Everything You Need to Know About San Francisco's Grace Cathedral
Towering over San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood, the iconic Grace Cathedral is hard to miss. Known as much for its "Gates of Paradise" as for its breathtaking murals and labyrinths, the cathedral is one of the largest Episcopalian churches in the United States. Painstakingly built brick by brick, mural by mural, over the course of 37 years, the church is both a tourist landmark and a symbol of hope and resurrection, thanks to its storied history.
The History of Grace Cathedral
Grace Cathedral traces its roots to Grace Church, a small parish that was built during California's Gold Rush in 1849. The 1906 earthquake completely destroyed the original structure. The Crocker family, an influential family in San Francisco at that time, donated their Nob Hill land for the construction of the present structure. The building of Grace Cathedral began in 1927 but it was only in 1964 that the intricate structure, with all its gorgeous details, was fully completed. The landmark event was celebrated with a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr., which was attended by nearly 5,000 people.
Highlights of Grace Cathedral
One of the entrances to the Cathedral is guarded by the Ghiberti Doors, also called the "Gates of Paradise." They are a replica of the doors designed by famed Italian artist Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Florence Baptistry. Cast from bronze and covered with gold, the doors depict important biblical events. If you want to capture the beauty of this stunning and historic piece of artistry with your lens, early mornings are the best time. The cathedral isn't too crowded and the sunlight is just right for some awe-inspiring shots.
Grace Cathedral has two labyrinths, one inside and one outside. The outdoor labyrinth is accessible 24/7. Trace the design of the labyrinths with your feet and get into a meditative state. Keep an eye out for yoga events at the cathedral, which take place on and around the labyrinths. You are expected to bring your own yoga mats. However, if you decide to join a class in progress, you can rent a yoga mat from the cathedral for a small fee.
The Murals and the Architecture
Inspired by French Gothic architecture and such iconic structures as Notre Dame in Paris, Grace Cathedral has huge stained glass windows and stunning pews, in addition to several murals that adorn its south wall. The murals depict several important events in the history of San Francisco, such as the earthquake of 1906 and the drafting of U.N. charter in 1945. The stained glass windows of the cathedral are decorated with portraits of both biblically significant personalities, such as Adam and Eve, and important people in world history, such as Albert Einstein and Robert Frost.
Top of the South Tower
While you are at Grace Cathedral, make sure you climb to the top of South Tower for some of the best views of San Francisco city.
How to Explore Grace Cathedral
The cathedral is open to visitors from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Make sure you check for special events at the cathedral beforehand, since entry is restricted on such days. Pick up the free visitor's guide, which lists all the highlights of the church, and walk around, taking in the breathtaking artistry before you. You can also take a guided docent tour of the church, which is free. Docent tours at Grace Cathedral are only available on select days during specific hours, so check before you plan a visit. If you are looking for a more intimate tour of the church, the grand tour is recommended. The 90-minute tour costs $25.
Getting to Grace Cathedral
Grace Cathedral is located at the intersection of California and Taylor Streets. The California Street cable car is the easiest way to reach Grace Cathedral. Whether you start downtown or on Van Ness Avenue, the cable car will drop you at the cathedral's Great Stairs. A cable car journey to Grace Cathedral takes approximately 10-15 minutes, depending on where you board the cable car from. You can also take the 1 Muni bus and get off at Taylor Street or Clay Street. Public transportation is recommended for reaching Grace Cathedral since parking is scarce.
The Fairmont Hotel (950 Mason St.)
Dating back to 1907, the iconic building has hosted several U.S. presidents over the years. It's also the place where Tony Bennett first sang "I Left My Heart In San Francisco." You can take a tour of the hotel's lobby or, even better, book a room for the night.
Top of the Mark (InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel, One Nob Hill)
This rooftop bar has been a permanent fixture in San Francisco's nightlife since 1939. The bar is known for its signature cocktails, inspired by San Francisco's landmarks, and breathtaking views. Given its popularity, try arriving early in the evening for the best seats.
Huntington Park (Between Grace Cathedral and The Fairmont Hotel)
Located in the center of Nob Hill, this beautiful park is known for its centerpiece: a replica of Fountain of the Tortoises, an iconic Roman fixture.
The Masonic (1111 California St.)
This outstanding venue is one of Nob Hill's many architectural treasures. Whether you're seeing a concert or hosting a banquet, there are few places quite like The Masonic