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Not Into the Super Bowl? 6 Crowd-Free Things to Do in the Bay Area on Sunday Instead

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Two figures walk along a boardwalk under huge redwood trees.
You could have Muir Woods all to yourself on Super Bowl Sunday (well, almost). (Kevin Thrash/Getty Images)

You don’t have to be obsessed with football to know the San Francisco 49ers are playing the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl on Sunday — and that a huge portion of the Bay Area will be watching the game to cheer the Niners on.

So, for those who choose not to watch the Super Bowl — for whatever reason — get a big reward: For those few hours the game is on, key Bay Area spots suddenly become much less crowded. And this year, with a hometown team to root for, even more people in the Bay will be indoors watching the Super Bowl.

So, if you’re one of those who’d prefer to enjoy the (semi) deserted Bay Area rather than hit a watch party, keep reading for ideas for where to make the most of the lack of crowds, as suggested by the folks of KQED.

What time is the Super Bowl (i.e., when will the crowds be indoors?)

Kickoff for the San Francisco 49ers vs. Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl game is at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time. But rest assured that most folks planning to watch it will be retreating indoors quite a bit before kickoff.

More on the Super Bowl

At bars and event spaces, many Super Bowl watch parties will begin around 2 p.m., with some starting even earlier, around lunchtime — or as late as 3 p.m. As for home-based Super Bowl parties, many people will begin to pile into living rooms around the Bay several hours before kickoff. But because of the many parties folks will be attending on Sunday, you might want to avoid the grocery store that morning and possibly on Saturday, too — unless you want to compete with all those hosts and guests doing last-minute party planning.

How long will the Super Bowl last, roughly?

A 2017 analysis from The Verge found that in previous years, the average length of the Super Bowl was just under four hours. This could mean you get until around 7:30 p.m. to enjoy the lack of crowds … or even shorter. Or even longer. There’s no way to predict the exact length of the game, but it’s virtually certain that you’ll get at least three hours of play — and you can pretty safely plan on having until 6:30 p.m. to revel in a crowd-free Bay.

Sunset on Sunday — in San Francisco at least — is forecast to be 5:44 p.m., meaning your precious Super Bowl window of (hopeful) solitude could also encompass a hike — more on that below.

If you plan to take a drive that Sunday, you may wish to use your phone to keep a light eye on how the game is progressing. You don’t want your crowd-free afternoon to end with getting caught in freeway traffic because you’re hitting the road home when all the Super Bowl watchers are heading home from parties and bars, too.

Super Bowl alternative #1: Visit a tourist spot for a photoshoot

Playing tourist in the Bay Area is always fun as a local, especially if you never usually do it. And there’s a good chance that even the most popular tourist attractions won’t be as busy as usual. Think: The Ferry Building on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, Alcatraz Island, Muir Woods, riding a cable car, walking or cycling the Golden Gate Bridge.

Another tourist-adjacent idea to consider for Sunday: Checking out one of the Bay’s iconic vista points or lookouts that are usually chock-full of visitors, like SF’s Twin Peaks or one of these classic viewpoints for the Golden Gate Bridge. Fewer people means fewer folks in the background of your scenic photos.

Two people swing a child by the arms in front of the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun goes down.
Super Bowl Sunday is a great time to explore usually busy spots in the Bay Area. (Adam Hester/Getty)

One big caveat here: It’s actually hard to predict the extent to which the Bay Area’s classic tourist spots will be markedly less busy during the game. On the one hand, a lot of domestic tourists to San Francisco will definitely want to watch the Super Bowl anyway — with being in the 49ers’ backyard only adding extra incentive — plus viewership for the game is more popular internationally than you might expect, too.

Then again, there’ll still be international tourists visiting the Bay Area over this weekend who have no interest in the Super Bowl and no intention of pausing their vacation for several hours on a sunny day to stay inside and watch it. So don’t be surprised if somewhere like Pier 39 isn’t entirely dead after all.

Super Bowl alternative #2: Try for a table at a popular restaurant

If you’re happy to have dinner on the early side — or even a late lunch — Super Bowl Sunday could be an ideal time to try for a walk-in table at a popular spot that normally has long wait times. Even if a place isn’t exactly deserted, you still might have a higher-than-normal chance of getting a favored seat with a view.

You could even try to plan ahead and see if any usually popular spots still have reservations available on Sunday afternoon or early evening, by browsing an online reservation system like Open Table.

But make sure that your restaurant, bar or cafe of choice doesn’t have a TV that could still be showing the game. (Geri Lavrov/Getty Images)

There are two caveats to this idea. First, if you’re trying for a walk-in, just be sure to call ahead to ensure that your desired spot will actually be open during the game — some places may be closed so that staff can cheer the 49ers on themselves.

