Union Square Walking Tour, San Francisco

Union Square Walking Tour (Self Guided), San Francisco

Union Square, a bustling hub in the heart of San Francisco, is a place where locals and tourists alike gather to enjoy a mix of shopping, entertainment, and cultural attractions. In addition to being the third largest shopping area in the United States, the square features an array of restaurants, theaters, and a wonderful concentration of fine art galleries.

One of the prominent landmarks in Union Square is Macy's, a massive department store that offers a wide range of products – a definite must-visit for shoppers!

Just a short stroll from Union Square, you'll find Maiden Lane, a charming pedestrian street known for its upscale boutiques and cafes. It's a peaceful oasis amidst the urban hustle and bustle, perfect for a leisurely afternoon of shopping or sipping coffee.

Levi Strauss, the famous denim brand, has its roots in San Francisco, and you can learn their history and shop for iconic jeans at their Union Square location.

The Westfield San Francisco Center is a modern shopping mall adjacent to Union Square, offering a diverse selection of stores, dining options, and entertainment.

Powell Street is a major thoroughfare in the area, bustling with activity and offering access to the iconic Powell Street cable car line, which provides a historic and scenic way to explore the city.

Art enthusiasts can appreciate the Martin Lawrence Galleries, showcasing a diverse collection of contemporary and fine art. Meanwhile, theater enthusiasts can catch a show at the American Conservatory Theater or the Curran Theater, both of which are known for their exceptional performances.

Regardless of your interests, be it high-end retail therapy, a taste of local history, or a night of captivating theater, Union Square will provide for any of these. So, should you find yourself in the City by the Bay, don't miss the chance to visit the area and experience its magic firsthand.
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Union Square Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Union Square Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » San Francisco (See other walking tours in San Francisco)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Union Square
  • Macy's at Union Square
  • Maiden Lane
  • Levi Strauss
  • Westfield San Francisco Center
  • Powell Street
  • Martin Lawrence Galleries
  • American Conservatory Theater
  • Curran Theater
Union Square

1) Union Square (must see)

While there are lots of tourist sights in San Francisco to behold, there is none more representative of the city's spirit than the iconic Union Square. With so many layers of history, cuisine, commerce, and culture gathered in one spot, it is no wonder that this place has appeared in film and television scores of times over the years! One could teach a master class on the goings on at Union Square through the decades.

Starting from the pro-US rallies during the Civil War (hence the "Union" name) to the red-light district on (ironically) Maiden Lane, the Dewey Monument, and Alma Spreckels, the Saint Francis Hotel and its famous guests, the 1960s protests, the Theater District, the Powell cable car line, the Flood Building, and the Woolworth's counter – the list is long. Add to this the rooftop amusement park, the concerts, the window displays, and key appearances in famous movies – and you get the place that is quintessentially San Francisco in much of the same way as Times Square is for New York City.

Nowadays, the square is known as a sanctuary for the shopaholic at heart, ringed by premium boutiques, high-end department stores, and mega-brands – but also as one of maybe two places in the city where you can go ice-skating outdoors during the winter.

If you're looking for the best cheap eats, consider Sear's Fine Food or the Pinecrest Diner. For mid-range – there's Cheesecake Factory with a spectacular view of the square and the unforgettable Rotunda at Neiman Marcus. And if you want to go posh, there are too many choices, but Scala's Bistro at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel is ideal; also, The Oak Room, if you have the means.

Finally, no tour of Union Square is complete without visiting the venerable Hotel Saint Francis, where kings, presidents, movie stars, and other historical figures from every field have stayed. In its grand lobby stands an antique clock, and the phrase "Meet me at the clock" is known to most San Franciscans. During holidays, the hotel is decked out in festive décor, with a giant chocolate castle diorama to salivate over. It feels like stepping into a bygone era of luxury and superb service.

Given the range of delights available at Union Square (stores, restaurants, theaters, as well as the famous cable cars), it is safe to say it is at the heart of it all and makes a logical starting point for the exploration of San Francisco.

Take the Powell/Hyde cable car ride (which starts and ends at Union Square) for the best views of the city. And don't mind the line if there is one – it can move quickly.
Macy's at Union Square

2) Macy's at Union Square

Macy's at Union Square is an iconic landmark in downtown San Francisco. Established in 1858, Macy's is known as the Great American Department Store and has become a prominent retail brand with over 740 stores operating across the country, both offline and online. Macy's at Union Square is a flagship location that showcases the brand's commitment to offering a first-class shopping experience.

