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Guide to San Francisco’s best public art installations

Step outside, snap some shots, and splash these stunning works on your social media

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Public art around San Francisco runs the gamut from the earthy—think Andy Goldsworthy's statues made of trees and earth in the Presidio—to high tech, like the kinetic sculpture Firefly in the Tenderloin, which moves with the wind and lights up at night.

There are big, stark sculptures like Richard Serra's numerous works around town and more delicate pieces, like Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn's elegant illuminated books that fly over Chinatown and make up Language of the Birds. There’s even important work inside the new Transbay Transit Center that, once it reopens, deserves your attention.

To celebrate the artistic side of the city, we've updated our curated map of San Francisco's most notable public art pieces. The city has so many murals that they get their own map, so we've named only two here. The pieces that are included represent a range of artists, styles, and locations across town.

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Skygate

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Skygate was built in 1985 as San Francisco's first piece of public art funded by a corporation. Made of stainless steel and sculptured by Roger Barr, it is dedicated to the memory of Eric Hoffer, a longshoreman, poet, and philosopher.

A post shared by Alisa (@alisaguk) on

Nuotatori

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Artist Vicki Saulls' sculptural mural of casts of 23 swimmers' faces is set into a section of North Beach Pool's tiled wall. All of the swimmers are from the community and all wear goggles and caps.

Sea Change

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Artist Mark di Suvero gained fame in San Francisco with an exhibit of his sculptures on Crissy Field in 2013. This, however, is one of two permanent SF works, built in 1978. It's built out of steel and weighs ten tons and sits at the port where di Suvero first entered the U.S. from China as a child.

A post shared by Erica Loh Jones (@ericajloh) on

The Bay Lights

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In 2013 the Bay Bridge first lit up with a 1.8-mile-long light sculpture by Leo Villareal. There are 25,000 individual white LEDs in the work. It is currently on hiatus but will be reinstalled in early 2016.

Language of the Birds

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These illuminated books appear to be taking flight over Chinatown. Words and phrases from the books are embedded in the plaza, recognizing the area's literary history, in this permanent site-specific sculpture by Brian Goggin with Dorka Keehn. Goggin is probably best known for Defenestration, the flying-furniture sculpture that came down in 2015.

A post shared by Blue Moon Diver (@bluemoon1105) on

Earth Wall

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Andy Goldsworthy's newest Presidio sculpture is a ball of branches and earth set in an earthen wall. It makes up part of an enclosure at the back of the Presidio Officers' Club.

Fountain at Gateway Court

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Most remarkable about this contemporary and gimmicky (meant in the best way possible) fountain outside the Gateway apartments and townhomes is that it mists at intervals.

A post shared by Brock Keeling (@brockkeeling) on

Movement: The First 100 Years

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Known as the Korean Monument, this bronze sculpture was restored and moved in 2011. It has an identical sister sculpture located in Inchon, South Korea, and symbolizes the bond between the two countries.

A post shared by David G.G. (@david_gg) on

Icosaspirale

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One Maritime Plaza, set in a rooftop garden, is filled with a variety of public art, including this sculpture by Charles Perry. The figure is made up of spirals that create an icosahedron shape.

A post shared by Steven (@sfdogstar) on

Vaillancourt Fountain

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Love it or loathe it, this 40-foot-high fountain is made out of precast concrete square tubes. It has been controversial, with many attempts made to remove it. Bono famously spray-painted graffiti on the fountain during a 1987 U2 concert. After a brief period of dryness, it was turned back on in August 2017.

A post shared by Emily (@empow24) on

Wood Line

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More than 1,200 feet in length, Andy Goldsworthy's second Presidio sculpture is Wood Line, which is near Lovers' Lane, the Presidio's oldest footpath. The sinuous work is made up of eucalyptus branches sourced from park projects that required tree removal. His lines made of wood "draw the place," according to the artist, and ask viewers to look at the earth.

A post shared by limpusher (@limpusher) on

Goldsworthy Spire

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Andy Goldsworthy's Spire rises nearly 100 feet above the Presidio, near Arguello Gate. The artist made it from 38 cypress trees that had reached the end of their life cycle. Opposite his Wood Line piece, a close-to-the-ground piece located in the Presidio, this work invites viewers to look up.

A post shared by Robin Richey (@rjrorchid) on

Cupid's Span

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A pre-Instagram marvel, chances are that you know the famous Cupid's Span sculpture along the Embarcadero. It was created by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen to to evoke the myth of Eros. Today it provides the backdrop for many outdoor weddings and like-heavy social media moments.

