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Lights Fantastic: Public Art Lighting in San Francisco

Randall Whitehead, aka The Lighting Doctor, takes us on a tour of lighting inspiration at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

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Randall Whithead, lighting, golden gate park
The Lighting Doctor shares the lighting exhibition at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

randall whithead, golden gate park

As we go into a new phase of Covid variants, people are seeing what they can do outside in a safe way.  If you happen to live near San Francisco or might be visiting, then you should consider the light show is being offered up in Golden Gate Park.  There are three areas which are located within a block of each other.  It’s pretty spectacular…and is also free.  It is open through February 1st.


the lighting doctor, golden gate park lighting exhibition
The first thing that you see when entering the park is the giant ferris wheel (shown above).  It was installed as part of the 150th anniversary of Golden Gate Park.  It has been specially fitted with color-changing LEDS that chase along the spokes in an ever-changing pattern of light. It is open every day from 10 AM to 10 PM. Try to get there before the sky goes completely dark, so that you can see the park from this unique viewpoint.

golden gate park lighting, randall whitehead
One of the most interesting things to experience is the lighting installations called “Entwined,” created by Charles Gadeken (shown above). There are surreal trees and bushes sprouting thousands of color-changing LED lights. It is a true forest of illumination. Again, the best time to go is at dusk, when the sky becomes a velvety blue/purple glow in the background. People can walk right up to the sculptures which range in height from 15 feet to 30 feet. 

A closer look at one of the trees shows what looks like glowing square marshmallows (shown in the first image). They are sand-blasted Lucite cubes. Below each of these cubes are four diodes in green, blue, yellow and red. They are mixed in varying sequences to create a myriad of colors and hues. Sometimes it is individual trees or bushes that light up, sometimes it is the whole forest ablaze with color at the same time. 

randall whitehead, conservatory of flowers lighting

Not to be out done, the Conservatory of Flowers has its own light show, called Psychedelic Photosynthesis (shown above). LED projectors bathe this white painted glass Victorian confection with 1960’s inspired flower designs. They float hypnotically over the facade, accompanied by music from the Jefferson Airplane, Procal Harum and Santana. 

conservatory of flowers, lighting, the lighting doctor

San Francisco was the epicenter for the Summer of Love. This light installation (shown above) is a testament to that time period. The show goes on rain or shine. When it is really wet you can see the illuminated building reflected in the sidewalks, like it is sitting next to a body of water.

conservatory of flowers lighting exhibition, randall whitehead
The pop-art flowers float lazily over the curves of the building while the dreamy music fills the air (shown above). It is a drug induced trip without the need for actual psychedelics. You know what they say, “If you can remember the 1960s then you weren’t really there”.

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead is an educator and author on the subject of lighting design. His work has been featured in many magazines, including Architectural Digest, Home & Garden and Esquire. He has appeared as a guest expert on HGTV, Discovery, CNN and Martha Stewart Living Radio.

His Latest book Beautiful Light outlines how to create successful and subtly beautiful LED lighting designs for homes and gardens. Available through Amazon and Rutledge Books.

You can see his entertaining 1-minute instructional videos at furniturelightingdecor.com. And you can follow him on Instagram:  @randall.whitehead


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