Once upon a time, the park was agricultural space used for growing potatoes and raise cattle. As the San Francisco street grid was designed and implemented in 1847, the space became a city square adjacent to a cemetery, but it was neglected to the point that it became an unofficial dump. Its care improved over the years, and by the 1860s the square became host to a number of holiday celebrations and festivals. Eventually it became an iconic part of San Francisco, featured in movies like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and The Dead Pool, and the park was finally granted landmark status in 2000.
The park features a small, cast iron statue of Benjamin Franklin, the oldest monument still standing in San Francisco today. The statue features spigots that once dispensed drinking water, inscribed with the names of famous California mineral springs. Originally located at Market and Kearny, the statue was moved to Washington Square Park in 1904. A time capsule was placed under it, and in 1979 it was opened and replaced with a new capsule to be opened in 2079.
One of the park’s main attractions is its view of Saint Peter and Paul Church, which towers across the street as a Roman architectural marvel with two massive spires and a stone façade. The church is often mistakenly referred to as the place where Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio in 1954, but in fact, they were unable to be married in the church because DiMaggio was previously divorced. Instead, the couple tied the knot elsewhere, returning to the church after their ceremony to take wedding photos.
Today, Washington Square Park is a popular spot for locals to relax in the sun and enjoy a picnic or a meal from a nearby restaurant. In the summer, events are frequently hosted in the square, including free concerts, festivals, rallies, and film nights. When visiting the park, take advantage of its location in the heart of San Francisco’s Little Italy by grabbing a bite at one of the surrounding Italian restaurants. Why not grab a slice of pizza on the next block at Golden Boy Pizza and bring it to the park for a picnic? Or sit down with family or friends at Mama’s, an incredibly popular breakfast spot with a cozy atmosphere located at the corner of Stockton and Filbert. Some other great nearby spots include Park Tavern and Liguria Bakery.