South Park never fails to charm me. Surrounded by mostly light industrial buildings in the South End historic district, this hidden leafy oasis still holds my interest and is worth exploring. Bordered by Bryant on the north, Second on the east, Brannan on the south and Third on the west, South Park is best approached from Third Street. Look for a gas station between Varney Place and Taber Place as the street sign seems to be often missing. Looking east from Third you will see a cluster of trees. That’s it.
Based on a fashionable London prototype, this c.1855 neighborhood was San Francisco’s first planned upper-class residential development of elegant townhouses lining a private oval park. But real estate is all about location and timing, and by the late 19th century Nob Hill was the preferred destination. South Park was not devastated by the 1906 earthquake but by the consequential fires that leveled the area. The flattening of Rincon Hill to make way for large-scale industry sealed its fate as a workingman’s area.
I first explored the area in 1997 when it was still very much a rough and ragged industrial neighborhood trying to climb out of a gritty reputation. Eventually, curiosity got me to push past my discomfort and I psyched myself up to noodle on over. Standing at the entrance, where the street splits and curves around the green I could visualize pre-1906 South Park, and something about that early history continues to call me back every few years.
The original iron gate, stone curbing and bollards are long gone, and a playground dominates the park. Some of the live/work conversions have been more successful than others, but modest early 20th century buildings remain and hold their ground against any sleekness. South Park softens the harshness of the new construction that looms over it. Its character is not too polished or contrived. There are a few small restaurants that encourage office workers to linger, making the area relaxed and personable.
It is best to enter on foot (parking is almost non-existent) from Third Street so you get the effect of the original oval plan. Take a stroll around oval, enjoy the building renovations, have a nosh or a coffee – but don’t forget to sit in the park and just drink it all in.
This is still an industrial/office neighborhood so restrooms and snacks
are best had at the not-too-far Metreon Center.
There are a few restaurants within South Park
but check for business hours