Rave: SF Roof Decks

Things look different from above.

In San Francisco, both tall buildings and the city’s many hills offer a new perspective on the cityscape. I like to get to a new perch and try to orient myself. (This may be something I’ve inherited from my dad who loves climbing mountains in part for because it gives him a chance to re-establish where he is in relation to the natural world.)


A higher vantage point can also give you a glimpse into parts of city life that you can’t see from the street. When we visited SF when I was a kid, we took the glass elevator at the Fairmont Hotel and I was surprised to see that city dwellers used their roofs in the same way people in the suburbs use their backyards. From the elevator, I’d see people sprawled on chaise lounges on their roof. Some roofs had gardens on them, some had barbecues.

San Francisco museums are getting into the idea of using roofs in new ways, too. The DeYoung may have started the trend with their copper, hole-punched observation deck high above Golden Gate Park. But the new roof spaces at the Academy of Sciences and at SF Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) aren’t just about the view.


At the Academy of Sciences, the roof is alive.  The porthole-covered hills may look like something from outer space, but the wild strawberries and cheery poppies growing on the living roof will be familiar to any Californian. A gardener weeding the roof on the day I visited said that there are over 70 species of native plants just around the observation area.


Inside the new Academy of Sciences, I’m reminded of all the things I love and miss from the old Academy of Sciences, but up on the living roof, I’m dazzled. It’s eco-friendly (it cools the interior and recycles rainwater), it’s a fitting addition to a building that is housed in the middle of a park, and I like that the view here is what I consider ‘real’ SF — the places residents actually go, like the park and the neighborhoods.

The SF MOMA’s new roof deck and sculpture garden is in a far less green area of SF, downtown just two blocks of Market Street with views of some of the best and worst examples of SF architecture. It works as an art exhibit, of course, but the real draw, for me, is the new Blue Bottle cafe in the MOMA’s roof deck.

Blue Bottle coffee is worth seeking out and I doubt many visitors to SF sought out Blue Bottle’s Hayes Valley kiosk or were able to find their Mint Plaza cafe, so I’m happy to see them opening in places like the Ferry Building and the MOMA. We’ve got some crazy delicious coffee in SF, and if you visit and stick with Starbucks, you’re missing out on a vital part of SF culture. (I loved overhearing a woman take a sip of her coffee at the MOMA and exclaim: “This is strong coffee!”). You can also buy Blue Bottle coffee beans at the MOMA cafe — a perfect SF souvenir.


Blue Bottle was also clearly inspired by their museum location and this location sells slices of cake that echo works of art. We sampled a lovely raspberry cake with lemon curd, a delicious take on Thiebaud (shown above). The Mondrian cake is almost too clever to eat. But if cake isn’t your thing, you can also hit up some of SF’s best ice cream: the cafe serves Humphrey Slocumbe ice cream in a sundae and in an affogato.

When we move back to SF, I hope to make cake and coffee at the MOMA a weekly event. Mr. WholeHog happens to be a member so it’s easy for us to just pop in, but to me, there’s another benefit of roof decks that’s worth the cost of admission: no smokers.

{Apologies for the dark, iphone pics.}

I like to get to a new perch in the City and try to orient myself. Things look different from above. (This may be what I’ve inherited from my dad who loves climbing mountains for a chance to re-establish where he is in relation to the natural world.)

One Response to “Rave: SF Roof Decks”

  1. sarah Says:

    i love the mondrian cake. this entry makes me crave another sunny weekend visit to the city.

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