San Francisco Library – 2 Million Books & Free Walking Tours

Almost two million visitors per year make their way to the San Francisco's main library branch on Larkin. Not all of them are locals. It's a grand structure built in 1996 and enlarged in 2008 — taking a prominent position at the Civic Center.

Of special interest to visitors are the free walking tours of San Francisco organized and offered by volunteers of the library. Local volunteers lead these no-cost tours to the best of the city. You might want to take a guided walking tour or perhaps simply browse the art exhibitions found at the library, and take in the overall grandeur.

San Francisco Library

Free Walking Tours of San Francisco

The walks cover all neighborhoods of San Francisco — Fishermans Wharf, the Art Deco Marina, the Palace of Fine Arts, Billionaire's Row in Pacific Heights, Richmond, Haight, the Castro, as well as Twin Peaks and Sunset.

Tours last about one-and-a-half to two hours. You don't need to register in advance, just show up at the time and place indicated on the schedule. Your guide will be wearing a City Guides logo. The walks happen rain or shine or snow (although there hasn't been snow in San Francisco since the 1890s!).

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A Little About the San Francisco Library

In 1996, the newest main branch of San Francisco's library opened with almost double the capacity of the former library across the street. It's now home to more that two million books. The grey granite facade on Larkin and Fulton blend with the Beaux Arts style of the Civic Center. The stark geometric formation along Grove and Hyde complements the modern commercial buildings on nearby Market Street.

The library is organized around two major spaces — a grand open staircase and a five-story skylit open space that connects the library's various divisions.The library is divided into several areas: Arts & Music, Business & Technology, the Environmental Center, The Governmental center, the Government Information Center and Humanities and General Collections.

There are also specialized centers for the blind and visually impaired, as well as for the deaf and hearing impaired. There's also a Chinese Center, an African-American Center, a Gay & Lesbian Center, Filipino American Center and a Children's Center. The Children's Center features a storytelling room and a Children's Creative Center with live performances and crafts.

The Exhibit Gallery showcases artwork and artifacts from the library's own collection, as well as those on loan from other institutions such as the Smithsonian and the library of Congress. There is a cafe on the lower level with Peet's Coffee and teas, light snacks, and a public rooftop terrace.

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San Francisco Library

San Francisco Library History

  • 1879 — The 1st Public library in the city opens on Bush Street.
  • 1888 — The Library moves to City Hall, into its own wing.
  • 1903 — Somewhat like Baron Haussmann in Paris, architect Daniel Burnham, leader of the City Beautiful movement, designs a master plan for San Francisco, which includes a Civic Center plan with a new library building.
  • 1906 — The earthquake and fire destroys City Hall including the Main Library and its collection
  • 1907 — A temporary Main Library branch is built at Hayes and Franklin streets.
  • 1917 — A new Main Library at Civic Center is dedicated and opens to the public.
  • 1974 — The Library Commission, Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, Keep Libraries Alive! fight to keep Marshall Square as the site for a new main library.
  • 1987 — Mayor Feinstein approves a plan for a new main library in Marshall Squar
  • 1988 — Voters approve a $110 million budget to build a new 376,000- square-foot main library.
  • 1989 — Architects Pei Cobb Freed & Partners of New York and Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris of San Francisco are hired.
  • 1993 — Construction begins, finally.
  • 1996 — The Main Library opens on April 18
  • 2008 — An additional 6,000 square feet of space is added.

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