Transamerica Pyramid & Redwood Park

Downtown, Civic Center & SoMa

The defining feature of San Francisco's skyline is this 1972 pyramid, built atop a whaling ship abandoned in the gold rush. A half-acre redwood grove sprouted out front, on the site of Mark Twain's favorite saloon and the newspaper office where Sun Yat-sen drafted his Proclamation of the Republic of China. Although these transplanted redwoods have shallow roots, their intertwined structure helps them reach dizzying heights – Twain himself couldn't have penned a more perfect metaphor for San Francisco.

Architect William Pereira's triangular structure allows light to reach the trees and narrow streets beneath the Pyramid. But, at first, critics claimed Pereira's Hollywood special-effects background was too obvious in his 853ft rocket-ship design. Today San Francisco would be unthinkable without the Pyramid – Godzilla respectfully left it intact in the 2014 remake of the Japanese sci-fi classic. On weekdays, there's free entry to the lobby visitor center, where you can check out views from the top via a live feed, some videos about the history and some Transamerica merch. Only employees can use the elevators.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Downtown, Civic Center & SoMa attractions

1. AP Hotaling Warehouse

0.09 MILES

'If, as they say, God spanked the town/For being over-frisky/Why did He burn His churches down/And spare Hotaling's whiskey?' This saloon-goers' retort…

2. Chinese Culture Center

0.11 MILES

You can see all the way to China from the Hilton's 3rd floor inside this cultural center, which hosts exhibits ranging from showcases of contemporary…

3. Wells Fargo History Museum

0.12 MILES

Gold miners needed somewhere to stash and send cash, so Wells Fargo opened in this location in 1852. Today this storefront museum covers gold rush–era…

4. Sun Terrace

0.13 MILES

Enjoy knockout vistas of the Financial District and Transamerica Pyramid from atop a slender art deco skyscraper. Take the elevator to the 15th floor.

5. Portsmouth Square

0.15 MILES

Chinatown's unofficial living room is named after John B Montgomery's sloop, which staked the US claim on San Francisco in 1846. SF's first city hall…

6. Columbus Tower

0.16 MILES

If these copper-clad walls could talk, they'd name-drop shamelessly. The tower's original occupant was political boss Abe Ruef, ousted in 1907 and sent to…

7. Commercial Street

0.18 MILES

Back when the red lights of Commercial St could be seen from the waterfront, this strip provided many provocative answers to the age-old question: what do…

8. Jackson Square

0.18 MILES

Today upscale Jackson Sq is framed by Washington, Columbus, Pacific and Sansome Sts – but before the gold rush filled in the area with abandoned ships,…