Take a Tony Bennett Tour of San Francisco

Take a Tony Bennett Tour of San Francisco

What holiday is on February 14? In San Francisco, it’s Tony Bennett Day. 

The fabulous crooner, who passed away last year at 96 years old, gave the city a voice with his 1962 song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” A lifelong New Yorker who left an indelible mark on SF, Bennett may be the most celebrated “San Franciscan” to never live in San Francisco. Decades of love between Tony Bennett and San Francisco spawned art installations, celebrations and many a rendition of “I Left My Heart…” And now, the song’s lyrics are immortalized on Cable Car No. 53, anointed as the Tony Bennett Cable Car in a recent ceremony on Nob Hill. 

Unveiling of Tony Bennett Cable Car saying "Halfway to the Stars"
Photo by Nicole Peyton.

If you’re looking to catch a ride halfway to the stars, then here’s the perfect tour to follow in Tony’s footsteps. It turns out that the places where Bennett sang make a decent sightseeing tour of the city. We’ll give you some ideas for how to complete the tour in one day, but feel free to take your time and soak up the golden sun.

Tony Bennett way in front of the Fairmont hotel in San Francisco
Photo by Nicole Peyton.

Begin at the Fairmont

The place where it all started: the Fairmont Hotel’s Venetian Room, where in 1961 Tony first performed “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Then a relatively unknown tune, Bennett pulled a feeling out of the song that sent the crowd wild. 

Fittingly, The Fairmont has seized every opportunity to honor the singer. An eight-foot statue of open-armed Bennett welcomes visitors to the hotel, and a street sign dubs the stretch of Mason Street in front of the hotel, “Tony Bennett Way.” 

Tony Bennett statue and violinist in front of Fairmont hotel in San Francisco
Photo by Nicole Peyton.

You can relive the glory of that 1961 night with a performance at the Venetian Room, which still holds regular concerts and cabarets. Or, if you really love a theme, try to book the romantic Diplomat Tony Bennett Suite for some of the best views of San Francisco and the bay. 

Like a scavenger hunt? Cross the street to the InterContinental Mark Hopkins and look for the plaque dedicating its plaza to Bennett — installed in 1977 when Bennett was named an honorary fire chief.

Transamerica Pyramid and streets of North Beach at sunset in San Francisco, California
Photo by Nathan Barteau via Unsplash.

North Beach

According to CBS News, Bennett’s trips to SF always included a stop in North Beach, the city’s historically Italian neighborhood. He was a regular at a few restaurants in the district, dining on the meat ravioli at Piazza Pellegrini and showing up at the seafood-focused Sotto Mare for a birthday dinner. 

If you arrive in North Beach at lunchtime, then do like Tony and order some pasta with a glass of red wine. Luckily, there’s no shortage of great Italian food in the neighborhood. 

You can’t go wrong with the two aforementioned restaurants and Local Getaways’ many lists for where to eat. If you’re feeling like pizza, then stop by Tony’s Pizza Napoletana (different Tony). Private event? You might as well rent out the Tony Bennett room at Original Joe’s. We’ve got a theme to stick to, people! 

Powell and Hyde Street Cable Cars go down hill in San Francisco, California
Photo by Daniel Ababia via Unsplash.

How to Get There

Starting from the Fairmont Hotel, catch the Powell–Mason line cable car down the hill, riding from Powell & California to Filbert. Unfortunately, this route won’t get you onto the Tony Bennett-branded cable car (that one is part of the California line fleet). 

While you’re riding the cables, you can ponder how “I Left My Heart…” cemented cable cars into modern San Francisco’s identity. At least, the city government thought it did. Bennett was a guest of honor at the 1973 Cable Car Centennial, as well as the celebration for the cars’ reopening in 1984 after systemic rebuilding of the network.

Drone shot of Union Square shopping center in San Francisco, California
Photo by Benson Kua via Wikimedia.

Union Square

For two decades, Bennett’s heart was left in Union Square. That is, a heart sculpture that he painted with the Golden Gate Bridge sat in the square as part of the citywide Hearts in SF public art installation. The heart motif was pulled from Bennett’s hit song. 

The Fairmont actually snatched the hand-painted heart from the square via a 2023 purchase (look out for it in the hotel lobby on your first leg of the tour). But rest assured, Union Square is not completely heartless. Two heart statues remain, and eager tourists pose with the sculptures for recognizable photo ops. 

