Union Square Walking Tour (Self Guided), San Francisco

Union Square is known as San Francisco's most popular shopping destination and the third largest shopping area in the United States. In addition to that, Union Square features many amazing restaurants, theaters and a wonderful concentration of fine art galleries. Take this walking tour to explore Union Square's main tourist attractions.
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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: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
  • Xanadu Gallery
  • Maiden Lane
  • Union Square
  • Ruth Asawa's Fountain
  • 450 Sutter Building
  • American Conservatory Theater
  • Curran Theater
  • Glide Memorial Church
  • Powell Street Station
  • Westfield San Francisco Center
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

1) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (must see)

Devoted only to 20th-century art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is a must visit if you are an avid follower of modern art. Established in the year 1935, the SFMOMA was the first museum of its kind that was dedicated to introducing the modern and contemporary art form to the world.

Displaying some of the most path defying pieces of modern art, the SFMOMA has come a long way since its inception. Today the museum houses over twenty-six thousand pieces of modern art, works that include- photography, sculptures, paintings, architecture, design and media.

Founded by Dr Grace Morley, the SFMOMA first resided on the fourth floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building in the Civic centre. But today the extensive collection is housed in a magnificent building built by the Swiss architect Mario Botta, much known for his unique architectural style. The museum also has its own research library, which boasts of an extensive collection of books, documents, artists’ files, lecture recording and much more.

Some of the prominent works in the museum include 'Ocean Park' by Richard Diebenkorn, 'Frieda and Diego Rivera' by Frida Kahlo, 'The Nest' by Louise Bourgeois along with many others. The museum also houses works of some legendary artists of our times like Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly and many more.

Why You Should Visit:
A paradise for modern art enthusiasts that invites multiple visits to do it justice.
The flow is excellent and no exhibit ever feels too crowded. There are some great special exhibits, too, which make it even more special.

Definitely make a stop at the rooftop café for a cool view of San Fran, organic Blue Bottle Coffee, and modern art-themed treats (Mondrian cake, Barnett Newman cookies). Or you can bring lunch to eat outside amid the sculptures.

Opening Hours:
Fri–Tue: 10am–5pm; Thu: 10am–9pm; closed Wednesday.
Open until 8pm on Saturdays, May 27–September 4.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

2) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

The Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts was established in 1986 by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA). The Centre celebrates and provides a platform for artists to display their art in form of dance, music, visual art, film/video, etc. Accredited world over, the Yerba Buena Centre, is one place that brings together the artists and their admirers.

Located in the Yerba Buena Gardens, the Centre was developed by the SFRA using private funds. The Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts consists of two landmark buildings which display artists work and performances. The Galleries and Forum was designed by Japanese architect- Fumihiko Maki and the Theatre- that holds international performances, was designed by James Stewart Polshek.

Receiving up to a quarter a million visitors year round, The Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts manages to provide to its visitors and artists a much needed stage for exhibiting talent without the barrier of bias towards, culture and society. One of the many accomplishments of the Centre has been the presentation of 2,200 media artists and visual performers and premiering up to 125 exhibitions and performances. It has also served as a dais for displaying and launching popular products of Apple Inc. like the iPad and the iPhone.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Xanadu Gallery

3) Xanadu Gallery

The Xanadu Gallery that is elegantly perched on the pedestrian street of San Francisco, the Maiden Lane, houses some of the most spectacular collections of international art one can find. Right from American folk art to African masks, exotic textiles from all over the world along with jewellery and sculptures from the Far East, the Xanadu Gallery is a haven for the art collector at heart.

Although the prices on these artefacts can burn a hole in one’s pocket, you can still sieve for the more affordable souvenirs in form of art books and documents and if you still don’t get what you need the Xanadu Gallery is still well worth the visit.

Not only is it known as the mini gift shop along the Maiden Lane, the building ranks amongst one of the top 150 favourite buildings in America. The Xanadu Gallery was once the V. C. Morris Gift Shop which was designed by one of the greatest American architects, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright is better known for some of his very prominent works like the Fallingwater- in Pennsylvania, the Usonian Home and others. Although Wright has over 500 completed works to his credit, the Xanadu Gallery is the only structure designed by him in San Francisco. All in all, a must visit for those who admire art and appreciate unique architecture.

Operation hours: Tuesday - Saturday: 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
Maiden Lane

4) 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 colourful history, the street is also known to be an only pedestrian street, with two gates at either end that bar any 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.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Union Square

5) Union Square (must see)

For a shopaholic, there can be no place on earth that comes anywhere close to the Union Square in San Francisco.

The Union Square marks the perfect destination where one can bask in its rich past and at the same time get enthralled by its vibrant present. The Union Square till date is the most visited site in San Francisco. Filled with premium boutiques, high scale departmental stores, art galleries and salons, the Union Square is a sanctuary for shopaholic at heart. Counted as one of the world’s premium shopping areas, the Union Square is an amalgamation of art, craft, luxury and saga.

The design of the Union Square Park is credited to Jasper O'Farrell who constructed it as a public plaza. The towering monument that adorns the Square was later erected in 1903. The monument stands with a beautiful figurine of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, a wealthy heiress, who is also referred to as the ‘The Great Grandmother of San Francisco’. Throughout the nineteenth century, the area gained a lot of popularity for being an upscale residential locality. After the earthquake of 1906, Union Square became the primary shopping district of San Francisco and has not looked back ever since. The place is also known to have the first ever underground parking facility in the world.