Jenny Holzer’s ‘White Light’

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Note: You cannot see this just yet. The Transbay Transit Center is temporary closed, with tentative plans to reopen in early summer.

Jenny Holzer’s White Light features scrolling LED text that wraps around the elliptical glass enclosure of the Grand Hall in the new Transbay Transit Center. Her text messages, such as “Protect me from what I want” and “Abuse of power comes as no surprise,” were composed using text from historical archives from authors who wrote about the Bay Area, as well as documents and records on the construction of the Bay Bridge and the original Timothy Pflueger-designed Transbay Terminal.

Curtain at Temporary Transbay Terminal

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The design of the lacy awning surrounding the in-progress TransBay Terminal borrows from geometric formulas of a British mathematician. The pattern is known as Penrose tiling, designed in 1974 by Roger Penrose, an Oxford mathematician, physicist, and knight, noted for his work on black holes.

A lace patterned metal curtain at Temporary Transbay Terminal in San Francisco. Photo by Patricia Chang

Time Signature

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This sculpture in Foundry Square rises nearly 50 feet and is from local artist Richard Deutsch. The pods that make up the sculpture have even been constructed to be earthquake proof.

A post shared by @cc.man.1 on

Ruth Asawa's San Francisco Fountain

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Ruth Asawa's beloved fountain—a bronze sculpture set into a base of brick stairs, featuring relief scenes of San Francisco—was at the center of controversy when the new Apple store nearly buried it. But plans were revised and the fountain remains.

A post shared by @monumentsdujour on

Moonrise Sculptures

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A big trio of mottled aluminum heads, created by Ugo Rondinone, stands in contrast to the glassy corporate building on site. Some find the trio endearing; others find them downright frightening.

A post shared by @infinizee on

Hearts in San Francisco

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Inspired by the Tony Bennett song "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," the Hearts of San Francisco can be found scattered throughout the city, in both public and private spaces. (Psst, there’s one hiding inside the LinkenIn headquarters grond floor lobby at 222 Second Street, which is visible from the sidewalk on Second Street.) The one pictured here in Union Square, however, is possibly the most photographed.

A post shared by Lucas Morace (@lucasmorace11) on

Pax Jerusalem outside Legion of Honor

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Created by Mark di Suvero, this piece made waves the day it was installed. According to Art and Architecture: “Many felt is was not representative of the quality people had come to expect from di Suvero, it also was a runner up, when the city lost out on a sculpture by di Suvero’s boyhood friend Richard Serra. Di Suvero and Richard Serra grew up on the same block in San Francisco. Both their fathers worked on the docks. Being by the water and the docks and the wharfs and the piers plays a powerful role in their work.”

A post shared by Li Li (@ajklili) on

The Thinker

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This Rodin sculpture that sits outside the Legion of Honor is just one of many casts of the same work, but it is still special. It was first meant to depict the poet Dante but evolved to represent all poets or creators. The work has also inspired scores of museums visitors to pose exactly like the aforementioned man of thought—a popular thing to do, it seems, on social media.

A post shared by GypsyJosh (@capitolajosh) on

Untitled (Three Dancing Figures)

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Pop artist Keith Haring’s sculpture has been outside the Moscone Center since 2001, following a Haring retrospective at SFMOMA. It was restored in 2012 and moved to the de Young Museum. It 2017, it returned to the Moscone Center at Howard and Third Streets

Firefly

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Environmental artist Ned Kahn created Firefly, a 12-story kinetic sculpture, to mimic fireflies, which are a threatened species. The sculpture moves with the wind, triggering a series of lights at night.

A post shared by Pete Barroso (@pete_asaurus) on

Incomplete Metamorphosis

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The title is a scientific term explaining the life cycle of insects, but the sculpture is reminiscent of artist Joyce Hsu's summer memories. She hopes children at Argonne Playground, where the sculpture is installed, will share her fascination with dragonflies.

A post shared by Joelle Belmonte (@joellle) on

Willie McCovey Statue

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This piece may never qualify as high art, but the depiction of the former Giants star has delighted fans on their way to AT&T Park since 2003. The statue lights up at night.

Caruso's Dream

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Designed by Brian Goggin with Dorka Keehn, this hanging set of pianos garnishes the new Ava 55 rental building. The sculpture's full name is And My Room Still Rocks Like a Boat on the Sea (Caruso's Dream).

Squared

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Local artist Charles Gadeken’s glowing, tree-like LED installation Squared moved into Hayes Valley this year. The 50-foot-tall tree, according to the artist, is “reimagined in a futuristic world post nature.” And at nightfall, the sculpture lights up in an array of colors and patterns.

