The Palace of Fine Arts is an opulent neoclassical landmark, a fictitious palace encircled by a tranquil pond with snow-white swans. It’s one of the most popular wedding photo locations in San Francisco, and it’s been featured in a slew of fashion spreads and Instagram posts.
The Romanesque structure was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a world’s fair that commemorated the inauguration of the Panama Canal while also giving San Francisco a chance to shine after the tragic 1906 earthquake. The Palace’s domed rotunda, which housed over 12,000 items of art, was one of dozens of monuments, temples, and pavilions built for the nine-month-long exhibition.
All structures except the Palace were demolished at the conclusion of the magnificent event. San Franciscans couldn’t bear to see their wonderful homage to the arts demolished, but because it was supposed to be temporary—constructed of plaster, wood, and burlap—it collapsed over time. A wealthy donor gave money in the early 1960s to recast the deteriorating ruins in more durable concrete. With a soaring colonnade with bas-relief urns, a domed ceiling with allegorical paintings, and Corinthian columns capped with female figures draped in togas, their weeping faces turned away to signify “the misery of life without art,” today’s Palace is a faithful replica of the original. The Palace’s 1,000-seat theater, which opened in 1970, is used all year for cultural events, live performances, film festivals, and theater productions.
Admire this Beaux-Arts marvel before visiting the wooded parklands of the Presidio, which was a military base until 1994 and is now a National Park. Take the free shuttle bus or walk 24 miles of trails to picturesque viewpoints, many of which offer views of the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge.
The Presidio Officer’s Club is a jewel in a city filled with must-see architecture. It houses a history museum and Arguello Restaurant, a cafe led by award-winning chef Traci Des Jardins, and is San Francisco’s second-oldest building, with adobe walls going back to 1776. Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum nearby, or take the kids to House of Air, a trampoline park set within an airplane hangar. Tides Converge is a nonprofit workspace with two community galleries where you can see public art. Café RX, just down the hall, delivers true Latin American pupusas and tamales, while Sessions at the Presidio, with its cardamom beignets, avocado toast, and Belgian pancakes, nails the perfect outdoor-patio brunch.