Even though San Francisco is essentially only seven by seven square miles, what it lacks in space, it makes up for in its architecture. From the small residential homes to the tall skyscrapers of downtown, San Francisco’s architecture also varies in size, stylistic era, and materials. Here is a guide for a DIY walking tour of San Francisco architecture in and around the Financial District.
*Begin this walking tour on the southwest corner of Market Street and First Street. Here is part one and part two of the walking tour’s path put together on Google Maps. The total walking time without stops is about 40 minutes – breaks are encouraged though at numerous locations.
What To Do Here: Look for the plaque to discover where the shoreline reached in 1848. The California Historic Landmark 83 in San Francisco contains two shoreline markers, one of which is located on the corner of Market Street and First Street. Look for the plaque on the southwest corner of the intersection that marks where the shoreline was in 1848. If you’re standing on or around the plaque and facing down Market Street towards the Ferry Building, everything from that point on is built on top of landfill or sunken ships. The other shoreline marker is located north on First Street on the corner of Market Street, Battery Street, and Bush Street. Shoreline Plaque, 100 Bush St, San Francisco, CA, USA*Continue north on First Street to the next street corner to see the second shoreline plaque. Turn left to head west on Bush Street.
What To Do Here: Take in the building’s beauty. The Shell Building is an office building constructed in 1930 with 28 floors. The building’s design is Art Deco inspired and created by George Kelham with a shell motif and terra cotta exterior. In 1994, the Shell Building won the San Francisco Architectural Heritage Award for architectural preservation. The three-story lobby is the highlight of this building’s interior, which is also decorated with marble and bronze. *Continue west on Bush Street. Destination on the right.
What To Do Here: Appreciate the tininess of city living. Across the street is The Heineman Building at 130 Bush Street, which is the narrowest building in San Francisco at less than 20 feet wide. In 1910, the Heineman Building was originally a belt, tie and suspender factory. With ten floors, the Heineman is no longer a factory but still holds true to its Gothic-style architecture with copper ornamentations. *Continue west on Bush Street and make the first left on Sansome Street.
What To Do Here: Walk through the outdoor plaza. One Bush Plaza, or the Crown-Zellerbach Building, is a 19-story building designed by Edward Charles Bassett that opened in 1959. The Crown-Zellerbach Building was the first International Style curtain-wall tower in San Francisco, excluding the Hallidie Building (mentioned later on the tour), which only obtained a curtain-wall façade. Each floor within the building has approximately 15,000 square feet without the intrusion of columns. The Crown-Zellerbach Building is surrounded by a public POPOS garden, or walk-through sunken into the ground 12 feet below street level, which is most commonly referred to as One Bush Plaza, taking up two-thirds of the site. One Bush Plaza was designed by the same architect with a Japanese minimalist style. There are rocks, a fountain sculpture, various plant life, but no seating. The building stands on pilotis to allow a walk way below it and cantilevers 11 feet. *Continue South on Sansome Street and turn right onto Sutter Street. Continue West on Sutter Street.
What To Do Here: Walk into the lobby to enjoy the interior’s architecture. The Hunter-Dulin Building, or 111 Sutter Street, is a spin on a French chateau building with a terra cotta exterior. Designed by Shultze and Weaver, a New York architecture firm, in 1927, the Hunter-Dulin Building was the fourth tallest building in San Francisco at the time with 22 floors. The building is equipped with a 38-foot mansard roof, or four-sided sloping roof, and a vaulted lobby. During construction, the concrete foundation was continuously poured in just under two days for faster results. Lastly, from 1999 to 2001, the Hunter-Dulin Building was contemporary renovated with a budget of 23 million dollars. The copper spires on the roof were removed at this time for cost-efficiency, but then restored in 2005 in its proper locale amongst the French Romanesque building. *Continue west on Sutter Street. Next location will be immediately across the street.
What To Do Here: Admire the building’s façade from below or on the POPOS across the street at the Crocker Galleria mentioned next. Like the Hobart Building, the Hallidie Building was also designed by Willis Polk and built in 1917, making the Hallidie Building Polk’s last major work. The seven-story building was originally an investment for University of California, Berkeley and was named after Andrew Smith Hallidie, the inventor of San Francisco’s famous cable car. The Hallidie is one of the world’s first glass curtain-walled buildings. The Gothic-style façade is blue with ornate gold metalwork and zinc panels embellished with birds and flowers. The façade was renovated for two years and completed in 2013 with more structural support without disrupting the exterior’s much-admired look. The building is home to AIA San Francisco, AIGA, the U.S. Green Building Council, Charles M. Salter Associates, and Coordinated Resources, Inc. *Continue left on Sutter Street and then take the first left into the next location.