A post shared by Dan Mozzochi (@dmozzochi) on

Promised Land

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Two 20-foot-high stone sculptures inscribed with barcodes sit outside rental building NEMA in a public art plaza. Local artists Topher Delaney and Calvin Chin designed the space.

The exterior of Promised Land in San Francisco. Promised Land is a tall stone sculpture that has many barcodes inscribed on it. It sits in front of a glass building.

Ghinlon/Transcope

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These kaleidoscopic lookouts on Octavia Boulevard by artist Po Shu Wang came with the revitalization of the area after the Central Freeway was torn down. The telescopes of the installation change a user's view of the surrounding neighborhood.

A post shared by Spyleen (@spyleen) on

Ballast

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Richard Serra's Ballast is made up of two steel plates that are 50 feet high by 15 feet wide and sits on UCSF's Mission Bay campus. The plates remind Serra of growing up in the Outer Sunset.

A post shared by Mitchell Lopez (@mitchell_lopez) on

16th Avenue Tiled Steps

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The stunning mosaic steps in the Sunset are greater than the sum of its parts. Artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher led the creation of the 163 mosaic panels.

A post shared by Stephanie Ong (@microwavecake_) on

Bayview Rise

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This mural on the side of a grain elevator and silos snags a spot on the list thanks to its prominence in the south side of the city. It is a symbol of the transformation of Bayview-Hunters Point.

Split Mound

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At the San Francisco Zoo, an interactive sculpture by Barbara McCarren and Jud Fine encourages visitors to reflect on the importance of habitat and the interdependence of species. Its many elements include a "Zoetta Stone" and a marble map of Pangaea.

An aerial view of the art installation called Split Mound in San Francisco.

Hunters Point Gnomon

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This Hunters Point sundial’s gnomon (the triangular piece that casts the shadow) measures 78 feet long, nearly triple the length of Ingleside’s noted sundial.

A post shared by Steffen Franz (@steffenfranz) on

The Sundial at Ingleside Terrace

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Built in 1913 to attract prospective buyers to newly built homes in the neighborhood, the sundial originally boasts a circular reflecting pool, a fountain, bronze seals, and colored lights.

A post shared by Joel Bcn (@fstop3000) on

Excelsior hillside tiled steps

Copy Link

Over the course of nearly a decade, neighbors and community members with the Athens Avalon Greenspace labored to slowly transform the formerly barren hillside (a public right of way connecting the two halves of Athens) into its picturesque present state, with the steps by artist Iran Narges.

Skygate

Skygate was built in 1985 as San Francisco's first piece of public art funded by a corporation. Made of stainless steel and sculptured by Roger Barr, it is dedicated to the memory of Eric Hoffer, a longshoreman, poet, and philosopher.

A post shared by Alisa (@alisaguk) on

Nuotatori

Artist Vicki Saulls' sculptural mural of casts of 23 swimmers' faces is set into a section of North Beach Pool's tiled wall. All of the swimmers are from the community and all wear goggles and caps.

Sea Change

Artist Mark di Suvero gained fame in San Francisco with an exhibit of his sculptures on Crissy Field in 2013. This, however, is one of two permanent SF works, built in 1978. It's built out of steel and weighs ten tons and sits at the port where di Suvero first entered the U.S. from China as a child.

A post shared by Erica Loh Jones (@ericajloh) on

The Bay Lights

In 2013 the Bay Bridge first lit up with a 1.8-mile-long light sculpture by Leo Villareal. There are 25,000 individual white LEDs in the work. It is currently on hiatus but will be reinstalled in early 2016.

Language of the Birds

These illuminated books appear to be taking flight over Chinatown. Words and phrases from the books are embedded in the plaza, recognizing the area's literary history, in this permanent site-specific sculpture by Brian Goggin with Dorka Keehn. Goggin is probably best known for Defenestration, the flying-furniture sculpture that came down in 2015.

A post shared by Blue Moon Diver (@bluemoon1105) on

Earth Wall

Andy Goldsworthy's newest Presidio sculpture is a ball of branches and earth set in an earthen wall. It makes up part of an enclosure at the back of the Presidio Officers' Club.

Fountain at Gateway Court

Most remarkable about this contemporary and gimmicky (meant in the best way possible) fountain outside the Gateway apartments and townhomes is that it mists at intervals.

A post shared by Brock Keeling (@brockkeeling) on

Movement: The First 100 Years

Known as the Korean Monument, this bronze sculpture was restored and moved in 2011. It has an identical sister sculpture located in Inchon, South Korea, and symbolizes the bond between the two countries.

