7 Public Art Installations to Seek Out in San Francisco

A few of the historic, contemporary and high-profile works spread throughout the city

With all its modern gloss, it’s easy to forget that San Francisco is an old city, at least by U.S. standards. A tour of its public-art collection provides a surprising reminder, even to residents. Lotta’s Fountain—a cast-iron, bronze and glass landmark at Market and Kearny streets—has greeted the masses since 1875. You’ll find plenty of contemporary works here, too, and some of the biggest names in art.  

1. One of San Francisco’s most iconic bronze sculptures, Douglas Tilden’s Mechanics Monument is said to pay tribute to Peter Donahue’s industrial legacy. Donahue founded the city’s first iron foundry, street railway and gas company. Dedicated in 1901, the piece survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. Market, Bush and Battery streets.

Temple by David Best in Patricia's Green in Hayes Valley

2. David Best’s temporary Temple received such enthusiastic praise from Hayes Valley residents in 2005 that the San Francisco Arts Commission partnered with the Burning Man to commission the installation in Patricia’s Green again in summer 2015. The piece will be on view for one year, and visitors can write notes of remembrance on the artwork. Octavia and Linden streets.

"Systems Mural" by Brian Barneclo in Mission Bay
3. The enormous red-brown wall in Mission Bay was calling artist Brian Barneclo, and in 2011 he finally got permission to paint it. Barneclo’s "Systems Mural" is a nod to systems thinking, a concept that analyzes interconnectedness. 7th and Townsend streets.

4. Ceramist and sculptor Peter Voulkos’ work can be found across the Bay Area—the San Francisco Arts Commission tapped him to create the towering abstract piece known as Hall of Justice in 1967. Voulkos’ legacy lives on in the countless artists he influenced. 7th and Bryant streets.

"MaestraPeace" on the San Francisco Women's Building in the Mission District

5. Spend a few moments or a few hours exploring “MaestraPeace,” the vivid murals that unfold across the walls of the San Francisco Women’s Building. The 1994 mural’s theme celebrates women’s contributions to the world and includes images of Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu and artist Georgia O'Keefe. 3543 18th St.

6. Keith Haring’s 1989 enamel on aluminum piece Untitled (Three Dancing Figures) vibrates with color and movement. Haring arrived on the New York City art scene in the 1980s wielding white chalk and transforming advertising panels in subway stations. His message of inclusion and activism resonates around the world. de Young Museum entrance, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive

One of Vicki Saulls’ kid-friendly sculptures in Golden Gate Park

7. Vicki Saulls' Untitled cast-stone critters invite kids of all ages to explore the ecosystems of San Francisco’s natural environment. These are the animals that walk and fly in the bay and skies, magnified by about a thousand. Golden Gate Park, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bowling Green drives.