Rooftop Pleasures Revel in nature atop ten SF rooftop gardens — SFGate

Rooftop Pleasures Revel in nature atop ten SF rooftop gardens - SFGate

In downtown San Francisco, you are bound to be within a few blocks of a rooftop garden — a small urban oasis where you can stake out a spot of sunshine amid the daylilies and agapanthus. Bring a lunch, sit back, relax and let the fountains, abundant greenery and beautiful views described here elevate your spirits. You’ll also be eye-to-eye with some of the city’s treasured landmarks.

Here’s a list of our favorites. All are open to the public, but be sure to check the building’s hours.

An art-lover’s rooftop

When I moved to the city, I followed Margot Patterson Doss. author of San Francisco at Your Feet, to the San Francisco Art Institute rooftop in Russian Hill. Italian Cypress, lavender and rosemary line the facade of this Julia Morgan building. The inner courtyard opens to a Moroccan-tiled fountain and artwork throughout the colonnade. Left of the courtyard, the first gallery holds Diego Rivera’s 1931 fresco, The Making of a Fresco. Continuing on, you enter the rooftop quadrangle, with a cafe and a stadium-style sun-terrace. At the top of the steps the view opens, revealing Alcatraz and Angel Island, Treasure Island, Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill, and the twin spires of Saints Peter and Paul Church. Such a wide vista opens the imagination which perhaps has sparked the creative talent everywhere you look. Exhibits and receptions take place every Tuesday during the school year from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Art students huddle around tables at Pete’s Cafe — where you can begin the day with eggs, hashbrowns and toast for $3.75 or end it with a thick, juicy burger or dinner special for $4.50. Not only the view and the art but the burgers make up for the lack of greenery atop this roof.

Central YMCA

A showcase of urban gardening

You scarcely notice the tar and gravel roof amid the profusion of color from a hundred containers. Purple geraniums, wisteria, roses spill from wooden planters at this long-established roof garden. Here sun bathers have been getting "up and away from it all" for 20 years. Volunteer Peter Hayman started the rooftop garden, planting canary island pines whose strong sturdy branches now catch the wind. Go around the corner of the building to a separate enclosure where Jessica Berkson. a leading advocate for the greening of rooftops, has established a hydroponic garden. If a volunteer is working, ask to be admitted. Beyond the gate, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, summer spinach, and lettuce grow in expanded clay pebbles, constantly irrigated by recirculating water. The vegetables are pesticide-free but not technically organic because the vegetables grow in water and not soil. The harvested crops head down to the cafe kitchen on the second floor. Berkson said, "Think of how many square miles of flat roof San Francisco has," predicting that cities of the future will have green roofs and produce locally grown, organic food year round.

Crocker Galleria Roof Terrace

A lunchtime sanctuary

Circular planters filled with flax, pyracantha, and perennials keep this urban sanctuary colorful year-round. A gravel trail forms the perimeter that hotel guests occasionally use for jogging. More often office and retail workers are having lunch on the wooden-slat park benches. The roof terrace is one flight up from San Francisco’s finest food court. Take-out lunch spots line Crocker Galleria’s third-floor under a barrel-shaped glass ceiling. With a box lunch of cashew chicken or homemade tortilla soup repair to a park bench beneath the jasmine-covered arbor. In this sheltering spot, you are only vaguely aware of the concrete jungle, so well do the New Zealand christmas trees camouflage the hotel wall and the escallonia hedge the street. But treasures lie beyond the hedge. Look across to the 1917 Hallidie Building at 130 Sutter designed by Willis Polk. Its curtain-wall glass facade and decorative railings are a visual feast while the facade of the adjacent building gleams in a covering of glazed terra-cotta.

Wells Fargo Roof Garden

A classic pleasure garden

In the midst of this bustling intersection, look up to a rooftop cascading in greenery. Go through the Wells Fargo doors to the elevators and push R. I’ve heard people, coming from the tumult below, gasp when the doors open. Birdsong wins out over car horns and streetcars in this elegant enclave. You can sit by the medieval astrolabe under the canopy of a myoporum tree or amid the periwinkle on long circular benches. Coral bougainvillea covers the arched trellis at the parapet, while cherry trees flank the central walkway. Adding to the merriment, water gushes from a lion’s mouth into a basin. Having absorbed all this, notice the astonishing collection of 20th century office architecture surrounding you. The Romanesque/French Chateau office building with the tiled mansard roof belongs to the 1926 Hunter-Dulin Building. Across Market Street Willis Polk and Company designed the 1914 Hobart Building. When you are ready for some refreshment, take the staircase on the right of the lion-head fountain to Crocker Galleria’s food court. If you are in the mood for soup, try San Francisco Soup Company (gourmet Indian mulligatawny, chicken pot pie soup and Southwestern corn chowder) or New Age Chinese (excellent seafood noodle soup).