Secondly, make sure that your restaurant, bar or cafe of choice doesn’t have a TV that could still show the game. Otherwise, you’ll basically just be walking into … a crowded Super Bowl watch party, which is presumably the very thing you were hoping to avoid that afternoon. (Here are some spots Niners fans may be heading to.)

Super Bowl idea #3: Get a museum all to yourself

Wandering around a near-empty gallery and having the artworks “all to yourself” can feel undeniably magical — and Sunday could bring you that opportunity if you visit a museum like SFMOMA, the De Young Museum or the Oakland Museum of California.

The De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, no ticket lines expected. (George Rose/Getty Images)

For folks with kids, it’s also a great chance to visit a normally crowded museum like the Exploratorium or the Children’s Discovery Museum to watch your children enjoy not having to wait their turn to explore their exhibits.

Unfortunately, no free Bay Area museum days are scheduled for this Sunday, but remember that if you use CalFresh (also known as food stamps), your EBT card can get you free or reduced admission to many museums around the Bay Area.

Super Bowl alternative #4: Hit a usually crowded nature spot

At the time of publication, the National Weather Service’s Bay Area office forecasts that Sunday will be “mostly sunny” and a little chilly, with a high of 58 F — in a nutshell, potentially perfect hiking weather.

And on Sunday afternoon, the spots usually super popular with locals will be much less busy: Think places like Mount Tamalpais, Muir Woods, Steep Ravine at Stinson Beach, Baker Beach, Indian Rock in Berkeley or Half Moon Bay. Plus, the benefit of Super Bowl Sunday means that you can potentially afford, time-wise, to travel a little further for your hike than you normally would — because the roads there and back will be much less packed with traffic. If you’re really lucky, you might have sunset views all to yourself.

Stinson Beach could be ideal for a day trip. (Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images )

Another plus of a Super Bowl hike: Simpler parking. If you’ve ever had to spend 30 frustrating minutes before a hike at a popular spot searching for alternative parking because the trailhead lot is jam-packed, then Sunday could bring the opposite experience.

For the best chance at the fewest crowds, consider delaying your hike until after lunch — a lot of people planning to watch the Super Bowl will still want to stretch their legs that morning before heading to a watch party, especially families with kids.

If you’re looking for Bay Area hiking inspiration, take a look at our guide to some of the best hikes for spotting wildlife, where to spot waterfalls and the best accessible trails around the Bay for disabled folks and others with mobility considerations.


Super Bowl alternative #5: Enjoy easy parking in a busy neighborhood

If you’re frequently dissuaded by exploring popular neighborhoods on the weekend because of the nightmarish parking situation you know you’ll encounter, you might consider declaring the Super Bowl the time to finally try it.

Finding a parking spot in the city might not be impossible on Super Bowl Sunday, even in Hayes Valley. (SAMANTHA LAUREY/Getty Images)

In San Francisco alone, there’s Hayes Valley, the Mission, North Beach, the popular areas around Clement Street in the Richmond and Irving Street in the Sunset — and Sunday afternoon could mean you finally snag a spot without having to circle the same four blocks for 30 minutes. (Just make sure you don’t let your guard too much with this new-found sense of freedom and accidentally leave your car vulnerable to a break-in. Read more about how to potentially reduce the risk of having your car broken into with our guide.)

One important caveat: If you’re choosing to enjoy simplified parking in the Mission District during the Super Bowl, it’s imperative that you keep an eye on the score anyway and make sure you ship out before the game ends. If previous big sporting events are anything to go, if the 49ers win, the streets of the Mission will swiftly become jam-packed with folks celebrating, and you could find yourself snared in a street closure. And if they lose, remember that folks might still take to the streets anyway.

Super Bowl alternative #6: Do your grocery shopping

Sometimes, practicality wins. And one non-football idea for Super Bowl Sunday that was suggested again and again by the minds of KQED: Use the time to do your grocery shopping.

Berkeley Bowl, Costco, Trader Joe’s and Monterey Market were all recommended grocery stores as usually packed places to hit during the game, where uncrowded aisles and short lines at the register could await you for a few blissful hours.

No crowds at Berkeley Bowl?! It’s possible … on Sunday. (San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images)

And if you don’t need to grab groceries? Consider spending the afternoon at another kind of store that can often feel claustrophobic with the usual crowds, such as IKEA in Emeryville. Or apply this kind of practicality to other areas of life — your local gym will probably be delightfully empty on Sunday afternoon as well.

KQED’s Matthew Green, Lauren Farrar, Suzie Racho, Marnette Federis, Autumn Woish, Ethan Toven-Lindsey, Daniel Eduardo Hernandez, Bonnie Zeng Chin, Kevin Cooke, Randy Depew, Maria Miller, Joo Eun Lee, Beth Huizenga, Sydney Johnson, Bianca Hernandez-Knight and Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí contributed to this story.


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