The grove in Golden Gate Park east of the California Academy of Sciences has several sections: a circle of redwood trees, a Circle of Peace, and a Circle of Friends whose names are engraved on the walkway.
The circles offer places to reflect so "the lives of people who died from AIDS are not forgotten and the story is known by future generations," the memorial's mission says.
Volunteers work year-round to maintain the landscape and grounds of the tranquil retreat in the park.
"Through the years many personal tributes and items have been left here at the Grove by the thousands of visitors who have lost friends and loved ones to HIV/AIDS," executive director John Cunningham said in a statement.
The grove, which was recognized as a national memorial in 1996, scheduled a Light in the Grove event on Sunday evening with music, performances and candles lighting up the circles and walkways. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who introduced legislation to create the memorial, was the keynote speaker.
Today, actress Judith Light, an early AIDS activist who played Jeanne White in the 1989 TV movie "The Ryan White Story," will be presented with a leadership award.
(White was a teenager from Indiana who in 1985 wasn't allowed to attend school because he was infected with HIV. His story drew national attention over misconceptions and fears about how the disease was spread.)
Paul Boneberg, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, also will be recognized for his work as an activist. In 1984 he started Mobilization Against AIDS to improve the lives of people living with the disease.
As World AIDS Day marks its 26th year, UNAIDS estimates that last year more than 33 million people worldwide were living with HIV and more than 35 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic in the early 1980s.