Picture this: you’re an event planner sitting in your weekly status meeting, when suddenly your team looks over to you and tells you that they have a client who needs a cocktail party planned in San Francisco YESTERDAY. You have limited resources, limited budget and need to move fast…an event planner’s dream…Mmm, how about no.
On top of all of that, this can’t just be a run-of-the-mill cocktail party. It needs to be one of you killer corporate events that will wow your attendees and generate those oh so coveted leads and deliver ROI.
We hear your silent cry for help. So just for you, we’ve put together a go-to list of venues that will bowl your clients over, in one case literally (see Mission Bowling Club). The plus side of living in the city of fog and love is that we have a ridiculous amount of distinctive venues to choose from. But it can be difficult to know where to start. Which is why we came up with list of 25 San Francisco locations to explore for events ranging from the intimate to the colossal at the end of this post. The City is host to many startups of course, so you’ll find a trend towards booking cocktail parties in clubs and gallery spaces du jour. Also, we admit a bias towards naturally pretty outdoor settings in this list. If you’ve got it flaunt it right? And the Bay Area has it. At Certain, our platform is tailored for large-scale corporate events. You’ll find links to several venues for planning conferences and events for enterprise clients in this list. If you’re a planner working on your company’s booth for conferences and trade shows, then you should also check out our super helpful exhibitor and sponsor planning resource here.
In my experience as an event planner, in my previous life before Certain, I was served this challenge time and time again. And let me tell you, two of my biggest challenges were limited budgets and finding out-of-the-box venues to hold my events. These challenges are common; 45% of event planners say that budget was their biggest challenge when planning an event according to the State of Mobile Event Technology Report. As an event planner planning for a wide spectrum of events, from tech conferences, to music festivals, I saw a wide range of requirements from clients. I would come across small budgets with high expectations, as well as large budgets from clients who had no leadership or direction. When either of these situations occurred, I had to be resourceful, and I would do whatever it took to make the event a success.
For event planners, finding the right location is the key to attracting attendees and then converting them into qualified leads. They need to be wowed by the event, while the client’s product has to be front and center, inspiring attendees to want to take the next step in their purchase or partnership.
I know you’re asking yourself, what really makes a venue the ideal spot to host your corporate event? For us, the answer always depends on what type of event we’re was planning. If it’s a small meeting or cocktail party, we recommend picking intimate spaces, with attentive staff, and a really chic aesthetic. For larger corporate events, I always want flexibility with decor and the ability to personalize the event exactly to my client’s standards, keeping their brand image in mind.
So on top of planning an event with no budget or direction, what happens when you’re tasked with planning an event in a city you’re not familiar with? Hello hyperventilating! Well you can breathe that sigh of relief because I can save the day when it comes to events in the bay! After living in the Bay Area for over 25 years, for better or for worse, my brain is an encyclopedia of all the best spots around to throw a killer event. From a cocktail party or large-scale tech conference, I have the answers to your event planning needs with it comes to SF.
So after discussing my top 25 locations for throwing corporate events in San Francisco with Certain’s own event coordinator, Kent Martin, we created a comprehensive list that has something to offer every event planner. Whether it’s throwing a team building event at Golden Gate Park or a tech conference at City View at Metreon, these are some of the top, unique spaces that would be a dream to the event planner to use on any budget. Without further adieu, here’s the best of the best:
(Conferences, Trade Shows, Summits, Fundraisers, Concerts)
Neoclassic and beaux-art finery is on display in this historic building that hosts the Edwardian ball annually. Built in 1909, it offers plenty of versatility for your events with capacities ranging from 70 to 1400. There is the main ballroom and smaller separate rooms that are equally stunning.
(Corporate Events, Large Parties)
The Nine Studios is SFs largest “daylight” rental studio at 9000 square feet. The barn-like studio is alternative to the basic ballroom. Awash in natural light from its floor to ceiling windows, it offers a handsome wooden floor, high ceiling, and terrific city views. It’s a stylish choice for film shoots and large private parties, minimal to extravagant. The planner can design almost any experience as the space is a virtual blank canvas.
(Private Dinners & Cocktail Parties)
The Mission District’s ultimate dinner-and-movie date spot is just as excellent for corporate get-togethers and happy hours. The venue features multiple private rooms (good for private client dinners) and an outdoor space with classic & independent films projected onto a wall. Movies, cocktails, wine, fantastic food and an art gallery make for high-brow, yet relaxed corporate socials. Plus, the ongoing films can whisk you right out of any boring conversations.
(Conferences, Trade Shows, Summits, Meetings)
Proud of its stately “turn of the century” era decor, the hotel has a colorful history. It offers complete services for business events, with 32 meeting rooms and larger ballrooms, all updated with the latest tech necessities. Onsite staff is ready to assist with your event planning and execution. Whether your event is hosting single digit participants, or 2000 of them, The Westin is a multi-purpose event solution in a convenient location.
