The United Nations (UN) recently declared 2021 to 2030 the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Against this background, we review recent social-ecological systems research and summarize key themes that could help to improve ecosystem restoration in dynamic social contexts. The themes relate to resilience and adaptability, ecosystem stewardship and navigation of change, relational values, the coevolution of human and ecological systems, long-range social-ecological connections, and leverage points for transformation. We recommend two cross-cutting new research foci; namely: (i) post hoc cross-sectional assessments of social-ecological restoration projects; and (ii) transdisciplinary social-ecological ‘living labs’ that accompany new restoration projects as they unfold. With global agendas increasingly taking a social-ecological perspective, the recasting of ecosystem restoration as a social-ecological endeavor offers exciting new opportunities for both research and practice.