First and Mission streets

A pocket-size sun terrace

Follow the laughter and sunshine to this open terrace, well appreciated by workers and students around Mission Street. You can enter from the Mission Street side (up the steps) or from First Street (up the lobby escalator and down a hall lined with stunning textile art out onto the terrace). The absence of a view is of little concern because this cozy rooftop terrace remains flooded with sunlight well into the afternoon. Unfortunately, the word flooded has another meaning to the building owners. This sun terrace sprung a leak creating havoc in the garage below. Following a messy cleanup and reconstruction, the sun terrace will reopen late August. The ocean-wave fountain will be back, along with grass-filled terraces and new patio tables and chairs.

343 Sansome Street

Upscale rooftop patio

Before boarding the elevator, stop in the museum lobby to view sasparilla bottles, clay pipes and other artifacts unearthed during construction. Then, take advantage of our clear marine air and enjoy the sparkling views this height affords. You can see Treasure Island between the Maritime Plaza building and Embarcadero Two. Patio tables and chairs line the guardrail so you can view the skyline at your leisure. There’s no finer venue for outdoor dining in calm sunny weather. In the central plaza, an obelisk — a mosaic of bright blue, yellow, and red tiles by Joan Brown — represents the four seasons. You’ll find more intimate seating on the plantation white benches the encircle giant planters holding full-grown olive trees. This pleasant scene evaporates in wind and fog. For, truth be told, at this elevation the wind cuts a mean swath through the financial district.

Embarcadero Center and Maritime Plaza

Outdoor sculpture garden

The rooftop garden sits atop the garage at the end of the footbridge, taking you from gray to green. The path winds through a grove of poplars and another footbridge crosses Davis Street. Walkways are lined with rhododendron, flower beds planted with foxglove and begonia. One of the pieces of modern sculpture was a friendship gift from the South Korean government. The path ends at street level at Clay and Drum Streets where you can continue exploring Embarcadero Center.

A Nob Hill retreat

The Fairmont’s contribution to the greening of San Francisco is a turn-of-the-century oasis with the style of a private estate. Royal palms spread enormous canopies. The wind-tossed fountain spray and the distant view of the bay add to the grand air as to the olive trees, the birds-of-paradise, and manicured lawn. Notice the granite facade of the Fairmont Hotel. On the top floor you can see the terrace belonging to the Penthouse Suite, rumored to be San Francisco’s most expensive set of rooms. Inside the hotel, wander the corridors on the lobby level where historic photos are exhibited.

Yerba Buena Gardens

A rooftop meadow with many diversions

Coming from the concrete corridors onto this lush oval meadow is like stumbling upon one of the magical wonders of San Francisco. Along with pines, fruit trees and berry shrubs, growing around the meadow are flowers and sweet-scented grasses: lilies, carnations, roses, mint, peonies, tulips, violets, and special plants to attract butterflies. Walk through the fountain, sit on real grass, loll around in the sunshine. This bounty of pleasures rests atop the Moscone Convention Center. Part of the magic comes from a special blend of compost, mulch, and spongelike ingredients that weighs less than regular topsoil and retains more water. The rest comes from architecture, landscape, and art. The waterfall is a 50-feet-tall memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. whose words are inscribed into the granite behind the fall. A reflecting pool forms the edge of the raised terrace and overlooks the meadow. Through the glass pyramids on the garden terrace you can peer down onto the heads of convention-goers. Across the footbridge spanning Howard Street is a1903 carousel with exquisitely carved giraffes, camels, horses, and rams.

Where They Are

San Francisco Art Institute

800 Chestnut Street between Jones and Leavenworth streets. 415-749-4563. A short walk from Fisherman’s Wharf or from North Beach where you can walk up Chestnut Street from Columbus Avenue.

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