San Francisco's Gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts

San Francisco is full of structural and architectural marvels: the Golden Gate Bridge, the Transamerica Pyramid, and the old, stone walls of Alcatraz prison to name a few. I was aware of all of these interesting sights prior to visiting San Francisco last September. One that I happily discovered while researching the vibrant city was the majestic Palace of Fine Arts. I knew it had to become part of my itinerary - it was too beautiful to miss.

The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

The Palace of Fine Arts is located in the Marina district of San Francisco, very close to Presidio Park and the Golden Gate Bridge. It is extremely easy to find due to its convenient location and its sheer size; you can't help but notice it as you drive past on the 101 through the city. For those of you looking to find it with your GPS, the official address of the Palace of Fine Arts is 3601 Lyon Street and Marina Boulevard. There is also tons of available parking, and we didn't have any issues finding a nearby spot for the stylin' rental mom van we were driving.

My ladies and I getting ready to explore the Palace of Fine Arts (I am on the far right)

Originally built in 1915 for an art exhibition, the Palace of Fine Arts has undergone several transformations. It was rebuilt in 1965, and there aren't many original pieces from the first building left standing. In 2009 the structure was again renovated to resist earthquakes and seismic activity. Today the Palace of Fine Arts still hosts art shows and exhibits, but is mainly a popular tourist attraction and a favourite site for locals to take their wedding and graduation photos. When we visited there were at least two wedding shoots being held on the grounds.

The inside of the rotunda at the Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts sprawls over 17 acres and includes the massive Romanesque rotunda, equipped with massive pillars and decorated with exquisite sculptures and statues (over 1500 statues are said to be found throughout the grounds).

One of the 'weepers' on top of the Corinthian columns

The rotunda is surrounded by a giant stone pergola, supported by Corinthian columns approximately 150 feet high. There is also a large lagoon where catfish drift lazily to the surface to eat bugs, and a lawn filled with twisting trees and floral gardens.

The Palace of Fine Arts and its beautiful lagoon

It is a very peaceful and beautiful space. We began by wandering through the pergola, weaving around the columns, necks craned to the sky. Atop each column are four maidens, called "weepers", carved into the stone. The figures are called "weepers" because they were designed to collect rainwater and redistribute it to planters that were built into the tops of the pergola. Nothing is actually planted in the planters, but that is why the maidens were nicknamed "weepers", as their rainwater 'tears' were meant to water and nourish plant life.

A peek of the rotunda through the pergola columns

Past the pergola, visitors encounter the main structure, the awe-inspiring rotunda which towers 165 feet into the sky. I felt very tiny and humbled inside the rotunda, but also very grateful that there are places like this that exist in the world.

Me feeling small outside of the rotunda
The ceiling of the rotunda

Thank goodness the city of San Francisco decided to preserve and rebuild the Palace of Fine Arts, instead of letting it fall to ruin or simply bulldozing it to the ground.

Trying to put the rotunda columns to scale

After we were done exploring the rotunda, we followed the shale pathway around the lagoon, enjoying the pretty gardens and various wildlife. There were tons of herons lounging in the water, catfish nibbling at the surface of the lagoon, and feathery pampas grasses looming over everything.

I love that tall, feathery pampas grass

We strolled the circumference of the lagoon, enjoying the warm sun and peaceful atmosphere. We climbed trees. We signed a petition against dog farming in China (there was a small but polite protest occurring on one section of the path). We spent the better part of a morning getting familiar with the Palace of Fine Arts and what it had to offer.

Six ladies climbing a tree at the Palace of Fine Arts

While there is nothing particularly exciting or thrilling about visiting the Palace of Fine Arts, I would still say it is worth a visit. The architecture is amazing, and the rest of the facility is serene and very pretty. Take a picnic. Enjoy the sun. You will be glad you did.

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