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I have been to Hagia Sophia, Notre Dame and La Sagrada Familia, so I was wondering what the most famous church in San Francisco is ?

  • If you are used to European standards, I am afraid that you will find most historical sights in the US quite dull. They have modern churches with stunning architectures, of course, but they are simply not the place to experience the same "charm of the ancient" that you feel in Europe. – Federico Poloni Aug 15 '16 at 10:16
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    Indeed, two of the buildings you list predate the United States by hundreds of years, and given San Francisco's propensity for earthquakes, there aren't a ton of grand old structures. – Zach Lipton Aug 15 '16 at 16:56
  • @FedericoPoloni I can see your point, but honestly, the thing that damages the atmosphere one can feel in a church, is that music that the churches have here, but it might be a Catholic thing, which may apply in EU too, and I was just lucky enough not to experience when visiting there.. :) – gsamaras Aug 15 '16 at 17:17
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You have named some of the finest such buildings in the world. San Francisco has some attractive religious institutions to be sure, but nothing I would consider truly world class or on the same scale as a church that has been under construction for 134 years.

That said, here are a few sights of interest though (inspired partially by this list, which has some others worth considering). I wouldn't really count any as a must-see for a tourist, but if you're interested in church architecture or want to visit one anyway, there are some good options. All these institutions have websites that list more detailed information, hours, scheduled services, contract details, etc...

Saints Peter and Paul Church

Saints Peter and Paul Church

Wikimedia Commons: Kjetil Ree

It has been featured in movies and has a beautiful interior as well.

Grace Cathedral Grace Cathedral Wikimedia Commons: Chris06

This is an Episcopal Cathedral, so I'm not sure if it is suitable for your religious needs, but it's a stunning building. One fun feature are the labyrinths, which are built for meditative walks. Come by Cable Car if you want to arrive in style, or the 1-California bus if you don't.

St. Dominic's St. Dominic's Church Wikimedia Commons: Jdlrobson

Gothic-style Catholic church with a colorful and detailed interior.

Mission Dolores Mission Dolores Wikimedia Commons: Robert A. Estremo

The namesake of the Mission District, this isn't quite as significant for the architecture but rather for the history: it is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco and the site of the original Spanish Mission in San Francisco. It, along with the larger Basilica next door, continues to operate as a Catholic parish church.

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church

(I couldn't find a free image suitable for embedding.) As you mentioned that you are Greek, it's fitting to include this one, though I've never visited. The interior decor looks quite striking. It is out on Brotherhood Way in the far Southwestern cover of the city, making it potentially a bit of a trip to reach depending on where you start.

Modern Cathedrals Saint Mary of the Assumption exterior Wikimedia Commons: Gndawydiak Cathedral of Christ the Light

Wikimedia Commons: Skier Dude

For something different, you could also consider one of the Bay Area's modern cathedrals. San Francisco's Cathedral (Saint Mary of the Assumption) may be mocked by some locals as the "washing machine church" or "Our Lady of Maytag," as it looks like an agitator from the sides (it is, of course, a cross from above), but it is a notable structure for better or for worse. Across the bay in Oakland, the Cathedral of Christ the Light is comparatively new and was the first cathedral built entirely in the 21st century, with lots of glass and natural light.


The Gothic-revival St. Patrick's church is nice and dates back to 1851. It is a far cry from the Sagrada Familia, but I mention it especially because it is quite convenient to Union Square, Muni Metro, and BART lines.

Also note Glide Memorial Church, part of the United Methodist Church, which isn't a whole lot to look at physically, but features an extraordinary gospel choir, plenty of spirit, a commitment to social justice, and prominent programs to feed and help the homeless (and they can always use more volunteers).

Some other architecturally significant buildings affiliated with some religion in San Francisco include: St. Ignatius Church, Calvary Presbyterian Church, Old St. Mary's, Tin How Temple (Buddhist), Hua Zang Si Temple (Buddhist), Vedanta Old Temple (Hindu), Temple Emanu-el (Jewish), Sherith Israel (Jewish), and Beth Sholom (Jewish, modernist). I have surely omitted others from this list.

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    Grace Cathedral has an organ recital tomorrow afternoon, if that's the sort of thing that interests you. – Zach Lipton Aug 14 '16 at 4:53
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    Hey Zach, it's not my fault for been to these great churches, they were paying me to :P Really good answer, and the modern ones you are mentioning might appeal me more, you know, uniqueness! Nah, I am just interesting in lighting 4 candles, as many as the members of my family. Thanks though! – gsamaras Aug 14 '16 at 4:55
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    @gsamaras Sure thing. I actually went to the falafel place on Market St. yesterday and was thinking of you! (I came back with my phone fortunately.) – Zach Lipton Aug 14 '16 at 5:14
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    @gsamaras, any RC church who has a responsible person available will open the doors for you to light candles, I guess that will go even more for Greek Orthodox churches. E-mail (or even tweet) them, or ask at any usable church which is open earlier in the day but should be closed at the time you need it. – Willeke Aug 14 '16 at 8:52
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    @gsamaras A worthy tribute to Chronos! Cheers. – Zach Lipton Nov 28 '18 at 23:21
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To use a decent empirical measure of popularity, Grace Cathedral is the highest-rated church in San Francisco on TripAdvisor, with 700 reviews averaging well over four stars.