Why You Should Visit:
This historic square should be your starting point for San Francisco. From the range of services available here to the square itself, the range of stores, restaurants, theatres, hop-on-hop-off tour buses, and also the famous cable cars – it's the center of it all...

Try the Burger Bar which overlooks the entire square. Get a table next to the window. Very nice.
You can also try the cheesecake factory at the rooftop, same building as Macy's.
Ruth Asawa's Fountain

6) Ruth Asawa's Fountain

Ruth Asawa's Fountain was built as a tribute to the city of San Francisco, that was completed in 1972. The fountain consists of 41 bronzed plaques, each depicting San Francisco's most famous landmarks,and illustrating the rich historical past of the city.
450 Sutter Building

7) 450 Sutter Building

450 Sutter Building was constructed in 1929. It is San Francisco’s premier medical and professional office suite building and an Art Deco masterpiece. This elegant 26-floor structure is known for the original "neo-Mayan" Art Deco style, same one that was used to design the Paramount Theater.
American Conservatory Theater

8) American Conservatory Theater

Famous opera director, William Ball founded the American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T) in Pittsburgh in the year 1965. Theatre enthusiasts in San Francisco convinced Ball of presenting half an year’s season in the city. In the very first season at its new home, A.C.T. performed sixteen productions in the city’s Geary and Marines Memorial Theatres. In addition, the company also toured other cities in the state of California and performed 28 plays to establish themselves as a theatre company giving astonishing performances. The original team of the company included famous names like René Auberjonois, Peter Donat and Richard Dysart to name few.

Since 1968, A.C.T. has introduced the world of theatre to over half a million students through its Student Matinee Program alone. In the late 70s, the theatre travelled to Hawaii and Japan as part of the tour of Ted Mosel’s All the Way Home. Artistic director Ball was forced to resign after he failed to keep the finances in place making way for Edward Hastings. The earthquake of 1989 damaged the Geary Theatre which forced the company to perform at other venues. Carey Perloff’s appointment in 1992 as the Artistic Director revived the company from financial troubles along with earning the company praise for its work on the stage.

Also serving as an acting school, A.C.T. has given the world names like Denzel Washington through its Master of Fine Arts courses and Nicolas Cage, Winowa Ryder, Darren Criss amongst others through its Summer Training Congress. A.C.T with its efforts of conserving the theatre industry demands a special visit if you are in the city of San Francisco.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Curran Theater

9) Curran Theater

If you enjoy watching broadways, operas and live performances, the Curran Theatre is a must visit in San Francisco. However, one needn’t 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 at the 445 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 theatres in the country, the Curran Theatre 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 theatre were even featured in a movie named ‘All about Eve’.

The Curran Theatre was opened in 1922 and was named after its first owner Homer Curran. He owned several other theatres but only this theatre 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 theatre belongs to Carole Shorenstein Hays who has produced many award winning Broadway plays.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Glide Memorial Church

10) Glide Memorial Church

Known as one of the most liberal churches for its time in the country, the Glide Memorial Church stands as a symbol of un-prejudiced and an open minded place of worship, welcoming people with open arms.

Constructed in 1929, the Glide Memorial Church has earned its reputation as one of the most liberal churches in US. Founded by Lizzie Glide, a Methodist philanthropist, the Glide Memorial Church started off being quite conservative. It was in the latter half of the twentieth century with Rev. Cecil Williams that the Church started being perceived as very liberal.

Rev. Cecil Williams was majorly responsible for bridging the gap between people of faith and the homosexual community of the city. In fact Rev. John Moore’s (predecessor of Williams) sermon on homosexuality created a huge uproar in the city and even made it to the front page of a leading newspaper.

Not only is the Church known for being a free-thinker, it is also known for its contributions to society and its programs for uplifting the poor and the needy. Since 1960, the Church and the Glide Foundation have arranged for programs like meals for the poor, free legal services for the homeless, literacy classes, providing health care like- AIDS testing, health check-ups etc. taking the total to over 87 programs that were started for the underprivileged.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Powell Street Station

11) Powell Street Station (must see)

The Powell Street Station located on Market Street is one of the most photographed areas in Downtown, San Francisco. It is a Rapid Transit and Muni Metro Station. It opened in 1973, becoming one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city.

Why You Should Visit:
In spite of long queues and the $7 fee for a one-way cable car trip, it's worth getting on at least once on this street because there's nothing else like it anywhere in the world.
Westfield San Francisco Center

12) Westfield San Francisco Center

Open since 1988, Westfield Center is one of the most famous shopping places in San Francisco. The mall features more than 170 boutiques, including designer brands Herve Leger, Hugo Boss, Max & Co and Calvin Klein. It offers visitors San Francisco’s ultimate style collection, the west coast flagship of Bloomingdale’s and the second-largest Nordstrom in the United States.

Operation hours: Monday - Saturday: 10 am - 8 pm; Sunday: 11 am - 7 pm.

Walking Tours in San Francisco, California

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Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles
Telegraph Hill Area Walking Tour

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Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles
Chinese Heritage Walking Tour

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Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
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Japantown in San Francisco is the oldest Japanese community in the continental United States. The first Japanese immigrants came to San Francisco in the 1860s. Located in the heart of San Francisco, this six block area is a colorful, friendly community, that is home to some of the best Japanese cultural, eating and entertainment venues in the United States. Take this tour to explore most visited...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.7 Km or 0.4 Miles
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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.2 Km or 1.4 Miles

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