Travel News What it’s like living in the San Francisco Bay Area right now

All articles

What it’s like living in the San Francisco Bay Area right now

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. But alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you'll be ready.

Hello, fellow travelers. My name is Vita, and for the past 16 months I’ve been proudly serving as Skyscanner’s US editor, working on sharing inspiring and informative travel content for other travelers like me. Because travel is especially difficult right now, I know a lot of people are wondering what it’s like living in different cities during the pandemic.

Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area and spending much of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic here, I’m sharing my experiences and observation — from lockdown and quarantining, to adjusting to our new ‘normal’ daily life — and tips to staying safe for locals and visitors alike.

Daily life in San Francisco during a pandemic

Golden hour over the Painted Ladies and the San Francisco skyline

Similarly to most of the world, living in the San Francisco Bay Area during the pandemic has had its ups and downs. From a complete ‘shelter-in-place’ order in March to more recent phased reopenings, I’ll share my insight about what life looks like on the ground.

A day in San Francisco right now

There is always a risk going into a grocery store or other retailer during errands, but I feel that there is a generally high level of respect for the local and state guidelines which makes life in San Francisco and the Bay Area feel quite safe.

Many businesses, health offices, and stores are equipped with disinfectant supplies such as hand sanitizer, wipes, and paper towels. Every employee is wearing face masks appropriately, and pretty much every patron as well. It’s the new normal — to me, now it’s much more noticeable if a business doesn’t have these safety precautions in place than when they do.

People in the Bay Area also tend to keep their distance whether it’s inside or outside. I recently had a socially distanced picnic with two friends at a local park and each of us sat on a different towel, brought our own sandwiches, and reconnected from six feet away. It was a beautiful day and other groups found spots near us but at more than the suggested distance, making sure they respected our gathering’s perimeter.

Lockdown and quarantine rules in San Francisco

Long exposure shot of cars driving over the Bay Bridge into San Francisco

Although I’ve adjusted to the new normal, when Governor Gavin Newsom enacted a shelter-in-place order on March 16th, 2020 it was anything but that. I remember visiting my brother on the East Bay when the order was announced, just 15 days before my birthday. I went from a fully-booked trip to Argentina (Patagonia, I promise I’ll marvel at your beauty someday!) to frantically trying to understand what lockdown meant for California and the USA, in general.

For San Francisco, the order banned anything that wasn’t an essential activity. This included gyms, indoor dining, bars, hair salons, and working in offices. However, since I had already been working remotely for the last few years, I was able to help friends and colleagues adjust to internet-only communication.

Over the next few months, San Francisco has stuck close to the data and science to inform reopening of the economy. Beginning in May, the Bay Area started slowly lifting restrictions on activities like outdoor museums, dining, fitness, dental appointment, curbside retail, and more.

Currently, some aspects of reopening are on hold due to the rising number of cases in California overall. For example, some businesses, such as indoor shopping malls, have had to re-close unless they meet specific guidelines. The rules keep changing, and it can be confusing but there’s a helpful list of businesses that are allowed to operate from the San Francisco government.

Generally, the rules of living in San Francisco during a pandemic are fairly consistent with other parts of the country. It’s important to wear a face mask when leaving the home, keeping six feet away from others, and staying at home if you’re sick.

What’s open in San Francisco during the pandemic?

One of the beautiful things about San Francisco is that the weather is pretty spectacular all year round, so with the phased reopening, it’s easy to meet friends for socially-distanced picnics, read a book or exercise at a park, or take a short drive to either the beach or the mountains.

Restaurants

Takeaway seafood to be eaten outside with birds flying overhead

The San Francisco Bay Area has many restaurants that are designed with outdoor seating in mind–we love our sun, sand, and surf (even in NorCal!). With the lockdown, restaurants and cafe’s in Silicon Valley had to pivot their businesses and get creative.

You can visit Boudin Bakery’s outdoor patio at Fisherman’s Wharf or enjoy your favorite meals at the Ferry Building with their new al fresco dining. Local chain Philz Coffee is now contactless as well — you order and pay through their app, arriving only to pick up your takeout coffee when it’s ready.

Pretty much any delivery service known is available in San Francisco as well. You can find most of your favorite dining options from yummy tacos to the best ramen on Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash, GrubHub, TaskRabbit, and more.

Nature Areas

Sea lions lounging at Pier 39

Some popular areas are closed to vehicle traffic, but it opens up a great opportunity for pedestrians. For example, the scenic Twin Peaks overlook is closed to cars until further notice. This allows residents the option to summit the urban mountain via roadway (which is dangerous otherwise).

Many local and tourist favorites within San Francisco are open as well, such as Crissy Field in the Marina, Dolores Park in the Mission, Muir Beach, and Ocean Beach. If you don’t want to go in person, you can also visit from the comfort of your home! Other attractions such as the San Francisco Zoo and Pier 39 have recently reopened to visitors with new guidelines.

Hotels

Inside view of a hotel room

At the beginning of quarantine, hotels in San Francisco were generally used for what were deemed ‘essential reasons’ such as quarantining from others and providing shelter for vulnerable populations.

Bay Area hotels have remained closed for tourists and visitors. Originally, hotels were due to open mid-August, but plans for reopening are currently paused. While you might not be able to get a hotel room in San Francisco, hotels have started reopening across the state mid-June (with new cleanliness and health guidelines).

Read more: The new world of hotels: What your hotel stay will be like during coronavirus

Safety tips in San Francisco during coronavirus

It’s important to follow the latest advice and guidelines given by the CDC and WHO to help keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Although there are no travel restrictions for visitors traveling to California, local officials suggest limiting time with people outside your home. You should adhere to general safety tips such as:

  • Wearing a mask or face-covering in public places.
  • Keeping at least 6 feet from other people.
  • Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer when hand-washing is not available.
  • Refraining from touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow and sanitize afterward.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms and isolate yourself if you test positive.

If you’re traveling, here are 12 things you should pack right now to stay safe.

Panoramic view of San Francisco during pandemic

Over the last few months, I think it’s been a time for many of us to reevaluate our priorities. And while I’m looking forward to the time when we can travel more freely, I see living during a pandemic as a way to slow down and put away the achievement-oriented ‘bucket list.’ I believe it provides an opportunity for us to dive deeper into our domestic surroundings and truly appreciate and savor the nature, relationships, and activities that have been in our backyard all along, waiting for us to notice them.

Is San Francisco airport open?

Yes. SFO is still operating, but some amenities and services are limited. Food and beverages are available at all terminals. Restaurants are offering takeaway only. Cafes, news stands, and some retail stores are open.

What is there to do in San Francisco right now?

Certain activities are reopening such as Pier 39, the San Francisco Zoo, and the Ferry Building. You can take advantage of outdoor activities such as hikes, parks, and the beaches. Restaurants with open-air seating and delivery options are operating as well.

Do I need to wear a mask in San Francisco right now?

Yes. You must wear a face mask when you’re within six feet of others (children under 2 are exempt). Public transportation and business will not allow you to enter without a face mask or covering of some sort.

Discover where you can go

Making plans to get back out there? Find out whose borders are open with our interactive global map, and sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen

Want to read more?