Famous Architecture Walking Tour (Self Guided), San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the world's top travel destinations, being famous for spectacular tourist attractions like Alcatraz Island, Fisherman's Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge. But besides that, this city also features a large variety of world-known architecture, like Transamerica Pyramid, Grace Cathedral and others. Take this walking tour to explore the most famous architectural buildings in San Francisco.
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Famous Architecture Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Famous Architecture Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » San Francisco (See other walking tours in San Francisco)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • St. Patrick's Catholic Church
  • James C. Flood Mansion
  • Grace Cathedral
  • St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral
  • 555 California Street
  • Transamerica Pyramid
  • Coit Tower
St. Patrick's Catholic Church

1) St. Patrick's Catholic Church (must see)

Amidst all the changes the city of San Francisco has seen, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church has stood unmoved. Standing on Mission Street, the Church was founded in 1851 and has borne many winds of change. The white and gold Botticino marble and the green Connemara marble distinctly bring out the Irish colors in the building's architecture. The high ceilings and the tall ornate altar of the Church captivate every visitor of the Church.

Since its consecration, the Church has seen many changes in the city of San Francisco. It saw the fire and earthquake of 1906, but stood unperturbed and served the Irish immigrants in the area. With the intrusion of the Spanish speaking population, the Church served them alike, just the way it now treats its Fillipino community. Certain weekdays, the Church organizers arrange for lunchtime concerts for those who like chamber music. For tourists and city dwellers alike, the Church is a place to find solace from the hustle and bustle of the area surrounding it.

Weddings and Baptisms are common in the Church. However, the Latin Mass on Sundays is popular and soothing. The richness of the Church can be seen on the green stained Tiffany styled windows which were imported from Ireland and display thirty-two patron saints, each belonging to a county in Ireland.

Why You Should Visit:
Combined with the Yerba Buena gardens just across the street, this church provides a small piece of tranquility, as well as an interesting contrast to the city's landscape.
James C. Flood Mansion

2) James C. Flood Mansion

James Clair Flood, known as one of the ‘Bonanza Kings’ was famous for two buildings, Linden Towers in Menlo Park and James C. Flood Mansion in San Francisco. Although, Linden Towers was brought down in 1936, Flood Mansion stands as Pacific-Union Club today.

Born in New York, Flood came to California around the time gold was discovered in San Francisco. He started off a saloon, then a stock broking firm which went on to become the richest firm in America in less than 20 years of its inception. The firm then started a mining operations in Comstock Lode, the biggest silver mine in the world. The firm also set up the Bank of Nevada.

Flood then built this 42 room mansion in 1885, a couple of years before his death. The brownstone used in the construction was shipped around Cape Horn. The location of the mansion is the Nob Hill, which was the most opulent area at that time. However, the fire gutted this structure in 1906 although the building survived the earthquake. The Pacific-Union Club soon took over this building in 1907 and maintained the structure, whist using it as the headquarters for their operations. The structure has been unaltered ever since and was declared as a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Grace Cathedral

3) Grace Cathedral (must see)

An Episcopal church, the Grace Cathedral is visited by Christians and tourists from all over the world. Built in 1849, the Grace Church was a little chapel located at a different site. A fire in 1906 destroyed the Grace Cathedral, as it was called then. A daughter cathedral was then commissioned at the Nob Hill site by the Crocker family, which is the present day Grace Cathedral. Lewis Hobart designed this magnificent structure in French Gothic style which was then built in concrete and steel.

The Cathedral is visited by tourists for the famous work of De Rosen. De Rosen’s work in the Cathedral is visible in the aisle, as an altarpiece in the Chapel of Grace and as a mural in the Chapel of Nativity’s Adoration, where one can also see De Rosen’s childhood home in Warsaw. The Ghiberti Doors, a replica of the east door at the Florence Baptistery, add to the beauty of the Grace Cathedral. The patterns on the labyrinth of the Cathedral are capable of bringing one to a meditative state. The Cathedral has over 7000 sq. ft of breath-taking glass windows depicting over 1000 figures in human history. A forty-four bell carillon is rung to mark important days in the history of the city and the country. The Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys is one of the only seven remaining men and boys choir of the Episcopal Church.

Why You Should Visit:
A peaceful respite from the world outside, enhanced by many beautiful works of art.

Walk the labyrinth (circular, meditative food path) outside before entering, and walk an additional one inside. Also, check out the beautiful stained glass (sunny evenings are gorgeous).

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 7am-6pm; Sat: 8am-6pm; Sun: 8am-7pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral

4) St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral

Located on the corner of Grant Avenue and California Street, the Old Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception has witnessed the progress of the city of San Francisco since its inception in 1854. Built to serve as the Cathedral for the city, this structure was once the tallest building in the city. Commissioned by the new Bishop, Joseph Alemany, the Cathedral was built from the donations given by John Sullivan, an Irish emigrant and the Christian and Jew communities of the area.

