Back when international exhibitions meant building a town within a town, the Palace of Fine Arts became one of 10 palaces at the 1915 Panama-Pacific World Exposition on the northern side of San Francisco. Built by the famous Californian architect Bernard Maybeck following ancient Greek and Roman designs, the palace offers a romantic outdoors promenade flanked by tall ionic columns of another time and a serene rotunda overlooking a lagoon that swans and ducks call home. Add to that a theater, and manicured paths, and you’ll understand why the Palace of Fine Arts is a beloved city escape for parents.
When to go: The Palace of Fine Arts is a fantastic place to hang out for an hour or more throughout the year, from sunrise to sunset.
How to get there: The Palace of Fine Arts Theater is located at3301 Lyon Street in San Francisco. For directions from different parts of the Bay Area, click here.
Where to park: Free parking is available along Palace Drive, Yacht Drive, and on Bay and Lyon streets but expect weekends to be crowded.
Public transportation: The Palace of Fine Arts is easily accessible by San Francisco Muni buses #30, #43, #28, and #29. Muni bus lines #22, #41, and #45 also stop in the vicinity. From Fisherman’s Wharf take the #30 Stockton bus. For more information, call Muni at 415-673-6864 or check the SFMTA trip planner.
What to bring and wear: A picnic is a nice addition to this artsy day. Pack up some food and drink and enjoy a day in the park with the kids. Because you’ll be going inside and out, you’ll want to bring layers to be prepared for all weather conditions. Snacks and a camera are also recommended.
What to do:
Run around: with its renovated paved paths and landscaped gardens, the Palace of Fine Arts offers an incredible setting for kids to shake their sillies out away from car and bike traffic. Expect would-be climbers to take the Greek revival columns for jungle gyms – though really, their beauty should inspire poetry more than physical prowess.
Picnic: the grassy lawns surrounding the lagoon are perfect picnic spots with a blow-your-mind view – and tumbling heaven.
Family photos: with its ancient ruin picturesque décor that still screams “only in San Francisco,” the Palace of Fine Arts is often chosen for formal or important photo shoots. Head there for your holiday cards this year. Your relatives across the country won’t believe it.
Theater: home to many ethnic dance festivals, the Palace of Fine Arts Theater showcases several child-friendly programs such as the Nutcracker ballet. Check their upcoming events for more details.
Lunch spots: restaurants are in short supply directly around the Palace of Fine Arts but there’s plenty to eat if you’re willing to walk a few blocks down. If the kids are dying for a treat (or say, you need some quiet time), head to Chestnut Street for smacking ice cream sandwich from Over the Moon.
Cost: Cost is completely dependent on the activities you do and day you wish to come. For a more economical day, stick to picnics, parks, and free-entry days.
Little Known Fact: as the rest of the Panama Pacific Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts was built on 635 acres reclaimed from the San Francisco Bay. Yes you are walking on water and it doesn’t even show.
Whether for an hour or for a day, you’ll be surprised at how peaceful the Palace of Fine Arts can be despite its proximity from the bustling Marina and Crissy Field scene. Enjoy!
— Laure Latham