Neal Benezra’s perfect weekend in San Francisco

The director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art oversees the largest modern art collection in the US after a recent $305m renovation and expansion of the institution

Neal Benezra at Heath Ceramics
Neal Benezra at Heath Ceramics | Image: Brian Flaherty

“I’m up by 6am, even on a Saturday, and I’ll escape catching up on work emails by making a breakfast outing to Plow on Potrero Hill, where they make the most fantastic lemon ricotta pancakes.

Saturday mornings are great for farmers’ markets, such as the small but excellent one on 24th Street, near my home in Noe Valley. I am an improvising cook so I go by what is fresh, but I’m a particular devotee of broccolini and California artichokes. While there are many vendors I love, Cowgirl Creamery is a favourite for superb cheeses, especially a good, sharp Gorgonzola.

With the food shopping done, I’ll head to Browser Books on Fillmore Street. I’m still a store shopper as I like to feel a book’s weight, see the colour and the typeface. Aesthetics are important and this intimate shop is a rare treat these days.

Lunches are casual and, if my daughter is in town, we might go to a burger joint called The Ramp on San Francisco Bay. Then I’ll take in some of the Bay Area art scene, which is having a moment. As well as established places, there are interesting new ones popping up; I’ll wander around Dogpatch, home to the Minnesota Street Project’s communal galleries and the McEvoy Foundation. Then, just below the Bay Bridge on the Embarcadero sits Pier 24, an exciting space for photography set up by the Pilara family.

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Because San Francisco is such a foodie city Saturday night reservations can be tough to get, so my wife Maria and I go early for dinner, followed by a film. A great spot is Tartine Manufactory in Mission. The space has a huge energy and the food is creative and delicious. I’ll have pork ribs with pumpkin-seed salsa and some of the bakery’s legendary bread – I take a hiatus from my low-gluten diet there. It’s in the same building as Heath Ceramics, so there is always a little shopping to be done while you wait.

Movies are a passion and there is no shortage of interesting cinema in this city. We’ll go to The Clay or Castro. I love these old-world movie houses and the Castro still has its 1920s frontage and an organist who plays before each screening.

Sundays we might head to Point Reyes and hike before having oysters for lunch at one of the funky shacks on Tomales Bay. Cycling is another passion and I love to head down to the peninsula, where I’ll ride around Palo Alto and Portola Valley – it’s less hilly than San Francisco and safer. The weather in the city can be dicey and it’s amazing that it is so warm and sunny just 30 miles away. It takes about 45 minutes to get there, but after a two-hour bike ride and a visit to the Anderson Collection at Stanford University, I feel I’ve had a complete mental cleanse.

Back in the city, the evening might involve another film at Modern Cinema at SFMOMA or the Pacific Film Archive at the Berkeley Art Museum. Dinner is at Out the Door, a Vietnamese in Fillmore that serves imaginative dishes like Shaking Beef – filet mignon with watercress, red onion and lime. Then I like to read the papers – from The New York Times to the Financial Times. We are a long way from the world’s major art capitals and it’s likely I’ll be flying to China, Abu Dhabi or New York the next day. Luckily, my weekends are about family and having some semblance of a life – that way I feel recharged and ready for the week ahead.”

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