There's a structural and philosophical distinction between a labyrinth and a maze. A labyrinth is a path to a central point -- with no obstacles, no intent to disorient. A maze, on the other hand, purposely imposes dead ends and turns to confuse the participant.
The various labyrinth patterns are archetypal, designed to clear the mind. They're reflective and meditative. When you enter the labyrinth you start releasing mental clutter while walking toward the center. Then remain at the center and contemplate your thoughts for as long as you like. Afterward follow the outward path, using that time to reconnect and eventually rejoin your environment. Here are our favorite labyrinths throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, from the city's Pacific Heights neighborhood to Contra Costa in the East Bay.
1100 California St.
Nob Hill, San Francisco
Don't expect to walk the Grace Cathedral Labyrinth (located upon entry of this spectacular Nob Hill edifice) on your own even though there are moments when you can engage in quiet moments of reflection. This labyrinth is a replica of the Chartres labyrinth of France's Chartres Cathedral outside of Paris.
Lands End Labyrinth
Lands End Trail
Outer Richmond, SF
If you're walking the Coastal Trail at Lands End between San Francisco's Cliff House and the Presidio, take a turn to Mile Rock Beach to reach the Lands End labyrinth. Eduardo Aguilera is responsible for this labyrinth as well as one in the nearby Marin Headlands (since removed).
Scott Street Labyrinth
Duboce Triangle - San Francisco
52-98 Scott Street
In close proximity to the California Pacific Medical Center's Davies Campus, close to both the Haight and the Castro neighborhoods, the Scott Street Labyrinth has been sandblasted into the surrounding pavement and circled with a ring of mosaic tiles. There's even a nearby table-top labyrinth in braille. Erected in 2007, the labyrinth was part of Duboce Park's revitalization.
San Francisco - Pacific Heights
Buchanan & Clay
See San Francisco Neighborhood Map
A painted labyrinth outside the waiting area of this Pacific Heights hospital lets patients and physicians alike clear their minds in the contemplative circles. The Labyrinth Garden was installed in 1997 by the Institute for Health and Healing.
Oakland - Alameda County/East Bay
See the Sibley Website for directions to the park
Along the Skyline Boulevard ridge in the East Bay's Berkeley Hills you'll find the entrance to this beloved nature reserve -- one with resident golden eagles and an overlook to a labyrinth. The main loop around Sibley doesn't take you to the labyrinth directly, but you'll reach another overlook at a steep ravine and be able to spot its dramatic design below. Sculptor Helena Mazzariello created this particular pathway.
Many such structures in public open spaces and parks are not officially sanctioned by the parks departments. If you visit, be sure to respect all parks and wilderness rules.
Willard Middle School Labyrinth
Berkeley - Alameda County/East Bay
Telegraph Avenue - Between Derby and Stuart
A yellow labyrinth painted directly onto the pavement, this unicursal Berkeley walkway is not open to the public during school hours, but it is available at other times. It's next to the school's working garden, which actually produces food for farmers' markets, homeless shelters, and neighborhood restaurants.
Walnut Creek - Contra Costa County/East Bay
260 Walnut Avenue (near Ignacio Valley Road)
A permanent outdoor labyrinth that is open to the public 24 hours and has been created in the same vein as the labyrinth in France's Chartres cathedral. Its 11-circuit pattern is built in stone.
San Anselmo - Marin County
See address for each of the labyrinths below
Marin County's San Anselmo campus offers two different styles of labyrinths:
- Geneva Terrace Labyrinth: A seven-circuit modified Chartres style - At the top of Seminary Hill, outside of Geneva Hall
- Spirit Walk Labyrinth: Classical style (Greek/Crete) - 17 Austin Avenue (between Lloyd Center and Baird Hall)
One additional indoor labyrinth is located in Duncan Hall at First Presbyterian Church (north of campus at 72 Kensington Road). Because this labyrinth is indoors, you can only walk it during posted hours.
Community Congregational Church
Tiburon - Marin County
145 Rock Hill Drive
This stone labyrinth, based on the Amien style, is in a garden setting and open to the public during daylight hours. An indoor labyrinth (Chartres pattern) is inside the church. The church holds quarterly labyrinth ceremonies throughout the year.
Palo Alto - Santa Clara County
555 Waverly Street (at Hamilton)
This painted outdoor labyrinth is open to the public during daylight hours, though steer clear of Thursday and Friday lunch hours since the courtyard area is used for a meal event. You can also contact the church to arrange for a group labyrinth walk.
Palo Alto - Stanford Campus - Main Quad
450 Serra Mall, Stanford
The public can walk this portable labyrinth--which is actually a large mat with a labyrinth pattern--in Palo Alto's Stanford Memorial Church each Friday during specific hours.
There is also an outdoor labyrinth accessible at any time.