The “City by the Bay” is in constant change and there are always new things to discover as I just recently found out during my latest trip to San Francisco. Wherever it is architecture, urban planning or simply new perspectives to enjoy one of the most recognized skylines in the world. Find out my latest 36 favorite places to head to.
Aquatic Park Pier
One of my favorite spots to head to for a walk after the strenuous transatlantic flight. While the pier itself has been voted as “Best Fishing Place in San Francisco” in 2009, I particularly like the panoramic views from it onto the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the skyline. It was declared as a National Historic Landmark in 1987 and belongs together with Aquatic Beach and the Maritime Museum to the Aquatic Park Historic District. It is also one of the favorite spots for the locals to go swimming at.
Having one of the longest spans in the United States, the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge carries more than 240,000 vehicles a day on two decks. Even though it looks much more modern from the design at first, the bridge opened in 1936 and therefore six months ahead of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is one of San Francisco´s most recognized landmarks and received much attention during the 1989 earthquake when parts of the upper level collapsed onto the lower one. There are several vista points onto the bridge, the most classic one is down from the pier. In 2013, light artist Leo Villareal equipped the bridge´s vertical cables with 25,000 LED lights to create his “Light the Bay” light installation. Computer generated, randomly picked scenarios are projected onto the cables, making Bay Bridge an eyesight at night.
Beach Street Parking Garage
My new hobby is climbing parking garages. Not only because most of them are freely accessible and they are predominantly located in prime spots throughout the cities, but majorly since they offer amazing panoramic views onto the skyline from an elevated perspective. And absolutely for free. One of my favorite views is from this one down at Fisherman´s Wharf.
Bush Street View
I love the view from Bush Street where it merges from Lower Nob Hill into the Financial District. It is one of these spots where you can visually very well experience the transformation from classic San Francisco architecture to the city´s modern today.
California Street Cable Car Turnaround
The past meets the future. Love the contrast between the old and the new San Francisco in the center of the hustle and bustle of the Financial District.
Claude & Mark Lane
Described as two of San Francisco´s cutest alleyways with some of the best restaurants, Claude and Mark Lane located close to Union Square are very popular hotspots for locals to meet at. They both have this special NYC back street style to it and their secluded location is perfect for outdoor dining.
Marking the official entry into North America´s largest Chinatown and the largest Chinese enclave outside China, the gate is one of the city´s most photographed landmarks. The intersection is particularly busy and it is great fun to nestle in at a window seat inside the Starbucks just opposite the road to watch the hustle and bustle all around it.
Probably one of the city´s most typical landmarks and a masterpiece in modern architecture is the 9.8 acres commercial and shopping complex right in the heart of the Financial District. Consisting of altogether five office towers, two hotels, two movie theaters and an underground shopping center with over 125 stores, bars and restaurants, Embarcadero Center is not only a must see for architecture fans, but also great to retreat to when looking for a little peace and quiet during the day. The elevated terrace that runs over the entire length of the complex is beautifully planted and offers lots of benches to relax on while enjoying the amazing views.
It is one of San Francisco´s most prominent buildings and still the vanguard for the same name luxury hotel company. Having been the set for many movies already, it particularly became world-known as the fictional St. Gregory Hotel in the popular TV series “Hotel”. It was completed just shortly before the devastating 1906 earthquake and the opening had to be delayed by a year due to heavy reconstruction of the interiors of which most had been destroyed by fire. It was also the site of Tony Bennett´s first performance of his international smash hit “I left my heart in San Francisco”.
Opened in 1898, the Ferry Building used to be for decades the focal transportation point in San Francisco. With the opening of the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge, ferry services decreased over the next years so much, that most of the space inside was converted into offices in the 1950´s. Since 2003, the beautiful building hosts an impressive public food market called “The Marketplace”. It still is one of the city´s most recognized landmarks with the beautiful bell tower marking the end of Market Street.
First Republic Bank
If you haven´t know it yet, San Francisco has it´s own “Flatiron” version. The tower on Market Street is an interesting development from its obvious inspiration of a classic.
Not many skylines are as changing as the modern San Francisco one. Particularly the South of Market District is currently one of the busiest construction sites within the city with lots of new highrises reaching for the sky. The lower 34 floors are planned for office space while the upper 15 ones will hold luxury condominiums with an open air terrace on the top of the building. Upon completion, it will be the third tallest building in San Francisco. It reminds me a little bit of the fictional building in the 1974 disaster movie “The Towering Inferno”.
This impressive and beautiful Episcopal cathedral towers just opposite of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. It is well-known for its two labyrinths, the beautiful mosaics, Keith Haring´s AIDS chapel altarpiece and its forty-four bell carillon. It does resemble a little bit the famous Paris Notre-Dame, don´t you think?
