Last Updated on February 20, 2022
Plonked down in the grass of Alamo Square on a particularly sunny day in San Francisco, tour buses of every variety pass by the most famous ladies in San Francisco: The Painted Ladies. The ubiquitous hop-on hop-off double deckers hover around the square, past ‘Postcard Row” as this famous row of houses is known.
This is one of those on-the-beaten-path places that defined San Francisco for me before I had ever even been to visit. Mrs Doubtfire criss-crossing her way through Alamo Square, and who can forget the opening credits of Full House (back when I still wasn’t sure why someone would name their kid Mary-Kate Ashley Olsen, not realizing they were twins, or what those twins would become.)
It was in part the extensive TV and Film coverage that caused the roar of tour buses, the crackle of the microphones and the snapping of countless pictures. In 2020, one of the “Ladies” went on the market for $2.75 million. It ended up being sold for $3.55 million – $800,000 over the asking price – despite being in disrepair and in need for renovation. Even though Full House hasn’t been on air in decades now, this shows that the Painted Ladies are just as beloved as ever.
The funny thing about these ‘Ladies’ is that there are some much more beautifully Painted Ladies in the Haight-Ashbury district which don’t get nearly the attention. Hop off and stay off that tour bus and discover the many other pockets of ‘Ladies’ in San Fran.
Interestingly enough, the Painted Ladies are not in San Francisco’s registry of historic landmarks, and the are not in the National Registry of Historic Places. They are part of the Alamo Square Historic District though.
Pro Tip: See how the Painted Ladies are completely in the shade in the photo above? If you want to get the colors to pop, i.e. the sun shining on them, the best time to visit Alamo Square is the early afternoon. If you go between 1 and 2pm, the sun will shine on their facades.
Hop-on Hop-off Bus Update: Apparently, the Hop On Hop Off buses have been banned from the 25-square-block area surrounding Alamo Square Park – so if you’re taking one of these buses to see as much of San Francisco as possible, know that you won’t be able to see the Painted Ladies from the bus anymore.
While you’re at Alamo Square, go to the bathroom. Not because the facilities are so clean (which, for public restrooms, they are). Right outside the bathroom, well hidden from the sound of buses squeezing through the hilly San Franciscan streets, there is a creative and quirky collection of plants, potted in discarded shoes found by city gardener David Clifton.Rather than throw them out, he incorporated the throwaways into the garden: Tennis shoes, slippers, heels, even a pair of Clogs (what else can you realistically use clogs for, anyway). People began bringing shoes to add to the garden, and so this mysterious little shoe garden continues to grow.
Read more about David and the Shoe Garden in this article in SFGate.
San Francisco Tour Tip:
If you are interested in Victorian architecture and want to learn more about the fascinating history of these rightly colored Victorians and Edwardians in the city.
you might want to check out the Beyond the Painted Ladies Tour, a 3-hour walking tour that even goes inside two Victorian buildings and visits a fully restored mystery mansion with a massive collection of period-perfect Victorian artifacts.