Whether you're exploring one of the city's beautiful parks preserved within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, or exploring historic neighborhoods, the city's outdoor areas offer ample opportunity for recreation and historic architecture appreciation as part of self-guided walking tours. Many area museums offer free admission daily or on select free days.
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1.The Golden Gate Bridge
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The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world's most famous bridges, stretching 1.7 miles between San Francisco and Marin County over the Golden Gate Strait, which connects San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. Since its construction in 1937, the impressive bridge has become an international icon for its Art Deco design and signature orange coloring. Over 10 million annual visitors cross the bridge by vehicle, by bicycle, or on foot. An onsite visitor center details the bridge's construction and storied history, open to the public daily with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Limited parking is available at the bridge plaza, though visitors should note that parking can be difficult to secure and should plan accordingly. Free guided tours of the bridge are offered on Thursdays and Sundays, led by the nonprofit San Francisco City Guides organization.
San Francisco, CA, Phone: 415-921-5858
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2.Golden Gate Park
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Golden Gate Park is one of San Francisco's most beautiful and beloved public parks, attracting more than 13 million annual visitors. The park spans 1,017 acres throughout the city, originally developed in the 1870s by William Hammond Hall and John McLaren, and has been compared to New York City's Central Park for its shape and design. Museums and cultural attractions abound, including the acclaimed De Young fine arts museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and the United States' oldest Japanese tea garden. Many attractions are anchored around the Music Concourse, a sunken oval plaza originally developed for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition. The park is also home to a beautiful 1914 Herschell-Spillman Company Carousel, a children's playground, and several manmade lakes and power windmills.
San Francisco, CA, Phone: 415-831-2700
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3.The Cable Car Museum
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The Cable Car Museum is a nonprofit free-admission museum in San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood that preserves the history and technology of the city's famed streetcar system. It is housed above the site of the city's Washington-Mason cable car barn and powerhouse, which was founded in 1887 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can explore sizeable collections of historic photographs, cable car models, and mechanical technology related to the system, along with three resorted 19th-century cable cars, including a car from the city's original Clay Street Hill Railway line. An observation deck offers a look at the cable car powerhouse below in operation, letting visitors watch cable lines as they are pulled through large wheels and transport cars up into the building.
1201 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94108, Phone: 415-474-1887
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4.The Randall Museum
© The Randall Museum
The Randall Museum is a free-admission science and arts museum in San Francisco's Corona Heights Park, overseen by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. The museum was opened to the public in 1937 as the Junior Museum and moved to its current location in 1951, which is open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays during the morning and afternoon hours. Live exhibits of domestic and native animals are showcased, along with a variety of interactive displays about the San Francisco region's natural history and ecology. In the museum's basement, the Golden Gate Model Railroad Club showcases HO-scale model trails and offers a monthly Junior Engineer Day event. The museum is also home to a theater that houses performances of the Young People's Teen Musical Theatre Company for an additional ticketed fee.
199 Museum Way, San Francisco, CA 94114, Phone: 415-554-9600
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Clarion Alley is a unique open-air showcase of graffiti and street art, stretching between the city's 17th, 18th, Mission, and Valencia Streets. The project began in 1992 at the impetus of the Clarion Alley Mural Project artist collective, which is led by six volunteer residents within the city's North Mission District. It is housed within the former Cedar Lane alleyway, in a district with noted arts and community activism, home to organizations such as Promotoras Latinas Comunitarias de Salud and the American Indian Center. The beautifully curated alleyway is ever changing with new and eclectic art pieces, though some famed works remain, including Tax the Rich by Megan Wilson. Others are constantly being added to the alley, making for a new art experience every time one visits the district.
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Fort Point preserves the former masonry seacoast fort along the southern end of the Golden Gate Strait, located near the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. The fort, which stands on the site of an earlier Spanish fortification from the 18th century, was constructed in 1853 to defend San Francisco from enemy warships and was named in honor of Army commander Winifred Scott, operating until the turn of the 20th century. Since 1970, it has been preserved as Fort Point National Historic Site and listed as a California Historical Landmark. Visitors can explore the National Historic Site's attractions for free at the fort, including exhibits on the fort's operations during the American Civil War and the construction of the nearby Golden Gate Bridge. 30-minute documentary films are also shown at the site daily.
