San Francisco is a tourist’s delight for those seeking a mixture of old and new. One of the best examples of that contrast is Union Square.
Built in 1847, the square was designated from the outset as a public plaza. A $25 million renovation, completed in 2002, has brought the area to its current high point.
The piazza retains a monument of the goddess of Victory built in 1903 and still dominates the square from atop a 97-foot Corinthian column.
There are dozens of shops, art galleries, restaurants and – of course – hordes of people.
Cable cars provide a delightful way to arrive or leave the area, but waits can be long unless you board early in the morning. Sometimes even then. Both the Powell-Mason and the Powell-Hyde lines begin and end at Powell and Market.
If shopping is what you came to San Francisco for you won’t be disappointed.
Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue will soon be competing with Bloomingdale’s in the west coast hub of fashion. And Prada, Ralph Lauren, Christian Dior, Gucci and Versace will gladly wear out the numbers on your plastic.
Those well known names aren’t the only imports from New York, though. Tiffany & Co. offer jewelry that will challenge any budget. And Bulgari, Cartier and Swatch also have stores here. (Swatch may be known for some lower-end watches, but they also happen to own Hamilton, makers of the 1957 Hamilton Ventura chronograph, for those seeking something more upscale.)
Also, don’t overlook Sephora if you’re interested in some genuine French perfume. They offer over 275 brands.
Dining in the area takes second place to no city in the world. Everything from Morton’s Steakhouse and Postrio to the Daily Grill is here. Dining with a view of the square is available at The Cheesecake Factory in Macy’s or at the Rotunda on the top floor of Neiman Marcus. Ruby’s is a dining and theatrical experience for both the food and decor.
And don’t miss a visit to the San Francisco Soup Co. Of course, if all you have time for is a hot dog, you can even pick up that from one of the street carts.
The theater district is nearby and offers many Broadway imports as well as several home-grown plays and musicals. The renowned American Conservatory Theater is here (at the Geary Theater). The 1909 facade is a show no matter what’s going on inside.
Similar to New York’s TKTS, there’s a TIX booth that offers half-price theater tickets and passes for several attractions in the area. Many of the shows and attractions also offer tickets and passes online.
While you’re in the area, check out the view from the Sir Francis Drake Hotel’s Starlight Room at 450 Powell. A landmark since 1904, it’s THE place to have a drink and take in some cool jazz just the way it might have sounded 50 years earlier.
And while you’re taking in the buildings, visit San Francisco’s only Frank Lloyd Wright at 140 Maiden Lane. Built in 1949, prior to the Guggenheim in Manhattan, it holds the same style circular interior.
Union Square is easy to find. Bound by Stockton, Powell, Post and Geary several buses run to the area and it’s a short walk from many of the most commonly used hotels. There’s also a BART (subway) exit at Market Street.