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December 23, 2016

San Francisco’s 20 most iconic buildings

The San Francisco cityscape you see now is but a fleeting image. The city’s explosive building boom has our skyline morphing as fast as the Apple product roster. But in this age of change, some things really do stay the same. Here’s a look at 20 iconic San Francisco buildings that have withstood the test of time.

1 Transamerica Pyramid

In true San Francisco fashion, this building was reviled by many when it was completed in 1972 as the headquarters for the Transamerica Corporation (they no longer occupy it). The purpose of its tapered design is to let light onto the street below. Back then, San Francisco Chronicle architectural critic Alan Temko called it “the biggest architectural dunce cap in the world.” Now, it’s one of the most beloved and recognizable buildings in the city.


600 Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94111

2 The Sentinel

Construction on this flatiron building started in 1906. Luckily, it survived the earthquake and was finished in 1907. Today, it’s known for its distinctive shape and copper cladding (which has turned green over the years). After he was released from San Quentin, San Francisco’s famously corrupt political boss Abe Ruef made his office in the top floor. Today it’s owned by film director Francis Ford Coppola, and he maintains an office in the building.

37 New Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 284-9960

3 Coit Tower

Coit Tower stands at the top of Telegraph Hill like an exclamation point. The fluted concrete structure was erected in honor of Lillie Hitchcock Coit and built with money she left the city to add beauty to the place she said she always loved. It’s known for the stunning, 360-degree views from the top and the murals painted by artists for the Public Works of Art Project (precursor to the WPA).

1 Telegraph Hill Blvd
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 362-0808

4 San Francisco City Hall

The Beaux Arts City Hall building has existed here since 1915 (an earlier version was leveled by the 1906 earthquake). Its regal dome is the fifth largest in the world.

1 Carlton B Goodlett Pl
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 554-4000

5 Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is in a state of flux, waiting for another tenant after the Exploratorium moved to a new building. It was created in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, and it is the only structure that was left standing after the event.

3301 Lyon St
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 563-6504

6 de Young Museum

The de Young is located in Golden Gate Park. It exhibits American art from the 17th century to the present, international modern art, textiles, and tribal art. The modernist copper-clad building was created by Herzog & de Meuron and Fong + Chan. It opened in 2005.

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 750-3600

7 Painted Ladies

The row of Victorian houses on Steiner Street along Alamo Park are known simply as the Painted Ladies. This scenic stretch of street has been the backdrop for many postcards, commercials, movies, and television shows, notably Full House.

Steiner St.
San Francisco, CA 94117

8 Ferry Building

Not only is the San Francisco Ferry Building a terminal for ferries, it’s the site of amazing food shops and a bi-weekly farmers’ market. The building is topped by a distinctive clock tower.

1 Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 291-3388

9 Russ Building

They don’t build skyscrapers like this anymore. The Russ Building is marked by a distinctive Neo-Gothic facade. When the 32-floor edifice was finished in 1927, it was home to the city’s first indoor parking garage.

235 Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94104
(415) 421-7424

10 St. Mary’s Cathedral

Locals sometimes call this modernist church “Our Lady of Maytag,” due to a design that vaguely resembles a washing machine agitator. Its design history is more sophisticated, however. Its shape (when seen from above) is based on a cross. In 2007, the AIASF chose it as one of the city’s top 25 buildings.

1111 Gough St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 567-2020

11 2500 Steiner

In a recent Curbed article, this apartment building was described as “one of the most prominent buildings in the city.” It’s located in Pacific Heights off Alta Plaza Park, and is home to many notable San Franciscans.

2500 Steiner St
San Francisco, CA 94115

12 Phelan Building

This pie-shaped office building is at the intersection of Market and O’Farrell Sts. and Grant Ave. The city landmark was erected in 1908.

760 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102

13 555 California St

At this moment, the tall, brown building is arguably the most distinctive on the city’s skyline. Until recently, it was known as the Bank of America Center. It’s also partially owned by president-elect Donald Trump.

555 California St
San Francisco, CA 94104
(415) 392-1697

14 140 New Montgomery

The Art Deco building at 140 New Montgomery St. started life as the headquarters for Pacific Telephone when it was built in 1925. It was the first high-rise south of Market Street. Today, it’s where Yelp is located.

San Francisco
CA

15 InterContinental Mark Hopkins

The InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco is a luxury hotel sited on the top of Nob Hill. It recently celebrated 94 years. A stunning example of Nob Hill’s stately luxury.

999 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 392-3434

16 Flood Building

The Flood Building (named for the Flood family of Comstock Lode fame) is a 12 story high-rise in the heart of the Financial District. It’s a survivor of the 1906 quake.

870 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 982-3298

17 Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal church atop Nob Hill. It’s known for its mosaics by Jan Henryk De Rosen, large stained glass windows, a Keith Haring altarpiece that acts as an AIDS memorial, and a pair of large labyrinths.

1100 California St
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 749-6300

18 Hobart Building

The Neoclassical Hobart Building was finished in 1914 amid accusations of construction recklessness. Its design has stood the test of time, and it’s a designated city landmark.

582 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94104
(415) 395-9057

19 Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores (Mission San Francisco de Asís), is the oldest structure in San Francisco. It was founded in 1776 by Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga and Father Francisco Palóu for the purpose of bringing Spanish settlers to the area and ministering to the Native Americas who were already there (a ministry that’s since been called into question).

3321 16th St
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 621-8203

20 Palace Hotel

The Palace Hotel is a landmark historic hotel. It’s called the “new” Palace, as the current version replaces one destroyed by fire following the 1906 quake. The grand building takes up most of a city block. (Also of note, this is the place where Green Goddess dressing was invented and where President Warren Harding died.)

2 New Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 512-1111
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