Building 201, Fort Mason , San Francisco, CA 94123, Phone: 415-504-2334
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7.CUESA Farmers' Markets
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CUESA Farmers' Markets operate several year-round farmers' markets throughout the San Francisco area, striving to provide the Bay Area with fresh, affordable produce and specialty foods throughout the year and foster healthy eating and living attitudes. A triweekly market has been held since 1993 at the city's San Francisco Ferry Building plaza, offered rain or shine Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday mornings. On Sunday mornings, the Jack London Square Farmers Market brings producers, specialty food vendors, and artisans to Oakland, while the Mission Community Market operates on Thursdays during the summer and fall months in San Francisco's Mission District.
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8.The Musee Mecanique
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The Musée Mécanique is a free-admission museum that showcases more than 300 fun and unique penny arcade games and arcade artifacts from the 20th century, held as part of the private collections of original museum owner Ed Zelinsky. The museum, which is located at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, was opened as an exhibit at the city's Playland beachside amusement park throughout the mid-2oth century and was incorporated into the Gold Gate National Recreation Area in the 1970s. Today, it attracts more than 100,000 annual visitors, with all games available for play for an additional coin fee. Amusement artifacts are also showcased, including a Laffing Sal automaton and the world's only steam-powered motorcycle. The museum opens daily at 10:00am and stays open until at least 8:00pm each day, with additional evening hours offered if crowd size demands.
Pier 45, Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, CA 94133, Phone: 415-346-2000
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9.The Coit Tower Murals
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The Coit Tower Murals adorn the 210-foot Coit Memorial Tower, which was constructed in 1932 and 1933 within San Francisco's Pioneer Park, a National Register of Historic Places-listed monument. The Art Deco-style monument, which was designed by Henry Howard and Arthur Brown, Jr., is dedicated to the city's fallen firefighters and showcases beautiful American Realism fresco murals created by a team of 27 artists, including Maxine Albro, Rinaldo Cuneo, George Albert Harris, Suzanne Scheuer, and Frederick E. Olmsted, Jr. Murals depict significant scenes in San Francisco's social and political history, along with liberal social justice and equality themes. The tower's murals may be viewed for free during business hours each day, with guided tours available on select days.
1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94133
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Onedome is one of San Francisco's most unique free attractions, offering interactive high-tech and arts experiences in a creative community space in the heart of the city's SoMa district. The 20,000-square-foot interactive space strives to immerse visitors of all ages in a variety of collaboratively-created experiential rooms, which merge art, technology, and storytelling principles to create truly one-of-a-kind fun. No tickets are required for guests to enjoy the lounge, but experiences have a fee. The LMNL labyrinth experience, which pushes the limits of virtual reality in 14 colorful rooms and installations. Visually-stunning nature-themed imagery is on display at the Unreal Garden, while five-course meals are set to hip soundtracks and presented as part of an interactive soundtrack experience at F.E.A.S.T. Other experiences include the alcohol-free mixology cafe Elixart, which serves up artful lattes and gourmet raw food snacks.
1025 Market St, San Francisco, CA 9410, Phone: 415-890-5939
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Chinatown is a San Francisco neighborhood that was originally established in 1848 and has become North America's oldest and largest traditional Chinese neighborhood. The neighborhood is America's most densely-populated region outside of Manhattan and is home to a number of Chinese-focused social and civic organizations, including the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and the Chinese Culture Center. As one of the city's most popular tourist attractions, the beautiful neighborhood can be explored as part of self-guided walking tours, showcasing ornate temples and attractions such as Tien How and the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum. Dim sum and chop suey joints abound, along with modern-style Chinese restaurants, traditional eateries, and atmospheric cocktail lounges and karaoke bars.
