Fulfilling Our Civic Duty: A Visit to Civic Center
Standing ornate and stately on its own tree-lined plaza, San Francisco City Hall is the centerpiece of the neighborhood called Civic Center. Adjacent United Nations Plaza is named for the charter that established the United Nations in 1945, signed at Herbst Theater in the War Memorial Veterans Building.
The National Historic Landmark area is also home to several of San Francisco’s beloved cultural institutions housed in architecturally significant buildings, including the symphony, ballet and Asian Art Museum.
Absolutely the place to be when San Francisco’s important things happen, this is the starting point for large gatherings, from a World Series victory parade to a Santa Claus costume party. After nightfall, visitors may catch the sight of impressive illuminations on special occasions, for example, when the building and its large dome -- tallest in America and fifth-tallest in the world -- are lit in orange to salute the Giants or in green to kick off the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Getting Hitched, Getting Lunch
Some urban legends are true. The one that says Marilyn Monroe married baseball hero Joe DiMaggio before a municipal judge at the county clerk’s office inside San Francisco City Hall in 1954 is factual. To this day, the century-old venue hosts up to 33 couples every day for civil ceremonies by appointment on Mondays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Not everyone is rushing into the marriage registry. Some folks are rushing to the food trucks that park at U.N. Plaza, making important international decisions about spicy Thai noodles versus Mexican burritos versus Korean-style pork belly on a toasted bun for lunch. San Francisco’s well-known rotating impromptu food markets known as “Off the Grid” are here every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Getting Cultured, Getting Dressed
Or, take a leisurely break in a relaxed setting at Café Asia inside the Asian Art Museum, where the menu reflects Far Eastern influences. The Beaux-Arts-style building facing City Hall Plaza is home to the oldest known dated Chinese Buddha in the world, marked with the year 338. It’s one of 18,000 art treasures spanning 6,000 years in the vast pan-Asian collection, considered one of the world’s most outstanding.
When it comes to collections, move on from ancient kimonos to 21st century fashion designers by walking three blocks north along Market Street to reach the Westfield San Francisco Centre. Large department stores, designer shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafés by the dozens, a day spa and a multi-screen cineplex are contained under its five-level dome where guest service ambassadors are on hand to assist visitors.
The Hop-On, Hop-Off sightseeing bus service has a City Hall stop. Muni bus lines serving Civic Center include 5-Fulton, 21-Hayes, 31-Balboa, 47-Van Ness and 49-Van Ness/Mission. Other lines, including the underground MUNI Metro and the F streetcar line, stop nearby at Market Street and Van Ness Avenue. BART stops at the Civic Center Station located at Market Street and Eighth Street.
Did You Know?
- At 307 feet 6 inches, City Hall’s dome is 42 feet higher than the dome at the U.S. Capitol.
- City Hall was affected by two earthquakes. In 1906, the original City Hall building was completely destroyed. Following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, City Hall closed for 10 years for seismic upgrades. The entire building is now separated from the ground and can sway up to 27 inches in any direction as a unit.
- Full-length films featuring San Francisco City Hall have included actors Roger Moore as 007, Paul Newman in “A Towering Inferno”, Clint Eastwood as an SFPD inspector in “Dirty Harry”, Harrison Ford in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, Sean Connery in “The Rock” and Sean Penn in the title role as Harvey Milk.
- A memorial sculpture of slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk (1930-1978) sits at the top of the Grand Staircase, outside of the Board of Supervisors chamber in City Hall.