Top 10 of the Best Architecture in San Francisco
There’s so much that can be said about the iconic city of San Francisco. There are so many places you can visit, so much history that you can learn, and so many eateries you can grab delicious bites at, that not enough can be said about what this place has to offer. Nevertheless, we decided to look into the gorgeous architecture of the city. And like everything else about this place, there’s so much to say about the many great architectural sites that San Francisco is home to. Because of all this, I decided to compile a list of 10 of the best architecture in San Francisco. There are all places that you must visit when you stay in this iconic city.
10. Haas-Lilienthal House
Located at 2007 Franklin Street, Haas-Lilienthal House is the only British-era house in San Francisco which is open for public. The fact that it was recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the 34 National Treasures of America goes to show the significance of Haas-Lilienthal House not only in terms of its architecture, but also in terms of the cultural shift it symbolizes.
Haas-Lilienthal House was built in 1886 and remained populated by the descendants of Haas-Lilienthal family until 1972. The Haas-Lilienthal family was composed of German-Jewish immigrants and also included extended family of house helps, all of whom were also immigrants from places like Germany, France, Japan, Ireland, and China. It was initially built for William and Bertha Haas.
The couple inhabited the place together until the death of William Haas in 1916, after which their youngest daughter Alice moved in with her own family to live with her mother Bertha. It was due to Alice’s family that the Haas House came to be known as Haas-Lilienthal House as she was married to Samuel Lilienthal. Nearly eleven years after the death of William Haas, his son Charles also passed away. After the death of Charles, his family also moved into the house. This way, Haas-Lilienthal House was populated by 3 generations of the same family.
It was the passing away of Alice Haas-Lilienthal which led to the donation of this historic house to the organization now known as San Francisco Heritage. The Haas-Lilienthal House was then converted into the organization’s headquarters and today it serves not only as the office of the organization but also as a museum frequented by the public. Product of Peter R. Schmidt’s skillful design, the architectural style of the house is something which inspires awe from many visitors. It’s an excellent example of Queen Anne design, an English Baroque architectural style which gained popularity during the rule of Queen Anne and through which architects abandoned the previously rigid concepts of modesty and orderliness.
Being the only private house opened to public for exploration, Haas-Lilienthal House offers a great opportunity for all history and architectural enthusiasts to visit and learn more about the Queen Anne style and architecture of the Victorian era. The only way to visit and explore Haas-Lilienthal House is to a book guided tour which lasts for 1 hour. The entrance to the site is not free and tickets can be purchased for a nominal fee.
9. Coit Tower
Located in Pioneer Park of Telegraph Hill neighborhood, Coit Tower is one of the best architectural sites that San Francisco has to offer. Built in 1932, Coit Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 and has been a significant part of San Francisco’s skyline since its inception. It’s a popular site amongst tourists and visitors as the top of the tower offers a panoramic view of the entire city and the bay. You can even see the popular Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge from the observation deck of the tower.
Coit Tower is named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, benefactor of the city’s firefighters, who left a large bequest with the purpose of beautifying San Francisco, a city she claimed to “have always loved”. The money that she left behind was used not only to build the Coit Tower but was also put towards erect a monument honoring the lives of those who voluntarily fought fire in the city.
An iconic figure in the firefighting history of San Francisco, Lillie Hitchcock Coit was considered an honorary firefighter due to her enthusiasm and willingness to help at every instance of a fire breaking out in the city. She was also far modern for the times she lived in as she gambled, smoked, and wore trousers all of which were things that were frowned upon when undertaken by a woman.
Coit Tower was built out of white, solid concrete. The architectural design of the tower was a product of architectural firm of Arthur Brown, Jr. The exterior of the tower was never painted, but the interior of this architectural site in features murals painted by a group of 25 artists in 1934. The fresco murals are made in the style of American Social Realism and illustrate what life in California looked like during The Great Depression. Coit Tower also features two other paintings which, unlike the murals, were installed after completion.
