Your Destination Guide to San Francisco

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Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts
Palace of Fine Arts

© Kevin Saff

Nestled gracefully in the heart of San Francisco's Marina District, the Palace of Fine Arts, with its glassy lagoon and grandiose architecture, lends an air of tranquility to a decidedly vibrant and hectic city. The building's regal design was inspired by the ornately-styled temples of ancient Greece and Rome; architect Bernard Maybeck cherry-picked the striking and aesthetically pleasing elements from some of antiquity's most elegant structures and deftly incorporated them into the Palace of Fine Arts, and in so doing created what would ultimately become one of San Francisco's most cherished landmarks.

The Palace of Fine Arts was originally constructed to house the fine arts exhibits at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a yearlong world's fair nominally commemorating the completion of the Panama Canal. To the people of San Francisco, however, the exposition marked the city's reemergence on the international scene following the utter destruction of the 1906 earthquake.

Though only intended to last only for the duration of the exposition, the stunning beauty and classical design of the Palace of Fine Arts soon captivated the hearts of San Franciscans, who avidly petitioned the city to commission for a permanent replica of the popular structure. The original building was only temporary and constructed primarily with wood and stucco, materials that could stand neither earthquakes nor weather. The locals' petitions worked, in part: the building would remain long after the exposition had ended, but a permanent replica wasn't immediately erected. It wasn't until the mid-1960s that adequate funding was finally secured and work on the restoration could begin. Within three years, the crumbling stucco facades and rotting wooden supports had been replaced with long-lasting concrete. The Palace's many columns and friezes depicting various myths from antiquity were painstakingly restored in an effort to retain the grandeur of the original.

Today the Palace of Fine Arts is one of San Francisco's most beloved attractions, drawing tourists from all over the world. The building has become a symbol of the city itself, as indelibly connected with San Francisco as the Golden Gate Bridge or the TransAmerica Pyramid. The placid waters of the Palace lagoon, replete with elegant white swans, create a singularly beautiful scene coveted by photographers and artists, professional and amateur alike. The serene setting has become exceedingly popular with newlyweds, as well; visitors are likely to see several wedding parties at a time frantically traipsing around the grounds in search of the perfect photograph.

In 1970, a 1,000-seat theater, regularly hosting a diverse array of concerts and performances, was added to the Palace complex. The San Francisco Exploratorium, an innovative museum exploring the boundaries between art and science, occupies a significant portion of the Palace's total area. For nearly a century, the Palace of Fine Arts has stood solemnly along the city's marina, its resplendent beauty at once serving as a beacon of inspiration to and a testament to the will of the people of San Francisco.

Attraction Information

  • Metro Stop:
  • Muni busses # 22, 28, 29, 41, 43, 45
  • Contact:
  • Location: 3301 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA
  • Palace of Fine Arts Theatre: 415-563-6504
  • Website:
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