When the lights go on in the City

Festival illuminates City with interactive tours.


Kristina Cary

The temporary installation Soma at Pier 14 on Mission Street. Its lights turn on daily 10 minutes after sunset and stay lit until 2 a.m. The piece, created by Flaming Lotus Girls in 2009, represents the cell body of a neuron with branching dendrites, extensions of a nerve cell.

Kristina Cary, Managing Editor

From Leo Villareal’s “The Bay Lights” installation shining across the span of the Bay Bridge to James Turrell’s subterranean work “Three Gems” in the De Young Museum’s sculpture garden, a series of temporary and permanent light art installations are illuminating the San Franciscan nightscape.

Illuminate SF Festival of Light, that opened Thanksgiving Day, is running nightly until New Year’s Day and features 27 eco-friendly light art installations spread across 12 neighborhoods and several areas of San Francisco International Airport. The annual event is facilitated by the San Francisco Travel Association in collaboration with local partners, and includes guided and independent tours, as well as events centered on light-based art.

Most of the stunning, luminescent installations are accessible through public transportation. Comprehensive independent viewing guidelines and directions, which together cover 20 installation and include detours to historic local sites, are featured on Illuminate SF’s website (http://www.illuminatesf. com/) for individuals who cannot make one of five scheduled tours.

Pre-planned excursions include guided walking tours, a cable car tour and an illuminated bike ride. Select tours offer the opportunity to meet some of the artists and hear them talk about their installations.

This year’s 36-day festival features approximately three times the number of installations than the inaugural festival in 2013, and also celebrates other “Illuminating Events,” such as the Nutcracker Under the Dome in Westfield San Francisco Centre and the Union Street Fantasy of Lights.

Viewers have the opportunity to see other light-based decorations that are both permanent and seasonal while searching the city for installations. One of the self-guided night tours, “North Beach + Embarcadero” ends in front of the installation “Soma” along the Embarcadero, giving sightseers a chance to see the breathtaking nearby view of the San Franciscan cityscape illuminated up by hundreds of lights.

Installations are powered on at dusk, and official tours are free but available spots are limited. Prospective participants can reserve spots ahead of time by visiting Illuminate SF’s homepage, where a city-wide light art map marked with installations’ locations is available.