The city by the bay is is one of my favorite places to explore and the San Francisco City Hall is my favorite San Francisco tour. The City Hall docents conduct 3 FREE detailed tours a day (usually Monday – Friday 10:00 AM, 12:00 noon and 2:00 PM — excluding holidays). Call them at (415) 554-6139 or send an email to: City.Hall.Building.Management@sfgov.org to verify the tours.
This is not the original city hall, but the one that was built after the 1906 earthquake and fire. The building is palatial inside and out. The grand staircase is a favorite place for brides and quinceañeras to be photographed. It’s not uncommon to have 3 or four weddings taking place in different locations under the dome (one under the chandelier, one on the mayor’s balcony, and a couple in the side balconies) and photo shoots on the grand staircase and on the balconies simultaneously! At Christmas time, weddings take place in front of the Christmas tree, rather than under the chandelier.
The San Francisco City Hall dome is very special. It’s the largest dome in the US, and yes, it’s 42 feet higher than the dome in Washington, DC. The exterior of the dome is clad in 23.5 carat gold leaf.
The rotunda give rise to the grand staircase. The elegant floor design of the rotunda is made of Tennessee pink marble while the walls are made of Colorado limestone. The medallions that adorn the walls are made of plaster and represent Equality, Liberty, Strength, and Learning.
The grand staircase leads to the Board of Supervisors Chamber. The windows visible from the rotunda let in a lot of natural light into this space and have stories of their own to tell.
It’s worth exploring the side balconies to get a better look at the leaded glass windows and a top down view of the skylights for the North and South Halls.
The Board of Supervisors Chamber is magnificent. The walls are paneled in Manchurian Oak which is extinct. The paneling is ornate and the attention to detail is remarkable. The benches, railings, and desks are made of California oak. The room has a scent reminiscent of an old church probably due to the amount of wood in it. The ceiling looks like wood carvings, but is plaster and equally enchanting. The chandeliers are original. The original floor in this room was Portuguese cork, but is now carpet. The Board of Supervisors meets on Tuesdays at 2 PM so keep this in mind if you’d like to visit. This room is a must see!
The Mayor’s Office is on the second floor and opposite the Board of Supervisors Chamber. The Mayor’s Reception Room is worth a peak if you’re on the tour. The International Room is not part of the tour, but you can ask the docent if you can take a quick peak if it’s not in use at the time.
The North and South Halls you should visit on your own and take your time. The space is open and the natural light from the massive skylights is impressive. The South Hall has several exhibitions including the original vault used for the Treasury of the City and County of San Francisco, the head from the statue of the Goddess of Progress, models of a Victorian era home, a model of the Hallide Building, a model of the City Hall Dome, and a model of a pylon of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The security at City Hall includes metal detectors and scanners for your bags. The security station at the front of City Hall is usually super busy with wedding parties running late. The security station at the other end of City Hall is usually less busy and with far less drama.
A couple of interesting facts about this City Hall that you may not know. After the 1989 earthquake, the dome moved 4 inches and had to be put back! The whole building underwent restoration post 1989 earthquake. The building now sits on hundreds of hundred of base isolators (think of them as fancy shock absorbers). There is also a “dry moat” surrounding the building designed to show down and lessen the sock of earthquakes.
Hope you choose to visit San Francisco City Hall and have a great time.