To be honest, during my 10 years of working in downtown San Francisco, I never gave much thought to the physical space around me. My day was basically work, lunch, work, home (not much different from everyone else). On fog-free days I often found a nice place to eat outside but that was about the extent of my use of "public space." However, it turns out that since the 80s, new developments in San Francisco are legally required to provide a certain amount of open space for public enjoyment. Since many building owners aren’t particularly excited about this mandate, these public spaces are often unmarked and hidden well enough to be nearly invisible to passers-by. Others are part of a more functional space that gives little notice to their public and often historical importance. Fortunately, there is a fascinating tour that pulls back the curtain to a whole new level of discovery and appreciation of the city.
We found the San Francisco Architecture Tour on GoldStar Events and decided to play tourist. Thanks to the impressive knowledge and passion of owner/guide Rick Evans, it was the most illuminating 2+ hours we've spent in a long time as he related the area's history while leading us past busy lobbies, through unmarked passageways, and up to rooftop patios -- all public spaces. I won't give away all of his secrets, but can't resist sharing a favorite: two "secret" rooftop gardens are accessible from the food court of the Crocker Galleria (a few blocks away from Union Square)...just follow the ROOF GARDEN signs (one by the Chili Up!). During the dot-com craziness, I worked down the street and ate at the food court almost daily. Never once did I venture out and up past the signs...what a shame!
The San Francisco Architecture Walking Tour is offered twice each day (except for Sunday) and starts at the charming Galleria Park Hotel, another place I've passed a zillion times without bothering to peek inside. On the morning of our tour, we warmed ourselves by the stunning Art Nouveau fireplace in the lobby. The property (part of the Joie de Vivre group) is a reasonable $159/night weekends, $209/night weekdays and includes extras such as Frette linens and a complimentary wine hour each evening.
The tour ends at the redwood park next to the TransAmerica building, a short walk away from the starting point and close to some great lunch/dinner spots locally or in nearby North Beach. Here are some of the sights you'll see along the way...definitely take your camera, although some sites prohibit photography.