A post shared by David G.G. (@david_gg) on

Icosaspirale

One Maritime Plaza, set in a rooftop garden, is filled with a variety of public art, including this sculpture by Charles Perry. The figure is made up of spirals that create an icosahedron shape.

A post shared by Steven (@sfdogstar) on

Vaillancourt Fountain

Love it or loathe it, this 40-foot-high fountain is made out of precast concrete square tubes. It has been controversial, with many attempts made to remove it. Bono famously spray-painted graffiti on the fountain during a 1987 U2 concert. After a brief period of dryness, it was turned back on in August 2017.

A post shared by Emily (@empow24) on

Wood Line

More than 1,200 feet in length, Andy Goldsworthy's second Presidio sculpture is Wood Line, which is near Lovers' Lane, the Presidio's oldest footpath. The sinuous work is made up of eucalyptus branches sourced from park projects that required tree removal. His lines made of wood "draw the place," according to the artist, and ask viewers to look at the earth.

A post shared by limpusher (@limpusher) on

Goldsworthy Spire

Andy Goldsworthy's Spire rises nearly 100 feet above the Presidio, near Arguello Gate. The artist made it from 38 cypress trees that had reached the end of their life cycle. Opposite his Wood Line piece, a close-to-the-ground piece located in the Presidio, this work invites viewers to look up.

A post shared by Robin Richey (@rjrorchid) on

Cupid's Span

A pre-Instagram marvel, chances are that you know the famous Cupid's Span sculpture along the Embarcadero. It was created by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen to to evoke the myth of Eros. Today it provides the backdrop for many outdoor weddings and like-heavy social media moments.

Jenny Holzer’s ‘White Light’

Note: You cannot see this just yet. The Transbay Transit Center is temporary closed, with tentative plans to reopen in early summer.

Jenny Holzer’s White Light features scrolling LED text that wraps around the elliptical glass enclosure of the Grand Hall in the new Transbay Transit Center. Her text messages, such as “Protect me from what I want” and “Abuse of power comes as no surprise,” were composed using text from historical archives from authors who wrote about the Bay Area, as well as documents and records on the construction of the Bay Bridge and the original Timothy Pflueger-designed Transbay Terminal.

Curtain at Temporary Transbay Terminal

A lace patterned metal curtain at Temporary Transbay Terminal in San Francisco. Photo by Patricia Chang

The design of the lacy awning surrounding the in-progress TransBay Terminal borrows from geometric formulas of a British mathematician. The pattern is known as Penrose tiling, designed in 1974 by Roger Penrose, an Oxford mathematician, physicist, and knight, noted for his work on black holes.

A lace patterned metal curtain at Temporary Transbay Terminal in San Francisco. Photo by Patricia Chang

Time Signature

This sculpture in Foundry Square rises nearly 50 feet and is from local artist Richard Deutsch. The pods that make up the sculpture have even been constructed to be earthquake proof.

A post shared by @cc.man.1 on

Ruth Asawa's San Francisco Fountain

Ruth Asawa's beloved fountain—a bronze sculpture set into a base of brick stairs, featuring relief scenes of San Francisco—was at the center of controversy when the new Apple store nearly buried it. But plans were revised and the fountain remains.

A post shared by @monumentsdujour on

Moonrise Sculptures

A big trio of mottled aluminum heads, created by Ugo Rondinone, stands in contrast to the glassy corporate building on site. Some find the trio endearing; others find them downright frightening.

A post shared by @infinizee on

Hearts in San Francisco

Inspired by the Tony Bennett song "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," the Hearts of San Francisco can be found scattered throughout the city, in both public and private spaces. (Psst, there’s one hiding inside the LinkenIn headquarters grond floor lobby at 222 Second Street, which is visible from the sidewalk on Second Street.) The one pictured here in Union Square, however, is possibly the most photographed.

A post shared by Lucas Morace (@lucasmorace11) on

Pax Jerusalem outside Legion of Honor

Created by Mark di Suvero, this piece made waves the day it was installed. According to Art and Architecture: “Many felt is was not representative of the quality people had come to expect from di Suvero, it also was a runner up, when the city lost out on a sculpture by di Suvero’s boyhood friend Richard Serra. Di Suvero and Richard Serra grew up on the same block in San Francisco. Both their fathers worked on the docks. Being by the water and the docks and the wharfs and the piers plays a powerful role in their work.”

