SAN FRANCISCO’s BEST ●Attractions●Historical Sites
Glide Memorial United Methodist Church 330 Ellis St./Taylor St., 4 blks. from Union Square, (415) 771-6300. Arrive early because this rollicking service packs ‘em in, often up to the dark, carved-beam rafters, where the balcony seating is up close and personal with colorful stained-glass windows. The service is sometimes still conducted by Reverend Cecil Williams and is always enhanced by a choir of real people in real clothes and a live band. This is a place of smiles, hugging, and joyous sounds. Enjoy it, and leave inspired. Services are attended by everyone from recovering drug addicts to celebrities that include the likes of Sharon Stone, Maya Angelou, and Bono.
Grace Cathedral 1100 California St./Taylor St., Nob Hill. Free. Free app. Located atop Nob Hill, this majestic French Gothic cathedral stands 265 feet tall and is the largest in the western U.S. It is graced with more than 60 opulent stained-glass windows,
and its gilded bronze entrance doors depicting scenes from the Old Testament are exact replicas of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Doors of Paradise” at the Baptistry in Florence, Italy. Concerts using the cathedral’s renowned 7,286-pipe organ are scheduled often, sometimes accompanied by the 44-bell carillon. The cathedral’s reverberant acoustics and architecturally magnificent interior make these memorable experiences. Visitors are welcome to light a candle in remembrance of a deceased loved one, and to view both the triptych altarpiece “The Life of Christ” (1990) by pop artist Keith Haring and a panel of the NAMES AIDS Quilt that are displayed in the AIDS Interfaith Memorial Chapel. The Shop at Grace Cathedral and Peet’s Coffee Shop are open on the lower level daily until 4 p.m.
Walking labyrinths--a unique tool for meditation and enlightenment and said to be a metaphor for entering one’s center--are located both inside the cathedral and outside on a plaza. (A labyrinth is different from a maze, which is a puzzle and designed to confuse.) Patterned after one at Chartres Cathedral, these were the first permanent labyrinths laid in the Western hemisphere in 600 years.
Annual Cathedral Choir Christmas Concerts include the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys singing both traditional and new carols. They are wondrous, inspirational events. A Festival of Lessons and a Midnight Mass are traditional on Christmas Eve, and a celebratory New Year’s Eve event is scheduled each year. Also, every few years the cathedral is the unusual, yet appropriate, setting for a screening of the original 1923 silent film classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame with live organ accompaniment.
Old St. Mary’s Cathedral 660 California St., Chinatown. Located down the hill from Grace Cathedral, this more modest structure was built of brick in 1853 and was the West Coast’s first Roman Catholic cathedral. It was in front of this church that San Francisco’s Emperor Norton dropped dead in 1880.
St. Patrick Catholic Church 756 Mission St./4th St., South of Market. Located amid contemporary boxy highrises, this landmark 1851 gothic revival red-brick church is the oldest continually operated Catholic church in San Francisco. Its biggest bronze bell—which weighs over a ton--rings out the hour daily, and the ten smaller bells chime in before Mass on Sundays and religious holidays. Free half-hour chamber music Noontime Concerts are scheduled on Wednesdays.
Saints Peter and Paul Church 666 Filbert St./Columbus Ave., on Washington Square, North Beach. Topped with a pair of ornate spires, this wedding cake-white Roman Catholic church was completed in 1924. The interior holds a gold domed painting of Jesus by Ettore and Giuditta Serbaroli. Though Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were actually married in a civil ceremony at City Hall, a famous photo shows them cuddling on the steps of this church.
Swedenborgian Church Washington St./Lyon St., Pacific Heights. Unassuming from the outside and surrounded by a stone wall on two sides, this red-brick church with red tile roof was designed by several architects, including Bernard Maybeck. It is a National Hitoric Landmark. The casual, modest church is reached through a sanctuary garden. It features arches made of madrone trees with the bark left on, and there are no pews but instead manmade maple-wood chairs. Two stained-glass windows and murals depicting the four seasons provide decoration, and a fireplace in back provides warmth. The small congregation follows the Protestant 28th-century teachings of scientist and philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg.