Old St Mary's Cathedral & Square

North Beach & Chinatown

California's first cathedral was started in 1853 by an Irish entrepreneur determined to give wayward San Francisco some religion – despite the cathedral's location on brothel-lined Dupont St. The 1906 earthquake miraculously spared the church's brick walls but destroyed a bordello across the street, making room for St Mary's Sq. Today, skateboarders do tricks of a different sort in the park, under the watchful eye of Beniamino Bufano's 1929 pink-granite-and-steel statue of Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen.

Eventually the archdiocese abandoned attempts to convert Dupont St and handed the church over to America's first Chinese community mission, run by the activism-oriented Paulists. During WWII, Old St Mary's served 450,000 members of the US armed forces as a cafeteria and recreation center. Since WWII, the church has hosted regular Tuesday noontime concerts to offer midday respite in troubling times (http://noontimeconcerts.org; suggested donation $5).

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby North Beach & Chinatown attractions

1. Commercial Street

0.09 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…

2. Tin How Temple

0.14 MILES

There was no place to go but up in Chinatown in the 19th century, when laws restricted where Chinese San Franciscans could live and work. Atop barber…

3. Waverly Place

0.14 MILES

Grant Ave is Chinatown's economic heart, but its soul is Waverly Place, lined with flag-festooned, colorful temple balconies and family-run businesses…

4. Dragon's Gate

0.14 MILES

Enter through the Dragon archway donated by Taiwan in 1970, and you'll find yourself on the street formerly known as Dupont in its notorious red-light…

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. Spofford Alley

0.16 MILES

Sun Yat-sen once plotted the overthrow of China’s last dynasty here at number 36, and during Prohibition, this was the site of turf battles over local…

7. Chinese Telephone Exchange

0.17 MILES

California's earliest high-tech adopters weren't 1970s Silicon Valley programmers – they were Chinatown switchboard operators c 1894. To connect callers,…

8. Wells Fargo History Museum

0.17 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…