A post shared by Li Li (@ajklili) on

The Thinker

This Rodin sculpture that sits outside the Legion of Honor is just one of many casts of the same work, but it is still special. It was first meant to depict the poet Dante but evolved to represent all poets or creators. The work has also inspired scores of museums visitors to pose exactly like the aforementioned man of thought—a popular thing to do, it seems, on social media.

A post shared by GypsyJosh (@capitolajosh) on

Untitled (Three Dancing Figures)

Pop artist Keith Haring’s sculpture has been outside the Moscone Center since 2001, following a Haring retrospective at SFMOMA. It was restored in 2012 and moved to the de Young Museum. It 2017, it returned to the Moscone Center at Howard and Third Streets

Firefly

Environmental artist Ned Kahn created Firefly, a 12-story kinetic sculpture, to mimic fireflies, which are a threatened species. The sculpture moves with the wind, triggering a series of lights at night.

A post shared by Pete Barroso (@pete_asaurus) on

Incomplete Metamorphosis

The title is a scientific term explaining the life cycle of insects, but the sculpture is reminiscent of artist Joyce Hsu's summer memories. She hopes children at Argonne Playground, where the sculpture is installed, will share her fascination with dragonflies.

A post shared by Joelle Belmonte (@joellle) on

Willie McCovey Statue

This piece may never qualify as high art, but the depiction of the former Giants star has delighted fans on their way to AT&T Park since 2003. The statue lights up at night.

Caruso's Dream

Designed by Brian Goggin with Dorka Keehn, this hanging set of pianos garnishes the new Ava 55 rental building. The sculpture's full name is And My Room Still Rocks Like a Boat on the Sea (Caruso's Dream).

Squared

Local artist Charles Gadeken’s glowing, tree-like LED installation Squared moved into Hayes Valley this year. The 50-foot-tall tree, according to the artist, is “reimagined in a futuristic world post nature.” And at nightfall, the sculpture lights up in an array of colors and patterns.

A post shared by Dan Mozzochi (@dmozzochi) on

Promised Land

The exterior of Promised Land in San Francisco. Promised Land is a tall stone sculpture that has many barcodes inscribed on it. It sits in front of a glass building.

Two 20-foot-high stone sculptures inscribed with barcodes sit outside rental building NEMA in a public art plaza. Local artists Topher Delaney and Calvin Chin designed the space.

The exterior of Promised Land in San Francisco. Promised Land is a tall stone sculpture that has many barcodes inscribed on it. It sits in front of a glass building.

Ghinlon/Transcope

These kaleidoscopic lookouts on Octavia Boulevard by artist Po Shu Wang came with the revitalization of the area after the Central Freeway was torn down. The telescopes of the installation change a user's view of the surrounding neighborhood.

A post shared by Spyleen (@spyleen) on

Ballast

Richard Serra's Ballast is made up of two steel plates that are 50 feet high by 15 feet wide and sits on UCSF's Mission Bay campus. The plates remind Serra of growing up in the Outer Sunset.

A post shared by Mitchell Lopez (@mitchell_lopez) on

16th Avenue Tiled Steps

The stunning mosaic steps in the Sunset are greater than the sum of its parts. Artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher led the creation of the 163 mosaic panels.

A post shared by Stephanie Ong (@microwavecake_) on

Bayview Rise

This mural on the side of a grain elevator and silos snags a spot on the list thanks to its prominence in the south side of the city. It is a symbol of the transformation of Bayview-Hunters Point.

Split Mound

An aerial view of the art installation called Split Mound in San Francisco.

At the San Francisco Zoo, an interactive sculpture by Barbara McCarren and Jud Fine encourages visitors to reflect on the importance of habitat and the interdependence of species. Its many elements include a "Zoetta Stone" and a marble map of Pangaea.

An aerial view of the art installation called Split Mound in San Francisco.

Hunters Point Gnomon

This Hunters Point sundial’s gnomon (the triangular piece that casts the shadow) measures 78 feet long, nearly triple the length of Ingleside’s noted sundial.

A post shared by Steffen Franz (@steffenfranz) on

The Sundial at Ingleside Terrace

Built in 1913 to attract prospective buyers to newly built homes in the neighborhood, the sundial originally boasts a circular reflecting pool, a fountain, bronze seals, and colored lights.

A post shared by Joel Bcn (@fstop3000) on

Excelsior hillside tiled steps

Over the course of nearly a decade, neighbors and community members with the Athens Avalon Greenspace labored to slowly transform the formerly barren hillside (a public right of way connecting the two halves of Athens) into its picturesque present state, with the steps by artist Iran Narges.