5 Spaces for Contemplation at the de Young

By Isabella Goldberg, facilities administrative coordinator

August 24, 2023

view of pool of lily pads with de Young museum in the background

de Young, 2021. Photograph by Gary Sexton

Whether you need a break from the museum or just want to spend time with some sculptures in a garden, here are a few (free) spaces where you can rest and recharge.

1. Hamon Observation Tower

People looking out window in Hamon Tower

Photograph by Henrik Kam. © Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Want to see one of the best views San Francisco has to offer? Start by heading to the Hamon Observation Tower. Be sure to take a moment before getting on the elevator to be mesmerized by our spellbinding collection of wire sculptures by California artist Ruth Asawa. Look up and notice the continuum of shapes that reflect and duplicate along the walls.

Next, make your way to the top floor of the tower to be welcomed by a gorgeous 360° view of the city. Even on the cloudiest days, you can still catch panoramic views of the hills peeking through the fog. Be sure to walk all the way around this floor for views of the ocean, downtown cityscape, and people strolling below on the Music Concourse. On the south side, find yourself and plan your next adventure on our wall-size map of the city.

2. Sculpture garden

Group of people taking a photo in de Young sculpture garden

de Young museum, 2022. Photograph by Gary Sexton

In the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden, art is nestled among walkways lined with camellia bushes and bamboo. Contemplate scale as you stand next to a 21-foot-tall safety pin, Corridor Pin, Blue (1999), or the bronze faucets in Fountain (2021), just shy of 10 feet tall. Count how many larger-than-life apples you spot in the grass, or have a chat with the statues in Conversation Piece V (Three Figures) (2001). Depending on the time of year and weather, be on the lookout for the bee colony’s hard work in Exomind (Deep Water) (2017).

Three Gems (2005) by James Turrell is quite the hidden treasure. A tunnel leads you to a concrete dome with light streaming in through the circular opening in the roof. Changes in the light and weather make every visit a new experience. Sit down, meditate, and notice how your surroundings change in this sensory experience. You may be changed as well.

3. Garden of Enchantment

three young women walking in a garden in front of the de Young tower

de Young museum, 2022. Photograph by Gary Sexton

The Marcus Garden of Enchantment definitely lives up to its name. Rest under the grapevines spiraling over the gazebos, and explore paths of ferns and mayten trees. The sparkling metal statue Untitled (Pirate) (2007) stands awaiting adventure as it faces the pond full of water lilies and marsh pennywort (and in the spring, ducklings). As you roam through the garden, you’ll discover more hidden sculptures. Don’t worry, Penguins (1917) didn’t escape from Cal Academy across the concourse.

4. Wilsey Court

People moving through interior court with benches and a staircase

Wilsey Court, de Young, 2016.

The Wilsey Court atrium is the gateway to the de Young. Recharge at one of the triangular wooden benches as you plan your next move or admire the current installation. This space often features murals or video projections that are sure to spark reflection.

5. The Piazzoni Murals Room

people in a de Young gallery

Piazzoni Murals Room, de Young, 2016.

The Piazzoni Murals Room features two panoramic murals by Gottardo Piazzoni, The Sea (1931) and The Land (1932). The paintings face each other, mirroring how the city meets the coastline in hilly San Francisco. Natural light streams through the full-length windows to bring the whole scene to life.

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