The department store is truly immense, capturing the attention of visitors with its grand architecture and expansive interior. Macy's is renowned for its impressive selection of top fashion brands, catering to a wide range of tastes and preferences. Shoppers can explore collections from esteemed designers such as Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Clinique, Estee Lauder, and Levis. Whether you're searching for trendy clothing, stylish accessories, or quality beauty products, Macy's has you covered.

However, Macy's is not just about fashion. The store offers an extensive range of housewares, gifts, and furniture, allowing visitors to find everything they need to beautify their homes. From kitchen appliances and bedding to decorative items and furniture, Macy's provides a diverse array of choices to suit various aesthetics and lifestyles.

Beyond the shopping experience, Macy's at Union Square also offers a delightful culinary journey. Within the store, you'll find popular restaurants like Cheesecake Factory and Starbucks, allowing shoppers to take a break and indulge in delicious food and beverages. For those lucky enough to secure a seat next to the window, a captivating view of Union Square awaits, providing a scenic backdrop to enhance your dining experience.
Maiden Lane

3) Maiden Lane

From rags to riches, from tacky to elegant, classy and fashionable, the Maiden Lane is one street that has undergone an extreme make over after the 1906 earthquake. Presently laden with high end gift shops, couture salons, expensive boutiques and designer outlets, there is nothing in the fashion and luxury world that the Maiden Lane does not offer.

Although the present may seem glittery and filled with glamour and elegance, a century back the lane didn’t quite have the reputation it holds today. The street was then called the Morton Street and it was one of the most prominent red-light district of San Francisco. The Morton Street was filled with brothels and exotic dancers and was said to hold the record for reporting at least one murder every week. The 1906 earthquake, however, changed the fate of the Street. The rubbles of the Morton Street were transformed into the present day Maiden Lane.

Apart from its very colorful history, the street is also known to be an pedestrian only street, with two gates at either end that bar any automobile traffic from getting in. Whether you love to shop or just like to take a lazy walk down the road, or simply enjoy a city’s past- the Maiden Lane has something to offer to every passer-by.
Levi Strauss

4) Levi Strauss

Levi Strauss jean was created in San Francisco in 1853 and made popular during the California Gold Rush. Today Levi Strauss is a global icon and Levi's jeans are loved by people from all walks of life.

Levi's jeans are known for being sturdy and durable, and they last a long time. Moreover, the fabric used for Levi's jeans are malleable and flexible, which allows you to easily move. Over one and half centuries, Levi's jeans have never gone out of fashion. They are trendy and also look good.

More likely than not, you have owned a pair Levi's jean at some point. So when you are in San Francisco, why not stop by Levi's flagship store on Market Street to check out its latest offers. The location of the store itself is historic, just just across Stockton Street from where the founder Levi Strauss lived from 1863 to 1864. A wall display in the store shows the evolution of the famed 501 series from late 1800s to present date.
Westfield San Francisco Center

5) Westfield San Francisco Center

The Westfield San Francisco Center has been open since 1988 and has established itself as an upscale shopping destination and a beloved landmark in the city. Renowned for its diverse collection of over 170 boutiques, the mall offers visitors a wide range of shopping options, including some of the most prestigious designer brands in the world.

Fashion enthusiasts can indulge in the latest trends at the Westfield Center, with renowned labels such as Herve Leger, Hugo Boss, Max & Co, and Calvin Klein among the many boutiques available. One of the highlights of the mall is the west coast flagship store of Bloomingdale's, offering shoppers San Francisco's ultimate style collection. Additionally, visitors can explore the second-largest Nordstrom in the United States, which further adds to the allure of this prominent shopping center.

Beyond its exceptional retail offerings, Westfield San Francisco Center boasts an impressive food court, highly regarded as one of the best in the city. Visitors can savor an extensive selection of ethnic cuisines that are synonymous with San Francisco's culinary scene. For those seeking a more refined dining experience, the mall features multiple gourmet restaurants, ensuring that shoppers can satisfy their cravings in style.

The architectural design of Westfield San Francisco Center is both striking and integrated into the surrounding buildings. Standing at a towering nine stories, the mall is anchored by Nordstrom and Bloomingdale, seamlessly blending with its urban environment. The basement level of the shopping center provides convenient access to two entrances for the Powell Street station, where Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and Muni Metro trains serve commuters and visitors alike.
Powell Street

6) Powell Street

Powell Street is a street in San Francisco that connects from Market Street through Union Square, North Beach, Nob Hill, Russian Hill and ends at Fisherman's Wharf. The Powell Street Station located on Market Street is one of the most photographed spot in Downtown San Francisco. The station is a Rapid Transit and Muni Metro Station. It opened in 1973, it is where you catch the famed cable car to go to Fisherman's Wharf, another popular tourist area in San Francisco.

