Whether you are in town for a few days or for a long time, a must-see among the things to do in San Francisco is to enjoy the atmosphere of Union Square and the vibrant district that surrounds it. In fact, it is not only one of the most famous squares in the city, but also one of the busiest neighborhoods in San Francisco, also known as Union Square District.
- What is Union Square?
- Where is it and how to get there
- Why visit and what to see
- Where to sleep in the area
What is Union Square?
Union Square is the central plaza of Downtown San Francisco but not only: it is a meeting place, a place to sit and relax after a lot of shopping, or a perfect place to start discovering the nearby streets full of major brand shops, as well as boutiques or shopping centers, full of restaurants and bars offering any type of cuisine you can imagine, art galleries and theaters, renowned hotels and important museums.
The square has a long history for US royalties: it was built in 1850 thanks to the first mayor of San Francisco John Geary. Being a general of the Union, the square soon became the site of rallies and demonstrations of support for the troops of the northerners in the Civil War. The name Union Square derives from this historical moment.
Lush palm trees surround the square as well as i shops by Armani, Tiffany & Co., Apple, Nike, Gucci, Bulgari, Victoria's Secret, Vera Wang, Macy's and Swarosky just to name a few. The obelisk with the statue of the Goddess of Victory, the Dewey Monument, seems to protect tourists and passers-by. It has been doing this since 1901, the year in which it was erected.
Another important historical place of the city overlooks the square: the Westin St. Francis Hotel. This luxurious hotel was built before the 1906 earthquake. Over the years it has hosted movie stars, celebrities and presidents who stayed in San Francisco.
Where is it and how to get there
Union Square is located all’incrocio fra Post Street, Stockton Street, Geary Street e Powell Street. Within a few minutes' walk, you can reach Yerba Buena Gardens, Chinatown and the Theater District.
The plaza is the main hub of Downtown San Francisco and is therefore easily accessible by i public transport:
- BART: the closest stop is Powell Street Station and from here you can reach the East and South Bay.
- il tram (Cable Car): San Francisco icon. There are various stops along Powell Street, ideal if you want to reach the north of the city, near Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. The cost is $ 7. For more details read our Guide to San Francisco Cable Cars.
- la subway MUNI: Powell Street Station is located above the ground between Powell Street and Market Street. Tickets cost $ 2.50 for adults and $ 1.25 for children ages 4 and up.
- the MUNI bus: they have various stops in the area and connect all of San Francisco. The cost is the same as the metro.
If you are in auto, the ideal is to find a comfortable one parking near Union Square and stroll in the center among the shops, boutiques, art galleries and numerous restaurants and bars.
among the parking lots cheaper near Union Square are the Union Square Garage at 333 Post Street and the Sutter-Stockton Garage at 444 Stockton Street. The first is located just below Union Square so it is a perfect location to visit the area: you should also know that the Union Square Garage was the first underground garage in the world, built in 1941. Cost ranges from $ 2 between 18pm and midnight to $ 00 between noon and 6pm. In any case, the maximum cost does not exceed $ 15. The Sutter-Stockton Garage is located very close to Dragon's Gate, therefore a few minutes walk from Union Square. The cost varies between $ 00 and $ 36 based on arrival time and the maximum daily rate is $ 1.
To find out more about the subject, you can also read our guide on where to park in San Francisco.
Why visit and what to see
Going to Union Square means going through the streets that branch off from it. In addition to the already mentioned Dewey Monument and the Westin, there are other places of interest to explore. Do not get lost Maiden lane, with its high fashion boutiques and strolling among its shops, remember that this was once the red light district of the city.
Stop at 140 Maiden Lane where you will find the architect's only building Frank Lloyd Wright in San Francisco. Another way not to be missed is Geary Street, on which among other things there is also the Curran Theater, historic city theater opened in 1922.
Following the iconic San Francisco streetcar on Powell Street, reach Market Street and at number 870 you will find the Flood Building, a 12-storey historic building built in 1904 and one of the few buildings that survived the 1906 earthquake.
While you are on Market Street, I suggest you enter the Westfield San Francisco Center, a huge shopping mall with over 200 stores. But if the various Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Barney's and Saks Fifth Avenue, all not far from Union Square, have made you want to see other malls, take the elevator and go directly to the top floor: look out and enjoy the splendid view on Union Square.
Do this especially if you are in town at Christmas time. In fact, you will be able to admire the lights, the skating rink and the huge Christmas tree that is placed in the square every year from above. And if you feel like it, give yourself a taste of Cheesecake Factory, or taste the chocolate of Ghirardelli (even if doing it in Ghirardelli Square has a completely different 'flavor').
Just 5 minutes from Union Square is the Dragon’s Gate, between Bush Street and Grant Avenue, an ideal starting point for visiting one of the most famous and exotic neighborhoods in San Francisco: Chinatown. If you want to visit it, don't miss our article dedicated to this picturesque area of San Francisco which is home to the largest Chinese community in the United States.
In addition, just under 10 minutes from Union Square is the MOMA of San Francisco. Jeff Koons, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Henry Matisse are just some of the modern artists waiting for you in this museum. Here you will also find the Living Wall, a wall of about 10 meters on which over 19.000 different plants live surrounded by art.
Where to sleep in the area
This is certainly one of the richest neighborhoods for hotels and places to stay in San Francisco. Here you will find whatever type of accommodation you are looking for: from super luxury hotel to large hotel chains to apartments or b & b. The choice is vast.
Just be careful not to go south of Market Street between 4th and 10th Streets or south of California Ave. These neighborhoods are rather seedy. We have dedicated an entire article on areas where not to sleep in San Francisco to avoid nasty surprises.
For more targeted advice on accommodation in this neighborhood and on all other areas suitable for overnight stays for a vacation in San Francisco, I refer you to our guide dedicated to the topic:
Our tips on where to sleep in San Francisco