Public art in downtown San Francisco comes in many shapes, sizes and mediums. From street art to sculpture, to colorfully vibrant painted crosswalks and plazas, to majestic buildings illuminated with projection mapping technology, downtown San Francisco is like one big open air museum. But you have to know where to look!
Check out these inspiring installations and pieces of public art located throughout downtown San Francisco and Jackson Square.
Battery Bridge Mural
The Battery Bridge Mural project is one of the newest pieces of public art in downtown San Francisco. Renowned San Francisco-based painter Talavera-Ballón was selected to paint the “bridge” of a plaza located on Battery Street between Bush and Market streets next to the iconic One Bush Street building. The artist’s colorful depiction encompasses a 1,900 square foot street mural representing the natural beauty of a nearby estuary and Drake’s Bay. This stunning mural was officially unveiled in June 2022.
The “Bankers Heart” is the unofficial name given to a hulking black granite sculpture by artist Masayuki Nagari, located in the plaza outside 555 California Street. Originally commissioned in 1969 to adorn the Bank of America headquarters, the piece’s official name is “Transcendence”, and the banking institution transcended the city and moved its HQ to North Carolina. A journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed the hard, black edifice “Bankers Heart” and the name stuck. It’s an alluring and heartfelt piece nonetheless, and the perfect spot for a selfie.
The Allegory of California | Diego Rivera
Famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera contributes to downtown San Francisco’s public art scene with a venerated mural at the City Club, now a private event venue. Officially titled “The Allegory of California”, the mural was completed in the summer of 193, and was Rivera’s first commissioned fresco outside of his native Mexico. People from all over the world flock to see the two-story piece that spans the City Club’s 10th and 11th floors, as well as the ceiling of the building’s grand staircase. This imposing piece is a celebrated part of the city’s history, as Rivera, an acclaimed artist in his own right, was married to painter Frida Kahlo and the two lived in a nearby studio from 1930-1931 during the creation of the mural. The City Club of San Francisco is located at 155 Sansome Street, and the building is also home to several other artistic and architectural points of interest, as noted on their website.
The Mechanics Monument is a group of bronze sculptures sitting in a serene pool of water located at the confluence of Market, Bush and Battery streets in downtown San Francisco. Designed by artist Douglas Tilden, this homage in bronze was commissioned as part of a streets beautification program in the early 20th century, and serves to memorialize industry and commerce, depicting five nude figures (representing the “five ages of man”) operating a punching machine atop a boilerplate. The bronze figures were installed on granite base in 1901 and have served as a visual locus and focus point for the downtown community ever since.
Merchants Exchange Building
The famed lobby of the Merchants Exchange Building, located at 465 California Street contains five 16’ by 18’ murals commissioned from noted maritime artist Willima Coulter. The building itself is historic, having been designed by esteemed architects Daniel Burnham and Willis Polk in a Beaux-Arts style, and survived the infamous 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The building sustained damage and was rehabilitated with new artistic flourishes in the wake of the earthquake, including a new skylit, marble lobby, ionic columns, coffered ceilings, vaulted skylights, Coulter’s pieces depicting sailing narratives, as well as elegant, antique lamps and bronze eagles adorning the outside of this famous edifice.
If you’re looking for a nearby respite of peace and serenity, head over to 600 Montgomery Street and the Transamerica Redwood Park. Built upon reclaimed land that used to comprise part of the Barbary Coast waterfront, this tranquil urban oasis contains a half-acre pocket park with over fifty redwood trees relocated from the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as Cubist-inspired landscaping elements and a sunken reflecting pool and fountain designed by Anthony Guzzardo. Don't miss the whimsical frog and lily pad sculptures by artist Richard Clopton, and a nearby bronze sculpture of children running by artist Glenna Goodacre. This near-hidden oasis sits in the shadow of the iconic and monumental Transamerica Pyramid, the city’s tallest building.
Let's Glow SF
Nothing makes the holidays more magical than lighting up the night, so come see how we do it in downtown San Francisco! Beginning in 2021, we launched Let’s Glow SF, the largest, projection mapping event in the U.S., that spanned ten nights and illuminated four iconic downtown structures with lights and colors every five minutes — resulting in a breathtaking, holiday-inspired show. Working with local, national and international artists, this free public art show drew tens of thousands to downtown San Francisco. Of our surveyed attendees, the response was overwhelmingly positive, so we’re doing it again with Let’s Glow SF 2022! Check back for show times and updates, and be sure not to miss the most amazing free, public art display in downtown San Francisco.