Why Michael Feinstein Loves San Francisco

The award-winning entertainer and composer on his favorite local memories.

Michael Feinstein has been nominated for two Emmy Awards and five Grammy Awards. The pianist, singer and composer is known as the leading expert on 20th-century American music and has performed at the White House, Buckingham Palace and the Sydney Opera House. We chatted with him about his relationship with San Francisco, his impressions of our music scene and his local venue, Feinstein’s at the Nikko.

What is your fondest San Francisco memory? 

The first day I came here, I spent the day riding the cable cars all over the city just to get acquainted and fell in love with every inch of this place. Nothing can compare with the memory of that first discovery.

What symbolizes San Francisco to you?

To me, San Francisco has always been at the forefront of representing a diversity of people, cultures and beliefs. It has become a city where people of all races and genders can come and be themselves. 

Why did you choose to open a venue here? 

San Francisco has always had a special place in my heart. My career as an entertainer began in San Francisco, and it’s the city that made all my dreams come true.

What are your thoughts on the San Francisco music scene?

San Francisco has been a magnet for musicians and artists for decades. From major musical festivals like Outside Lands to smaller, more intimate venues like Feinstein’s at the Nikko and the Fillmore, there’s something for everyone.

Michael Tilson Thomas with the SF Symphony

Where are your favorite places in the city to watch a good show?

I am an equal opportunity arts lover! I love attending the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Opera, as well as performances at the Orpheum Theatre, Curran Theatre and Geary Theater.

What do you like about performing in San Francisco?

San Francisco has some of the best and most appreciative audiences in the world for a performer, and that’s the best thing you can ask for. I also love that San Francisco audiences demand entertainment that is not only more diverse, but unique to the context of San Francisco.

What is your favorite venue in the city for performing?

Feinstein’s at the Nikko, of course! I also love performing with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony.

What’s your go-to local restaurant?

I am a vegan, and my favorite restaurant is Millennium. They have gourmet food that everyone would love, vegan or not.

Can you tell us about your new book?

It’s called “The Gershwins And Me,” and it’s a love letter to the work of America’s greatest songwriting team. The book has tons of pictures plus a CD of me singing the great Gershwin standards. It’s not only for lovers of this music, but it's also a great introduction for those who might not know anything about it.

What’s one of your most beloved music memories?

The most beloved music memory I have is meeting Ira Gershwin early in my career. We had a very close friendship up until his death in 1983. His neighbor next door was Rosemary Clooney, and she became one of my closest friends. I miss them both every day.

Michael Feinstein

A Perfect Day in San Francisco: Michael's Itinerary

Breakfast:

Hot oatmeal with bananas at Sears. I love the atmosphere of this place, and the food is great.

Afternoon:

I buy used vinyl and rare 78s and browse the thousands of CDs at Amoeba Music in the Haight-Ashbury District. I enjoy walking around that area.  Searching for used books is also a fun pursuit, and my favorite book dealer in the city is Thomas A. Goldwasser Rare Books, located in the historic Hearst Building on Third Street. Rare literary treasures await.

Late Afternoon:

Chinatown is always fun to explore, and I always get a foot massage at Foot Reflexology Center on Jackson Street. Nirvana!

Dinner:

After my foot massage, I’ll have dinner at Lucky Creation in Chinatown, a small and modest place with amazing all-vegan dishes.

Night:

Usually I have after-dinner drinks in Kanpai Lounge, located directly outside of Feinstein’s at the Nikko. Love the casual atmosphere, low-key lighting and vibe.