Panama City’s Best Neighborhood

We walk along the lane. Shading us from the late afternoon sun are rows of old trees, strong and sprawling. Savannah oak, Malay beechwood, and guayacanes that flower an intense yellow around Easter, to name a few. Kids play on the brightly painted playground equipment in the center of the park as we make our two-mile circuit. It’s peaceful here…always peaceful.

Maybe that’s why this is my favorite park in Panama City. Or maybe it’s the deep greens of the grass and shrubbery…the colorful birds…or the many people who come here day after day to enjoy the fresh air.

I am in Parque Omar, home to an amphitheater, events room, library, picnic area, public pool, soccer field, baseball pitch, volleyball court, basketball court, tennis court, and a large covered area that doubles as a skating rink and aerobics area.

In total we’re talking about 136 acres, or just over a hundred football fields. It’s the green lung of Panama City’s San Francisco-Coco del Mar sector. And a big reason so many of Panama’s new middle class choose to live here.

In fact, I have several friends who say they’ll never live anywhere else.

I lived near Parque Omar for a couple years around the turn of the millennium. I loved being a short walk from shops, restaurants, and a big supermarket. It’s safe, walkable, and bursting with attractive, amenity-filled apartment buildings.

And the area is now even better. When I lived here, it was a bottleneck. That all changed with the construction of the bayside promenade known as the Cinta Costera, along with other important upgrades, including new roundabouts and traffic lights. The arrival of Panama’s brand new metro line helped take cars off the street as well.

These days, new condo buildings on San Francisco’s southern edge boast ocean views and direct access to the Via Israel-Cinta Costera system. They are also just steps away from Multiplaza Mall, where you’ll find more than shops. There are movie theaters, banks, opticians, beauty salons, restaurants…even an upscale grocery store and pharmacy. Right in San Francisco you’ll find the Atlapa Convention Center, which hosts some of the best shows and expos that come to town. And from here you can hop on the South Corridor highway to Tocumen International Airport. Also known as the Hub of the Americas, it’s Panama’s major airport and the region’s busiest hub.

As you can imagine, days spent in San Francisco are pretty sweet. You can wake up in the morning and grab an Americano at Café Unido, where the locally sourced and roasted coffee is superb. (Panamanians take their java very seriously.) Have the city’s best Greek food for lunch at local fixture, Parrillada Jimmy—try the whole grilled octopus if you’re feeling adventurous. For a craft beer at sunset, there’s the rooftop at the “secret bar” known as El Republicano.

Evenings are the best. When I want to impress visiting friends, I take them to the softly lit patio at Los Años Locos for typical Panamanian fare, then to Amano for specialty cocktails. No car required. It’s cosmopolitan living at its best.

This San Francisco-Coco del Mar area is hard to beat, even compared to other downtown areas.

El Cangrejo is on the metro line but not on the water…forget about an ocean view. Punta Pacifica is on the water, but it’s also a major bottleneck. You’ll see beautiful residential towers in Paitilla and Marbella, but major roads and overpasses swirl between these two neighborhoods. They’re more car-friendly than pleasant to walk, though I do so at least once a week.

In San Francisco-Coco del Mar you have plenty of street-level crosswalks making errands on foot a pleasure.

A safe, walkable location in a cosmopolitan world capital, the area around Parque Omar really does have it all. If you love city life…love going to shows, dining out, and never needing a car…then you could hardly ask for more.

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