August 26, 2014

San Francisco Conferences


This article describes ways to fight conference fever while in San Francisco. I'm not a native San Franciscan so this article does not intend to be a vacation guide to the city but if you are wearing a backpack, oversized lanyard, and paying a ridiculous price for a hotel room, this article is for you.

Ding ding


Feeling fatigued from consecutive days of information overload.


Break free from the conference hall and explore the city. If it was up to me, I would only go to conferences in San Francisco. Maybe it is the sea breeze and generally mild temperatures or maybe it's my fascination with a city built on such steep hills. San Francisco seems to buzz with excitement much as I imagine it did back in the gold rush days. My San Francisco conferences revolve around technology companies and week-long celebrations of their latest and greatest products. Some legendary tech announcements have been made at Moscone West over the years. The biggest is certainly when Apple announced the original iPhone back in 2007 and while I wasn't there to witness it, it's fun and interesting to go back and relive it. That keynote was Steve Jobs at his absolute best.

I have been lucky enough to attend several big San Francisco shows recently:

VMworld 2013

Here are some tips I have gathered over the years.



San Francisco International Airport (SFO) - coming from Denver, SFO is usually the cheapest way to go. Cab rides to downtown are going to cost you $50 - $60 and take a good 30 minutes. A longer but much cheaper alternative is to take the train (aka BART)) and get off at Powell.  From there it is a block or two walk to your hotel. I haven't used Uber yet, but is also seems like a good alternative to taxis.


Prepare yourself for insanely inflated prices for both independent hotels and the big chains. Basic supply and demand makes booking only a few weeks out nearly impossible. Marriott is my brand of choice and while the San Francisco Marquis may seem the most convenient as it is only a block and a half away, in recent years I have stayed further up Nob Hill. It is a longer, straight uphill walk that can really get your blood pumping at the end of the day but you escape the most dense crowds and possibly save a few bucks.  I find walking down the hill in the morning while sipping a latte and listening to some tunes an enjoyable way to start a conference day.


San Francisco is a foodie's dream. Even if your conference provides meals, you should break away to sample some of the treats the city has to offer. Here are some options listed by proximity.

Mel's Drive-In

Mel's is probably the closest food to Moscone West and thus the busiest. Their staff moves quickly so stop in for a typical diner breakfast. Keep your eyes peeled, too, you never know what kind of big wig you may be eating an omelet next to.

Johnny Foley's Irish House

Foley's is your typical Irish bar except it will be packed at midnight on a Tuesday if there is a conference in town.  Always a popular place to throw back your favorite Irish whiskey or scarf down some fish n' chips.

The Grove

Forget trying to get coffee at the Starbucks next to the Moscone Center as the line never ends.  Swing by The Grove for a hearty breakfast--like the Moroccan Baked Eggs.  This cool coffee shop is a great place to check your before your first session.

ThirstyBear Brewing Company

While several blocks away from Moscone West, keep your eyes open for vendor parties hosted at the ThirstyBear. It often means they appreciate good beer and will have it on the menu. While they brew their own beer, they also carry a good selection of alternatives. An excellent place to take a break and hoist a pint.

21st Amendment Brewery and Restaurant

The 21st Amendment will likely fall outside of walking distance for most. Beer connoisseurs will delight in their beer and food menu. Check this one out early in the week because it may require repeat visits.

Great Eastern Restaurant

Great Eastern is a long walk from the Moscone but worth it if you want to experience the sights and smells of Chinatown. I feel completely safe making the trek late at night but it is dimly lit and like any major city, you may want to bring a friend. I keep coming back to the Great Eastern because their hours and service are good and you can order a small dim sum feast for a reasonable price.

Scoma's Restaurant

You can not visit San Francisco without eating some seafood. Cab or trolley car it to Fisherman's Wharf and try some Dungeness Crab or clam chowder in a sourdough bowl. Scoma's is fairly expensive at dinner so go for lunch and enjoy the same great food for a reduced price. There are many other options at the wharf but I was not disappointed on my visit to Scoma's.


  • Jog - there is no better way to work off the previous night's event then throwing on running shoes and heading outside.  You need to be motivated to go up and over Nob Hill.  I usually take the flatter Market Street down to the water's edge and run along the piers.  It is a great start to a day of hearing your peers pontificate on better ways to do your job.
  • Bike - you can rent bicycles from a few shops at Fisherman's Wharf.  It cost me $28 to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge and back.  As bike rides go, it is on the top of my list.
  • Trolley - the real San Francisco treat.  You'll want to go early or late because the line gets crazy long.

Musée Mécanique

Located on Pier 45, Musée Mécanique is one part arcade and one part museum.  If you are child of the 1980s then you will probably enjoy both the decades old amusement machines as well as some of the more "modern" classics.

Alcatraz Island

The infamous Alcatraz Penitentiary is clearly visible from San Francisco proper.  Ferries take tourists out throughout the day.  Do not wait until the last minute and try to get tickets as it sells out often.  If you book your tickets far enough in advance you can even take a night tour.  The audio tour of the island is both creepy and entertaining and worth the trip.

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island

Golden Gate Bridge

RIP World Famous Bushman


Conference fever is often brought on from back to back days of solid presentations and breakout sessions mixed with free late night vendor drink fests.

SageLike Post ID: SL0007

Applies to:

Conferences located in or near to the Moscone Center.
Maybe others