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Guide for Architecture Lovers in SF

Iconic Painted Ladies in Foreground

San Francisco is known for its distinctive architecture. Here’s a guide to some of the city’s best-loved architectural landmarks.

  1. Painted Ladies
    Also called Postcard Row for its picturesque quality, this lane of brightly-painted Edwardians and Victorians along Hayes and Steiner streets is among the most photographed areas in SF. The ascending formation of these charming houses set against the downtown skyline is a sight to behold.

    Alamo Square offers the best views of the Painted Ladies – sit on the grass and imagine the lives that unfold within these gorgeous homes.

  2. Haas-Lilienthal House
    This beautifully preserved Queen Anne-style Victorian home is open to the public. Designed in 1886 by Peter R. Schmidt, the house withstood both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. Today it is a reminder of upper middle-class life during the Victorian era, complete with artifacts and furniture.

    The National Trust for Historic Preservation named it one of 34 inaugural National Treasures in America in 2012, testament to its cultural and historic significance. Go on a guided tour of the house and listen to a volunteer docent discuss Victorian architecture.

  3. City Hall
    Designed by Arthur Brown Jr., the City Hall epitomizes Beaux Arts architecture. Brown took inspiration from Les Invalides in Paris, and the result is an elaborate building of marble and gilded bronze, one that harks back to the lead-plated tomb of Napoleon I. Completed in 1915, the building still looks remarkable after more than a century.
  4. Palace of Fine Arts Theater
    The theater brings to mind the grandeur of the Roman Empire, with its august rotunda and colonnade. Designed by Bernard Maybeck, the building was meant to be used for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition’s art exhibitions.

    The majority of PPIE structures were demolished when the fair ended, but this was spared from the bulldozer because of its beauty. Today it operates as an esteemed cultural venue.

  5. Xanadu Gallery
    Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Xanadu Gallery is widely regarded as the predecessor to the Guggenheim Museum, which the architect designed 10 years after this one. Both structures share the exquisite spiraling ramp. The gallery holds the distinction of being the only Wright creation in SF. It’s also one of the few retail spaces that the architect designed.
  6. Chinatown/Him Mark Lai Library
    Designed by G. Albert Lansburgh in 1921, the Chinatown Library is an Italian Renaissance-style building with double stairs that rise and meet at the main entrance on the second floor. Spend a quiet afternoon admiring the building’s exterior, and explore the library’s book collection.
  7. Columbus Tower
    Also called the Sentinel Building, this tower is a Flatiron-style building made with copper and white tile. Commissioned in 1907 by Salfield & Kohlberg, this mixed-use building can be found right next to the Transamerica Pyramid. It is a bona fide San Francisco Landmark, one that architecture lovers will truly appreciate.
  8. Palace Hotel
    The Palace Hotel was the biggest luxury hotel in the world when it was built in 1875, counting luminaries like Thomas Edison among its guests. Admire the stained glass ceiling at the Garden Court, which features Austrian crystal chandeliers and over 72,000 pieces of glass – one of the largest volumes of stained glass in the world.