Along Powell Street and in the surrounding neighborhood, there is a myriad of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars of every ethnicity that one can imagine. From Dim Sum breakfast to some of the best sushi on the planet, Powell Street and the surrounding Union Square neighborhood have an abundance of offerings for the local and tourist alike.
Martin Lawrence Galleries

7) Martin Lawrence Galleries

Martin Lawrence Galleries, founded in 1975, is a prominent art institution with 10 fine art galleries located across the United States. Specializing in original paintings, sculptures, and limited edition graphics, the gallery showcases an impressive collection of artwork.

One distinguishing feature of Martin Lawrence Galleries is that all the artwork in their collection is company-owned. This includes notable works by renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Sam Francis, and Keith Haring. The gallery also serves as the publisher and representative for acclaimed artists like Erté, Robert Deyber, Liudmila Kondakova, Felix Mas, Douglas Hofmann, Philippe Bertho, Kerry Hallam, and René Lalonde.

With a diverse inventory that primarily focuses on contemporary art, Martin Lawrence Galleries offers a wide range of price points. Art enthusiasts will find pieces that are reasonably priced as well as more expensive and valuable works. Whether you are a seasoned collector or a newcomer to the art world, Martin Lawrence Galleries provides a compelling destination for exploring and acquiring contemporary artworks.

If you find yourself in San Francisco, make sure to visit Martin Lawrence Galleries' beautiful gallery located downtown in the heart of Union Square. Spanning over 9,000 square feet, this gallery space showcases world-class 20th-century art. The knowledgeable staff at Martin Lawrence Galleries possesses extensive experience in the field of fine art and has played a role in curating numerous significant collections worldwide.
American Conservatory Theater

8) American Conservatory Theater

The American Conservatory Theater (ACT) is a renowned nonprofit theater company located in San Francisco, known for its diverse range of classical and contemporary productions.

Established in 1965, ACT was originally founded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by William Ball, a talented theater and opera director. Collaborating with the Pittsburgh Playhouse and Carnegie Mellon University, Ball later responded to an invitation from philanthropists and city officials in San Francisco, ultimately relocating the company to the vibrant city. The current home of ACT, constructed in 1910, showcases a beautiful blend of architectural styles, namely Classical Revival and Late Victorian, and was previously recognized as the Columbia Theater. It holds the distinction of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as an official San Francisco Landmark in 1976.

In addition to its theatrical productions, ACT boasts an esteemed acting school that has nurtured numerous notable alumni, including Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Princess Sarah Culberson, Benjamin Bratt, Carlos Bernard, Wynn Harmon, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Belknap, Dileep Rao, Harry Hamlin, Anna Deavere Smith, Omar Metwally, Steven W. Bailey, and Anika Noni Rose.

ACT stands as a treasured historic theater, serving as an iconic symbol of cultural significance in San Francisco.
Curran Theater

9) Curran Theater

If you enjoy watching Broadways, operas and live performances, the Curran Theater is a must visit in San Francisco. One does not have to be a diehard opera fan to visit and be charmed by the Curran.

Its brilliant presence and majestic look is sure to take any onlookers breath away. This magnificent building stands on Geary Street, where it welcomes its audience into a world far away from the hustle bustle of city life. Known as one of the finest Broadway theaters in the country, the Curran Theater makes the experience of watching live performances memorable with its intimate auditoriums and well-crafted interiors. One of the noted features of the interiors of the building is the ceiling above the main lobby which is hand painted to make it look like wood. As a matter of fact, the interiors and exteriors of the theater were even featured in a movie named ‘All about Eve’.

The Curran Theater was opened in 1922 and was named after its first owner Homer Curran. He owned several other theaters but only this theater retains its original name to this date. Homer Curran is most noted for writing a book for the musical ‘Song of Norway’ and the lesser known ‘Magdalena’. Today this theater belongs to Carole Shorenstein Hays who has produced many award winning Broadway plays.

Curran Theater is a beautiful and historic theater in the heart of San Francisco, only steps away from Union Square, so there is no excuse not to stop by to see what it has on offer.

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