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12.The Presidio of San Francisco
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The Presidio of San Francisco is a beautiful 1,500-acre national park located at the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge on the site of a former active military base, which operated under the Spanish, Mexican, and American governments between 1776 and 1994. After its decommissioning in 1994, the base was transformed into a beautiful public park, showcasing attractions such as an 18-hole golf course, the Walt Disney Family Museum, and the preserved Fort Point National Historic Site. Over 24 miles of hiking trails and 14 miles of cycling trails are offered throughout the park, along with eight scenic overlooks that provide unparalleled views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Visitors can sail and kite surf at several beaches, play sports on several athletic fields, and relax on the beautiful Crissy Field open lawn.
Fort Mason, Bldg. 201, San Francisco, CA 94123, Phone: 415-561-4323
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13.Public Library City Guides Walking Tours
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Public Library City Guides Walking Tours offer a chance to explore San Francisco's beautiful sites and historic and modern landmarks as part of regularly-scheduled guided walking tours offered by the city's public library system. Tours are led by volunteer docents and last approximately 90 minutes to two hours, exploring a variety of the city's biggest attractions as part of themed guided excursions. Tour themes held regularly include sites connected to the 1848 California Gold Rush and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, downtown Art Deco sites, and sites connected to the city's motion picture history, along with excursions through popular neighborhoods, parks, monuments, and beachfront sites. Tours operate rain or shine, with private tour options available for groups of eight or more. Though tours are free, donations are strongly encouraged to aid with tour operation costs and recognize the work of tour guides.
San Francisco City Guides, c/o SF Public Library,100 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102, Phone: 415-557-4266
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14.San Francisco City Hall
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San Francisco City Hall serves as the official seat of government for both the City and the County of San Francisco, located within a splendid Beaux Arts-style building that was designed by architect Arthur Brown, Jr. in advance of the 1915 World's Fair. The building has been the site of many significant political and civic events throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, including the 1979 assassinations of city mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk. It is recognized around the world for its beautiful 307-foot dome, standing 42 feet taller than the comparable dome of the United States Capitol Building. One-hour free guided tours of the building are offered Monday through Friday during the morning and early afternoon hours with advance registration. Visitors can also view a number of free exhibits on the city's civic history, including exhibits about the building's construction and development.
1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl, San Francisco, CA 94102, Phone: 415-554-6139
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15.Museum of Craft and Design
© Museum of Craft and Design
Located in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, the Museum of Craft and Design is one of the few American museums focusing exclusively on contemporary design, craft, and applied arts. Founded in 2004, the museum occupies a former industrial building, the 8,000-square-foot space featuring exhibition rooms, a retail store, workshops, and offices. The museum does not have a permanent collection; instead, it offers a program of temporary exhibitions, seminars, conferences, special events, hands-on workshops, guided tours, and educational activities. Its mission is to promote contemporary American and international design and craft. The latest multi-disciplinary special exhibitions program presented exhibitions on product design, digital and multimedia design, architecture, new technologies, arts & craft, visual arts, communication design, ecology, fashion, food design, and graphics. Admission is free to everyone on the first Tuesday of every month.
2569 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107, Phone: 415-773-0303
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16.The San Francisco Center for the Book
© The San Francisco Center for the Book
The San Francisco Center for the Book is a nonprofit book center that was opened to the public in 1996, striving to preserve and protect the art of the book and spread appreciation for the bookmaking arts to the San Francisco population. The center is open to the public for free Mondays through Sundays during the morning and afternoon hours, located in the city's DoReMi Arts District. Visitors can explore the center's public gallery exhibitions for free daily, which showcase completed and in-progress book bindings, letterpress works, and book art. Events at the center include gallery openings, lectures, open houses, and community mixers. More than 400 annual workshops are also offered by the center for bookbinders and book artists of all skill levels.
375 Rhode Island St, San Francisco, CA 94103, Phone: 415-565-0545
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17.The Wave Organ
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The Wave Organ is a unique modern art sculpture located along the shores of the San Francisco Bay near the Exploratorium, constructed in May of 1986 by artist Peter Richards. The acoustic sculpture is designed to amplify the ambient natural sounds of the Bay with the use a series of more than 20 PVC and concrete pipes, which transfer sounds to a number of listening stations. The sculpture is designed to mimic the effect of listening through a conch shell, producing low, ebbing and flowing tones for listeners to enjoy. Listening quality is best during high tide times, though the sculpture is available for play during all weather conditions. Public parking is available at the nearby marina, with trailhead access available from nearby Crissy Field.