Aside from the hearts, Union Square was also a venue for at least one free concert by Bennett. And when the pandemic hit in 2020, he led a citywide singalong from home, while a live stream broadcasted a masked performance at the square from singer Mark Robinson.

Union Square Heart Sculpture showing girl in hot air balloon above Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California
Photo by David Trinks via Unsplash.

How to Get There

Conveniently, you can hop back on the Powell–Mason cable car from North Beach and ride it until Sutter St. to reach Union Square. Public transit enthusiasts can also take the 30 bus, should they want to sample another form of San Francisco municipal transportation.

Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall lit up at night with pride colors in San Francisco, California
Photo by Cory Weaver, courtesy of SF Symphony.

Davies Symphony Hall

Home of the SF Symphony, the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall has heard many a rendition of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Bennett even performed the tune for the late Queen Elizabeth during her 1983 visit to California. Prince Philip sang along. 

Bennett headlined the Symphony Hall a number of times, including a stop on his 90th birthday tour, “Tony Bennett Celebrates 90: The Best Is Yet to Come!” In fact, he’s made stops at a few of the neighborhood’s ornate venues, including three performances at SFJazz around the corner. 

And, if you just cross the street from the symphony, you’ll get to City Hall, where in 2012 Bennett received a key to the city on the 50th anniversary of the release of “I Left My Heart…”

Tony Bennett performing with arms open
Photo by Raph_PH via Wikimedia.

How to Get There

Take the underground train (the Muni) from Powell station to Van Ness. You have your pick of four lines, since the J, K, M and N lines will all get you there. Just don’t get on the BART! It’s an easy walk up Van Ness to the symphony.

Entrance to Oracle Park Baseball stadium with palm trees, home of the Giants in San Francisco, California
Photo by Edgar Arroyo via Pexels.

Oracle Park

Tony Bennett has appeared in more San Francisco World Series than the team’s former shortstop Brandon Crawford. Well, kind of. 

Tony first performed for the team at the old Candlestick Park’s 1993 home opener, but we’re not cruel enough to make you go all the way to Candlestick. Instead, we’ll start this story with the singer (slash Giants fan) appearing at AT&T Park, now called Oracle Park, where they play “I Left My Heart…” after every home victory. 

For the uninitiated: The SF Giants won three world series in five years, rocking Major League Baseball and drawing Tony Bennett back to the Bay. Singing at Game One of the 2010 World Series, the 2012 victory parade and during the seventh inning stretch at 2014’s Game Three, Bennett was there each year. 

When visiting Oracle, you can — naturally — watch a Giants game. If you don’t have time for a whole nine innings, then walk around the park’s bay-facing wall to peek through its free viewing windows. Don’t like baseball? Meander the Embarcadero, or knock down some pins at Lucky Strike bowling alley and bar.

How to Get There

Descend to the Muni again, take the N and get off in front of the park at 2nd & King. (Follow the baseball on the Muni map!) No other train goes that far, so save your shins some walking by waiting up to 15 minutes for the N.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the green Crissy field in San Francisco
Photo by Bernt Rostad via Wikimedia.

Crissy Field

When the city began planning the 50th anniversary celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1987, they of course had to rope in Bennett for a performance. Bennett sang from Crissy Field, and his pre-show interview with KPIX can be seen on Youtube. 

One of the more bizarre events in San Francisco’s history, the golden bridge’s golden anniversary veered into chaos when 300,000 pedestrians tried to cross the bridge, flattening its usual upward slope. Just like with his Covid-conscious online singalong, Tony really did his part to #FlattenTheCurve

From Crissy Field, you can soak in the best views of the Golden Gate. Bring a frisbee or set up a picnic. If you attempt this tour in one day, then hopefully you’ll make it to this point by golden hour. Maybe you’ll see the beauty that inspired such an iconic song.

Bay Are Bike Share station with bicycles at Ferry Building Plaza In San Francisco, California
Your new steed. Photo by Mariordo via Wikimedia.

How to Get There

Perhaps the most fun transit option of the whole tour, getting to Crissy Field from Oracle Park is just a thirty-minute bike ride along the Embarcadero — not counting any time you might spend taking in the views. 

Rent a bicycle from any Bay Wheels station along the way, and you’ll pay by the minute through Lyft. While biking, you’ll pass art installations and landmarks like the Ferry Building and Fort Mason. The Palace of Fine Arts is also a quick detour near the end of the route. Dock your bike at a Bay Wheels station in the Presidio and leg it from there to the field. 

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