5. Conservatory of Flowers Golden Gate Park
(Cocktail Parties, Corporate Events)
The historic Conservatory awaits with five galleries for events that are swarming with flora and (fossilized) fauna. It’s a lush venue suitable for cocktail parties and corporate functions. Guests can network among “dinosaurs and prehistoric plants, or butterflies and spring flowers.” (source) Maximum capacity in park spaces is generally around 200.
(Outdoor Corporate Events)
Beyond the Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park is abundant with lovely, outdoor settings for companies to host outdoor team-building socials. Thanks to San Francisco’s typically agreeable weather, this is practically a year-round option. Recommended locations are: Chain of Lakes, Fuschia Garden, Lloyd’s Lake, Chinese Pavilion, Queen Wilhelmina, Shakespeare Garden and Rose Garden.
(Large Cocktail Parties, Corporate Events, Birthdays)
The Alchemist brings a seductive, mysterious mood to this downtown hood overrun with sports bars. The large upstairs space presents tokens of the eponymous esoteric art, with touches of steampunk victoriana. The bar sells exotic cocktails infused with chinese herbs and there are silent movies projected on the walls. For clients who are looking for ‘something different’ this could be the ticket. It’s also big enough to host up to 250 people, and more if you rent out the new gastropub downstairs called Woodbury which looks something like an old hunting lodge, and was created by the same owners. Both spaces can hold up to 400 people.
(Product launches, Corporate Receptions, Sit-Down Dinners)
Or…the Company goes to Studio 54. MEZZANINE is normally a concert venue, but If your client is looking for a clubby vibe, MEZZANINE will serve. It’s a 12,000 sq ft, two-story warehouse with mezzanine levels that can be divided into multi-use smaller spaces. It has hosted out-of-the-box events, such as having a roller rink on the lower floor. Food trucks can be waiting outside for the whippersnappers. It’s two blocks from the Moscone Center, so it’s a convenient after-party venue during larger conferences.
9. Tosca Cafe
(Cocktail Parties, Anniversaries, Birthday Parties)
Make like Marcello Mastroianni in this old-school cafe in North Beach. It’s ideal for an intimate, italian-flavored client dinner or birthday party. A bar for much of its long life, it was revamped in 2013 by NYC restauranteurs April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman, who resurrected its kitchen to serve first-rate fare with plenty of wine and cocktails. Late-nighters will appreciate that it serves food nightly until 1am.
10. The Fillmore
(Concerts, Corporate Events)
This legendary concert venue blends grunge and glam for large-scale parties (capacity 1,150). It is authentically cool and quintessentially SF. The Fillmore’s boisterous past is plastered all over its walls and tables – with posters, tickets, handbills, and articles from hundreds of past events taking you on a colorful nostalgia trip.
(Corporate Events, Cocktail Parties, Birthdays, Alt Weddings)
For clients and/or companies that like to keep things loose, you can’t go wrong with a bowling soiree. Lane parties work for just about any type of event: birthdays, corporate team-building outings, even weddings. But before you imagine cheap beer and vending machines, Mission Bowling Club (MBC) prides itself on its specialty cocktails, craft beer and wine list, as well as its ‘elevated’ comfort food. MBC has six lanes and allows six people per on a lane per hour. The bar, cafe and outdoor patio areas will accommodate the rest.
(Corporate Events, Concerts & Performances)
Designed by renowned Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck, this Greco-Roman structure was made of temporary materials for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Decades later it degraded to near complete ruin before conservationists stepped up to restore its initial glory and recast it in concrete. Permits can be requested from the Parks Department for special events in the rotunda. The nearby Palace of Fine Arts Theatre is available for rent for concerts, productions, corporate meetings, and other special events. The lobby can accommodate receptions of up to 400 and the theatre seats 962.
(Meetings and Conferences)
Many planners look to the Union Square area for their enterprise events as it’s centrally located, with lots of shopping centers and restaurants. It’s also close to the Moscone Center, The Modern Museum of Art and Fisherman’s Wharf. This trendy chain hotel offers 12,000 Square feet for business events – “whatever” you need and “whenever” you need so says its website – with event capacities spanning from 30 people to 450. It also offers a WIRED-branded business center to keep the workflow sprinting.
(Cocktail Parties, Birthdays)
Owners Benjamin & Emerson transformed a Mission garage into an enchanting flower shop around the corner. This white, airy studio is meant to be a community hub and urban oasis, with an open invitation for folks to spend time expressing their creativity by designing their own bouquets, or just sipping coffee or cocktails while ogling the floral exquisiteness. The studio is a unique choice for a small cocktail party, team outing or birthday get together.
