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May 28, 2020
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Join the fun that’s glowing on in San Francisco – Illuminate San Francisco Festival of Light!

Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day Celebrate San Francisco’s culture of creativity, innovation and brilliance during the annual Illuminate SF Festival of Light. The celebration offers the rare opportunity to tour a stunning citywide gallery of light during the longest nights of the year. The artworks come to life at dusk throughout 12 San Francisco neighborhoods with a brilliance that will turn any evening into an illuminating adventure, especially when combined with exploring San Francisco’s world-class restaurants, museums and cultural events. 

Here are the new additions to the Illuminate SF collection you must see this year.

“Day for Night”

Perhaps the most famous of San Francisco’s new works of light art, “Day for Night” sits high atop the Salesforce Tower, San Francisco’s tallest building and the tallest west of the Mississippi. Created by prolific light artist Jim Campbell, “Day for Night” is an assembly of 11,000 lights and video components that work together to display scenes captured around San Francisco. It’s also capable of doing some cheeky things, like when it doubled as the Eye of Sauron this past Halloween. Unless it’s a truly foggy night (of which we have a few), you can see “Day for Night” from almost anywhere in—and even beyond—the city.

“Night Bloom”

Inside the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, see Night Bloom, a five-week light and sound exhibition. Light and sound will transform the iconic San Francisco landmark into a glowing landscape of interactive experiences this holiday season.


In friendly Hayes Valley, “SQUARED” rises 50 feet high from the center of Patricia’s Green. Each cube of the sculpture holds 12 to 24 individually addressable LEDs, programmed through custom software to generate millions of colors and thousands of patterns. The sculpture also has an interactive mode that can be accesssed by a touchscreen, allowing visitors to play with the artwork.

“Point Cloud”

Coming online at the very end of the Festival of Light, “PointCloud” will be a permanent part of the newly expanded Moscone Center. The North and South buildings will now be connected by an eleveated pedestrian bridge, which will double as the home of “PointCloud”. Composed of more than 50,000 color LEDs arranged in a three-dimmensional display, “PointCloud” was designed by Leo Villareal, the prolific creator of “The Bay Lights”.


Thanks to advances in fully controllable light-emitting diodes (LEDs), artists, designers and even architects are using these colorful, low-energy, eco-friendly lights to enhance our lives in many ways, from the very practical to the stunningly beautiful. Here are five illuminated buildings worth discovering—some old and some new—that glow with a colorful luminescence after dark.

Everything is Illuminated at San Francisco City Hall

Built as the “People’s Palace” in 1915, San Francisco’s City Hall is the crown jewel of Civic Center Plaza. On June 19, 2015, it also became a massive architectural “canvas” when a dazzling 100th Anniversary multimedia light show was created by San Francisco-based Obscura Digital for its Centennial Celebration. The digital multimedia projection system is now city-owned and can be used for a variety of events to beam everything from environmentally friendly forests to ferocious dragons or a brilliant illuminated rainbow honoring San Francisco’s Pride celebration upon the building.

The Top of Salesforce Tower Shines Bright

Salesforce Tower, San Francisco’s tallest building and the tallest building west of the Mississippi, stands at an impressive 1,070 feet tall. Its nine-story light art installation, “Day for Night,” will permanently illuminate San Francisco’s skyline with vibrant images. From giant dancing ballerinas to the Eye of Sauron, you can expect to see a number of animations atop the tallest building in San Francisco.

Art Deco Brilliance at 140 New Montgomery 

The gorgeously restored and strikingly illuminated Pacific Telegraph & Telephone Building at 140 New Montgomery St., one of only a few large Art Deco buildings in San Francisco, is now Yelp’s headquarters. The 26-story tower has an “L” shaped floor plan and the architecture decoratively incorporates spotlights to light the outside of the building. Even details like the lobby chandeliers are old and new at once — carefully restored but also rewired to hold discreetly powerful LED lights that do away with the need for additional illumination. If you haven’t stepped inside its lobby or looked up at the towers’ details, it’s well worth your time.

Metallic Tapestry Light Show at 690 Folsom 

This repurposed parking garage looks like it’s been renovated by Spiderman. The updated LED-lit facade of 690 Folsom resembles a spiderweb pulled tight around a box. The abstract metal screen draws attention to the new content inside and livens up the area. San Francisco-based Office of Charles F. Bloszies FAIA designed the aluminum sheets that envelop the second floor of the building and inserted two rows of LED lights between the original facade and the new screen, with lights that change colors according to a series of programmed scenes.

Towering Achievement at San Francisco International Airport

SFO’s new control tower ascends 221 feet skyward in a graceful flare. Completed in May 2015, the west face features a LED-backlit glass “waterfall” that reflects sunlight during the day and glows with interior lighting at night, the colors of which can be changed to celebrate important events. The tower is designed to achieve LEED Gold status by airport master architecture firm HNTB, with design partner Fentress Architects, and Hensel Phelps on the design-build team. Located between Terminals 1 and 2, the tower is seen from the freeway and upon driving into the airport. To see it close up, stand in the Pre-Security Public Corridor at the base of the tower. Look straight up through the skylight glass roof to enjoy the LED light waterfall. 

Be brilliant — shoot and share photos of these iconic San Francisco buildings or your other favorites using #illuminatesf.

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