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The Civic Center

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The imposing Civic Center is both the seat of city government and a hub of San Francisco culture.

History: In the early 20th century, San Francisco civic leaders found their city just plain ugly (hotelier Alan Pollock bluntly described its built landscape as “hideous in design and flimsy in finish, shames of lumber and paint”). To transform it into something more appropriate- a glistening, beaux arts -style White City, as one architect put it, “like Paris with hills”- they engaged the services of famed architect Daniel Burnham. Although most of Burnham’s grand designs never broke ground, we do have him to thank for the gorgeous Civic Center, including gold-domed City Hall, the courthouses, the opera house, and the building that now hosts the Asian Art Museum.

Don’t Miss: We dare you to find a more stunning City Hall anywhere in the country. Be sure to go inside and marvel at its famous marble rotunda- you just might catch a wedding ceremony in progress. Around back, you’ll see the equally grand War Memorial Opera House, the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, and the Herbst Theatre standing shoulder to shoulder. Across Civic Center Plaza, the Asian Art Museum houses gorgeous relics well worth an hour (or three) of your time. The American Conservatory Theatre recently opened a new theater across the street from UN Plaza after rehabbing a rundown movie palace.