From intimate gardens, to sweeping views of the Golden Bridge, to fascinating venues that blend splendid parks with an urban vibe, we’re so fortunate to be surrounded by beautiful nature around San Francisco. Yes, a jacket is (almost) always necessary for any outdoor gathering in this town, but the frequent fog is a small price to pay for the breathtaking scenery so many of our outdoor event destinations provide.
With the pandemic continuing to disrupt our lives in too many ways to count, many companies are trying to wiggle their way back to a sense of normal and find a way to have company events safely in person. The same is happening away from the professional world, as many friends and families try to safely hold celebrations and gatherings. The one consensus on both the personal and professional events side is that to be safest in the pandemic…go outside! And that’s why we’ve put together our picks for the top outdoors event spots in this City full of beautiful open air venues.
So, you want to host an outdoor event in San Francisco? Read on for your best options.
Whether it’s a wedding or a corporate off-site, San Francisco’s National Park has an abundance of event space options, from its historic buildings to ample outdoor space in the “Area B” of the park (basically everything that isn’t on a coastline). The Presidio Trust has a helpful website that walks you through the different outdoor areas and permitting options. Keep in mind that the Presidio is federal land, so the rules might be a little different than elsewhere in the City. As anyone who has been to Off the Grid’s Presidio Picnic is aware of, the Main Post’s lawn areas are some of the most spectacular outdoor areas in all of San Francisco, complete with stellar Golden Gate Bridge views (fog permitting).
Where to find it: Main Parade Lawn, San Francisco
San Francisco’s newest and possibly swankiest park is an urban oasis in the shadow of the Salesforce Tower — and you’d never guess that a public transit hub is below you while strolling through the 13 different garden areas of the Salesforce Park. The park’s amphitheater area can be rented out, though this primo location of course doesn’t come at much of a hometown discount. That being said, when it comes to the idea of “location, location, location,” it’s almost impossible to match the brilliant combination of soaring contemporary skyscrapers and gorgeous nature in an elevated park. As a bonus, the park seems to be a little more protected from San Francisco’s infamous chilly winds than almost every other park or garden setting.
Where to find it: 425 Mission St., San Francisco
When there is no event going on, the parking lots at Fort Mason Center might seem relatively desolate. But when the crowds come for an event and the food and drinks are served, this is easily one of San Francisco’s finest alfresco gathering places, as has been proven for years by the huge success of Off the Grid’s Friday Night parties there. Part of the draw of Fort Mason Center is how it feels isolated but is actually not too hard to reach from most directions (including from the North Bay!). The other major draw there is, of course, the bayfront setting and nearby Alcatraz and Golden Gate Bridge views. Bonus: if your event wraps up early, there’s always The Interval nearby for a nightcap!
Where to find it: 2 Marina Blvd., San Francisco
Our wild card choice for top outdoor event settings was selected by our city’s wildlife! In the far southwest corner of the City, the Zoo is a terrific choice for all kinds of outdoor meetings and events. And, let’s be honest, everyone in the crowd will appreciate being near the animals! This online brochure has picnic and location information: https://www.sfzoo.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/SFZ-Events-Picnics.pdf . Holding an event at the Zoo is also a great way to support one of San Francisco’s most beloved attractions for kids of all ages. Don’t forget that an event at the Zoo is always a unique idea that gets everyone excited to see the lions and rhinos!
Where to find it: Sloat Blvd. at the Great Highway, San Francisco
Bay Area museums are always popular event spaces — especially when it comes to indoor settings. But, when it comes to outdoor spaces, no museum can beat the Golden Gate Bridge view and ornate setting of the Legion of Honor. For outdoor choices, there’s the beautiful Terrace patio, or if you’re holding a ceremony, there’s also a lawn and the signature Court of Honor. Note that there is no gallery access for events on the Terrace, so you’ll have to come another time for the art. However, you’re really there for the opulent ambience and the event, and this is easily one of the most memorable settings for any off-site or celebration.
