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San Francisco Victorian Architecture

Guide to San Francisco's "Painted Ladies"

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San Francisco Victorian Architecture

A San Francisco Victorian Home

© Betsy Malloy 2001

San Francisco's most iconic image of Victorian-style houses must be its picturesque "Postcard Row" viewed from Alamo Square Park, the little row of pastel houses with the modern city skyline behind them.

See them now: Take the San Francisco Victorian Houses photo tour to see that view and some other fun locations you'll recognize from television and film, including Mrs. Doubtfire, Party of Five and Full House.

While technically Victorian refers to an era and not a style, it's often used as a catch-all term for the exuberant, sometimes quirky and charming structures built between 1840 and 1900. After the 1849 Gold Rush, San Francisco was in a heyday of building and abundant local redwood enabled lots of architectural ornamentation. Despite the devastating 1906 fire, many of these structures remain today.

San Francisco Victorian Houses Open to the Public

Haas-Lilienthal House: An exuberant, Queen Anne-style Victorian built in 1886, it's the only private home of the period open to the public on a regular basis. Docent-led tours three days a week.

Octagon House: An eight-sided, two-story house built in 1861, it's not a typical Victorian-style house but something much rarer and one of only five such houses built in early San Francisco. It's open for tours on an infrequent schedule, which is posted at their website.

Tours of San Francisco's Victorian Neighborhoods

San Francisco City Guides offers three tours focusing on Victorian architecture:

San Francisco Architectural Heritage also gives walking tours of Pacific Heights Victorians and another along Broadway, which includes the Mrs. Doubtfire house.

Victorian Home Walk picks you up in Union Square and takes you by bus to Pacific Heights for a relatively flat stroll through some of the best Victorian neighborhoods and a visit inside a Queen Anne-style Victorian house.

If you want to go on your own, Alamo Square's Postcard Row is on Steiner Street between Hayes and Grove, a few blocks south of Geary. The surrounding area is filled with fine examples. You'll also find many more in the Pacific Heights neighborhood around Broadway and Steiner and in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood near Golden Gate Park.

Victorian Bed and Breakfast Inns

Several of the nicest San Francisco bed and breakfasts are in Victorian structures. Chateau Tivoli is a particularly nice example, near Alamo Square and a good base for neighborhood walks.

Learn More About Victorian Architecture Styles

Aficionados talk of Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Stick and many other variations, debating what category any individual structure falls into. If you're a student of architecture, you can get a good overview at About.com's architecture site. For the rest of us, it's better to just enjoy what you see - and if you call them all "painted ladies," you can't go wrong.

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