Octagon House in San Francisco

A Museum of the Decorative Arts of the Colonial and Federal Periods

Built in 1861, the Octagon House in San Francisco is now a small museum. This blue beauty sits in the Marina District on the northern side of the city. It is one of just two Octagon Houses still standing in SF.

William C. McElroy and family built the house across the street from its current location. At the time, Octagon houses became popular because their design allowed for great airflow and light throughout the house.

octagon house

In 1951, our local power company bought the land where this house stood. They offered the house for sale for $1 to anyone willing to move it.

The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in California jumped at the chance to own it. Two of their members owned the land right across the street and donated it as a location for this new house.

No one lived in the house for a number of years and the house needed quite a bit of work. After The Colonial Dames purchased the house, they raised funds and spent a few years renewing it to its former glory.

In 1968, the City of San Francisco officially designated it as a Historical Landmark. The National Register of Historic Places added it to their list in 1972.

What You Will See During Your Visit

The draw for visitors to the Octagon House in San Francisco is not just the house, but also the decorative pieces displayed inside.

First Floor

On the first floor, you will find hundreds of items from both the Colonial and Federal time periods. The Colonial pieces are from the period around 1730 - 1790. The Federal pieces are from the period around 1790-1850.

Pieces from both periods include silver, portraits and both English and Chinese ceramics. You will also see furniture including tables, chairs and couches.

One of my favorite pieces on the first floor is the water bucket. All of the houses at the time had one since everyone in the neighborhood helped put out any fires. They also used it to keep their wooden house safe.

Another beautiful piece on this floor is a painting of George Washington by John Trumbull. Trumbull is a famous artist during the Revolutionary War and known for his historical paintings.

Second Floor

You will also find a number of amazing pieces on the second floor of the Octagon House in San Francisco. The most notable on this floor is a case containing documents with signatures from 54 of the 56 men that signed the Declaration of Independence. It's an impressive collection gifted to the group after the death of a local collector.

Another small, but fun piece is a lithograph of the family that built the house. It can be hard to find, so make sure you ask the second floor docent where it's located. You don't want to miss it!

Visiting the Octagon House

Since the Octagon House in San Francisco is run by volunteers, it is only open to the public three times a month. You can visit the second Sunday or the second and fourth Thursday of the month.

It is not open at all in January. They close on all major holidays that fall on these dates.

You can visit between 12pm and 3pm. The last admission is at 2:45pm.

Although it is free to visit, donations help them keep up with maintenance. There is a donation bucket at the front table. Feel free to throw a few dollars in either before or after you visit.

Due to the age of the pieces inside, they do not allow photography at all.

How to Get Here

You will find this gem in the Marina District. It's at 2645 Gough Street near Union Street.

From Union Square: You can easily get to this house by taking the 45-Union Street bus from Union Square. Pick it up on the corner of Sutter and Stockton (just a block from the plaza). Take it all the way to Gough and Union. You will see it right across the street. This will take about 20 minutes and is $2 per person each way.

From Fisherman's Wharf: It's also a quick trip from Fisherman's Wharf to the Octagon House. Take the 47-Caltrain bus from the corner of North Point and Jones. Take it to Van Ness and Union. Walk down Union, just two blocks to Gough Street. This ride is about 15 minutes and is $2 per person each way.

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