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The Palace of Fine Arts

Ancient Greece in the Heart of the City

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The Palace of Fine Arts
Robert Glusic/Getty Images
A mythical oasis in the middle of the modern urban jungle, the Palace of Fine Arts is one of San Francisco´s most awe-inspiring landmarks. Modeled after the temples of Ancient Greece and surrounded by a swan filled lagoon and lush vegetation, the Palace is a popular place for outdoor weddings, large family picnics, romantic strolls or just walking the dog. The Palace of Fine Arts is also home to the Exploratorium, an innovative and hands-on science museum that is a hit with young and old alike.

Visiting the Palace of Fine Arts

Located in the Marina District of San Francisco just across Highway 1 from the Presidio and just inland from Crissy Field, the Palace of Fine Arts is close to many other major San Francisco sights and attractions and is walkable from Fisherman´s Wharf.

Address: 3301 Lyon Street, San Francisco
Telephone: (415) 563-6504
Hours: The Palace is open to the public seven days a week, unless booked for a private event.
Parking: There is usually limited street parking in the area, which is mostly residential.
Public Transit: Take the 30 Stockton from Downtown or Fisherman´s Wharf.

History of the Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts was built by architect Bernard R. Maybeck for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and newly rebuilt San Francisco´s role as the prime west coast port. The original wood and burlap structure was designed to house important works of art by some of the world's most prominent artists during the exhibition, but the Palace was meant to come down after the event. By the close of the exposition however, a movement among San Francisco residents to keep and preserve the Palace of Fine Arts was already gaining momentum. During the following decades the building went through several phases and was almost destroyed several times until it was finally reconstructed and preserved in concrete in the 1960's.

Things to do at the Palace of Fine Arts

Outside of visiting the Exploratorium, there really isn´t much in the way of active pursuits at the Palace of Fine Arts other than soaking up the majesty of the architecture, enjoying the nature and winding down a bit:

Play: Children will delight in the magic of the ancient looking palace, and exploring the inside of the dome and the massive columns is a trip back in time. Check out the island bird sanctuary at the far end of the lagoon.

Stroll:Walking the path around the lagoon, which reflects the palace and is home to swans and other waterfowl, is one of the most romantic activities in the entire city.

Relax:For those who just want to chill out, the grassy areas are perfect for bag lunches on sunny days, people watching and even catching a quick cat-nap under the towering shadow of the palace itself.

Events at the Palace of Fine Arts

The grand setting of the Palace of Fine Arts makes it a favorite place for events, both public and private. The Palace of Fine Arts Theater, located inside of the structure itself, hosts a variety of performances throughout the year, including works by the American Conservatory Theater and other prominent bay area arts organizations.

When visiting, especially during the summer, chances are that you will see a wedding, graduation or some other similar celebration taking place. Family reunions, work picnics and other groups events are also popular at the Palace of Fine Arts.

The Palace of Fine Arts in Popular Culture

The Palace of Fine Arts has been used as a backdrop in many different movies many different movies, television shows, and even video games. Here are just a few of the most notable examples:
  • Vertigo - Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1958 thriller set in San Francisco shows the Palace of Fine Arts before it was reconstructed.
  • So I Married an Axe Murderer - The 1993 romantic comedy uses the Palace of Fine Arts as the scene of the first date between Mike Myers and Nancy Travis.
  • The Rock - Sean Connery meets his daughter in the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts and Nicolas Cage finally catches up to him there.
  • My Name is Khan - Bollywood has even discovered the Palace of Fine Arts and uses it as a backdrop in this 2010 film.
  • Sim City - Several versions of the popular video game have the Palace of Fine Arts as an optional landmark.
The Palace of Fine Arts has also been reconstructed in miniature at Disney´s California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, California.
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