Coit Tower is a San Francisco Designated Landmark and stands as an example of one of the most significant architectural sites in San Francisco. Guided group tours of the place are available and can be booked for a nominal fee per person. They involve full tour of the tower along with exploration of all of its murals. There is also a fee attached with the use of the tower’s elevator which takes visitors to the observation deck, the spot from where you can enjoy 360-degree views of the city and its bay.
8. St. Mary’s Cathedral
The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption is a Roman Catholic Church located at Gough Street and Geary Street. Rising to a height of nearly 17 meters, St. Mary’s Cathedral is a redesigned, modern version of the Old St. Mary’s Cathedral. It was built and designed bya team of local and international architects who gave shape to it with concrete work.
The architectural design of the building is complicated, and incorporates several techniques. The most prominent feature of the place is its saddle roof which has both a square and a cross as the shape of its cross-section. This is perhaps the reason why it was names at one of the 10 most beautiful churches in the United States of America.
7. Mission Dolores
Located in the Mission District, Mission Dolores is not only one of the best architecture in San Francisco but is also quite celebrated as the oldest building of the city. Originally called Mission San Francisco de Asis, this architectural site of the city was first built in 1776 by the Franciscan Order, the 7th Spanish mission seeking to colonize California. Starting out small, Mission Dolores expanded through the ages and has always been culturally and religiously significant to the city.
Ever since its inception, Mission Dolores has weathered several hard years of history including the Mexican War of Independence and the devastating earthquake of 1906. Today, it stands as one of the most popular sites of the city and boasts the city’s most beautiful rose gardens and houses a great collection of rare and beautiful art.
Mission Dolores is not only one of the best architectural sites curated in the city, it also holds considerable historical and cultural importance. The Mission Dolores Mural is one of the most popular attractions of the place as it was painted by the Native Americans in the 1700s and stands as a symbol of the tragic history associated with their religious slavery. Mission Dolores is also home to one of the only two cemeteries of the city.
The Mission Dolores cemetery is the burial place for more than 5,000 people who contributed to the Mission in one way or another. Although the cemetery has been flattened to a great extent, the graves at this place date as far back as 1830s. It’s also in this very cemetery that the first governor of Alta California under Mexican rule, Luis Antonio Arguello, is buried.
Apart from exploring the interior of the site, there is also plenty of things that you can explore outdoors. The rose gardens, for example, are excellent and considered one of the best of the city. They house plants much similar to those found in the 18th century and also include an Indian Botanical Garden exclusively containing Native American plants. Like other architectural sites of San Francisco, guided tours of Mission Dolores are also available. If visiting on a Sunday, you can even hear the award-winning choir of the place known as the Basilica Choir which performs at 10:00 a.m.
6. War Memorial Opera House
War Memorial Opera House is one of the most celebrated architectural sites of San Francisco. It was built to honor the lives lost during World War I and is one of the most aesthetically pleasing sites of the city.
Like the Coit Tower, War Memorial Opera House was designed by Arthur Brown, Jr and has a distinct American Renaissance Style. A California Historical Landmark, it has been the venue of two events of global importance i.e. the place where the charter of the UN was charted in 1945 and where the ceremony restoring the sovereignty of Japan was conducted in 1951.
Today, it stands as an excellent architectural site and house of both San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet.
5. City Hall
Located at 400 Van Ness Avenue, the City Hall building as we know it today is situated near the plot of the old City Hall building which was devastated by the 1906 earthquake and fire that raged across the city of San Francisco. The architectural beauty of the City Hall came as a result of a need for a new building which would serve as a civic center of the city.
In order to build the City Hall, a city-wide design competition was held to choose the best architects for the designing and styling of the place. The first prize was bagged by Bakewell & Brown. The architectural style of the place revolved around the classical style in Greece and Rome and came to be known as one of the examples of Beaux Art style architecture which refers to a design school in Paris.
As much as the exterior image of the City Hall is attractive, the interior of the place also holds architectural importance. There are sculptures in the central rotunda which were designed by Henri Crenier. The rotunda of the upper floors is surrounded by a classical balustrade and everything about the rotunda and the interior has granite and Indiana limestone finishing. Apart from this, the stairs and floors of the place are all made out of white marble.
