San Francisco: The return of Illuminate SF Festival of Light

By: Maxine Sheppard

November 28, 2018

The Bay Lights © San Francisco Travel

The Bay Lights © San Francisco Travel

Fog City Glow

The sixth annual Illuminate SF Festival of Light returns to San Francisco, brightening up 17 different neighbourhoods until New Year’s Day. Light up your life and turn a standard night out into a luminescent adventure.

In a city where tech is everything and public art is well supported and prized, it’s hardly surprising San Francisco has become a major breeding ground for light artists. What began with the installation of 1.8 miles of LED lights on the Bay Bridge in 2013 has evolved into a groundbreaking light art scene, with 27 permanent light artworks now on display within the city’s 49-square-mile footprint.

While Illuminate SF is a year-round enterprise, the Festival of Light adds another four new temporary light artworks and events to the line-up. “Night Bloom” is a five-week light and sound experience with installations over five galleries within the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. Visit after dark and see the Victorian-style glasshouse transformed into a luminous lightscape of twinkly lights and dramatic hues. “Squared” is a 50-foot-tall obelisk holding 800 cubes with full-colour LEDs, geometerically arranged in a fractal orientation in sets of 16 cubes. It’s already dazzled festival-goers at Burning Man, and now you can catch it at Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley. Featuring works by various different light artists, “Glow” at the Exploratorium at Pier 15 runs from 6th December to 6th January 2019. Highlights include Mark Lottor’s 18-feet-high Cubatron Core, made of 3.840 individually controllable LEDs, and Leo Villareal’s Buckyball, which features over 16 million distinct colours. Finally, Point of View on the waterfront by Pier 27 offers visitors a view of Haifa, Israel, over 7,000 miles away. The sculpture, which resembles a lighthouse, allows viewers to peek into a 360-degree periscope that connects to an identical structure in one of San Francisco’s Sister Cities on the Mediterranean Sea.

All the artworks are accessible by public transport, and now winter is here it’s the perfect opportunity to embrace all things sparkly. Plot your route on the Illuminate SF map. If you’re flying to or from San Francisco soon you’ll even find six installations at SFO, including one in the International Terminal from where Virgin Atlantic flights depart for London.

Night Bloom at the Conservatory of Flowers © San Francisco Travel

Leo Villareal’s Buckyball at Glow at the Exploratorium © San Francisco Travel

Bayview Rise by Haddad-Drugan at Pier 92 on San Francisco Bay © San Francisco Travel

Handsignals by Matthew Passmore/MoreLab in the Mission District © San Francisco Travel

Three Gems by James Turrell at the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden at the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park © San Francisco Travel

Ethereal Bodies by Cliff Garten in Potrero Hill © San Francisco Travel

Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn’s Language of the Birds in Chinatown © San Francisco Travel

Daniel Libeskind’s Yud at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in Yerba Buena © San Francisco Travel

Eric Staller’s “Urban UFO’s” Lightmobile © San Francisco Travel

The Illuminate SF Festival of Light is presented by the San Francisco Travel Association.

Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to San Francisco from London Heathrow and Manchester.


Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

Categories: Our Places