Self-Guided Art Tours


This is only one in a series of self-guided Art Tours providing an easy and fun way to explore the thriving Bay Area art scene at your own pace. Each is complete with a printable map of destinations, and suggestions on how to plan your time, and where to stop and eat along the way.

Check out the other tours:

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San Francisco Tour of Public Art by Female Artists

Last updated: December 2007

public art

In San Francisco parks, gardens and public spaces, permanent works of public art quietly enhance the cityscape for both residents and visitors alike. To most people, public art is something seen along the way to and from work, while running errands or during afternoon jaunts to the park with kids and dogs in tow.

Our self-guided Public Art Tour questions the notion that public art is something to glance at along the way to someplace else. The next time you're looking for an art-filled way to spend the day in San Francisco, consider heading outdoors and hitting up these top destinations for public art. We've even offered up a few suggestions for sustenance along the way.

Because there are so many works of public art at each of the following stops, we've chosen to exclusively highlight the contributions of female artists to the San Francisco cityscape. That doesn't mean the only works you'll see are by women. You'll find a diverse array of sculptures, textiles and landscape art by both men and women. Another bonus? It doesn't cost a cent, unless, of course, you stop for lunch (a highly recommended decision).

If you plan to visit every site on the tour, we think you'll need about five hours, including travel time. Before heading out, we suggest checking out the following resource by Terri Cohn, Women Artists of the American West at

Here's a preview slideshow that you can watch at

Also, here are some videos that you might want to watch to give you a sneak preview of what you might find on your tour:

The Embarcadero Center: With its plentiful chain eateries and shops, the sprawling Embarcadero Center may sound like an odd place to begin your public art tour. In fact, public art appears throughout the center's buildings. On display at One Embarcadero Center, you'll find dramatic tapestries hand woven by artist Francoise Grossen. Keep strolling to Two Embarcadero Center for Anne Van Kleeck's gravity-defying bronze sculpture "Blocks," which looks as if it might tumble to the ground right before your eyes. Three Embarcadero Center houses "Sky Tree," (pictured above) a towering steel structure by the late Russian-American sculptor Louise Nevelson.

Then wander down the Embarcadero (where it meets Mission Street) to see "Crouching Spider" by Louise Bourgeois. This piece is on loan to the city for a limited time as part of the San Francisco Arts Commission's Sculpture in the City program. Considered one of the most renowned artists living today, her prolific art career spans seven decades. Her exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1982 was the museum's first-ever retrospective of work by a woman artist. Her series of spider sculptures are a tribute to her mother, who was a weaver and a spinner.

Yerba Buena Gardens: After getting started at the Embarcadero Center complex, hop in your car or zip via public transportation to Yerba Buena Gardens. Once there, sidle over to the "Cho-En Butterfly Garden" -- located near the front entrance of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts -- to contemplate the boundaries of public art. Does landscape count as art? Are the Monarch butterflies frequenting this little oasis art? Bay Area artist Reiko Goto certainly thinks so. Her small garden features plants known to help the self-sustaining butterfly population grow and successfully reproduce.

Another garden here that doubles as art is the "Oche Wat Te Ou (Reflections) Ohlone Indian Memorial." Artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, a member of Western Montana's Flathead Tribe, and collaborator James Luna designed the space to accommodate small performances and readings in homage to the Ohlone culture's emphasis on oral tradition. A wooden wall decorated with Ohlone drawings flanks rocks arranged in an elliptical shape, while a narrow reflecting pool separates the wall from the rocks.

With its 50-foot waterfall and back-lit images, the "Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial," which carries the distinction of being the nation's second largest memorial to the iconic Civil Rights leader, is perhaps the most well known public art structure gracing Yerba Buena Gardens. The memorial itself was designed by sculptor Houston Conwill, and spoken word artist and poet Estella Majozo collaborated on the project, which features 12 panels inscribed with quotations from King's life.

The "Sculptural Wall and Paving" adjacent to the memorial is the creation of another female artist, Lin Utzon, (random factoid: she's the daughter of the architect responsible for the famous Opera House in Sydney, Australia). At first glance, Utzon's work may look like a collection of simple granite slabs, but the angled construction and embedded silver fissures mimic the rippling effect of the water below and offer different focal points depending on the sun's position and intensity.

