SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — After 15 months of San Francisco’s streets and once bustling areas like Chinatown and Union Square being eerily quiet and desolate, Tuesday marked a major turning point for the city.

“There was no one here. It was scary to walk down and it was despair,” said Cupertino resident Stephanie Cha about how San Francisco felt at the height of the pandemic. “Today, I feel like there’s a little more hope and that is so important.”

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For the first time since March of last year, shoppers and tourists returned to shop at stores like Neiman Marcus without capacity limits and without masks.

“We’re loving it. I think it’s great. It was very cumbersome to wear them, but we feel very safe now,” said Karen Carpenter, a tourist visiting San Francisco from Ohio.

“We have associates who are vaccinated who want to or are still wearing their masks — and that’s totally fine — and associates like myself who are vaccinated are happy to take my mask off and try to get back to normal,” said Neiman Marcus General Manager Mark Sullivan.

San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto walked through Chinatown as part of the Tuesday’s celebration of most COVID restrictions being lifted.

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Officials are hoping the state’s reopening is a turning point as the neighborhood and the rest of the city try to recapture what makes San Francisco so special.

Ringing in a new period of this post-COVID shutdown world, city leaders announced San Francisco’s iconic cable cars will finally return in August, with free rides all month and full service starting in September.

“There are capacity limits, so don’t overdo it. You’ve seen folks jumping on, hanging on. We don’t want anyone getting hurt,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

The latest numbers according to the San Francisco Department of Health 80% of the city has gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. Daily COVID cases number in the low teens compared to close to 300 a day at one point.

“The vaccine is really what has done this for us, and San Franciscans stepping up and getting the vaccine is what is going to keep us in this good place,” said Dr. Susan Phillip of the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

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City officials said no social distancing is needed on Muni streetcars and buses starting Tuesday, but masks will still be required for anyone taking public transportation until September.