83 Marina Green Dr, San Francisco, CA 94123, Phone: 415-528-4444
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18.The Legion of Honor
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The Legion of Honor is a public museum that is incorporated into the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco collective, open to the public for free on the first Tuesday of each month. The museum was constructed as a full-scale replica of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition's 1915 French Pavilion, which had been constructed to mimic Paris' 1782 Palais de la Légion d'Honneur. It displays an impressive collection of ancient and modern art from around the world, spanning from antiquity through the present day. Collection strengths include French and European art by artists such as Auguste Rodin and Rembrandt, along with 20th-century modern art by the likes of Pablo Picasso. Visitors should note that even during free admission days, some special exhibitions require a ticketed upcharge.
100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121, Phone: 415-750-3600
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19.The M. H. de Young Memorial Museum
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The M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, or the de Young, is one of the United States' most-renowned fine arts museums, located within Golden Gate Park. The museum is named in honor of San Francisco newspaper magnate M.H. de Young and opened to the public in 1895 as an extension of the previous year's California Midwinter International Exposition. Fine American art from the 17th century through the present day is on display, along with international art and costume and textile work from South America, Africa, and the Pacific. Visitors can explore the museum for free each first Tuesday of every month, though some special exhibitions require a ticketed upcharge.
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118, Phone: 415-750-3600
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20.The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
© The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco is home to one of the world's most comprehensive collections of Asian art, showcasing more than 18,000 artworks and artifacts. The museum was founded in 1958 as the Society for Asian Art to preserve the collections of Chicago millionaire Avery Brundage and originally opened as a display within the city's de Young Museum before expanding to its own facility in 2003 within the city's former central library building. Its collections span all of Asia's major regions and traditions from antiquity to the present day, including gallery collections of works from China, Japan, Korea, the Himalayas, South Asia, and Central Asia. Visitors can explore the museum for free as part of Target's First Free Sundays initiative on the first Sunday of each month, though some special exhibitions require a ticketed upcharge.
200 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 9410
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21.Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
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Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is San Francisco's premiere contemporary arts center, located in downtown San Francisco within the beautiful Yerba Buena Gardens. The center is open to the public for free on the first Tuesday of each month, along with the third Thursday evening of each month between 4:00pm and 8:00pm. Multidisciplinary contemporary arts exhibitions are showcased across the museum's beautiful two-building campus, exhibiting the works of notable emerging and mid-career artists across the Bay Area and around the world. The center also presents music, dance, and theatrical performances throughout the year, along with film screenings, Apple product launches, and other public special events.
701 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103, Phone: 415-978-2700
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22.The Museum of Craft and Design
© The Museum of Craft and Design
The Museum of Craft and Design is a unique gallery space showcasing contemporary craft and design works by regional and national artists, located within San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood. It was founded in 2004 as a non-collecting museum institution, showcasing the works of modern makers, designers and design groups, and contemporary crafters working with traditional design methods. Exhibitions rotate on a regular basis, typically on view for several months at a time, ensuring a new museum experience for visitors every time. The museum is open to the public for free on the first Tuesday of each month between 11:00am and 6:00pm, with the exception of major national holidays.
2569 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94107, Phone: 415-773-0303
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23.The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD)
© The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD)
The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) is a cultural museum within San Francisco's Yerba Buena Gardens, showcasing artworks and artifacts created by African people around the diaspora from prehistoric times through the present day. It was established in 2005 after city initiatives to create an African-American cultural presence within the gardens' museum and arts collective, housed within a space within the St. Regis Museum Tower designed by the Freelon Group. Visitors are challenged to think about their role in African history and its ties to modern-day culture, chronicling the movement of Homo sapiens out of Africa to all inhabited regions of the world. Exhibits examine cultural topics from the Transatlantic Slave Trade to modern-day sociopolitical discussions involving the diaspora. Visitors can explore the museum for free on the third Thursday of each month between 5:00pm and 8:00pm.