After surviving considerable damage wrought by the 1906 earthquake, the City Hall building was reinforced with earthquake-resistant, shock-absorbent enhancements so nothing like the moving of the dome 4 inches due to earthquake can happen again.
The beautiful architecture of City Hall and its exuberant interior design has made it a popular wedding destination and it has appeared many times in movies and TV shows.
4. Hobart Building
Like other architectural sites on the list, Hobart Building is one of the most famous historic landmarks of San Francisco. Hobart Building is located at 582-592 Market Street and is considered an excellent example of classical revival architectural style. It was built in 1914 and designed by the famous architect Willis Polk, who named this has his most favorite building of all time.
The best thing about Hobart Building in the financial district of San Francisco is the way it fits into the plain architectural scene of the district while at the same time stands out due to the sophisticated genius of its design. The lower part of the building, in particular, is unremarkable. The lower part differs in no way from the rest of the buildings on Market Street but it’s the upper part of this high-rise building which actually exhibits the magnificence of its design.
Hobart Building has an exuberant terra cotta exterior and a truly special Italian marble interior. But this place is not all about architecture. Rather, it offers as much functionality as aesthetics. Hobart Building is the office site for many businesses. This 21-floor tower offers 20 floors of suites ranging from 200 to 3,000 square feet which can be leased for 1 to 3 years.
Rising to a full height of nearly 87 meters, Hobart Building is an example of one of the best architecture in San Francisco.
3. William Westerfeld House
Located at 1198 Fulton Street just round the corner of Scoot Street, William Westerfeld House is one of the most storied architectural sites of San Francisco. It was built in 1889 in Eastlake design for William Westerfeld and was estimated to have the construction cost of over $10,000. Today, William Westerfeld House is on the list of National Register of Historic Places and is officially considered a San Francisco Landmark.
After the death of William Westerfeld, the William Westerfeld House was populated by a rich variety of different personalities. From Czarist Russians to celebrated architects to jazz musicians and famous producers, William Westerfeld House saw a host of inhabitants.
There are many spooky stories revolving around the dark nature of William Westerfeld House as it was occupied by Kenneth Anger, an occult filmmaker. One of the frequent visitors of the place was Beausoleil who was also involved with the Manson Family and is known to have committed multiple murders. The founder of the Church of Satan was also one of the frequent visitors of William Westerfeld House. It’s also believed that many satanic rituals were conducted in the ballroom of this very historic landmark of San Francisco.
The rich (and dark) history behind William Westerfeld House makes it one of the most interesting places to visit in San Francisco, and its architecture is something you do not want to miss out on.
2. Grace Cathedral
There is no lack of architectural magnificence in the iconic city of San Francisco. Located on Nob Hill, Grace Cathedral is the perfect example of how exuberant the architecture of the city can be. As a cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of California, Grace Cathedral is home to one of the very few remaining Episcopal men and boys cathedral choirs.
Inspired by the Goth architecture of cathedrals in different parts of France, the Art Deco exterior of Grace Cathedral is a sight to behold. The Ghiberti Doors which make up one of the entrances of the Cathedral are a replica of Gates of Paradise designed by an Italian artist. Grace Cathedral also houses two labyrinths and is fitted with various stained glass windows. Furnished with medieval and contemporary pieces, Grace Cathedral is one of the best kept architectural sites of San Francisco.
1. Golden Gate Bridge
There is so much known about Golden Gate Bridge already that adding this piece of architecture to the list seems both necessary and redundant at once. Even though nothing new that you don’t already know about this site can be said, the list of 10 of the best architectures in San Francisco would seem incomplete and useless without the mention of one of the most celebrated landmarks of the world. Engineered by Joseph B. Strauss, the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco is one of the world’s longest bridges. The modern elegant structure of the bridge embellished with subtle Art Deco details makes it an emblem of San Francisco. It’s just one of those sites that you cannot leave the city without visiting.