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The Civic Center of San Francisco

Monumental Architecture, World Class Performing Arts and Big Festivals

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The Civic Center of San Francisco
San Francisco Travel Association Photo
Centered on San Francisco´s stunning gold-plated Beaux Arts City Hall, the Civic Center holds a diverse array of sights and attractions for visitors. Some of these, like the Asian Art Museum and the Central Library, are destinations worth the trip in their own right, but even those who merely wander into the area will be amazed by the architectual majesty of the Civic Center, and will often find a festival, free concert or bustling farmer´s market underway as well. Even on a slow day, the tree-studded Civic Center Plaza and the adjacent United Nations Plaza are great places to people watch and relax.

Visiting the Civic Center

San Francisco´s Civic Center is located just west of the Union Square area, just a two block walk up Market Street from the Cable Car turnaround at Powell Street.

The Civic Center is also easily accesible by public transportation and has its own BART and MUNI Station. If riding the historic streetcar, get off at Market Street and Van Ness.

San Francisco´s Civic Center Sights

  • San Francisco City Hall: Occupying more than two city blocks and taller than the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington DC (which it strongly resembles), San Francisco´s City Hall is one of the city´s top architectural landmarks. The building is open to the public from 8am until 8pm, Monday through Friday, and free docent led tours begin in the lobby at 10am, 12pm and 2pm daily.
  • The Asian Art Museum: One of the largest collections of Asian Art in the world, San Francisco´s Asian Art Museum includes art and artifacts from many different Asian countries, some of them over 6,000 years old. Fans of Buddhist artwork will be especially pleased at the museum's outstanding collections. www.asianart.org
  • The San Francisco Main Library: Built in 1996 out of the same Sierra White granite as the other historic buildings of the Civic Center, the San Francisco Main Library is a massive tribute to public information access. Inside, five levels of books, multi-media resources and special galleries offer visitors more than one lifetime's worth of exploration. A wide variety of film screenings, book readings and other special programs also take place here. www.sfpl.org

Performing Arts at The Civic Center

The Civic Center is home to several of San Francisco's largest performing arts organizations and venues including:

  • The San Francisco Opera:The critically acclaimed San Francisco Opera is located in the War Memorial Opera House, a 1927 Beaux Arts masterpiece located just across Van Ness from City Hall. www.sfopera.com

  • The San Francisco Symphony: Located within the modern Davies Symphony Hall, which features movable ceiling panels for adjusting acoustic nuances, the symphony offers full season every year.www.sfsymphony.org.
  • The San Francisco Ballet: The nation's oldest professional dance company is also located in the historic War Memorial Opera House. www.sfballet.org
  • The Herbst Theater This historic theater is where the original UN charter was signed in 1945. Many public events are still held here as well as in the second floor "Green Room". www.sfwmpac.org
  • The Billy Graham Civic Auditorium: This huge multi-purpose arena dominates the south side of the Civic Center Plaza and hosts large concerts, conventions and other events. www.apeconcerts.com

Festivals at the Civic Center

The open green space of the Civic Center is often used for some of the city of San Francisco's largest festivals including:
  • San Francisco Pride: One of the largest gay and lesbian festivals and parades in the world takes over the Civic Center completely every June.
  • St. Patrick's Day: This large and raucous bash takes the Civic Center by storm every February and features lots of live music and revelry.

The Civic Center Farmer's Market

Every Wednesday and Sunday, United Nation's Plaza is filled with brightly colored tents stocking fresh fruits, vegetables and other local produce, much of it organic and grown on small local farms. Although nowhere near as large as the Ferry Building Farmer's Market, the Civic Center market often features live music and hot food.

Public Art at the Civic Center

The Civic Center is home to several monumental pieces of public art, including:
  • The UN Fountain: This large artistic waterfall is often used as a public shower by the area's homeless population.
  • The James Lick Monument: Located between the Asian Art Museum and the library, this large bronze sculpture is meant to honor early California pioneers and features several figures, including a priest who can be seen chastising a Native-American. This latter sculpture is often splashed with blood red paint.
  • Large Four Piece Reclining Figure: A massive public work by sculptor Henry Moore can be viewed outside of the Davies Symphony Hall.
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