Watch CBS News

People Watching in San Francisco

By Linda Bottjer

If you want great entertainment, but a lack of cash has seriously curtailed your desire, just step outside. San Francisco is host to days upon days of free amusement that is legal and comes with a healthy dose of Vitamin D. Bring a blanket, binoculars and a sense of humor to the following places.

Cable Car near Hallidie Plaza
Photo Credit: Linda Bottjer

Hallidie Plaza

899 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Hallidie Plaza provides an almost constant crossroads of activity on three levels. Down at the Powell BART Station, the best show is watching the ballet between residents, business people and tourists. The first two groups leap and pirouette past the third as they try to shove overstuffed luggage through turnstiles or remain rooted by bewildering ticket machines. As tourists ascend to the next level they must trek up stairs similar to climbing Everest. Spotting people huffing and puffing up the stairs is a comedy show in its own right.

Once you reach Powell and Market Streets, the sights and sounds of the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason cable car turntables is an iconic moment for many. Physical expressions of amazement and joy are guaranteed.

Huntington Park
Photo Credit: Huntington Park

Huntington Park

California St and Cushman St
San Francisco, CA 94108

Want to feel like a million bucks without spending a cent? Head up to Nob Hill's postage-stamp sized Huntington Park. Located in one of the city's swankier neighborhoods, surrounded by fabulous architecture and in the midst of landmark hotels like the Mark Hopkins and the Fairmount, it is also one of the safest. The fact that the park's Romanesque pink and white marble fountain is entitled "Fountain of the Tortoises" gives you a clue how life moves a bit slower here.

Sit upon a wooden bench to watch the flawless tai chi moves of older Asian women reaching and stretching towards early morning skies as neighborhood dogs strut with their owners. Frequently, the canines and their human walkers wear similar inclement weather gear adding a fashionable slant to the viewing. Periodic chimes from nearby Grace Cathedral, good weather glimpses of the Bay and cable cars passing by in fog, drizzle or sunshine provide further amusement in Huntington Park.

Portsmouth Square

Walter Lum Place, between Clay St and Washington St
San Francisco, CA 94108

This square in the middle of Chinatown is the city's original park, dating back from the Yerba Buena days. A mishmash of cultures, ages and economic statuses mix here daily. Old Chinese men gather to gamble as elderly women play cards and chatter as they watch you watching them. Every pigeon in the city seems to gather here. Delighted children often forgo the small playground for a frenetic feathered game of chase.

Stern Grove Festival
Photo Credit: Stern Grove

Sigmund Stern Grove

2750 19th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94132

Inhale the eucalyptus-scented air while watching nature lovers at Stern Grove. Tucked into the Sunset neighborhood off Sloat Boulevard and 19th Street, the Grove is an oasis of green. At any given time, numerous picnicking families or hikers can be found sprawled out on lawns or trekking trails under towering trees. Romantic voyeurs will be richly rewarded from the multiple and varied weddings that happen here.

Fort Funston
Photo Credit: Fort Funston

Fort Funston

Skyline Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94103
Information, Reviews and More

A trip to Fort Funston combines people watching with a salty breeze. On Skyline Boulevard this is where, dependent on the weather, the Pacific Ocean gently laps or rigorously crashes into the cliff-lined shore. Dogs and owners walk freely on the beach that horseback riders also share. A wheelchair accessible viewing deck offers the prime spot to see hang gliding enthusiasts, from around the world, literally run off the side of a cliff to soar on the wind currents.

Wherever you choose to people watch remember to always look interesting.

You never know who might be watching.

Linda Bottjer is a full time writer who draws inspiration from people watching. Her work can be found at Words 4 Sail.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.