The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

The Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts is an architectural attraction in San Francisco, notable for its Greek and Roman style, which stands out against the typically Victorian and modern styles of architecture seen around the city.

Visitors likely know the Palace of Fine Arts as a picturesque backdrop for photos, since there’s not much else to do there aside from enjoying the views. It’s not uncommon to see portrait sessions for families or weddings and engagements. It’s also a popular spot among artists and photographers, who capture the detailed architecture and reflections in the pond.

The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by architect Bernard R. Maybeck, with features of classical architecture, to recall a Greek or Roman ruin. The architecture features colonnades and a distinctive white domed rotunda that makes it visible from all around the city, including Twin Peaks, Alcatraz, the Marin Headlands and the de Young Museum’s observation deck. Under and around the rotunda were other works of art, such as murals and sculptures. Extending in a crescent on either side of the rotunda are rows of columns that really do feel like they come from ancient Rome.

Surrounded by a lake with swans and ducks and turtles, the scenic landscaping around the Palace of Fine Arts creates a peaceful park to spend a sunny afternoon. When the city gets sunshine, the locals come out to lounge in the park with a newspaper on one of the many benches or have a picnic on the lawn.

The Palace of Fine Arts is situated in the Marina district, a nice neighborhood with beautiful houses, and right next to the Marina Green (which is where you’ll find the nearest public restroom if the hangar is closed).

Location Map of Palace of Fine Arts

Location Map of Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

The Palace of Fine Arts was originally built for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Expo, a World’s Fair that coincided with the completion of the Panama Canal. The expo also served to showcase the reconstruction of San Francisco after the earthquake and fire of 1906, and presented San Francisco as an important world city. The Palace of Fine Arts, in its classical style, hinted that San Francisco would become a city with great staying power like Rome.

Architecture of the Palace

One of several original palaces from the Panama Pacific International Exposition that housed various exhibits on themes including agriculture and food, transportation, education, the Palace of Fine Arts is the only building from the Expo that is still standing in its original location and one of few surviving at all. However, the structure that exists today was nearly entirely rebuilt in 1965, since the original construction was only meant to be temporary and had begun to turn into a modern day ruin. The eight relief panels that surround the dome today are made from casts of the originals, and depict scenes from ancient Greece. The columns, topped with sculptures of weeping women, were also cast from the original construction and recreated with sturdier materials.

Architecture of the Palace of Fine Arts (under the rotunda)

Architecture of the Palace of Fine Arts (under the rotunda)

Today, there’s not a whole lot to do at the Palace of Fine Arts. In its early days post-Expo, there were art exhibits on display inside, and at one point, tennis courts. During World War II, the space was used for military storage, and later served other functions, primarily storage of other materials. And in 1969, after the Palace of Fine Arts was reconstructed, it housed the Exploratorium, an interactive and educational museum geared toward children. The Exploratorium remained at the Palace of Fine Arts until 2013, when it moved to its new home on Piers 15 and 17 along the Embarcadero.

In addition to enjoying the calming beauty of the Palace, visitors can also check out performances and other events, like film festivals in the Palace of Fine Arts Theater.

Throughout 2015, the Palace of Fine Arts and the city of San Francisco will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition with various events, beginning with Community Day on February 21, 2015.

San Francisco: Palace of Fine Arts Video

Palace of Fine Arts Address: 3301 Lyon St., San Francisco, CA 94123, USA

Phone: (415) 563-6504


Nearby Restaurants– Crab House at Pier 39, Mama’s – Restaurant, Seed + Salt Restaurant, Presidio Social Club Restaurant, Suzu Noodle House Restaurant

Nearby Tourist Attractions– Presidio, Lombard street, Walt Disney Family Museum, Octagon house

Published On: Thursday, January 5th, 2017