Victorian houses, a beauty to behold

Redwood, three storeys, a porch, mouldings and sometimes a tower. Victorian houses are one of the most famous faces of San Francisco. The beautifully named Painted Ladies around Alamo Square are the icons and the most photographed. San Francisco is the American city with the most Victorian houses, and they are an integral part of its cultural identity.

The Seven Sisters of Alamo Square with skyscrapers in the background

- © Travelview / Shutterstock
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A little history

As their name suggests, Victorian houses were developed during the Victorian era (1849-1915). The city is said to have had as many as 48,000 of them, but many were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire, particularly in the Nob Hill district. A further 16,000 were demolished during the Second World War, many of which were used for military purposes. Today, 14,000 remain, mainly in the Alamo, Haight Ashbury, Russian Hill and Castro districts.

Did you know that? Victorian houses are also called Painted Ladies after the book "Painted Ladies - San Francisco's Resplendent Victorians" by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen.

Colorful Victorian facades, San Francisco

- © lunamarina / Shutterstock

Celebrities in Alamo Square

The Seven Sisters of Alamo Square are undoubtedly the city's best-known Victorian houses. Prized for their bright colours, they are often featured on the covers of tourist brochures. The contrast between the houses and the buildings in the background is very special and is part of the charm of the site. When the weather is clear, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid from the middle of the park.

Les Sept Soeurs d’Alamo Square

- © Canadastock / Shutterstock

Unique neighbourhoods

The other districts may be less well known, but they are nonetheless well worth a visit. Haight Asbury, the birthplace of Summer of Love, boasts a good number of Victorian houses that have been converted into shared accommodation by hippies. Russian Hill is more of a residential area, but a stroll up the steep streets offers magnificent views over the bay and leads to Lombard Street.

Lombard Street, one of San Francisco's best-known streets

- © Lukas Bischoff Photograph / Shutterstock

An unusual museum

The Haas-Lilienthal House is a private Victorian house that has been transformed into a museum.

⏰ O pening times:

Wednesdays, Saturdays from noon to 3pm and Sundays from 11am to 4pm**. Tours are guided and can be booked privately.

💰 Price:

$10 per person and $8 for over-60s and children aged 6 to 12.

The house is wheelchair accessible. No booking necessary except for private tours and groups. The house can also be rented out or used for events such as weddings. More information on the website

Haas Lilenthal House

- © Aruns911 / 123RF

Guided tours of Victorian heritage

A number of local agencies offer "Victorian Houses Tours ", where you can spend a day or half-day discovering this amazing Californian heritage and seeing the finest examples. Most are in English, like the Victorian Home Walk, a 2? hour tour that includes a visit inside a house for 25 dollars per person (transport included). The San Francisco City Guide offers two free tours a day, but a visit to a house is not guaranteed. The French Escapade offers guided tours in French, and not just of Victorian houses. For more information, visit

Interior of Haas Lilenthal House

- © Aruns911 / 123RF

Where to sleep?

Hotel Zetta San Francisco
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Hotel Zetta

Opened in 2013 in the city centre, this 4* hotel uses its design and modern facilities to stand out from its competitors.
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by Jude JONES
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