Top Architecture Sights: San Francisco and Northern California

America's Favorites

These architectural sights were selected as finalists in the AIA's America's Favorite Architecture contest. They are listed in order of popularity in their poll.
  • 01 of 11
    SFMOMA's 2016 Addition
    ••• Snøhetta-Designed Expansion of SFMOMA. © Henrik Kam, courtesy of SFMOMA
    151 Third Street
    San Francisco, CA

    Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, SFMOMA is made of squares and circles like ancient buildings, laid on an east/west axis. The geometric look fits especially well in its South of Market neighborhood, where the San Francisco of the 21st Century is still taking shape.

    See It: The museum is open daily, except Wednesdays

  • 02 of 11
    San Francisco Airport International Terminal
    ••• San Francisco Airport International Terminal. ©Betsy Malloy Photography

    The International Terminal at SFO was completed in 2000, designed by architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The wing-shaped structure is the largest base-isolated structure in the world.

    See It: You won't get past security without a ticket for a flight, but the ticketing area and museum-quality displays are open to the public. If you're going there from San Francisco just to see the place, try using BART.

  • 03 of 11
    San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge
    ••• San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge. franckreporter / Getty Images

    It's not the only suspension bridge in the world, but this one is especially nicely designed and the color and site add to the look.

    See It: San Francisco City Guides offers guided tours, or just explore on your own. Pedestrians are allowed on the bridge only during daylight hours.

  • 04 of 11
    Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park
    ••• Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park. ©2011 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
    Yosemite National Park, CA

    One of the great National Park lodges, the Ahwahnee has especially nice public spaces which anyone can visit whether they stay there or not.

    See It: The lobby and big hall are open to the public and they offer guided tours. Sign up at the concierge desk.

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11
    San Francisco City Hall
    ••• San Francisco City Hall. Sergio Ruiz/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place (Van Ness at Grove)
    San Francisco, CA

    Designed in Beaux-Arts style by architect Arthur Brown Jr. and opened in 1915, sports the fifth-largest dome in the world, 14 inches taller than the U. S. Capitol. After a seismic upgrade and renovation completed in 1999, it's a real looker (as they say).

    See It: San Francisco City Guides offers guided tours once a week.

  • 06 of 11
    Skyline view of San Francisco, California, with the Transamerica Pyramid as the focus
    ••• Transamerica Building, San Francisco. Buyenlarge / Getty Images
    600 Montgomery Street
    San Francisco, CA

    The pointy design actually had a purpose, to allow more light to get down to street level than a conventional, straight-sided building would have. Designed by William L. Pereira & Associates, it has become a San Francisco icon since it opened in 1972.

    See It: Unfortunately, it has no observation deck, but you can see it from all over town.

  • 07 of 11
    San Francisco: Top California Travel Destination
    ••• Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco. George Rose / Getty Images
    950 Mason Street
    San Francisco, CA

    Under construction when the 1906 earthquake struck San Francisco, the Fairmont fell victim to the firestorm that followed the quake. It opened in 1907 as a symbol of San Francisco's rebirth. Julia Morgan, the first female graduate of Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris designed he Fairmont, along with Hearst Castle and many other structures in the Bay Area.

    See It: The lobby and restaurants are open to the public.

  • 08 of 11
    AT&T Park, San Francisco
    ••• AT&T Park, San Francisco. Brace Hemmelgarn / Getty Images

    24 Willie Mays Plaza (King at Third Street)
    San Francisco, CA

    San Francisco's new baseball stadium enjoys a pretty site with great views and contains many touches that connect it with the great baseball fields of the past.

    See It: Get a seat for a game or take a behind-the-scenes guided tour. They're given every day, except when there's a day baseball game.

    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11
    V. C. Morris Gift Shop, now the Xanadu Gallery
    ••• V. C. Morris Gift Shop. ©2014 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
    140 Maiden Lane
    San Francisco, CA

    Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright before he started the Guggenheim Museum, this small shop (formerly a gift shop) features a spiral ramp and beautiful-but-simple arched brickwork outside the door.

    See It: No special tours, but the art gallery that occupies the space doesn't mind respectful visitors.

  • 10 of 11

    Hyatt Regency San Francisco

    Lobby of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco
    ••• Lobby of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. Hyatt Regency San Francisco/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0
    5 Embarcadero Center
    San Francisco, CA

    The soaring atrium and 17-story hanging gardens are 170 feet high. It has a rotating restaurant on the top floor. It's been used in so many films it's hard to count them all. Designed by architect John Portman, it's a concrete structure that some describe as a "half-twisted Rubik's cube."

    See It: The lobby (which is its best feature) is open to the public.

  • 11 of 11
    The
    ••• The "Flintstone House". ©2008 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Sometimes called the "Flintstone House" by locals who gape at it as they pass by on I-280, this 1976 William Nicholson design was formed over inflated aeronautical balloons, which was then covered with a frame of half-inch rebar, a coat of sprayed cement.

    It's easiest to see from the angle this photo was taken, going north on I-280 and north of Hwy 92.