In a hedonistic city like San Francisco, cathedrals, churches, and other places of worship may not top your sightseeing list. But these establishments reveal the city’s rich history and ethnic diversity.
Mission Dolores is the city’s oldest building, founded by Spanish missionaries in 1776. Its adobe walls, cemetery, and small chapel – which still has its original timber beams and colonial statues and altarpiece – are a tribute to the city’s origins. It lends its name to the Mission District, home to a largely Hispanic population to this day.
By contrast, Nob Hill’s Grace Cathedral was only completed in 1964. Beneath its soaring spire, a wealth of artworks create a spiritual retreat from the urban buzz, including artist Charles Connick’s stained-glass windows and an altarpiece by Keith Haring. Two medieval labyrinths from the floor of Chartres Cathedral are replicated, while the gilded bronze doors are modeled after Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise on the baptistery in Florence.
In Chinatown, burn some incense and make an offering at the Kong Chow Temple, founded by immigrants in 1851. The god is said to bring good fortune in business, and you’ll see his image in restaurants and shops throughout the district.
The ornate white-stone towers of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church are a North Beach landmark. Built for Italian immigrants in 1924, it now says Mass in Italian, English, and Chinese.
Finally, for an uplifting experience in the downtrodden Tenderloin district, you can sing and sway with the gospel choir at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church.
The pews and the altar in dimly lit Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church
Glide Memorial United Methodist Church 330 Ellis St, Tenderloin;
Grace Cathedral 1100 California St, Nob Hill
Kong Chow Temple 855 Stockton St, Chinatown Mission Dolores 3321 Sixteenth St, Mission District;
Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church 666 Filbert St, North Beach;