buy!), check out our list of SF’s best POPOS, or privately owned public spaces. What downtown lacks in playgrounds, it makes up for in beautiful, landscaped and often art-filled atriums, roof decks and secret gardens—all completely open and free to the in-the-know public. A savior for families (as well as sun-starved office workers), these spots have been a development requirement since the passage of the 1985 Downtown Plan. Open mostly Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., these hidden gems are the perfect addition to any downtown field trip.

343 Sansome

Photo via Sandy T.

Sansome Rooftop Deck
With breathtaking views of both the Transamerica Pyramid and the Bay, this is a picturesque urban retreat for the whole family. No need to check-in with lobby security—simply take the elevator to the 15th Floor to soak in the downtown views with your littles. Plan ahead and pack a lunch or snack, and grab one of the tables to enjoy the scenery.  Teach the kiddos about telling time in the era before the iWatch by explaining the colorful sundial smack in the middle of the space.

343 Sansome St.
San Francisco, Ca
Open Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

greehouse_101_second stPhoto: Courtesy of SPUR

Greenhouse
Enjoy this modern, indoor, five-story greenhouse at the corner of 2nd and Mission Streets in SOMA.  With floor to ceiling windows and open atrium-style layout, this makes for a balmy respite from San Francisco’s wind and fog. Order your favorite eats at one of the neighboring restaurants and cafes or pack your kiddo’s favorite snack and snag one of the designer tables and lounge with your little urbanite.

101 2nd St.
San Francisco, Ca
Open Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–6 p.m.

Crocker Galleria

Photo via John H.

Crocker Galleria Rooftop Terrace
Trek to the two—yes TWO!—rooftop gardens at Crocker Galleria. The first sun terrace can be reached via the elevator at the corner of the historic bank at Montgomery and Post streets, and offers offer ledges and benches for ample outdoor seating. The second terrace—a truly urban, quiet oasis—also features plenty of benches to take in the San Francisco air. Grab lunch at one of the many restaurants within Crocker Galleria below, pack your favorite fare, but think picnic-friendly bites, as there are no tables, only seating available. Nonetheless, if you happen to be in the area and want an alternative downtown spot to hang with your little shadow, this is the spot to go.

Good to Know: Every Thursday from 11am-3pm is the popular Farmer’s Market on Crocker Galleria’s Level 1, so indulge in some farm fresh eats and head upstairs to the rooftop!

50 Post St.
San Francisco, Ca
Open Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Empire Park

Photo via Kevin A. 

Empire Park
If you are near Chinatown and you and your little adventurer want to duck away for a moment, Empire Park is an ideal pit stop.  With a picturesque trellis framing the space, this is a nook you don’t want to overlook. There’s also tables and chairs scattered throughout, making it an enviable spot to unwind.

Kearny & Commercial St.
San Francisco, Ca
Open daily during daylight hours

1 KearnybPhoto: Courtesy of author

View and Sun Terrace
For a truly beautiful view of downtown San Francisco, make your way to the gorgeous 11th-floor open-air terrace at 1 Kearny Street, near Union Square. Be prepared to sign in with lobby security, show ID, and listen to all the rules that must be adhered, but once you and your little ones are whisked away to this top floor hidden gem, it’ll all be worth it. This is a small space, with only a few benches—no tables—and shrubbery, but the view is absolutely breathtaking, especially with the top of the original French Empire style building acting as the background.

1 Kearny St.
San Francisco, Ca
Open Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

150-california-sun-terracePhoto: Courtesy of Citylab

Garden Terrace
Escape to this secret garden to experience a little slice of heaven in the city. Only six stories up, you and your family can partake in spectacular city views and get away from the usual hustle and bustle of FiDi. Check in with lobby security, then head to the second set of elevators and get off the 6th floor. Sculptured trees and an array of flowers adorn the space, and there’s tables and chairs where you and the kiddies can relax and get some fresh air. On a sunny Spring day, this is a great spot for you and your tiny tike to get your daily dose of Vitamin D.

150 California St.
San Francisco, Ca
Open Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–6 p.m.

Sun Terrace

Photo via Tim B

Sun Terrace
Nestled between Ecker Place and 1st Street in Financial District, you’ll come across this rooftop oasis.  Enter through the staircase between the next-door parking garage and the building itself, then trek to the 2nd floor to enter this serene city getaway.  You’ll still hear all the sounds of city living – cars honking, ambulance blaring – but because it’s down below it feels miles away.  Enjoy the water sculpture, manicured greens, and ample tables and chairs, while your kiddie appreciates the wide open space to frolic, play, and stretch their little legs.

515 Mission Street
San Francisco, 94105
Open

This list is just a taste of the 68 (!!) Popos peppered around downtown San Francisco. For the complete list, check out SPUR’s comprehensive guide right here.

Have you visited one of San Francisco’s Popos? Do you have a favorite? 

—Yannina Pacis