Break for Lunch: On your way to Golden Gate Park from Yerba Buena Gardens, refuel with a stop in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. Haight Street, which dead ends at the park's easternmost entrance, has numerous options for stellar eats. Dine in or take your spoils to the park for a picnic. In the Lower Haight, try Memphis Minnie's for a surprising combination of BBQ and sake, Love & Haight for vegetarian fare or Pascal Rigo's Café du Soleil on Fillmore at Waller for gourmet breads, salads and open-faced sandwiches. The Upper Haight is also flush with dining options, from the laid-back atmosphere at the People's Café to micro-brewed beers at Magnolia Brewery and the yummy noodle dishes at the ever-popular Citrus Club.

Golden Gate Park: After lunching in the Lower or Upper Haight neighborhood, Golden Gate Park is the perfect place to walk off your noonday meal. Head to the grounds of the de Young Museum to check out the entry to the tower, which is free to the public and is dedicated to the work of Ruth Asawa. While there, check out their gardens, which are also free to public as well and include the following works from their permanent collection by female artists: Barbara (Jocelyn) Hepworth's "Pierced Monolith with Colour," Beverly Pepper's "Moline Coupled Column," and Louise Nevelson's "Ocean Gate."

Japan Center: After these two garden settings, the tour returns to the city streets for its final stop. A tour of San Francisco public art would not be complete without a visit to more of Asawa's work. Asawa's metal sculptures pepper the city and are often noted for their intricate origami-like folds. In the middle of the Japan Center's Buchanan Street pedestrian mall, Asawa's twin fountains beckon visitors to stop, sit on one of the nearby stone benches and watch the delicate streams of water cascade to the ground. Originally built in 1976, the fountains were later recast in bronze.

After spending a moment admiring Asawa's work, finish your public art tour with a visit to the Fillmore Street Bridge. From the Japan Center, walk to Geary Blvd. and turn towards Fillmore Street. On the bridge passing over Geary, you will see local artist Mildred Howard's "Three Shades of Blue." The installation's windscreens are comprised of 20 individual glass panels etched with words by poet Quincy Troupe. Howard commissioned Troupe to write a poem entitled "Three Shades of Blue" to use on the installation's panels. Since appearing in 2003, Howard's work has met with rough treatment from passersby and even the occasional stray bullet from conflicts on the surrounding streets. Vandalism, in a sense, has changed the meaning of the work somewhat. Quite by accident, it has become something of a commentary on urban living and the harshness of the city streets.

You've reached the final stop on the San Francisco Tour of Public by Female Artists. Explore the Japan Center if you've got more energy to burn. Tired? Might be time to head to the Japan Center's Sundance Kabuki movie theater (1881 Post St.) for a good flick before calling it a day.

Below you'll find contact and admission information for each venue as well as our suggestions for parking and public transit for some of the destinations.

Embarcadero Centers 1-4
Where: All four Embarcadero Center buildings are located in downtown San Francisco between Sacramento and Clay Streets and bounded by Battery and Clay Streets
Phone: (415) 772-0700
Parking: Parking is available in pay garages underneath each center.
Public transit: You can reach this location via BART or MUNI. Get off at the Embarcadero Station; the Embarcadero Centers are on the north side of Market Street.

Yerba Buena Gardens
Where: Yerba Buena Gardens covers two square city blocks bounded by Mission, Folsom, Third and Fourth Streets in San Francisco
Phone: (415) 247-6500
Parking: For visits to the Yerba Buena Gardens, the Fifth and Mission/Yerba Buena Garage is your best bet. The garage is open 24 hours/7 days a week.

de Young Museum
Where: Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco
When: Monday-Friday from 7:30am-10pm and Saturday-Sunday from 7:30am-10pm.
Phone: (415) 227-4888
Cost: $10 adults, $7 seniors, $6 youth 13-17 and students, free for children 12 and under. Admission is free the first Tuesday of each month.
Parking: Parking is available at the Music Concourse Garage (enter from Fulton St. at 10th Ave.)

Japan Center
Where: The Japan Center occupies a four-block area bounded by Geary, Post, Laguna and Fillmore Streets.
Parking: If you don't see a street spot near the Japan Center, you can always find parking in the Japan Center Garage.
Where: 1660 Geary St., San Francisco

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