San Francisco, USA - Jun 24, 2015: Iconic Grace Cathedral stands on top of Nob Hill on a beautiful sunny, blue sky day; Shutterstock ID 1201473919; your: Meghan O'Dea; gl: 65050; netsuite: Online Editorial; full: POI

Shutterstock / Rosangela Perry

Grace Cathedral

Top choice in San Francisco

Is there any church that better embodies San Francisco's resilience, inclusivity and activist streak? The Nob Hill gem has been rebuilt three times since the gold rush and the current Gothic design took 40 years to complete. Spectacular stained-glass windows swap the usual Biblical parables for celebrations of science and social justice, and interfaith worship spaces give San Franciscans places to meditate, grieve, and connect with communities both earthly and spiritual.

The present day reinforced-concrete Gothic cathedral took 40 years to complete, and the story of its predecessors sounds a little bit like that sketch from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which the King in Sir Launcelot's story recounts building four iterations of Swamp Castle before one managed to not to burn down or sink into the morass.

Yoga on the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in downtown San Francisco. A weekly group yoga class of over 700 people. © Shutterstock / Dalton Johnson

The congregation got its start in a tiny gold rush chapel, and eventually moved into a larger, purpose-built church across from Trinity Episcopal. When Trinity's congregation moved, Grace took over the grand space that earned it the nickname Grace Cathedral. Unfortunately, that church was destroyed along with much of the city in the 1906 earthquake. The congregation moved into temporary quarters, and it wasn't until 1928 that work began on a new cathedral on Nob Hill, the land donated by the prominent Crocker family. 

That structure took decades to complete, hampered by the Great Depression and stop-and-start fundraising efforts. The last tower crowned the cathedral in 1964, and since then the church has steadily added new interior embellishments that reflect its mission to create an inclusive spiritual community.

One of the frescos in Grace Cathedral that depict San Francisco's history ©  Shutterstock / kross13

As you work your way through the nave, keep your eyes peeled the 'Human Endeavor' series of stained glass windows dedicated to science, depicting Albert Einstein uplifted in swirling nuclear particles. San Francisco history unfolds on murals that depict major events from the 1906 earthquake to the 1945 UN charter signing. People of all faiths wander indoor and outdoor inlaid-stone labyrinths, meant to guide restless souls through three spiritual stages: releasing, receiving and returning.

Grace's commitment to social justice is shown by the Interfaith AIDS Memorial Chapel, with a bronze altarpiece by artist-activist Keith Haring depicting his signature characters as angels taking flight – especially powerful since this was his final work before his 1990 death from AIDS.

"The Doves" by Michael Pendry, an art installation of two thousand paper doves soaring 45 feet long that flew from December 2018-March 2019 © Shutterstock / Suzette Leg Anthony

Other cathedral artworks honor achievements from Protestant and Catholic faiths alike – Robert Lenz’s Mary Magdalene is a head-turning modern Greek Orthodox icon, vivid stained-glass windows honor Quaker anti-slavery efforts, and the cathedral doors are exact replicas of Lorenzo Ghiberti's bronze baptistry doors in Florence.

Check the website for events, including spectacular choral performances – don't miss Bach's Magnificat at Easter – plus inclusive weekly spiritual events, such as Yoga For Change, Thursday Evensong, and candlelit meditation services. On your way out, don't miss Beniamino Bufano's smiling statue of the city's patron saint.

detail of the Ghiberti doors or Gates of Paradise at Grace Cathedral © Photo by Bruno Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Things to do at Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral has been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the health of its congregation. That said, they are typically open 8AM - 6PM most days.

Faith services

Sunday Services take place at 8:30AM, with the The Choral Eucharist at 11AM and Vespers at 6PM. Meanwhile, weekdays morning prayer is at 9AM, and Choral Evensong is Thursdays at 5:15PM. 7:30 AM Thursday Holy Eucharist services are currently suspended, but may return.


Tours of Grace Cathedral are offered select days at 10AM for $25 per person and can be booked by emailing Head Verger Charles Shipley or calling 415-749-6316. The Grand Tour lasts 90 minutes and includes the 94 steps up the south tower, the Chapel of Grace, the Vestry, the Gallery, the nave, and unbeatable views of the San Francisco skyline. 

Smart Phone Quests

The cathedral has its own app, GraceGuide, that offers free self-guided tours. One is a greatest hits exploration of the cathedral's best features, including its architecture, art installations, and a deeper dive into the congregation's long history. Another is called Cathedral Quest, a fun family-friendly scavenger hunt that kids will love. Another provides a background of meditative music, perfect for walking the cathedral's mindful labyrinths. 

The current Grace Cathedral broke ground in the 1920s, and took until the 1960s to complete © Shutterstock / Chris LaBasco

How to visit Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral is located at 1100 California Street, at the intersection with Taylor. Because parking is scarce, it's best to arrive via the #1 MUNI bus line to Sacramento and Taylor or Clay and Taylor, the California Street Cable Car to California and Taylor, the Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason Cable Cars to Powell and California, or BART to Embarcadero and Powell.

If you are driving, the Grace Cathedral Garage (ABM Parking) is located at 1051 Taylor Street, with 6 handicapped parking spaces. Another option is the Masonic Garage at 1111 California Street, which is a paid lot, and has ten handicapped parking spaces.

The Cathedral is accessible for those with disabilities.

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