The intersection of Fremont and Mission streets is the cold, glittering heart of the new San Francisco. Wherever you look there’s glass and steel and shiny surfaces, enormous towers thrusting into the sky. But at the center of this sleek eruption of non-human-scale verticality, there’s a welcome oasis: Salesforce Park. This verdant roof garden provides both an escape from its icily modernist surroundings, and a wondrous series of vantage points from which to observe both the old San Francisco and the new. Salesforce Park sits atop the Salesforce Transit Center, the massive, white-veiled structure that, at a $2.2 billion price tag, currently serves as the world’s most expensive bus station. The high-speed rail system that was the ostensible reason for the Transbay Transit Center — its original name until Salesforce bought the naming rights — may never be built. But even if Salesforce Park turns out to be the crowning glory of a boondoggle, it’s one of the finest civic improvements the City has seen in decades — up there with the restoration of Crissy Field. It’s San Francisco’s smaller, greener version of New York’s High Line.
Salesforce Park is a lush antidote to its high-tech environment, but ironically, the most fun way to enter it is a delightfully futuristic one. A gondola runs from the Salesforce Tower plaza to the rooftop park, the first aerial tramway in San Francisco since the shortlived Sky Tram at the Cliff House closed in 1966. The one-minute, four-story gondola ride serves as a literal and figurative break with routine. When you emerge onto the park’s curving path, you’re ready for a new perspective on the City and the Bay.
And Salesforce Park offers just that. Its sheer size — it’s 5.4 acres in area and 1,430 feet, or almost three east-west city blocks, long — its lush vegetation and, most of all, its elevation high above city streets, give it the atmosphere of a magical playground, an escape from urban gravity. It’s a floating urban oasis, a hanging garden in the sky.
Salesforce Park’s main attraction is its profusion of carefully curated planted areas, each representing a different Mediterranean ecosystem. Trees and shrubs from Australia to Chile to South Africa to California are beautifully displayed along the perimeters of the park, screening the urban landscape but also allowing pedestrians to catch glimpses of it.
And those glimpses are a city lover’s delight. My favorite is from the southeast corner. From high above Beale Street, through the foliage, you get one peek-a-boo view of the Bay Bridge and the Bay. On the day I was there an old tanker was lying offshore, a cheering reminder, in the midst of gleaming office towers, that the old, muscular, low-tech San Francisco still exists.
The public spaces in the park — the central plaza along with the amphitheater and lawn at the west end — are well designed and welcoming. It’s true that the place feels slightly more like a squeaky-clean gated community than a village square — perhaps a village square in a gated community? — but that doesn’t seem to be because of any active policies of exclusion. The simple fact that it’s on the roof acts as a screening device.
But if a slightly scruffier vibe would make Salesforce Park even better, that’s a minor complaint. The City’s newest park is a triumph. When this new high-rise world starts getting you down, just gondola way up to the top of the stairs, and all your cares will drift right into space.
Salesforce Park, at 425 Mission Street, is open November 1–April 30, 6 a.m.–8 p.m.; May 1–October 31, 6 a.m.–9 p.m.