San Francisco Visitors Guide: Union Square and South of Market
Legions of date palms and terraced gardens create a pleasant retreat on Union Square in the heart of the city’s shopping, hotel and theater zone. Mimes and musicians, and crafts and flower vendors, enliven the wide sidewalks, which are lined with art galleries and designer boutiques.
During the holidays, Macy’s, Saks and Neiman Marcus engage in “window wars” with their spectacular displays. On Post Street, Gump’s is a treasure house of Asian antiques and jade and pearl jewelry. Versace, Polo Ralph Lauren and more emporiums of haute couture fill the airy and ornate, four-story Crocker Galleria; tuckered shoppers rest in the leafy roof.
A short walk away near the Cable Car turnaround, curving escalators offer a birds-eye view of nine levels of chain stores in the San Francisco Shopping Centre, anchored by a flagship Nordstrom’s. In Maiden Lane, a narrow alleyway of small, tasteful shops, the Frank Lloyd Wright design of a gift gallery echoes the spiraling interior of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Afternoon tea is taken in Michael Mina in the lobby of the Westin
St. Francis Hotel, a rococo, Renaissance Revival-style hostelry which
has stood for over a century on Union Square. Around the corner, audiences
flock to big Broadway musicals in the theater district, and to Tony
award winning dramas and musical comedies presented by the American
Conservatory Theater in the elegant Edwardian-style Geary Theater.
Once a warren of rundown warehouses, SOMA, from Market Street south, is now a gleaming arts, hotel and commercial quarter alive with restaurants, artists’ lofts and nightclubs. At its hub, and adjacent to the sprawling, underground Moscone Convention Center, Yerba Buena Gardens is a green sanctuary of broad lawns, a sculpture garden, a moving waterfall tribute to Martin Luther King, and outdoor cafes. For a delightful self-guided walking tour of SOMA, click here.
Art lovers head for the soaring, modernist San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Across the way on Mission Street, the dazzling orange-hued Mexican Museum will soon open, along with the new Contemporary Jewish Museum, in a 1907, Willis Polk building. A massive glass wall on the edge of the Gardens, Metreon is an entertainment marketplace with an I-Max theater, high-tech games, restaurants, shops and Maurice Sendak’s delightful “Where the Wild Things Are” play space.
Among new five-star hotels in the SOMA district are the Four Seasons and W San Francisco as gold-leafed and glamorous as it was in 1895, the Palace Hotel welcomes guests to the famous glass-domed Garden Court. Gaily-painted vintage streetcars ply Market Street on the F line, from Market and Castro to the bay, and along the Embarcadero to the wharves.
|The article on this page is adapted from guidebooks written by Karen Misuraca, the author of Our San Francisco, Fun With the Family in Northern California, and other travel books. Available for purchase on Amazon.|