What To Do Here: Enjoy the POPOS and a meal or some retail shopping at this galleria – you can even connect to Wi-Fi. Located in Union Square, the Crocker Galleria is an indoor-outdoor shopping mall filled with eateries. The galleria is three floors with ample seating and an elegant glass pavilion above. Free Wi-Fi is available as well as outdoor seating. Here is a list of their shops, restaurants and services, which entails everything from cafés to Mexican or Asian cuisine to jewelry and clothing shops. On the third floor of the Crocker Galleria is a POPOS, Privately Owned Public Open Spaces. From there, you can view the previous building on the tour across the street, the Hallidie Building, or if you’re enjoying the POPOS, there is another POPOS with access from the historic Wells Fargo Bank to the east of the Crocker Galleria, just next door, on Montgomery Street and Post Street. *Continue south to exit and turn left on Post Street. Take the first left on Montgomery Street then make an immediate right turn towards Market Street on a pedestrian pathway. Continue towards Market Street and the destination is on the left.
What To Do Here: Gaze at the beautiful building from below. The Hobart Building contains office spaces that can be leased for one to three years. The building was constructed in 1914 by the architect Willis Polk. The exterior is composed of terra cotta, and the interior’s materiality consists of handcrafted brass and Italian marble, creating a classical revival-style architecture. That being said, the building has been renovated to modern days with changes such as operable windows. *Take a right on Market Street to head southwest. Then take the first left turn onto New Montgomery Street. Destination on the right.
What To Do Here: Have brunch or tea or relax in the lounge. The Palace Hotel opened in 1875 and was designed by architect and engineer John Painter Gaynor. The hotel was severely damaged due to the fire that followed the 1906 earthquake, but the Palace Hotel was restored in 1909, making it the oldest surviving hotel in San Francisco. There is a vibrant lounge, two restaurants and dining area for afternoon tea or brunch on Sundays – reservations can be made here. *Continue southeast on New Montgomery Street. Take the third right onto Mission Street. Continue Southwest on Mission Street. Destination will be on the left.
What To Do Here: Picnic on the grass, enjoy a stroll through the landscape, or check out a neighboring museum. Yerba Buena Gardens is an open grass field with public art. In the surrounding area, there is the Children’s Creativity Museum, Contemporary Jewish Museum, SFMOMA Museum Store, Museum of the African Diaspora, Cartoon Art Museum, California Historical Society, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Society of California Pioneers.
What To Do Here: Walk into Frank Lloyd Wright’s circle gallery. The Xanadu Gallery was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1940; it is a small circle gallery that currently houses Asian artifacts such as masks, furnishings, sculptures, textiles, and more. There are also accessories for sale, like jewelry and scarves. *Continue west on Maiden Lane through Union Square (or around it by turning right on Stockholm Street and then first left on Post Street). Once exhibited, turn right on Powell Street and continue north on Powell Street until California Street. Turn left at California Street. Destination is on the left. (This location can be switched for the last location if drinks are desired as a final stop).
What To Do Here: Stay for a drink on the top floor for a fantastic view. The InterContinental Mark Hopkins is a hotel that opened in December of 1926. With a combined French chateau and Spanish Renaissance architecture, the hotel has ornate terra cotta decorations on its exterior. Due to the unique three-fold shape, the hotel has outstanding views, which you can experience from the Top of The Mark – a glass-to-glass cocktail lounge created in 1939 by the hotel owner, George D. Smith – on the 19th floor of the hotel. Many famous guests have stayed at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins such as Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Elizabeth Taylor, Prince Philip, Queen Juliana, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, and more. In 1987, ten million dollars was used to renovate the ballroom and restore all 391 rooms of the hotel in a neoclassical style with custom furniture. More restorations were completed in 1996 to the Top of The Mark and a general repair in 2002. *Continue west on California Street. Final destination is on the Right. (This destination can be switched with the previous one if drinks are desired as a final stop).
What To Do Here: Walk along either of the two labyrinths. Grace Cathedral was built from 1927 to 1964 after the previous church was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The following year, in 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at the cathedral. Even though the building is constructed from concrete and steel, the cathedral still maintains a traditional French Gothic-style architecture. There are 68 stained-glass windows designed by five different artists that when combined, cover 7,290 square feet, and there are also 44 English bells located in the right tower. Both inside the cathedral and outside is a walking labyrinth created in the 1990s. You can also enjoy the various sculptures, murals, paintings, altarpieces, tapestries, needlepoint, three organs, and other items inside.