Where to find it: 100 34th Ave., San Francisco
As the name suggests, this company specializes in, yes, events! They run the show at their three breathtaking event venues in old piers along the Embarcadero, between the Exploratorium and Pier 39. Pier 27 and Pier 35 offer excellent balconies for more intimate gatherings (along with superb indoor options). The sprawling “Campus” and “Transportation Area” are much larger areas that allow for large companies to get together and soak up excellent views of the City.
Where to find it: Pier 27, The Embarcadero, San Francisco
Inside and outside, The Pearl in Dogpatch is deservedly synonymous with special private events in San Francisco. With bistro string lights overhead and views reaching across the bay, the rooftop here is quite possibly San Francisco’s favorite rooftop spot — except it’s only for private events, so there’s no hour-long crowd outside waiting for cocktails. It’s a particularly great choice for smaller group receptions or elaborate dinners. Depending on the weather and event, tents can be provided. The sleek industrial modern architecture and the rooftop vibe here make this one of San Francisco’s most popular outdoor venues and it’s easy to understand why once you’ve been on the rooftop.
Where to find it: 601 19th St., San Francisco
8) San Francisco Botanical Garden
Yes, technically it’s in Golden Gate Park, but the event rentals in five different spaces of San Francisco’s bucolic corner of nature are run by the SFBG itself. Do we really need to explain why a magnificent botanical garden is a beautiful outdoor event choice? From the Redwood Grove to the Garden of Fragrance, this is without question one of the most transcendent settings in the City. There are parks and gardens…then there’s the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Shorter ceremonies, 4-hour and 10-hour event rentals are available. And, yes, during opening hours, your guests may also visit other gardens in the SFBG complex while your event is going on.
Where to find it: 1199 9th Ave., San Francisco
9) Golden Gate Park/SF Rec & Parks
Chances are high that your next event isn’t quite as big as the Outside Lands Music and Art Festival in Golden Gate Park each year. So, you might not need hundreds of acres of fields…but San Francisco Recreation & Parks has a full guide to their offerings of all sizes, with “Wedding Venues,” “Special Events,” and “Picnic Area Rentals” being the primary areas to focus on. Sure, Golden Gate Park is the most famous park in the City, but it’s also worth checking out the other parks in a wide variety of neighborhoods. It’s impossible to pick any “best” locations among the dozens of great choices, but please do note that the Palace of Fine Arts is an option here. Is there anything more spectacular in the city than the Palace of Fine Arts at golden hour? It’s hard to think of many other event locations that can compete with that.
Where to find it: Many locations but SF Rec & Park Headquarters is 501 Stanyan St., San Francisco
When it comes to modern outdoor spaces with a fascinating mix of industrial neighborhood and hip urban party, The Midway is the place to know in San Francisco. It’s a multidimensional venue on the edge of Dogpatch, with a focus on tech, dining, concerts/dancing and art. That’s intentionally a vague, broad overview, though, because it’s really a singularly unique place that is one of the defining venues of present day 2021 San Francisco. The Midway’s gorgeous patio can hold 250 guests seated (500 standing) and has a unique, chic design with murals, twinkling lights overhead and one side anchored by prominent wrought iron gates.
Where to find it: 900 Marin St., San Francisco
Don’t forget your best catering options 😉
Keep in mind, of course, that the setting is only part of the event equation. Don’t forget about the food!
Off the Grid’s roster of creators excels at catering for large groups and hungry crowds. By virtue of always being mobile, Off the Grid occupies a unique niche in the catering industry where they bring the kitchen to outdoor events and they’re very familiar with producing large scale productions in gardens, lawns and fields.
Permits, fog, outdoor logistics…Off the Grid isn’t phased by them! And, there’s no doubt that the talented creators with Off the Grid are some of the most gifted chefs in the Bay Area, so along with the scenic location, the food will be the talk of the event.
Click here to inquire about catering your event. We look forward to hearing from you!
By Trevor Felch