Bay Area's Most Interesting Churches

stanford church Bay Areas Most Interesting Churches(credit: Randy Yagi)

The Bay Area is not only acclaimed for famous landmarks like Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts and the Paramount Theatre, it's also lauded for having a wealth of magnificent churches. While some prominent structures are obvious, such as San Francisco's Grace Cathedral and Saints Peter and Paul and San Jose's Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, there are many others well worth a visit for their history, influence and architecture. In fact, some noteworthy places of worship are famous in more ways than one. Here are among the five most interesting churches, each in distinctive sections of the Bay Area.

Stanford Memorial Church
450 Serra Mall
Stanford, CA 94305
(650) 723-1762

Established during the American Renaissance, Stanford Memorial Church was built by Jane Stanford as a memorial to her husband Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University, founded in the memory of their only son Leland Jr. Located on the Stanford University campus at the the end of the mile-long central entrance just past Oval Park, Stanford Memorial Church is one of the most prominent interdenominational churches in the West. Today, regular multi-faith services at held at the church, including the University Public Worship on Sundays at 10 a.m., in addition to denominational and nondenominational Christian services. The strikingly beautiful church, well known for its breathtaking stained glass, is open to visitors weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with free docent-led tours on Fridays at 2 p.m. and on the last Sunday of the month at 11:15 a.m.

glidememorial Bay Areas Most Interesting Churches

Glide Memorial Church (credit: Randy Yagi)

Glide Memorial Church
330 Ellis St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 674-6000

Many San Francisco churches are older and many are certainly much larger. But Glide Memorial Church is definitely a must-visit church, especially for its acclaimed Sunday celebrations featuring the Glide Ensemble, the Change Band, Reverend Cecil Williams and his wife Janice Mirikitani, Pastor Karen Oliveto and Reverend Theon Johnson III. The Methodist church, located in the Tenderloin, has perhaps the most diverse congregation in the Bay Area, more than 10,000 strong and is universally honored for its GLIDE charity work. Just recently, Glide Memorial held a Celebration of the Life of Dr. Maya Angelou, who was a longtime member of the church. The event was held before an overflow audience.

missionsantaclara Bay Areas Most Interesting Churches

Mission Santa Clara de Asís (credit: Randy Yagi)

Mission Santa Clara de Asís
Santa Clara University
500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053
(408) 554-4023

The HP Garage in nearby Palo Alto may be considered the "Birthplace of Silicon Valley," but a California mission that predates the garage by more than 150 years bears the real name of the valley. Residing on the campus of California's oldest college, the restored Mission Santa Clara is the former site of the first Spanish settlement in what is now the city of Santa Clara, in Santa Clara County, in the Santa Clara Valley. It's also the only California mission on a university campus and the first mission named in honor of a woman – Saint Clare of Assisi. A parish church of the Diocese San Jose and chapel for Santa Clara University, mass is celebrated six days a week during the Summer Mass Schedule through late September.

Oakland California Temple
4770 Lincoln Ave.
Oakland, CA 94602
(510) 531-3200

Motorists traveling at night along East Bay highways may be able to see just one prominent structure in the Oakland Hills. That amazing structure is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' Oakland California Temple. An East Bay landmark located off Highway 13 near Redwood Regional Park, it was the second temple built in California and one of just three with a primary tower and four corner towers. The 170-foot high temple lies on 18.3 acres with spectacular views of the Bay Area. Of particular interest is the Oakland Temple Visitor's Center, featuring a beautiful recreation of Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen's "Christus" statue. Endowment sessions are offered several times daily, Tuesdays through Saturdays.

bodegachurch Bay Areas Most Interesting Churches

St. Teresa of Avila (credit: Randy Yagi)

St. Teresa of Avila
17120 Bodega Highway
Bodega, CA 94922
(707) 874-3812

Quietly tucked away in the small, unincorporated community of Bodega, St. Teresa of Avila is Sonoma County's oldest church still in continuous use. But this charming 19th century Catholic church, with its prominent steeple and stained-glass windows, is more famous for being featured in Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 classic horror film "The Birds." Considered one of the greatest thrillers of all time by the American Film Institute, "The Birds" was set in Bodega Bay about six miles away and also featured the distinctly familiar Potter Schoolhouse. Today, mass at St. Theresa of Avila is held daily, except on Mondays, and is a popular Bay Area setting for weddings.

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on