13 Things to Do at Fort Mason Center
During WWII more than 1,640,000 military personnel deployed from Fort Mason, then the headquarters for the San Francisco Port of Embarkation. They probably never imagined that some 70 years later Fort Mason, located in the Marina District, would be the hub of a lively arts and culture center that draws more than 1.4 million visitors to thousands of performances, events and exhibitions: Fort Mason Center.
Nearly 100 years old, in 2012 Fort Mason Center embarked on a plan developed by Team West 8 to revitalize the Center and help transform it into a leading arts and culture destination and enhance the campus’ public spaces.
The latest chapter in the area’s “swords to plowshares” evolution includes a name change, the addition of a new arts emporium and the opening of a new gallery space.
Here are more than a dozen things to experience at Fort Mason Center now:
Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (2 Marina Blvd., Landmark Building A, Main Office)
First of all, let’s explain a recent name change and define what actually falls under the Fort Mason Center umbrella. “For Arts & Culture” was recently added to the name for Fort Mason Center, signaling to the public a reaffirmation of the Center’s mission from its inception in 1977 when they partnered with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) to create a cultural, educational and recreational complex. Most of the tenants are located in four main buildings. The 13-acre campus also provides 15 venue options offering 150,000 square feet of meeting space as well as two theaters.
Gallery 308 (2 Marina Blvd., Landmark Building A)
Formerly maritime trade and repair shops at Fort Mason, this new 4,000-square-foot gallery which opened in November 2015 still pays homage to its industrial origins. Restored by Jensen Architects, the designers of SFMOMA’s acclaimed rooftop garden, the light-filled space features views of San Francisco Bay.
Greens Restaurant (2 Marina Blvd., Landmark Building A)
Walk into Greens with its long communal tables, sunlit interior and low-key vibe (which may owe something to its owners, the San Francisco Zen Center), and you might be surprised that this vegetarian restaurant has garnered multiple honors since opening in 1979. A Michelin Guide recommendation, top 100 Bay Area restaurant according to the San Francisco Chronicle and one of Zagat’s best restaurants in America, Greens has been in the forefront of the American food revolution. Much of this is due to the acclaimed chef and author Annie Somerville who is a pioneer in working directly with local, organic farmers include the Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm in Marin County. On a tight schedule? Check out Greens to Go offering pastries, espresso drinks, chili, soup of the day and sandwiches. www.greensrestaurant.com
The Interval (2 Marina Blvd., Landmark Building A)
Located adjacent to Greens, The Interval is a bar, a café, a museum and the home of The Long Now Foundation, whose mission is to foster long-term thinking and responsibility for the next 10,000 years. Your I.Q. will likely rise a few notches when you enter this spacious cavern filled with books and mechanical wonders including a clock engineered to last 10,000 years. But who’s keeping track of the time? You’ll want to grab a stool, order something from the expansive cocktail menu and listen to Brian Eno’s (one of the founding members of Long Now) music. Behind the bar, Eno’s ambient painting is a generative work of art that goes through millions of vibrant color compositions without repeating. This is also the home of Long Now’s acclaimed ticketed lecture series which happens every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. (sharp!).
SFMOMA Artists Gallery (2 Marina Blvd., Landmark Building A)
As one would expect, this gallery offers a remarkable selection of contemporary art by Northern California artists for sale or rent. Eight exhibitions focusing on both new and established artists are presented each year and the works represented include paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, photography and new media works.
BATS Improv (2 Marina Blvd., Building B, Third Floor, Bayfront Theater)
The largest and longest-running improv theater and school in Northern California, BATS performs new shows every weekend at its Bayfront Theater and classes are offered year-round for students at all levels. Show performances, which change every month, are every Friday and Saturday. www.improv.org
Embark Gallery (2 Marina Blvd., Building B, Third Floor)
The next generation of artists showcases their work at Embark Gallery. Juried, bi-monthly shows feature work by graduate students of the fine arts from the California College of the Arts, Mills College, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco State University, San Jose State University, Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley and Davis.
Museo Italo Americano (2 Marina Blvd., Building C, First Floor)
The first museum in the U.S. devoted exclusively to Italian and Italian-American art and culture, Museo Italo Americano researches, collects and displays the works of Italian and Italian-American artists. Two galleries and a gift shop are not the only draws; there are also language classes, lectures and frequent film series.
Flax Art & Design (2 Marina Blvd., Landmark Building D, First Floor)
Start making your shopping list. Flax Art & Design has opened a second location at Fort Mason Center. Not only are the shelves stocked with art supplies ranging from spray paint for urban art to Cavallini & Co. stationery, there are also gift items including Rickshaw totes and the now trending, adult coloring books. And if you’re suddenly inspired to capture some of the bayside scenery at Fort Mason, Flax offers easels and watercolor supplies for rent.
The Mexican Museum (2 Marina Blvd., Landmark Building D)
Even though The Mexican Museum has been around since 1975, by its own admission, it is a “startup” with a number of far-reaching initiatives on its docket, including the opening of a new museum in Yerba Buena Gardens in 2019. An affiliate of the Smithsonian, the current location showcases only a fraction of the 16,000 works in its permanent collection representing thousands of years of Mexican art and culture within the Americas. Open during museum hours, La Tienda, the museum’s gift store, offers an array of greeting cards, posters and jewelry as well as Mexico by Hand ceramics and textiles.
Magic Theatre (2 Marina Blvd., Landmark Building D)
An incubator for new plays and playwrights, the Magic Theatre is the perfect venue for audiences to experience new work up close, often with a global perspective. Not only does the Magic Theatre schedule a number of events including Friday night actor “TalkBACKS” and New Work Salons with playwrights and directors, it offers a robust repertory of plays from mid-September to mid-May.
Off the Grid
Billed as California’s largest weekly evening street food market, Off the Grid at Fort Mason features 32 food vendors every Friday from 5-10 p.m. In addition to local wines and Magnolia beers, there are DJs from 5-7:30 p.m. followed by live music from 8-10 p.m. If you’re from out of town, this is a great way to meet residents and maybe get a few tips on what to do while you’re here. www.offthegridsf.com
Discover the bounty of the Bay Area’s microclimates, the North Bay’s organic farms and San Joaquin Valley’s finest harvests. Held every Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. this bustling market features more than 35 farmers and food providers. Pick up some fresh fruit, a sandwich and a cup of locally roasted coffee and head for one of the benches overlooking San Francisco Bay or the Great Meadow in Upper Fort Mason.
How to get there: Public transit information including Muni service to Fort Mason is available at www.511.org. From downtown the 30-Stockton will get you there; disembark at Chestnut and Laguna and either walk or transfer to Bus #28.
Parking tips: Parking is available from 7 a.m. to midnight daily and starts at $2 per hour (slightly higher on weekends). There is also short-term free parking nearby in parking lot adjacent to Marina Green.