If you're looking for an excuse to get off your couch and do some social distancing while supporting local business, celebrate the end of a long week of Zoom meetings by heading to two closed-off blocks of Valencia Street on Thursday through Sunday nights for shopping, outdoor dining, and even some live music.
Thanks to a push from the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association and board member (and Manny's proprietor) Manny Yekutiel, Valencia between 16th and 17th streets and between 18th and 19th streets is closing to cars four days each week beginning Thursday, July 23rd. The second San Francisco street to implement this model, following Chinatown's car-free Grant Street debut last weekend, Valencia Street will see parking spots and bike and traffic lanes cleared of vehicles at 4pm to be transformed into makeshift patios and exercise space by 5pm.
While Valencia Street's boarded up storefronts are slowly starting to come down as more and more restaurants pivot to sidewalk or parklet seating via temporary Shared Spaces permits, the once always-buzzing neighborhood is still undeniably empty. Organizers and local businesses are hopeful that expanded outdoor seating and shopping, plus a 26-foot-wide corridor in the middle of the street for walkers, runners, and cyclists, will restore some of Valencia's pizzaz by attracting locals looking to support the neighborhood's merchants or simply get outside.
Despite organizers' original hopes to utilize the stretch of Valencia from 15th to 19th streets in its entirety, according to Mission Local, the two agreed upon blocks are intended to accommodate the Mission Police Station, Community Thrift, and senior housing's need for vehicle accessibility. Entry and exit ways will be blocked off by barriers courtesy of the Valencia Corridor Merchants, with volunteers ready to open the middle of the street to police or fire vehicles in case of emergency. At 10pm, the two blocks will reopen to traffic.
With endless eateries lining these two blocks of Valencia alone—not to mention many more in the surrounding area—be sure to come hungry. If you're looking for live music, you'll find it at The Chapel-adjacent Curio (775 Valencia St.) which has rolled out a new outdoor-friendly menu—think spring rolls, burgers, and smoked pork sandwiches—and socially distanced seating for more 100 people, and at Etcetera Wine Bar (795 Valencia St.)—make a reservation for a table on their new parklet.
You'll also be able to get a taste of Mission Cheese's (736 Valencia St.) California Gold grilled cheese and raclette for the first time since they closed for normal service in March. Pair it with a glass of wine or two at an outdoor table. Meanwhile, Limon (524 Valencia St.) is serving empanadas and ceviche and, a couple of storefronts down, you'll find plenty of outdoor tables at West of Pecos (550 Valencia St.) for munching on cast iron fajitas and fish tacos. Don't skip to-go cocktails with happy hour pricing, perfect for sipping while you stroll down the closed street.
Although some eateries and shops won't be expanding outdoors with formal seating, they are preparing for an increase in foot traffic and remain hopeful that the extra space will positively impact the neighborhood. Therapy (545 Valencia St.), a Valencia Street fixture for 26 years, has already extended its hours, while Dandelion Chocolate (740 Valencia St.) has spruced up its parklet with new lights and reduced capacity seating for those looking to brace the fog with a hot chocolate, ordered from the pickup window or online, and will likely extend their hours starting next weekend.
While the new plan will provide a taste of normalcy, the harsh reality is, we are still in a pandemic. An increase in outdoor seating and customers will hopefully allow restaurants and shops to safely survive the coming months—and maybe even rehire some employees—but open air dining and shopping won't instantaneously reverse months of closure or reduced customers. Plus, as COVID-19 cases rise in California, wearing a mask and social-distancing, even when you're outside, are as important as ever. So mask up, pack your hand sanitizer, and go join the street party.