The area surrounding the Cathedral faced moral deterioration, with the rise of Chinese gangs and brothels. A sign under the clock face, to this date reminds men of taking the right path in life and not be attracted by evil. Though the Cathedral survived the earthquake of 1906, a fire that followed destroyed the church bells and the altar. The Cathedral was then renovated in 1909 after much debate. The fire had also destroyed the bars and brothels in the neighbourhood and the new settlers of the area took to Christianity. The Cathedral then underwent expansion by building three chapels and a 500 seat auditorium. During the Second World War, the Cathedral acted as a relief point for over 450,000 soldiers, where they could have a meal or celebrate a holiday away from home.
555 California Street

5) 555 California Street

Apart from being the second tallest building in the city of San Francisco, 555 California Street, is a display of wealth and power of the Bank of America. Formerly known as the Bank of America Centre, this 52- story sky scraper is located in the “FiDi” or Financial District, a commercial area of San Francisco city. Built in 1969, the building was designed by Pietro Belluschi and architectural responsibilities were shared by famous firms Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and Wurster, Bernardi and Emmons.

A large plaza made as a mark of honour for A.P. Giannini, the founder of the Bank of America, lies to the north of the building. Masayuki Nagare’s granite sculpture called ‘Transcendence’ is located in this plaza. A high speed elevator would take you to the exclusive restaurant on the 52nd floor called the ‘Carnelian Room’- derived from carnelian granite, which this building is clad in. However, the recession closed this unique restaurant in 2009. The bay windows commonly seen in the city also form of a part of this magnanimous architecture.

Apart from housing offices of some big names in business like Goldman Sachs, Kirkland and Ellis, Barclays Capital, Morgan Stanley etc., the building has also made appearances in movies like ‘An Eye for an Eye’ and ‘The Towering Inferno’. The 1998 merger with Nations Bank moved the headquarters of Bank of America to Charlotte and the $1.05 billion sale in 2005, renamed the building 555 California Street, as we know it today.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Transamerica Pyramid

6) Transamerica Pyramid (must see)

The Transamerica Pyramid stands as a monument of modern architecture and design in the almost Victorian landscape of San Francisco. Today, the building stands as a unique symbol of the city with its sharp and well-defined lines and ultra-modern architecture while demonstrating the merger of the old with the new.

Although the Transamerica Pyramid does seem to blend in with the city’s landscape, initially it did not go very well with many of its denizens. The architect of the building William L. Pereira faced a lot of opposition, regarding the radical structure of the building which would clash with the Victorian style of surrounding architecture. However, Pereira believed that the structure would be a statement of architectural brilliance, and very much so, the Transamerica Pyramid today is one of the modern day symbols of San Francisco.

The Transamerica Pyramid was constructed in 1972 and for years held a position among the top 5 tallest buildings in the world. Measuring up to 260m, the Transamerica Pyramid is still the tallest building in the city of San Francisco. This structure was built as the headquarters of Transamerica Corporation, but no longer houses the company. Despite that, the building is still strongly linked to Transamerica since it is incorporated in the company’s logo.

Why You Should Visit:
While the views from further away (e.g. Coit Tower) are probably more interesting, up close you can easily see the curves as the building rises.

Neat the base, you can find a really cool, but small, adjacent city park hosting Redwood trees.
Coit Tower

7) Coit Tower (must see)

Standing tall in the neighborhood of the Telegraph Hill, in San Francisco is The Coit Memorial Tower. This 64 m tall tower was built in honor of the firefighters of San Francisco Bay area. Built with respect to the art-deco style in architecture, The Coit Tower is quite noticeable and instantly attracts one's attention in the serene landscape of the San Francisco sky. The Coit Memorial Tower receives a lot of visitors around the year and mainly due to the breathtaking view of the city the Tower offers.

Not only does it stand for a noble cause, the reason for the erection of the Tower is also worth notice. The Coit Tower was built in 1933 upon request from a devoted patron of the firefighters of San Francisco- Lillie Hitchcock Coit (1842-1929). So much was her love for her city and its inhabitants that she donated one-third of her wealth to San Francisco city. She shared a special bond with the firefighters and on many occasions had volunteered to shoulder the responsibility of putting off a fire. She was also reported to chase fires around the city and it was this eccentric and brave nature that made her the mascot of the Engine Co. and now is the Matron Saint of the San Francisco firefighters.

The views are just as good from the base as they are from the tower itself so if the elevator queue is too long then you can skip it and enjoy the free views and walks around the neighborhood.
Also note the tower closes at 5pm and is cash only.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Fri: 10am-5pm; Sat: 9am-6pm

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