With throngs of people stretching down Mission Street as far as the eye could see, San Francisco’s oft-forgotten Excelsior neighborhood found itself the star of the city on a fittingly warm fall afternoon. Marking the culmination of the 2023 Sunday Streets season on Sunday, the sunny scene along a 10-block stretch was filled with booths, activities and a palpably joyous energy caused by people coming together.
Featuring a calendar booked from May to October with monthly, free celebrations of San Francisco neighborhoods, the nonprofit Livable City’s Sunday Streets program creates tangible, in-person opportunities for families, community organizations and local small businesses to congregate, play and share resources. Sunday’s activities in the Excelsior were complemented by citywide block parties held in recognition of the third annual Phoenix Day, also organized by Livable City.
Aided by a strong sun and a weak 49ers game on television, Sunday Streets Excelsior saw thousands of folks swing by and take a stroll—some native to the area, others grateful for a chance to come and explore a spot in San Francisco they often fail to visit.
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One popular attraction were the wriggling puppies available for adoption at Finding a Best Friend Rescue. Based in Stockton, the nonprofit eschews the traditional shelter model and instead seeks to immediately place rescue dogs with foster humans. On a brief pause from showing prospective parents one of the half-dozen puppies she’s brought along—recently recovered from a homeless encampment—founder Regina Sanchez shares that her nonprofit has been working with Sunday Streets for the past three years.
“It’s not about the quantity,” Sanchez explains when discussing the number of adoptions her presence at Sunday Streets has yielded, “but the quality. Every family who has adopted a dog at Sunday Streets has been wonderful. These are the types of families our rescue dogs deserve.”
In many ways, it’s those very San Francisco families who also benefit the most from experiences like Sunday Streets. Those with the stamina to walk the entire length of the street fair quickly found that the space was filled with engaging activities for younger visitors. From 10-foot putting greens provided by Family Connections Center to booths sponsored by the Exploratorium offering the chance to pound flowers with a hammer (to transfer the dye into fabric) as well as a wind-chimes-making station.
Elsewhere, attractions included a two-story jump castle, complete with slide; an entire block devoted to the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts of America, including a downhill derby racetrack and a rope-making station; and a three-sided wooden canvas, with paints, provided as the medium for an ongoing community mural. A staple presence at Sunday Streets, the San Francisco Public Library’s bookmobile was complemented by two tables of chess sets and a cart proudly offering banned books—including A Child Called "It" by Dave Pelzer and Black Enough from editor Ibi Zoboi—for young readers to take home.
All of that, impressively, reflected but one component of Sunday Streets Excelsior.
At any given time, no less than four live music acts could be found performing across the length of the fair. They included the talents of the ensemble band Reverse DNA, complete with congas; the brass-heavy, energetic Pacifica nine-piece Etaoin Shrdlu; and a collection of original compositions played by students of the nonprofit San Francisco Rock Project.
Music was certainly in the air. At a booth offering information and complimentary leftover merchandise associated with San Francisco’s annual Jerry Garcia Day, co-founder and organizer Tom Murphy explained why it was long overdue for his celebration to host a booth here.
“Jerry Day has been going on for 22 years,” Murphy said. “He grew up right down the street, on Harrington. That’s where he learned to play guitar. I grew up in Excelsior, too, and we wanted to promote that fact, which very few people knew, so we started Jerry Garcia Day. And Sunday Streets are fabulous. It’s a great event, and that’s why we felt it was time for us to be here properly and to take part in it.”
Elsewhere, one could find booths for everything from local internet service provider Monkeybrains to a “Mommy Lounge” (offering water bottles, lotion, chairs and shade) sponsored by San Francisco’s community doula network, SisterWeb. Several neighborhood eateries made the most of the moment, with Mama Mari’s Taqueria utilizing a makeshift outdoor station to offer bites and micheladas to go. Mixed with the merriment, however, were representatives from a variety of vital services and organizations, eager to connect with anyone who might be able to benefit.
Seeing people chatting with staff from the organizations like Filipino Community Center, Excelsior Action Group and Bicis del Pueblo—which provides “bike workshops, classes and community activities” to low-income communities of color—reinforced the vitality of programming like Sunday Streets, where digital divides and communication gaps are filled with the promise of real, in-person interactions with people who can help.
The sentiment was perhaps most keenly reflected in the work of San Francisco Department of Public Health, which seized on the occasion to offer free Covid booster shots to any interested, eligible candidates. Stationed between Santa Rosa Avenue and Francis Street, the service was provided as part of an ongoing collaboration between Sunday Streets and the health department’s Community Health and Equity Promotion.
“Since Sunday Streets' return in 2021, Covid boosters and other health screenings have been an integral part of our programming, delivering accessible and culturally responsive health resources,” noted Livable City staff member Amy Lin following the conclusion of Sunday’s event. “We had over 200 vaccines available on-site, and I believe almost all were distributed by the end of the day.”
Though this year’s events may now be over, the planning for 2024 can’t start soon enough, as Sunday Streets continues, 15 years in, to prove its place as an essential piece of San Francisco.