Image - speaker photos, book covers, VW van

San Francisco

Oldest San Francisco/Secret California

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Think you know San Francisco and the rest of California? Think again. Two new books, Oldest San Francisco, and Secret California: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure, will inspire you to seek out spots even locals will be surprised to learn about and inspired to visit.

Oldest San Francisco, by Alec Scott, draws a picture of the sudden city that exploded in the Gold Rush. It tells the stories of the longtime institutions that have made the City by the Bay distinctive, visiting the oldest: bakery (Boudin), bike shop (American Cyclery). and brewery (Anchor, whose struggle to survive will be discussed). Scott speaks of civic fabrics―the oldest blue jeans and first rainbow flag―and even the oldest public affairs forum in the country (yes, The Commonwealth Club). Together the stories distill the ebullient, entrepreneurial spirit of San Francisco.

Secret California: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure, by Ruth Carlson, invites you to enter a live fairytale with aerial dancers, opera singers and a huge rabbit, to visit The Institute of Abnormal Arts―if you dare―and to watch silent movies in the East Bay theater where Charlie Chaplin premiered The Tramp. She sniffed out the country's only perfume museum, discovered an ancient society's crypt, and visited a second city underneath the state's capital.

Don't miss this enjoyable evening, which will include a trivia contest, selected readings from the authors’ books, and an audience Q&A. Everyone will leave with a deeper appreciation of what makes San Francisco San Francisco.

MLF Organizer
George Hammond

This program is in-person only. 

If you have symptoms of illness (coughing, fever, etc.), we ask that you either stay home or wear a mask. Our front desk has complimentary masks for members and guests who would like one.

The Commonwealth Club of California is a nonprofit public forum; we welcome donations made during registration to support the production of our programming.

A Humanities Member-led Forum program. Forums at the Club are organized and run by volunteer programmers who are members of The Commonwealth Club, and they cover a diverse range of topics. Learn more about our Forums.

For more info on the books and the speakers, visit: and

Speaker photos courtesy the speakers; VW van photo by Carson Tyler/Unsplash.

All ticket sales are final and nonrefundable.

Tue, Oct 24 / 5:30 PM PDT

The Commonwealth Club of California
110 The Embarcadero
Taube Family Auditorium
San Francisco, CA 94105
United States

Image - Ruth Carlson

Ruth Carlson

Travel Writer; Author, Secret California: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure

Image - Alec Scott

Alec Scott

Journalist; Writing Instructor, Stanford University; Author, Oldest San Francisco

Image - George Hammond

In Conversation with George Hammond

Author, Conversations With Socrates


5 p.m. doors open & check-in
5:30–6:30 p.m program
6:30 p.m. book signing
(all times PDT)


$10 members
$20 nonmembers
$33 member with a book (Secret California)
$43 nonmember with a book (Secret California)
$33 member with a book (Oldest San Francisco)
$43 nonmember with a book (Oldest San Francisco)
$55 member with book combo (Secret California and Oldest San Francisco)
$65 nonmembers with book combo (Secret California and Oldest San Francisco)
Free for Leadership Circle members and for students (without book)