There are three types of people in San Francisco: the ones who hang out at Dolores Park, the ones who prefer Fort Mason, and the ones who can’t be bothered with all of this fighting amongst ourselves. Clearly, we’re not the latter, but when it comes to Dolores Park vs. Fort Mason (the Great Meadow, to be exact), we just couldn’t make up our mind. And so we set out to break it all down to decide once and for all, which park reigns superior based on scientific criteria like people watching, the view, and bathroom accessibility. You know, the important stuff.
1. The People (Watching)
Dolores Park: To even try to define the rotating cast of colorful characters who frequent Dolores Park is impossible, and yet, still, for the sake of this article, it’s imperative that we at least attempt it, so here goes:
At this point “hipster” probably just means “Millennial,” but we think you know what we mean: rides a bike, thinks jorts are acceptable on men, has facial hair in the form of an overgrown beard or perfectly coiffed mustache, wears floral dresses and floppy hats, is helping to gentrify the Mission, and lots of other played out stereotypes. As far as hipsters go for people watching, they’re pretty benign though we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that, like the youth before them, when they gather in large groups, they tend to get louder and louder and louder until you wish you’d just stayed home and watched Netflix. You’ll find them mostly hanging out on Hipster Hill.
We don’t want to be rude about children because as Whitney said they’re the future and stuff, but the new playground at Dolores Park (right below “Hipster Hill”) really puts everyone’s sex trophies front and center, which can be a bit of a buzzkill when you’re literally trying to get a buzz.
“Gay Beach” is where you’ll find lots of dudes in their barely-there undies who are hopefully wearing sunscreen because sun damage is real, people.
There are probably dozens if not hundreds of parks that would be a better suited for setting up tight ropes and doing circus acts, but what is the point of performing if you don’t have an audience?
The Rest of ‘Em
The drunk guy with his pit bull, the nice old man reading a book, the family of four generations enjoying a picnic… the list could go on forever.
Fort Mason: There’s no doubt about it; Fort Mason is certainly lacking in Dolores Park’s diversity. Take for instance:
The “Frat” Boys
Okay, so they’re not actually still in a frat, but they were at one time and it’s still how they define themselves. You’ll find them setting up lawn games, shotgunning beers, lamenting the rule that kegs are no longer allowed, using the phrase “sun’s out; guns out” as they take off their Polo shirt, and definitely wearing baseball hats.
The “Marina Girls”
They may be wearing a “costume” from American Apparel, they’ll definitely be drinking wine, they’ll likely be carrying a small dog and a huge handbag, and they’ll be taking (and posting) excessive amounts of selfies while talking about The League.
They may be doing yoga or CrossFit or they MAY just be wearing the outfits.
For a city that has more dogs than kids, there seem to be an awful lot of these hanging out on the weekends.
They’ll have a furry friend who most likely won’t be on a leash despite the rules.
Fort Mason does have tons of history, after all.
Winner: Dolores Park. Though we’ll admit some of the shirtless guys at Fort Mason are easy on the eyes, the truth is, compared to Dolores Park the crowd is majorly lacking in diversity, creativity, and originality. There may be some pretty people to check out at Fort Mason, but they can’t hold a candle to the characters at Dolores Park.
2. The View
Dolores Park: It’s all about the San Francisco skyline at this Mission mecca. Aka: Big-ass buildings, some of which are gorgeous (looking at you Transamerica Pyramid) and some of which are, well: not. Plus, the sweeping views are only really visible on the south side towards the top of the hill, which also overlooks the huge new playground and the dozens of children playing in it. Not exactly the most relaxing of sights (or sounds).
Fort Mason: Panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, sailboats on the water, Alcatraz (from one corner), the Palace of Fine Arts, Nob Hill, Sutro Tower, the red roofs of the old military buildings… I think you know where we’re going with this.
Winner: Fort Mason. It just doesn’t get better than that big ol’ bridge of ours.
3. The Dog Friendliness
Dolores Park: Dogs are allowed to roam off leash on the hill in center of the park and to the south of the soccer field, but have to be on leash everywhere else. While this is great, in theory, Dolores Park gets so crowded on the weekends that unless your dog is somehow able to resist walking up to strangers and eating the burrito right out of their hands, it seems like during crowded times, most dogs would need to be on leash since the off leash areas aren’t contained.
Fort Mason: Dogs must be on leash at all times. They probably won’t be, but they’re supposed to be.
