I got to see the city from a new perspective yesterday thanks to the free Salesforce Tower Tour. Tickets for this are rarely available and are snapped up quickly — somehow I was able to snag one back in June.
The line to enter the tour is on the small plaza at Mission and Fremont, which is also an entrance to the Salesforce Transit Center next door and the location of the gondola ride to Salesforce Park.
I should point out that despite the names, neither of these two buildings — nor the park — are owned by Salesforce; they just paid for the naming rights.
There’s a dedicated lobby area for the tour where Salesforce’s “National Park” aesthetic begins complete with astroturf throw rugs, curved LED screens, a plastic bear, and “trees” disguising the building’s outer columns. This theme contrasts strangely when placed in the almost comically bland Salesforce Tower. Oh and there’s also a completely deserted gift shop for some unknown reason. As Yoda might say, “Disneyland, this is not.”
After checking in with my ID I got a plastic wristband disguised to look like a blade of grass, as well as a Salesforce sticker I put on my hoodie. I was also handed a map and a pamphlet and was told this was a self-guided tour, or to put it another way not really a “tour” at all. But that’s fine, it’s really all about the view.
From there we went through metal detectors and a bag check. I had to place my keys and phone in a bowl, but kept my belt on without setting off the metal detector. I was also allowed to bring the small water bottle I’d brought with me, although this turned out to be unnecessary as complimentary water was available.
From there we were directed by staff over to a row of elevators in the center of the building. The photo above is looking toward Mission Street at a roped-off bank of elevators. Presumably those were for workers if they had to come in on the weekend.
The elevators for the tour were preprogrammed to whisk us to the top of the building, the Ohana Floor. It’s a pretty quick ride and while my ears popped going up, it’s worth pointing out that the building isn’t really as tall as it looks. Not including the building’s “hat,” it’s only 61 stories tall. While that’s tall by San Francisco standards, it’s nowhere near the height of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.
Before getting into the views, I should point out what’s on the Ohana Floor. It’s intended to be a space for nonprofits to use as part of Salesforce’s philanthropy efforts. As such there’s plenty of seating, living plants all over the place, a conference room, restrooms, and even a full service restaurant.
Unfortunately the restaurant was not open, which seemed like a missed opportunity. People will pay a lot of money for cocktails or a weekend brunch with a nice view. You don’t have to take my word for it, that’s been the business model of Top of the Mark since the late 1930’s.
I don’t mean to look a gift horse in the mouth here, I’m glad there’s an opportunity to see the space for free. All I’m saying is this seems like an untapped source of revenue — some of which could be used to benefit the nonprofits hosted by Salesforce.
The last feature I want to point out here are the skylights. These round windows peer up into the building’s “hat” known for displaying videos at night. During the day these provide natural light, but also raise the question of what it looks like on the Ohana Floor after dark.
All that aside let’s get into some of the views.
Looking south, we see the city split by a freeway that unfortunately runs through it. Near the bottom center is the gray windowless AT&T building that serves as a giant internet hub, where a whistle-blower reported mass surveillance by the NSA years before it was confirmed by Edward Snowden.
I briefly worked at the building across the street, 303 2nd Street, which features a grassy terrace and series of fountains that make for a hotspot for outdoor lunches. Moving diagonally up 2nd Street you can see the Clocktower Building as well as the ballpark.
Looking south-ish we can see the bay in the distance with numerous cargo ships in the background. The tall building in the back center is One Rincon Hill, which for many years stood as the tallest tower in SOMA.
Recently a number of other towers have popped up, which mostly either mimic the circular tower of One Rincon Hill, have taken on a reflective mirror coating to blend in, or have some combination of the two.
Looking east we have a nice view of the Bay Bridge leading to Alameda County in the background. Sailboats dot the bay with Yerba Buena Island and its man-made neighbor Treasure Island in the center.
The three piers jutting out into the bay from left to right are two SF Bay Ferry terminals at the Ferry Building, followed by the public Pier 14.
If you noticed the shadow at the bottom left that was cast by Salesforce Tower itself.
Going north we can see some of the most iconic elements of the San Francisco skyline. From left to right there’s the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bank of America Building, the extremely pointy Transamerica Pyramid, and Coit Tower and Alcatraz.
Turning further to the west it looks like chaos in the foreground, with buildings built along different street grids rather than facing each other.
Although outside city planners came up with complete redesigns of the street grid after San Francisco was leveled in 1906, those plans were rejected and the city was rebuilt along the same awkward street layout.
Lastly here’s a view to the west with Sutro Tower in the distance. Mission Street is prominently visible running down the center.
This seems like a good as point as any to point out that the windows of Salesforce Tower were a little grimy during my visit, not that I’m volunteering to go outside and clean them. But the dirt is visible in some of these photos, particularly on the west side where the sun was shining toward the windows.
My recommendation: Definitely try to sign up for a ticket if you’re interested, this is a one-of-a-kind way to view the city. Your ID is essentially your ticket, so they are non-transferable (in other words, don’t try buying them from scalpers.) Do be aware the tower is tall enough it’s often engulfed in fog, and there’s no way to predict if that will be the case months in advance.