Why are Houses in San Francisco Colorful?

San Francisco is known for the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, its rolling fog, and historic Alcatraz Island. But one of its most notable features is its Painted Ladies. And we don’t mean that term literally. The San Francisco Painted Ladies are Victorian houses that have been coated in polychromatic tones and have become an essential part of the city’s culture, identity, and history. 

If you’re wondering who painted them and why, the team at Incredible Adventures have the story. As residents of San Francisco, we’re passionate about sharing our city’s history through our San Francisco tours. Keep reading to find out, or get in touch with us to learn more about our excursions.


How San Francisco got its color

The Painted Ladies are not exclusive to San Francisco, but they are certainly the most famous. The term ‘Painted Ladies’ refers to any Victorian or Edwardian homes that have been painted in a mix of colors. 

When California experienced its gold rush in the mid-1800s, Victorian homes began to be built in San Francisco. By the early 1900s, there were nearly 50,000. However, many houses were lost in the 1906 earthquake, and more were later demolished. Those that remained took on dark blue and gray tones during the First and Second World Wars, as these became the predominant paint colors available. 

In the 1960s, there was a shift. Against the backdrop of burgeoning counterculture movements, Butch Kardum painted his Victorian home in rich blues and greens. Others soon caught on, and the colorist movement spread through the city. Some of the change may be attributed to the increased use of psychedelics during this era – artist Maija Peeples-Bright’s home even became known as the Psychedelic House.

The contrast between the elaborate Victorian details and bright technicolors has become a reflection of the spirit of San Francisco. As residents continue to paint their homes in the tradition of the Painted Ladies, you can see examples of this eclectic style across the city’s neighborhoods. Make sure to bring your camera, as they offer some of the best photography spots in the Bay Area.

Victorian houses with intricate facades under a clear blue sky.

Where can you see San Francisco’s colorful houses?

While Victorian homes are dotted across San Francisco, you can see rows of some of the most iconic Painted Ladies in these neighborhoods:

Alamo Square

Alamo Square is home to the most famous row of Painted Ladies in San Francisco. Also known as the Seven Sisters or Postcard Row, these homes on Steiner Street were developed in the 1890s and are today synonymous with San Francisco’s architecture. 

The Seven Sisters have featured in a number of films and TV shows, most notably in the opening credits of Full House. While these homes are privately owned, you can still admire them from the outside. You can also easily visit them as part of our 2-Day San Francisco City Tour & Alcatraz Tour when using the hop-on hop-off bus. 

Row of Victorian houses with vibrant facades under a clear blue sky.



In the 1960s, Haight-Ashbury was at the center of the hippie movement as artists, musicians, and activists moved into the neighborhood. During the Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury was home to many famous residents, including Janis Joplin and the band members of the Grateful Dead. Just across from the Grateful Dead house was the home of the Hells Angels biker gang.

While the hippies have long left Haight-Ashbury, the bohemian vibe has remained. You’ll find numerous Painted Ladies on Central Avenue. After your visit, browse the numerous thrift stores or have a bite to eat at the diverse local cafes.

Row of Victorian houses with ornate facades and colorful paint, under a clear blue sky.


Mission District

The Mission District may not be as well-known for its Painted Ladies, but you can find a number of them in this historic neighborhood. On Capp Street, in particular, you can admire a row of Victorian homes in modern colors.

However, the Mission District is also known for its world-renowned murals. The Women’s Building features the spectacular MaestraPeace Mural on the facade of a 1900s hall, honoring the contributions of women to society and culture. 

Visiting San Francisco’s colorful homes

The Painted Ladies of San Francisco are some of the most captivating attractions in the city. It’s important to keep in mind that many of these buildings are today private residential homes when visiting and taking photos. 

Some residents do however offer tours of the interiors of their homes, including George Horsfall of the Blue Painted Lady on Steiner Street. For an even more thorough explanation of the history of the Painted Ladies, you can take a guided walking tour of Alamo Square, and step inside the Chateau Tivoli.

Touring the Painted Ladies is easy to fit into any itinerary on a visit to San Francisco. If you’re looking for even more ideas of what to see and do in this vibrant city, feel free to contact us about our tours. We can even offer you a customized experience with one of our private San Francisco tours, taking you exactly where you wish to go!