15. The Press Club
(Large Cocktail Parties, Corporate Dinners, Networking Events, Birthdays)
Sophisticated and chic wine bar & lounge, terrific for the gamut of corporate occasions, and meetups with friends. Its award winning space-design can host anything from happy hours to large private galas. This space is an event planner’s BFF. For a range of offerings at the Press Club, start here.
(Conferences, Trade Shows, Summits, Fundraisers)
Classic elegance to the nth degree. This is a popular choice for planners working on large-scale galas, trade shows and/or conferences. It offers a spectrum of small meeting spaces to sizable ballrooms for up to 1000 attendees. Woven into San Francisco history, it has played host to historic meetings and appeared in many TV shows & films including Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It’s a decidedly tony venue for clients that like that whiff of old money, while being well-equipped for modern tech needs. Check out the Crown Room for small to mid-sized events at the Fairmont.
(Large Cocktail Parties, Product Launch, Holiday Parties, Networking Events)
True to its name, the rooftop venue offers fabulous views of San Francisco’s cityscape. Apart from that it’s big. Really big. The venue’s ultramod interior is a massive 18,000 square feet, and the outdoor terrace is 12,000 square feet. Combined, the capacity hovers around 2000 people. So the sky is indeed the limit if your client is looking to host a large special event.
18. 111 Minna
(Large Cocktail Parties, Holiday Parties, Networking Events)
Uber functional gallery for small-scale to larger events. The ambiance is perennially cool ‘urban industrial warehouse’ with exposed ceiling pipes, original wood floors, high walls (16ft), large windows and monthly art exhibits. 111 Minna accommodates groups from 50-500 in all of its 4,700 square feet. It’s located near the Moscone Center so it can be used in tandem with large conferences. Event planners will love that each space is fully loaded with stocked bars, sound systems and raised stages.
19. Natoma Cabana
(Large Cocktail Parties, Holiday Parties, Networking Events)
This venue offers a tropical aura with huts and lounge chairs for groups. Employees can escape their cubes and savor outdoor island life at company parties and team socials. If you rent out the upstairs loft, attendees are treated to a dandy view overlooking the lower floor, pleasantly sunlit by day from the bar’s giant skylight.
(Corporate Conventions, Trade Shows, Consumer Interest Shows, Banquets)
Named after former mayor George R Moscone, this is our city’s Event Mother Ship. Have a look at these stats:
- 2 million square feet of building area
- 700,000 square feet of exhibitor space
- 106 meeting rooms
- 123,000 square feet of prefunction lobbies
The Center has everything you need for a successful enterprise level event, including WiFi, skycap service, catering, event management, and state of the art tech support. What more needs to be said? You can take a virtual tour on its website.
(Meetings and Conferences)
Recently renovated (2011) and ready to bring support for your event with a team of meeting minions, the Hilton has 20,000 square feet of meeting space, with 15 meeting rooms and 1 grand ballroom. The largest room capacity is 500. And for the harried planner, The Hilton offers meeting packages for ‘easy event planning.’
(Large Company Socials and Holiday Parties)
This is a decidedly hipster choice for the Startups in your contact list. It’s like ordering up your own street fair. The G Food Lounge is an outdoor urban space partnering with up to forty-five of SFs most popular food trucks serving cuisine from around the world. It can accommodate up to 200 people in 4000 square feet. Planners can opt for extra amenities such as heating units, skeeball machines, screens and film projectors.
(Workshops, Trainings, Summits, Seminars)
If your client needs an event space tailored for training and workshopping, consider SFGreenSpace. Located in the Mission District, it has virtually everything you need for an optimal training environment: Ultra hi speed internet? Check. Wireless PA system? Check. Powered training tables? Yep. It’s also women-owned and operated (solidarity). Spaces can accommodate up to 75 in training space, or 150 for gallery receptions.
(Product launches, Corporate Receptions, Holiday Parties, Sit-Down Dinners)
Continuing on the “nightclub” track, 1015 Folsom is SF’s largest club at 20,000 square feet. Employees can dance. They can brainstorm. They can plot world domination in front of large display screens throughout the club. There are 5 separate rooms, 5 bars and 5 DJ booths. 1015 Folsom staff can help customize the space for just about any type of event.
25. Parc 55 Hotel
(Conferences, Trade Shows, Event Seminars)
A Hilton Hotel, this venue is close to the Moscone Center and offers 30,000 sq ft of event space over 3 floors with meeting rooms, smaller boardrooms and a grand ballroom. Located in the middle of union square, it has a modern design well-suited for corporate guests and events. Events can accommodate up to 700 people.