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Light Art around North Beach and Embarcadero

Discover literary lights and breathtaking sights on a walk through two of San Francisco’s most magical neighborhoods.

Northwest corner of Broadway and Columbus Avenue
Art Installation

Language of the Birds by Brian Goggin & Dorka Keehn

01

Stand in the plaza on the northwest side of Broadway and Columbus. Look up, look down, and feel the ethereal magic of North Beach’s celebrated flock of 23 "flying" illuminated books. You’ll also notice words and phrases embedded in the plaza floor, which appear to have fallen from the pages above. This text is in English, Italian and Chinese, and was selected from the neighborhood’s diverse literary history.

Northwest corner of Broadway and Columbus Avenue
261 Columbus Ave.
Bookstore

City Lights Books

02

To extend the poetic experience, continue south to City Lights Books. Continue your light art tour by heading north on Columbus. Take a right onto Grant Avenue, the oldest street in town (1845). On your right at 1232 Grant is a blues joint called The Saloon (1861), the city’s oldest surviving bar. Just a bit further on is Cafe Trieste at the intersection of Vallejo Street, where Italian espresso was introduced in 1956 to the West.

261 Columbus Ave.
On Filbert Street, in between Montgomery and Sansome Streets
Secret Stairs

Filbert Steps

03

Continue walking north on Grant and turn right onto Filbert Street. Continue east to Kearny Street, where you’ll see the Filbert Steps begin on your left. Climb up the historic Filbert Steps and enjoy your first glimpse of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and its stunning curtain of light, The Bay Lights installation by Leo Villareal.

On Filbert Street, in between Montgomery and Sansome Streets

Finish your walk down the Filbert steps to arrive at Filbert and Sansome Streets, where a stroll through the lamp-lit glow of Levi’s Plaza and across Battery Street leads to the Embarcadero. Continue south on the bay side of the street to reach the Exploratorium, a hands-on museum of science, art and human perception.

Pier 15
Art Installation

Buckyball by Leo Villareal

05

Outside the Exploratorium, stop to experience Buckyball, a towering 25-foot illuminated sculpture that brightens the Exploratorium's outdoor public space in both daylight and moonlight. Inspired by futurist and inventor Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome, the spherical soccer ball-like form features two nested geodesic spheres comprised of 4,500 LED nodes that are driven by chance, and can glow with more than 16 million distinct colors to create exuberant, random compositions of varied speed, color, opacity, and scale.

Pier 15
San Francisco Bay Trail
Art Installation

The Bay Lights by Leo Villareal

06

From the back deck of the Exploratorium and anywhere on the north side of the Bay Bridge are stellar vantage points for viewing this iconic San Francisco light sculpture, comprised of 25,000 individually programmed white LED lights. Originally installed as a temporary two-year artwork, this monumental tour de force was made permanent in February 2016. The Bay Lights is 1.8 miles wide and 500 feet high, and shines nightly from dusk to dawn in a never repeating, dazzling display across the north side of the Bay Bridge's west span as a gift to the people of California, thanks to the generosity of private donors and nonprofit presenting organization Illuminate.

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