Winner: Dolores Park. Fort Mason barely had a dog in this fight thanks to the fact that Dolores Park has two designated off leash areas (regardless of if that’s actually a good idea or not).
4. The Recreation Potential
Dolores Park: If you like playing sports sober, Dolores Park has got you covered. There’s a bunch of new and improved places to get your exercise on, including six illuminated tennis courts, a basketball court, a multi-use court, and a large field. No one’s promising they’ll be available when you want to use them, but they’re there.
Fort Mason: Um… there’s a bike path that runs through it? Yeah, Fort Mason is more of a BYO fun stuff to do kind of park, but the good news is that on the weekends, that fun stuff is everywhere. Corn hole, volleyball nets, whiffle ball, horseshoes… People definitely make sure there’s plenty to do… the difference is that most of those activities involve drinking.
Winner: Dolores Park. Built-in infrastructure wins even if we prefer our bicep curls to occur in the form of raising a beer to our mouth.
5. The Weather
Dolores Park: Thanks to SF’s microclimates, Dolores Park can easily be 15 degrees warmer than almost anywhere else in the city AND manages to somehow repel Karl the Fog on even his most aggressive days. But considering how warm the city’s been as of late, sometimes that makes this Mission hot spot a little too hot. Yeah, we just said that.
Fort Mason: If the wind is napping and the sun is shining, Fort Mason is a perfect representation of SF weather at its finest.
Winner: Dolores Park. Years and years in SF taught us to prefer bundling up in a puffy over stripping down to our skivvies, but we realize most
transplants people don’t agree.
6. The Drinking Potential
Dolores Park: No alcohol allowed. You can drink it anyway, but you risk getting a ticket..
Fort Mason: Beer and wine are totally allowed as long as they aren’t in glass containers or kegs.
Winner: Fort Mason. Drinking just isn’t as fun when there’s a chance you’ll get in trouble.
7. The Food Options
Dolores Park: Bi-Rite Market, Bi-Rite Creamery, Dolores Park Café, Pizzeria Delfina, Tartine, and a million other places with insanely long lines that are all within walking distance. Plus, there’s “The Truffle Guy” who walks around selling edibles, a whole other kind of food experience.
Fort Mason: The Marina Safeway pretty much has everything you need (including beer in cans and wine in boxes) AND is one of the best places to meet singles IRL.
Winner: Dolores Park. We prefer the convenience of the Marina Safeway over waiting in line any day, but The Truffle Guy puts Dolores Park just barely into the winner’s column.
8. The Parking
Dolores Park: Chances are if you’re going to Dolores Park, you don’t even own a car. Which is a good thing because there’s no way you’d ever be able to find a place to park it in the Mission. But there’s not even much parking for your fixie. Which means you’re going to drag it up Hipster Hill and leave it on the lawn, despite the fact that space is such a commodity in this 16 acre park.
Fort Mason: Well, there’s paid parking in Fort Mason as well as a few free parking lots. It’s not going to be super easy, but it’ll definitely be easier than parking near Dolores, which is a good thing since you can’t carry corn hole boards on your bike.
Winner: Fort Mason.
9. The Bathrooms
Dolores Park: It’s not every day a park makes national news for its controversial outdoor urinal, but even if the crazy conservatives win and get it removed, Dolores Park will still have a total of 27 toilets. Of course, the park gets anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000 people hanging out there on a sunny day, which means you’ll still likely find yourself waiting in a line.
Fort Mason: There are bathrooms on the south side of the meadow. We haven’t been in the men’s room, but the women’s room only has two toilets.
Winner: Dolores Park. Long live the pissoir!
10. The Ability to Just Chill Out
Dolores Park: Even on a weekday, Dolores Park is full of children, drunk girls singing at the top of their lungs, dudes yelling at their dogs, and people who don’t understand that not everyone wants to listen to their music.
Fort Mason: Sure, it can get a little rowdy on the weekends, but it’s always possible to find a little corner where you can read a book or take a nap undisturbed.
Winner: Fort Mason. Dolores Park is not the place to go if you want to get away from it all. It’s the place you go to be in it all.
And the Winner Is? DOLORES PARK.
Dolores Park: 6 points
Fort Mason: 4 points
We’ll admit it; we were hoping for a tie, but thanks to the weather, bathrooms, and diversity of people, Dolores Park managed to win out. Still, don’t expect to see us there on a Saturday. Not when Golden Gate Park and all it has to offer is right in our backyard.