75 Howard Garage
Located right across Rincon Park, the garage offers an amazing panoramic view onto Bay Bridge and the modern buildings of South of Market.
Howard Street Fountain
Makes a cool place for Bay Bridge pictures.
Ina Coolbrith Park
Ina Coolbrith was a famous writer and poet in the early 20th century in the San Francisco area also referred to as the “Sweet Singer of California”. This little commemorative park on Russian Hill is the perfect place for retreating to and to enjoy the spectacular bay views.
Le Beau Market
Definitely one of my favorite family run delis with great sandwiches, a great selection of drinks and snacks and one of the sexiest cashiers. I love to hang out on the seats outside to enjoy my lunch while watching the street scenes of Nob Hill.
The sleek and minimalistic tower is the headquarter to LinkedIn and was built as 222 Second Street. While it is a great example of today´s modernism, the building has been criticized by the San Francisco Chronicle as being aesthetically out-of-place on Second Street, “an alien presence in a well-established setting”.
Called one of the most crooked streets in the world, the views from the top of this one block section are most spectacular. It is part of the Highway 101 and one of San Francisco´s most visited landmarks.
Located in a completely flat (yes, that´s right) territory, the Marina district is today one of the city´s most trendiest and most chic neighborhoods around. It is actually funny to know that the area had been the rubble dump of destroyed downtown buildings after the 1906 earthquake. I love walking the side streets on afternoons and weekends. It is such a pretty place to visit.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company
With literally no windows at all, this branch of Pacific Gas & Electric is quite an eyesight of distinctive architecture within the ultra modern neighborhood.
I happened to stumble by luck over a blog post that mentioned the beautiful lobby of the Palace Hotel, just one block off Market Street. And, of course, I had to see it for myself. It was opened in 1909 and belongs today to the Marriott hotel chain. Its central Palm Court truly is a monumental spot to enjoy an afternoon tea or an after work cocktail at.
Palace of Fine Arts
While originally being constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, today´s building date only back to 1965. It remains a highly popular site for tourists and wedding photographers and the small yet picturesque park enclosing the premise is a popular recreational spot for locals on sunny days.
Pier 30 Lot
Enjoy marvelous skyline views of San Francisco´s aspiring South of Market quarter with all of its shiny new luxury apartment buildings, as well as the 180 degree panorama of Bay Bridge from this parking lot.
This beautiful Art Deco inspired building complex seems a little bit out-of-place to the feet of the Bay Bridge. While rather fitting to the Miami skyline, Portside was completed in 1994 and offers 62 deluxe condominiums at the Embarcadero waterfront.
101 2nd Public Open Space
Like most of San Francisco´s office buildings, 101 Second Street tower features a public space accessible throughout the day. The light flooded four-story atrium holds artworks by painter Charles Arnoldi and sculptor Larry Bell.
This iconic meeting spot by the water offers grand bay views and lots of public space to sit and unwind on while enjoying the vistas.
Saints Peter and Paul Church
The “Italian Cathedral of the West” is the home and cultural center for San Francisco´s large Italian-American community. Its prominent location right at Washington Square in the beautiful North Beach neighborhood makes it a popular meeting point particularly on weekends.
Being the centerpiece of the Transbay redevelopment, Salesforce Tower will be San Francisco´s tallest skyscraper upon completion. It will open in 2018 and with its 61 floors, it will surpass the famous Transamerica Pyramid by 21 meters in height.
Sailors´ Union of the Pacific Building
The beautiful Art Moderne classic at the intersection of Fremont and Harrison was built of white stone and concrete in 1950.
303 Second Street Plaza Parking
The upper level of the parking garage allows extended views onto the bustling construction redevelopment of the South of Market District
Stockton Tunnel Lookout
I had not been aware of the fact that San Francisco does have a city tunnel. From atop the underpass, you have a great view onto Stockton Street past Union Square.
Head up to Level 12 and experience the spectacular 360 degree panorama over San Francisco. One of the best inner city views you can get for free!
Probably the most iconic building of the San Francisco skyline will remain my personal favorite even in the future. Best views onto it can be enjoyed from Columbus Avenue.
Transbay Transit Center
The 4.5 Billion redevelopment of the previous transit center will feature an outdoor terrace that will be designed in the style of the New York Highline Park. It will combine all sorts of Bay area transportation, including trains and buses.
The masonic temple with its beautiful mosaic window is an auditorium located across the street from Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill. The building contains gravel and soil from each of the 58 counties in California.
This trip once again proved me that San Francisco is a city in constant change and that there are always new places to discover. Here are a few more snapshots from my latest urban exploration. They all proof, that the City by the Bay holds something in stock around every single corner, wherever you have your eyes on the streets or in the sky…