Fishing for Compliments

Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco uses unique decorative lighting fixtures to set an aquatic scene.

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Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco
Photo by Randall Whitehead

I recently went back to revisit Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco. It opened to great acclaim in 1997. It was conceived as an undersea fantasy world, created by Pat Kuleto in collaboration with Mark Franz, the chef. As you enter, the soaring indigo blue ceiling represents the surface of the ocean. You find yourself dining below the waves, surrounded by jellyfish and kelp beds. 

The building itself was originally an Elks Club, built in 1925. It had been many years since dining there and I wanted to see how the place holding up and if still retained the magic. Happily it has. It was like visiting an old friend who looked so surprisingly good that you are a bit jealous. The space is enthralling. The environment adds so much to the experience.

Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco
Photo by Randall Whitehead

The main dining room (shown above) has soaring arches which were originally over the Elks Club swimming pool, on top of which, people are now dining. There are subtle murals of bathing beauties that refer back to the room’s original purpose.  The giant sea urchin light fixtures are made of cast resin and were fabricated by Sirmos Lighting. The story goes that Kuleto met with the lighting manufacturers, handed them a 3” diameter sea urchin and said, “Make this 3 feet in diameter”.

Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco
Photo by Randall Whitehead

A closeup (shown above) of one of the jellyfish, fabricated by Sirmos Lighting, shows the amazing attention detail and how the translucency of the material work so beautifully. It looks like a gorgeous piece of Murano glass.  

Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco
Photo by Randall Whitehead

A closeup of one of the other jellyfish (shown above) reveals three fasteners that attach the lower portion of the fixture to the main body. This is how the light source inside is accessed. Originally, they used halogen MR16 lamps. They are now using LED MR16’s.  These use less energy, save on maintenance because of their extended lamp-life and produce less heat which will increase the longevity of the resin components.

Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco
Photo by Randall Whitehead

Large sculpted translucent columns (shown above) represent kelp beds, soaring up the ocean floor towards the surface of the water. Bronze brackets keep the panels in place. These are removable so the lighting within can be accessed.  

Considering that all of these beautiful fixtures are 23 years old, they have held up well and still provide an alluring visual impact.  They are brighter at the top, representing the sunlight that hits them near the surface of the water.

Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco
Photo by Randall Whitehead

The ceiling area over the bar (shown above) almost feels alive, like the tentacles of some ancient albino octopus. Beyond the end of the bar you can see two of the kelp bed columns, along with one of the floating jellyfish. The gentleman seated at the bar gives an idea of the scale of the light fixtures which have been created.

It is heartening to know that this restaurant still exists. Eating establishments tend to come and go, especially in San Francisco. It’s well worth a look-see if you ever visiting the City by the Bay. Oh, and by the way food is really good too.

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead is an educator and author on the subject of lighting design. His work has been featured in many magazines, including Architectural Digest, Home & Garden and Esquire. He has appeared as a guest expert on HGTV, Discovery, CNN and Martha Stewart Living Radio.

His Latest book Beautiful Light outlines how to create successful and subtly beautiful LED lighting designs for homes and gardens. It is due out August 2021.

You can see his entertaining 1-minute instructional videos at And you can follow him on Instagram:  @randall.whitehead


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