Insider's Guide: Union Square

  • 01 of 09

    The Low Down

    outside of saks fifth avenue building
    Robert Alexander / Getty Images

    San Francisco’s not a big fashion city, but Union Square is definitely its epicenter. With the Westfield Centre Mall, Macy’s five-story, block-wide emporium, as well as plenty of small boutiques for unique finds. 

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  • 02 of 09


    Map of Union Square, San Francisco

    Right in the heart of downtown, Union Square is easy to access from any form of transportation. To get there, hop on Bart or Muni and ride it until the Powell Street stop. 

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  • 03 of 09


    Photoquest/Getty Images

    The park, which was once used for the occasional sandlot baseball games and then as campgrounds for prospectors during the Gold Rush, became one of the city’s most fashionable neighborhoods in the late 1800s. Maiden Lane, a few blocks away, thrived as the center of the city’s red light district. Then the great 1906 quake and fire hit and the entire square was basically burned to the ground, save for the St. Francis Hotel, which was still thoroughly gutted. After that, retail was the saving grace of the neighborhood, bringing money back into the area. Today, it’s San Francisco’s largest shopping district. 

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  • 04 of 09


    christmas shopping center
    SF Citizen

    The Westfield Centre (865 Market St.) is a go-to for nearly all your shopping needs with two department stores (Nordstrom and Bloomingdales), countless stores, and a massive food court on the subterranean level. For more of a “San Francisco” experience head to over to Maiden Lane. Closed off to cars from 11AM to 6PM, this little side alley boasts designer shops like Marc Jacobs and Hermes. But you should beeline to Gump’s (135 Post St.), the only-in-San Francisco department store dedicated to designers and artisans from all over the world. Explore its stories for all sorts of worldly possessions to take home as souvenirs. 

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  • 05 of 09

    What to Eat for Breakfast

    breakfast scene at an outdoor restaurant
    Kelly P. via Yelp

    Transport yourself to a Parisian café for breakfast at Café de la Presse. Grab a seat inside under palm fronds or opt for the sidewalk seating and enjoy the people watching while munching on an omelet du jambon (ham omelet, for those who don’t speak French). 352 Grant Ave.; 415-398-2680

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  • 06 of 09

    What to Eat for Lunch

    close-up of a sandwich
    Amy V. via Yelp

    Light fluffy breads, fresh, juicy tomatoes, and crispy, crunchy lettuce? Estela’s Fresh Sandwiches are truly fresh. Order like a pro and get the albacore tuna salad on sourdough. Order to go and take your sandos down to Union Square to eat on the steps while watching the people fly by. 891 Bush St.; 415-440-9500

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  • 07 of 09

    What to Eat for Dinner

    thai dish khao soi
    Ann S. via Yelp

    Tucked into the back corner of the Parc 55 Hotel (really, it can be hard to find) Kin Khao is a hidden secret of the San Francisco food scene. The menu changes through Thai classics on a pretty regular basis, but you can always expect a lot of spice and different cuts of meat. For those who get lost easily: go to the corner of Ellis and Mason Streets and then enter through what looks like mall doors. The restaurant is on the right-hand side when you walk in. 55 Cryril Street; 415-362-7456

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  • 08 of 09

    What to Drink

    Sara M. via Yelp

    For Beer: Bar games abound in this massive bar, Golden Gate Tap Room. Shuffleboard, skee ball, arcade games, pool tables, and projector TVs are everywhere you look.  It’s a great place for groups and big ticket games (super bowl, anyone?). It might be difficult to choose one of the 100 beers to sip on while you’re playing though. 449 Powell St.; 415-677-9999

    For Wine: Just off the bustling Market Street, Press Club is like an entirely different world. Step through its doors and the chaos of the shopping district melts away with lounge music taking its place. Saddle up to the bar or find a cozy corner to snuggle into with some friends. Try a wine from artisan winemakers from around the Bay Area and beyond and order the cheese plate for the ultimate tasting. 20 Yerba Buena Lane; 415-744-5000

    For Cocktails: Cocktails are the name of the game at Local Edition. Part of the same bar group as cocktail havens Tradition and Bourbon & Branch, Local Edition is in the subterranean level of the Hearst Building, once home to the San Francisco Chronicle. So naturally, everything in this bar is newspaper-themed. While reservations aren’t necessary, we do recommend you snag one just to ensure you get a seat at the bar. 691 Market St.; 415-795-1375

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  • 09 of 09

    How to Play

    Christmas scene with giant tree, crowds, and an ice rink
    Union Square Ice Rink

    There’s a lot going on in Union Square come the holidays. There’s the tree lighting held the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Safeway Ice Rink opens up in early November and stays there through January. But everyone’s favorite holiday tradition is going to see the Macy’s SF SPCA Kittens. In the display windows at the corner of O’Farrell and Stockton Streets, the department store swaps its displays for adorable kittens and puppies—all up for adoption through the SF SPCA, who conveniently have a booth inside the store in case you fall in love on sight.