685 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105, Phone: 415-358-7200
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24.The Contemporary Jewish Museum
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The Contemporary Jewish Museum is a non-collecting museum within San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, striving to communicate the story and culture of the Jewish experience to 21st-century audiences. The museum was founded in 1984 and has been housed within an historic power station since 2008, shaped in the form of the Jewish symbols chet and yud, which together translate as the word "life." Though the museum holds no permanent collection, it presents a variety of rotating exhibits and public programming related to Jewish culture, history, and sociopolitical topics, including the Holocaust and topics related to the diaspora. Film screenings, workshops, and lectures are also presented on a regular basis, along with guided tours for school groups and organizations. Visitors are welcome to explore the museum for free each first Tuesday of the month between 11:00am and 5:00pm, with the exception of major Jewish holidays.
736 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103, Phone: 415-655-7800
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25.The Ferry Building
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The Ferry Building is an historic landmark in San Francisco that was originally opened in 1898 and served as the city's primary entrance point until the 1930s due to the region's geography on the San Francisco Bay. Following the opening of the famed Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge, the building fell into decline for much of the 20th century, but in 2003, it was renovated and reopened as the Ferry Building Marketplace, which has become a world-class vibrant food hall and thriving regional independent marketplace today. Each day, the market opens its doors at 7:00am, with dozens of unique farmers' market stalls, artisan vendors, and independent restaurants and food stalls selling a wide variety of one-of-a-kind goods and meals. Visitors can stroll through the marketplace until 10:00pm daily and check out its historic architecture and vendors, though some shops operate with more limited hours.
1 The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94105, Phone: 415-983-8000
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25 Best Free Things to Do in San Francisco
- The Golden Gate Bridge, Photo: Courtesy of James - Fotolia.com
- Golden Gate Park, Photo: Courtesy of Ugo - Fotolia.com
- The Cable Car Museum, Photo: Courtesy of zhu difeng - Fotolia.com
- The Randall Museum, Photo: The Randall Museum
- Clarion Alley, Photo: Courtesy of Yevgenia Gorbulsky - Fotolia.com
- Fort Point, Photo: Courtesy of Jeremy - Fotolia.com
- CUESA Farmers' Markets, Photo: Courtesy of Crin - Fotolia.com
- The Musee Mecanique, Photo: Courtesy of Jef Poskanzer - Fotolia.com
- The Coit Tower Murals, Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Kohr - Fotolia.com
- Onedome, Photo: Onedome
- Chinatown, Photo: Courtesy of Uladzik Kryhin - Fotolia.com
- The Presidio of San Francisco, Photo: Courtesy of Chris - Fotolia.com
- Public Library City Guides Walking Tours, Photo: Courtesy of Fotolia.com
- San Francisco City Hall, Photo: Courtesy of myimagination - Fotolia.com
- Museum of Craft and Design, Photo: Museum of Craft and Design
- The San Francisco Center for the Book, Photo: The San Francisco Center for the Book
- The Wave Organ, Photo: Courtesy of pikappa51 - Fotolia.com
- The Legion of Honor, Photo: Courtesy of Roland - Fotolia.com
- The M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Rafael Ramirez - Fotolia.com
- The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Photo: The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Photo: Courtesy of Rafael Ramirez - Fotolia.com
- The Museum of Craft and Design, Photo: The Museum of Craft and Design
- The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), Photo: The Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD)
- The Contemporary Jewish Museum, Photo: Courtesy of christiepdx - Fotolia.com
- The Ferry Building, Photo: Courtesy of Takuto - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of andreykr - Fotolia.com
City Lights is one of the United States' most-renowned independent booksellers, located in San Francisco's Chinatown neighborhood near its border with North Beach. The bookstore was originally founded in 1953 by Peter D. Martin and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and was declared as an historic landmark in 2001 for its connection to 20th-century poetry and literature, including its publication of Allen Ginsberg's landmark collection Howl and Other Poems. Visitors can explore the bookstore throughout business hours, known for its unique ambiance and special collections of world literature, arts, and progressive social and political volumes. It is also home to the City Lights Foundation nonprofit organization, which publishes volumes related to the city's culture and social topics. A weekly book reading event series showcases the works of new authors, with author events from the bookstore's publishing roster hosted at stores across the country.
4519, 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133, Phone: 415-362-8193