From Wikipedia:

Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal cathedral on Nob Hill, San Francisco, California. It is the cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of California.

The cathedral is famed for its mosaics by Jan Henryk De Rosen, a replica of Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise, two labyrinths, varied stained glass windows, Keith Haring AIDS Chapel altarpiece, and medieval and contemporary furnishings, as well as its forty-four bell carillon, three organs, and choirs.

Here's a link to it on Google Maps, where you can find its location in the city and get directions.

  • Hey is that church upon a hill? – gsamaras Aug 14 '16 at 4:13
  • It's San Francisco, so probably yes; I'll add a map of the surroundings to my answer though – Urbana Aug 14 '16 at 4:14
  • The wikipedia quote says it's a on a hill. Well now I remember that I was in Notre Dame too, in Paris, so that church you mentioned made my computer me confused, and think that it was Notre Dame (from a vision aspect, they are common). Good suggestion, it's also convenient for me to go there, checked the map. I will wait though for another answer, if so, and then choose! – gsamaras Aug 14 '16 at 4:17
  • I have a longer answer coming, but yes, it is up Nob Hill. Easily reachable on the 1-California or even via Cable Car if you want to arrive in style and don't mind paying for it (or have a monthly Muni pass). – Zach Lipton Aug 14 '16 at 4:20
  • @ZachLipton I plan to arrive on an elephant, just like the Great Alexander, I am a Greek after all! :P Please, post the answer! – gsamaras Aug 14 '16 at 4:25
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I will post what I eventually did, since I believe that the route one follows to go these churches plays a significant role too, and most importantly, a personalized description is always useful!

I will upload my pictures in Travel:USA | G. Samaras.


So, could I guy like me be impressed by a church in SF? Hell yeah! How?

Cathedral Saint Mary of the Assumption

That's something unique for me.


So here is the plan we followed (Note: We went by foot, it took several hours) on Google Maps, παραμονή της Παναγίας, 14 Aug 2016, Sunday:

  1. Saints Peter and Paul Church: My brother chose that one, because Saint Paul is his favorite church in Greece. It had a liturgy by the time we arrived. Nice church, 2/5 of the church was full of people attending the liturgy and the priest asked who was a tourists (<2/5, including us).

    Except from the priest, who had a chair to sit (!), there was a person narrating from some holy book I guess, another one (the chanter) and a woman, who would bring the corresponding book to the priest at some times.

    The church had nice colored windows and a nice room for prays, were you could light up your candles for 5$ each. There was a person that seemed to be making sure everything is ok with the candles.

    Huge drawback for me, was the fact that it had music (as all(?) the Catholic churches I guess), which for an Orthodox Christian like me, was very irritating and unpleasant, it didn't allow me to feel what I wanted, to be honest, but that's including when exploring!

    Remarkable advantage for me, was the fact that the neighborhood (and the route I followed as indicated on the map) was a beauty, on a sunny day. The church lies just around Washington Park, which had many people, and some event was taking place (there was live music). Moreover, the Italian Restaurants nearby seems elegant, but I wasn't hungry at that time.

    This church seem to be the less touristic from the other two.

  2. Grace Cathedral: That church is the baby of the Notre Dame in Paris, at least through my eyes. It is too touristic inside, but it must be bigger than the church we visited before.

    It had too beautiful colored windows, and music playing, but it was live. In fact there was only one woman who played the piano (or whatever this is called, I remember an algorithm in Multimedia to be named after that organ), and there was no liturgy at that time.

    The tourists were able to go (almost) everywhere inside the church (which was not the case with the previous church), something that really doesn't characterize a church, but it allows you to see everything from a close view.

    I lit 5 candles at that church, there wasn't a fixed price for them.

  3. Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption: Its terrace is so stunning, simply amazing, modern and unique for me!

    It must be a tourist attraction, since buses with Asians had surrounded the place, disembarking people ready to shoot with their cameras! :)

    It is big, but it's not only the building itself. It has parking spaces and the "corridors" to the door were long (like bridges), in opposition with most of the others churches we had steps that would guide you to the door directly. Here, there were some steps, then you had to cross that "bridge" and then find yourself in the door.

    Unfortunately, tourists were not allowed at that time, since two βαφτήσια were scheduled, but I was able to take a glance from the window, the roof follows the shape of the terrace and it seemed like something beautiful was at the end of the room (diametrically from the entrance), but I am not sure what.

    There was a park nearby, just before a baseball pitch, but there wasn't any event there, just <10 people laying on the fake-plastic grass (something that most of the parks have here, unfortunately).


The route we followed had some nice places, which a person that has gone places, should pinpoint easily, given that he has his eyes open. Many other churches were found around, with a Chinese one, being the most distinctive, it was a building like a big house, with a triangle as a terrace.

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    Sounds like a good outing! That's a decent trip on foot, especially uphill. Make sure you explore the North Beach area more, lots of great restaurants and Italian pastries up there. If you like the design of St. Mary's Cathedral, consider popping over to see the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. It's very modern, but features much more glass and light, and it's a pretty short walk from BART. Glad you had a good time! – Zach Lipton Aug 15 '16 at 3:30

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