Alamo Square: The Complete Guide

Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies in San Francisco

TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

It's easily one of the most photographed spots in San Francisco: Alamo Square, the verdant hilltop park, looking out onto “Postcard Row,” seven "Painted Ladies" with the SF skyline in the distance. Located in what's traditionally known as Western Addition (but more recently separated into Nopa and the Fillmore District), this central gathering space stretches across four city blocks between Steiner Street, Fulton Street, Scott Street, and Hayes Street, providing drool-worthy views and plenty of picnicking space.

Background

San Francisco's 12.7 acre Alamo Square is one of the city's top tourist spots (right up there with SF Cable Cars and the Golden Gate Bridge), but long before its views became an Instagram-feed favorite the land where the park now stands was a thirst-quenching watering hole connecting the Presidio with Mission Dolores. In 1856, Mayor James Van Ness officially designed what was then known as Alamo Hill, and 12.7 miles of its surrounding land, as “Alamo Square,” a residential park known for its outstanding views—though ones that have changed drastically over its more than 160-year history. Today, Alamo Square is best known for its view of "Postcard Row," seven similarly constructed Victorian homes that sit across the street from the park's eastern side and provide perfect contrast with the city's downtown skyline, which rises tall behind it. These "Seven Sisters" or "Painted Ladies," as they're better known, were all built in the late 1800s and are some of San Francisco's (and the country's) most photographed residences. Author Alice Waters, who wrote "The Color Purple," once lived in one.

Fans of the TV show Full House will recognize the Painted Ladies from the sitcom's opening credits, though the real Tanner house is at 1882 Gerard Street, just outside of Pacific Heights. Ever see the 1978 science-fiction horror film "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"? Alamo Square makes an appearance in this, too.

What to Do and See

Alamo Square lies along San Francisco's 49-Mile Drive, a scenic drive through the city that incorporates some of its top sights and attractions, including the Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate Park, Twin Peaks, and Nob Hill. San Francisco's Bay to Breakers heads straight past the park, where runners meet one of its most intense challenges—the legendary Hayes Street Hill. The park is one of the best spots in the city for taking in the mayhem of this more-than-century-old infamous foot race.

Although you can easily savor beauty of the neighborhood's homes on your own, SF City Guides also hosts free walking tours highlighting the “Landmark Victorians of Alamo Square” several times monthly. Along with the Painted Ladies (they're private residences so you can only appreciate them from the outside), the tour includes background on the nearby William Westerfeld House, a storied Stick/Eastlake-style Victorian with a haunted past.

Alamo Square received an overhaul a few years back, reopening in 2017 with a brand new irrigation system, new landscaping and trees, repaired pathways that wind through the park's undulating though well-manicured grasslands, and an ADA accessible, all-gender restroom located close to the park's children's play area. There's also an off-leash area for pooches, and a tennis court.

Nearby Attractions

Alamo Square is an easy walk to Hayes Valley, Lower Haight, and Nopa—home to "Divisadero Corridor," where you can grab a cup of Four Barrel Coffee and some delicious thick bread toast at The Mill, savor deep dish, cornmeal crust pizzas at Little Star, or opt for scoops of salted caramel and honey lavender ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery. If happy hour oysters are more your thing, Bar Crudo dishes out $1.50 oysters on the half shell daily from 5 to 6:30 p.m. The stretch is also home to boutique shops like Rare Device and The Perish Trust, a bevy of additional gourmet restaurants, some top-notch bars, and even The Independent, one of the city's best no-frills live music venues. Bottom line: you can easily make a day out of a visit to Alamo Square.

If you're swinging by the park on Friday or Saturday, consider hitting up the Church of 8 Wheels after. This roller skating rink inside an abandoned church is incredible fun, and well worth the $10 ($5 more for skate rentals) admission.

How to Visit Alamo Square

Muni's 21 Hayes bus ($3 for single fare) stops at the park, and Muni's 5 Fulton bus runs just a block north. If you're traveling north to south, both Muni's 24 Divisadero and 22 Fillmore travel within easy walking distance.

Alamo Square's hours are 5 a.m. to midnight daily, and the restroom is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

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