The history of San Francisco's cemeteries is one of relocation. After 1900, the expanding city got rid of most of the cemeteries, citing health issues among its residents. Those remaining in San Francisco are San Francisco National Cemetery (Presidio), where you'll find the grave of Sarah Bowman (the first woman to become an officer in the U.S. Army, and Mission Dolores Cemetery.
Many of San Francisco's graves were re-interred at Colma, south of the city, while famed Bay Area figure novelist Jack London is buried in up Sonoma County's Jack London Historical Park, and several of SF's most iconic personas such as Robins Williams had their ashes scattered, in the late actor's case over San Francisco Bay.
Here are several cemeteries where you can pay respect to the region's illustrious luminaries.
See the Find a Grave Website for detailed descriptions of famous graves throughout the Bay Area and California.
Famous graves at San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio include:
- African American Buffalo Soldiers
- Maj. Gen. Frederick Funston, whose named was given to San Francisco's Fort Funston, today a premier hang-gliding spot.
- Pauline Cushman-Fryer (an actress-turned Civil War Union spy)
San Francisco National Cemetery slopes upward on a hill, with views to the Golden Gate Bridge. Not far from here is the Presidio's equally famous pet cemetery. This pet resting place is shaded by trees, lush with greenery -- and filled with poignant memorials to beloved companion animals.
San Francisco's own Mission Dolores Cemetery holds the graves of 5,000 Ohlone and Miwok, along with others who built Mission Dolores, in the city's now-named Mission neighborhood. Markers date from 1830 to the late 1800s.
The cemetery is a quiet, walled garden adjacent to the historic mission. It's a memorial place steeped in its own history, feeling more like a European church enclave than one in the middle of San Francisco. Keen-eye observers may recognize the place from Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 thriller Vertigo.
Famous graves at Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery include:
- Charles Crocker: Founder of Southern Pacific Railroad and Crocker Bank
- Julia Morgan: Architect (Berkeley's Greek Theatre, Hearst Castle)
- Bernard Maybeck: Architect (Palace of Fine Arts - San Francisco)
- James Folger: Founder of Folgers Coffee
- Domenico Ghirardelli: Founder of Ghirardelli Chocolate
- Henry Haight: Governor of California
Mountain View Cemetery climbs a steep hill from Piedmont Avenue, opening to panoramic views of San Francisco Bay and Oakland. The Crocker and Ghirardelli mausoleums reside on Millionaires Row -- near the top, with sweeping vistas.
Docent-led tours happen at 10 am on the second Saturday of each month.
- Charles de Young: Founder of the San Francisco Chronicle
- Andrew Hallidie: Inventor of San Francisco's cable cars
- William Randolph Hearst: Media magnate, Hearst Castle
- John McLaren: Golden Gate Park landscaper and early San Francisco Parks Superintendent
- Lefty O'Doul: Major League Baseball player
- Claus Spreckels: Founder of Spreckels Sugar Company
Cypress Lawn is huge, spanning multiple sections across El Camino Real. The section on the east side, past the ponds and through the castle-like portal is the most dramatic in terms of monuments and setting.
Famous graves at Holy Cross Catholic Cemeteries in the San Francisco South Bay include:
- Joe DiMaggio: Baseball player, married to Marilyn Monroe
- Vince Guaraldi: Jazz pianist and creator of Peanuts theme
- George Moscone: Mayor of San Francisco, assassinated along with Harvey Milk in 1978 at SF City Hall
- Edmund G. Brown: California Governor and father of Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown
- Abigail Folger — coffee heiress and victim in the Manson Murders at Sharon Tate's house in 1969
The reception in the main office at Holy Cross has a walking tour brochure for those interested in paying respects at the individual sites.
The most famous interment at Hills of Eternity Jewish cemetery is Wyatt Earp, known best for his part in the Gunfight at O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.
Hills of Eternity closes a bit earlier than some of the other cemeteries along El Camino Real in Colma which are generally open sun up to sun down. Hills of Eternity found its way into song lyrics on Buckethead's Colma album.
The most famous graves at Woodlawn are that of Etienne Guittard (founder of Guittard Chocolate), and Emperor Norton (Joshua Abraham Norton) — an iconic figure in San Francisco history: he even issued his own currency!
You'll often hear that famous author Henry Miller is buried at Woodlawn. The confusion arises because of the fact that California cattle rancher Henry Miller is, in fact, interred at Woodlawn. The famous author, on the other hand, had his ashes spread at Big Sur — the coastal retreat that's also home to the Henry Miller Memorial Library.
San Francisco's unique Columbarium (a repository for human ashes) was part of the Odd Fellows cemetery, the graves from which were moved to Colma. The ashes of Harvey Milk, California's first openly gay elected official, and music promoter and "Summer of Love" guru Chet Helms (a Haight-Ashbury local) are interred here, along with SF's iconic "twin" sisters, Marian and Vivian Brown. It's an unusual space that's well-worth a visit.
Located within the Silicon Valley city of Palo Alto, Alta Mesa Memorial Park is a non-denominational cemetery that's home to the unmarked grave of Apple co-founder (along with Steve Wozniak) Steve Jobs, as well as Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan —a founding member of the Grateful Dead —and actress Shirley Temple, who was born in Santa Monica.