Discover the most iconic buildings in San Francisco with us through this list. This 250-year-old city brims with diverse culture and history, and you can experience it simply by walking the streets. You’ll see buildings spanning America’s history; you've got religious establishments that are unchanged from centuries ago, and there are skyscrapers on the cutting edge of modern design.

    There’s even a fine arts centre that mimics the architecture of Ancient Rome in San Francisco. It's hard to believe all of these places exist in the same city, but it is exactly that variety and colour which gives the city its undeniable charm. Read on to learn more about the most famous landmarks in San Francisco.

    1

    Palace of Fine Arts

    An art and music venue that’s a work of art in itself

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    The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco is a place you have to see even if you don’t step foot inside. As among the most iconic buildings in San Francisco, this stunning building evokes surviving ruins of Ancient Rome, and walking among the colonnades is nothing short of breathtaking.

    Try to come for one of the events, whether it's live music or a food festival. California Vegetarian Food Festival & Symposium is hosted here, as is Untitled, Art, an art exhibit focused on contemporary art of all kinds. You might even be able to catch a free film! Plan your trip around the events here. In any case, simply taking a stroll around the grounds is well worth it.

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    Location: 3601 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA 94123, USA

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +1 415-376-1704

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    2

    Mission San Francisco de Asís

    Visit a mission over 200 years old

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    Mission San Francisco de Asís is the oldest structure in San Francisco, founded way back in 1776. The iconic San Francisco building thumbs its nose at the notion that the United States has nothing truly old. Come and gaze at the Basilica of Mission San Francisco de Asís right next to it, or attend a Mass at weekends.

    You’ll be amazed by the adobe walls and colourful wooden ceilings, preserved from the time of the initial construction. See the stained-glass windows describing all the missions in California, and wander the solemn cemetery. The history and simple beauty of this mission make it a must-visit.

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    Location: 3321 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94114, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4.30 pm

    Phone: +1 415-621-8203

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    3

    De Young Museum

    Among the most famous museums in the USA

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    The De Young Memorial Museum attracts the 5th-highest number of visitors of all art museums in the USA. Its art collection spans 4 centuries and comes from the Americas, the Pacific, and Africa.

    Exhibits are constantly in rotation, featuring a range of artists from Van Gogh to Frida Kahlo, while special attention to contemporary art keeps things fresh and thought-provoking. For something really special, take a look at the costume and textile arts, where you can see just about everything, from 12th-century Central Asian silks to pieces by Yves Saint Laurent.

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    Location: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA

    Open: Daily from 9.30 am to 5.15 pm

    Phone: +1 415-750-3600

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    4

    Painted Ladies

    One of the most photographed spots in San Francisco

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    The Painted Ladies are a row of residences near Alamo Square in San Francisco. What makes this row of houses a must-see? These Victorian-style houses became famous when one of them was painted in bright, intense colours and the neighbours followed suit.

    The row of houses gained the nickname “Postcard Row” because of how striking its appearance is. You won't be able to resist taking a picture, either. You’re sure to recognize this iconic row from films and TV, such as the sitcom Full House.

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    Location: Steiner St &, Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA

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    5

    Old St. Mary's Cathedral

    The strangest and most fascinating religious space you'll ever see

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    St. Mary's Cathedral is one of the strangest and most striking buildings in San Francisco. This cathedral boasts a modern design with pre-cast concrete forming the monolithic and dynamic upper part of the structure. Worshippers from the previous cathedral were sceptical of the new design, but many eventually came to love it.

    The interior of the cathedral is typical of more traditional structures with its high, vaulted ceilings. There are still several modern touches to be found inside, though, resulting in a breathtaking harmony between old and new. You can attend Mass on weekends, or simply visit throughout the week.

    Location: 1111 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94109, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 415-567-2020

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    6

    Hallidie Building

    The building that ushered in the 20th century

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    The Hallidie Building was an experiment carried out in 1918, and its success can be seen all around the world today. This building was one of the first to have a glass curtain wall as its facade. This is now the norm for business-district skyscrapers.

    A historic landmark, the Hallidie Building had its facade redone in 2013. The makeover is a lavish, gold-trimmed spectacle that embodies the avant-garde vibe of San Francisco. The building is used primarily for offices, but do make sure to pass by if you're intent on photographing the city. 

    Location: 130 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94104, USA

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    photo by Šarūnas Burdulis (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    7

    Palace Hotel

    A jewel of American history

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    Palace Hotel is both a truly luxurious accommodation right in the heart of downtown San Francisco and one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Furthermore, it is also a story of American resolve. When the original burned down in 1906 with all its 755 rooms, nothing stopped the city from rebuilding it.

    A stay at this 4-star hotel means an utterly lavish experience with excellent service and the best location for sightseeing. Guests are offered a gourmet breakfast buffet and a fully-equipped gym. Old-fashioned décor and high ceilings are present throughout the entire hotel. This is one historical gem that has been perfectly preserved into the present day.

    Location: 2 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94105, USA

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    8

    Conservatory of Flowers

    An oasis of peace and calm right in San Francisco

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    The Conservatory of Flowers is a Victorian greenhouse nestled within San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. As soon as you walk in, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported halfway around the world. You’ll see plants and trees from nearly every climate, and feel like you’re passing from continent to continent each time you walk through a door.

    Nothing is more calming to the senses than breathing the fresh air filled with the scent of flowers. The Conservatory of Flowers has 5 main galleries, including one for aquatic plants and another for plants from lowland jungles. Go for Botanicals and Brews, an event featuring the conservatory’s exotic sights paired with San Francisco’s unique craft beers.

    Location: 100 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 10 am to 4.30 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +1 415-831-2090

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    9

    Castro Theatre

    See a flick while suffused in history

    Castro Theatre is a must for film buffs, and the reason why will be quite clear once you see its facade. The old-fashioned marquee on the front promises an experience for lovers of film, and the gorgeous interior delivers. The theatre seats over 1,000, and the inside looks much like it did in 1922 when it was built. There's even a working pipe organ that is played before the film starts. 

    As is standard for all independently-run theatres, Castro Theatre has events year-round. You don’t need to go to Hollywood to experience America’s film culture. Expect silent film festivals, queer film festivals, festivals by country or period, and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

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    Location: 429 Castro St, San Francisco, CA 94114, USA

    Phone: +1 415-621-6120

    photo by Another Believer (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    10

    Grace Cathedral

    A gorgeous cathedral nestled atop a hill

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    Grace Cathedral is an iconic Episcopal cathedral in San Francisco that must be seen, if only for its massive size. The building dates back to 1849. It’s easy to think you’re in Europe when approaching it from a distance. The inside is very peaceful and austere, with stained-glass windows and a lofty ceiling that make visitors feel humbled.

    A labyrinth is laid out on the floor to calm the anxious mind, and there are regular services as well as performances like Choral Evensong. Sermons tend to be grounded and relevant to the present day, making this cathedral a unique blend of antiquity and modern beliefs.

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    Location: 1100 California St, San Francisco, CA 94108, USA

    Open: Monday–Friday from 7 am to 6 pm, Saturday from 8 am to 6 pm, Sunday from 8 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +1 415-749-6300

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    Benjamin Gorman | Contributing Writer

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