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Union Square



In a Nutshell...

Union Square is a plaza in the heart of downtown San Francisco. The surrounding district is known for its fine hotels, theaters, art galleries and most of all, its high-end shopping. With some six million square feet of retail space, the Union Square shopping district is the third largest in the US. It has six major department stores and a seemingly endless number of luxury fashion boutiques sporting the names of world famous designers over their doors. The area's business association originally covered 10 city blocks, but the area's success has grown to the point where it now covers 27 blocks.


Some Union Square highlights...


St. Francis Hotel

St. Francis Hotel on Union Square in San Franciso


One of the landmarks on Union Square is the St. Francis Hotel. Just in front of it is where local radical, Sara Jane More, filled with inspiration she got from the bizarre Patty Hearst case, tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford when he walked out of the hotel. That was in September 1975 – a bad month for Mr. Ford, since it was in very same month that Charles Manson family member, Squeaky Fromme, did her best to kill Mr. Ford, thinking it would result in cleaner air.


The hotel was built before the earthquake of 1906. It survived the shaking, but not the fires that followed, which burned out the interior. But it has been nicely rebuilt since then.


Union Square

Union Square


Union Square itself is a plaza covering a city block in downtown San Francisco. It got its name from the rallies held on this spot, in support of the Union cause, during the opening days of the Civil War. In the center of the plaza is a column topped with a capital featuring kissing sea horses and a stature of a lightly clothed young woman balancing on a ball on one bare foot, while holding her arms up high with a trident and a wreath in her hands. Logically, this is to remind everyone of Admiral Dewey's heroism in Manila Bay. You may be interested to know that that woman is Alma Speckles, the sugar queen who built the Legion of Honor Art Museum with wealth extracted from Hawaiian sugar cane.


The square has a pricey underground parking garage, and in the winter, an open air skating ring.


Crocker Galleria

Inside the Crocker Galleria


Two and a half blocks east of Union Square is the Crocker Galleria, a three level shopping arcade running between Post and Sutter Streets, between Kearny and Montgomery Streets. It is an example of successful early 80's architecture with its vaulted glass roof filling the space with light. It is home to 37 shops, galleries and restaurants. The third level has a food court with access to a wonderful roof terrace on the building next door, where one can enjoy lunch in an urban garden with the towers of the financial district as a backdrop.


Maiden Lane

Maiden Lane


Named after the Maiden Lane of London, this narrow two block long street runs between Union Square eastward to Kearny Street. Once a notorious red lights district (giving its name an ironic twist), it was reinvented as this charming pedestrian street following the urban renewal project known as the 1906 earthquake. With the street closed to traffic, it has outdoor dinning where one can eat with the pigeons or wander about and explore its many charming shops.


Macy's Union Square

Macy's on Union Square


As if all the clothing boutiques and designer shops in the area are not enough, the Union Square district has six major department stores to help satisfy your shopping needs: namely, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and of course, Macy's. To take one example, Macy's Union Square fills the entire city block just south of Union Square and describes itself as the jewel of the West Coast. Can this be true? To answer that with any authority one must be prepared to endure seven levels and miles of racks of clothing – a task too daunting for this observer. So I will just report what other more hearty souls have reported back, that, indeed, the selection is amazing.


Westfield San Francisco Center

Westfield Center on Market Street


Across Market Street from the Powell Street cable car turnaround is the Westfield Center with its 900,000 square feet of high-end shopping. It is on the south side of Market Street, so officially, it is in the SOMA (South of Market Area) neighborhood, but its spirit belongs to the Union Square shopping district. Its two anchor tenants are Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom (above).



Gumps's in the Union Square Shopping District


At 135 Post Street, a block and half east of Union Square, one finds Gump's, an old San Francisco retail institution. It was founding in 1861 as a mirror and frame shop. It was soon selling fine art and gilded items to the well healed of the gilded age. Today it continues to sell objects of exquisite taste and beauty to those who can accustom themselves to the finest this world has to offer.


Sears Fine Food

Sear's Fine Foods


In 1938, retired clown Ben Sears and his wife Hilbur, opened Sears Fine Food on Powell Street, just up from the St. Francis Hotel and Union Square. People have been standing outside in line to get a plate of their Swedish pancakes ever since. Small they may be, but when piled 18 high, they make a breakfast to remember.  They serve dinners at the proper time, but as everyone will tell you, it is first and foremost a breakfast place.


The line did disappear after 9/11 when tourism suddenly slammed to a halt. Sears and so many other eateries had to close their doors, but happily, it reopened with a new owner, Man Kim (the owner of Lori’s Dinner) and the same Swedish pancakes, French toast and waffles that made this place an old San Francisco institution.


Powell Street Turnaround

Powell Street Cable Car Turnaround


Where Powell Street meets Market Street you will find this cable car turnaround. When a cable car comes here, at the end of its line, the gripman hops off and manually turns the car around on a type of turntable. Then it is ready to fill up with more tourists to haul them over the hill to Fisherman's Wharf. Notice the long line of people waiting for their turn. Savvy travelers are up the street at one of the cable car stops waiting in short lines (if there is any line at all). When the cable car leaves the turnaround, the conductor usually leaves some empty spaces so he is able to pick up these people along the way.


49 Geary Art Galleries

49 Geary Art Galleries


At 49 Geary Street, between Union Square and Market Street, is five story building filled with, at last count, 19 different galleries. A popular event with the culture set is gallery hopping on the evening of the first Thursday of the month when the galleries stay open later than normal, between 5:30 and 7:30.


Brooks Brothers



Union Square is encircled by Geary, Powell, Post and Stockton Streets. For GPS purposes to the square, use the St. Francis Hotel's address of 335 Powell Street. From there you can easily park in the garage under the square itself.


For less pricey parking options try:


Sutter Stockton Garage (best close-in choice)

444 Stockton St (at Bush St)


Ellis-O'Farrell Garage

123 O'Farrell Street


View Union Square District Highlights in a larger map


Jewlery Store


bottem of the shadow


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