12 Installations to See on the Illuminate SF Light Art Trail
Christmas trees and holiday decorations aren't the only things that are glowing this holiday season. Illuminate SF is the annual light art festival that brightens all of San Francisco, Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. While there are more than 40 permanent and temporary light art installations throughout the city, we've hand-picked 12 that make for a fantastic light art trail. Experience this light art trail to keep your holiday season bright.
Your Light Art Trail begins along the Embarcadero at "The Bay Lights," which is displayed on the north side of the Bay Bridge's western span. This installation was created by Leo Villareal in 2013 and became a permanent installation in 2016. The artwork is 1.8 miles wide, 500 feet high, it and consists of 25,000 individually programmed white LED lights.
From the Bay Bridge, continue north on the Embarcadero until you arrive at the Exploratorium at Pier 15.
Your second stop showcases the intricate glowing sculptures created by various artists at the Exploratorium. Included in Glow this year are "Buckyball," "Kaleidoscope," and "Cubatron Core." See these installations Dec. 15, 2019 - Jan. 26, 2020.
Cross the Embarcadero to Green St. and turn left to head south along Battery St. Continue on Battery St. until you reach Market St. Turn left on to Market St. then right on to Fremont St. Continue south on Fremont St. until you arrive at the Salesforce Transit Center.
This installation by Jenny Holzer is enclosed in the Salesforce Transit Center's Grand Hall. Watch as fleeting text along the walls of the rotunda takes over the 182-foot-long LED screen, displaying words of wisdom from more than 40 writers, including Maya Angelou, Harvey Milk, Machine Gun Kelley, and many others.
Step outside the Salesforce Transit Center the doors and look up at the Salesforce Tower.
This permanent installation was created by Jim Campbell in 2018. "Day for Night" covers the top 130 feet of the Salesforce Tower, making it the tallest public art installation in the country. It consists of 11,000 lights and video screens that work together to display scenes of the city all night long. You can see the images displayed atop Salesforce Tower from just about anywhere in San Francisco.
Head west on Mission St. Turn right onto Second St. and then left onto Jessie St. Continue to the intersection of Jessie and Annie streets.
This installation created by Hank Willis Thomas is a tribute to his cousin who was murdered in 2000. "Love Over Rules" presents the last message Thomas's cousin sent to him. This glowing installation is made up of 6-foot-6-inch letters on the exterior wall of the Salma Family Building. Each word gets its own line and they are illuminated in different combinations, supporting multiple interpretations.
Continue on Jessie St. to Third St. Turn left and head south to Howard St. Turn right.
“Point Cloud” is housed on the pedestrian bridge connecting the north and south buildings of The Moscone Center. This installation was created by Leo Villareal, the same artist created "The Bay Lights." "Point Cloud" spans 100 feet and is constructed of 858 steel rods and 28,288 LED bulbs that are, like those on the Bay Bridge, individually programmed to change colors every 30 seconds. You can walk the bridge during The Moscone Center's open hours, or enjoy the light show from street level on Howard St.
Continue west on Howard St. Turn right onto Seventh St.
This permanent installation by James Turrell 2007. "Skygarden" is lit from dusk until 10:00 pm for exterior viewing. It also has two extending bands that emit a neon light, one extending up diagonally and the second installed at street level that completes the geometric figure.
Continue north to Market St. and turn left. Head west on Market St., then bear right onto Hayes St. Turn right on Polk St.
On the western facade of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, you'll be met with an impressive exterior installation created by Joseph Kosuth. "W.F.T." stands for "Word Family Tree" and presents the historical meaning of the word "auditorium" while showcasing the realities of cultural and social relationships through the words that make up this neon art installation. It is best seen after dusk.
Continue west on Hayes St. to Octavia St.
This 17-foot-tall sculpture was designed by Dana Albany. Albany was inspired by the robot Maria from the silent film “Metropolis,” and combined characteristics of the ancient female Buddha and a futuristic female robot to create "Tara Mechani". The sculpture is made from 80% recycled materials, with a custom-built chandelier inside the figure. The best time to view it is after dusk.
Head south on Octavia St. toward Market St. Walk west to the intersection of Market and Laguna streets and board an outbound F-Line streetcar headed for the Castro. Exit at the last stop, 17th and Castro streets.
"Hope Will Never Be Silent" glows over Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro, commemorating the words of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of California. This installation is designed to honor his life and legacy through the light's power of attraction, offering a sign of hope to all who visit.
For some other light artworks a bit further afield, consider adding these to your itinerary.
Grace Cathedral is an iconic landmark in and of itself. During the Illuminate SF Festival of Light, when you enter Grace Cathedral, you'll be met with a spectacular light installation that shines bright above the church's labyrinth. Visitors can either lie down in the labyrinth, or stand outside the 100-foot-tall curtain of light to experience a fifteen-minute performance of synchronized light and sound.
Accessible by the California St. cable car to Mason and California streets.
Wrap up the Illuminate SF light art trail at Bayview Sunrise at Pier 92. This 187-foot illuminated mural was created by Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan to represent imagery about and for the community. There are multiple colored lights glowing and disappearing into the background to create a seamless switch of scenes.
Accessible by the T Third Muni line to Third and Marin streets.