Exploring Union Square and Downtown San Francisco

San Francisco Night Life

Walking through the neighborhoods of Downtown San Francisco and Union Square, you can feel the unique energy. From the colorful buildings and billboards that shape the skyline, to the tourists and locals that fill the sidewalks, the liveliness is inescapable. Although the hustle and bustle is typical of most big cities, there is so much in Downtown/Union Square that can only be found in this specific area. With all the fun attractions, great shopping, and highly-rated restaurants in this small vicinity, you can spend days here sampling the best the city has to offer.

A great place to start when visiting the Downtown/Union Square area is Union Square itself. Bordered by the main thoroughfares of Post, Stockton, Geary, and Powell, this small plaza is probably the best location for people-watching in the entire city. Its name comes from the pro-union rallies that occurred here before it was dedicated to a public park in 1850. Since then, it has been renovated several times and now serves as a public space for events, art shows, and concerts. On the weekends, you’ll find many weary tourists and shoppers taking a break while absorbing the beautiful city surroundings.

From the center of the square, you can see just how much shopping there is in the blocks that create the Downtown/Union Square neighborhood. All you have to do is take a 360-degree look. Immediately south of the plaza is the huge Macy’s building, on the southeast side is Neiman Marcus, and directly to the north is Saks Fifth Avenue. These sizeable monuments to shopping look especially impressive during the holiday season when they all compete for the best decorations. It doesn’t end there though. Further south on Market St, you’ll find the massive Westfield shopping complex called the San Francisco Centre. This mall houses hundreds of stores, a Bloomingdales, and five floors dedicated to Nordstrom’s.

Just venture down the streets heading away from the square and you’ll see that shopping isn’t limited to the big malls. You’ll find lots of small to medium-sized specialty stores, all with their own unique piece of San Francisco for sale. Whether you’re looking to buy a designer hat from Goorin Bros. or an album from that hard-to-find Bay Area artist in Rasputin Music, there are tons of unique locally-owned shops for you to enjoy. However, most of this space is geared for tourists, so you’ll probably notice that big brand names own the major pieces of real estate. Louis Vuitton, Forever 21, Nike, and Apple are just a few names from the list of top brands with flagship stores in the Union Square area. It truly is one of the premiere shopping districts in the world.

After a day of shopping, everyone knows you need to recharge and there are plenty of places to fill up here as well. Scattered amongst its blocks is a diverse set of restaurants that cater to every cuisine and price range. Some of the restaurants here are a bit overpriced because of the tourist crowds, but that says nothing about the quality of the food.

If you’re looking for a good place to start, the easiest stop for a good meal is the Food Emporium at the San Francisco Centre. Located in the basement of the mall, this place is quick, easy, and has plenty to choose from. The Food Emporium isn’t just your average food court though. In fact, it will probably be the best food court you’ve ever been to. It is well decorated, always clean, and the food offerings are very well-executed compared to most places. With names like Buckhorn Grill, Coriander, Sorabol, Bistro Burger, Beard Papa’s, and Melt all serving their good eats in one area, you can’t go wrong.

If a real sit-down restaurant is what you’re looking for, there is no shortage of that either. The best burger in San Francisco, according to 7 x 7 Magazine, is at the upscale restaurant Fish & Farm, on 339 Taylor St., just two blocks west of Union Square. If you’re craving Thai food, you have to visit King of Thai Noodle. It has two locations in the Downtown area: one on 184 O’Farrell St, and the other on the corner of Mason and Geary. Or if all you want is a good pizza, then Blondie’s (right next to the Powell St. cable car station) is your place. When visiting, make sure to plan your meals properly. All the selections make it hard to choose sometimes, but with a bit of research you can ensure a great meal every time.

As for transportation to the Downtown/Union Square neighborhood, you have a few options. Driving there typically isn’t recommended because of the narrow streets and the thousands of pedestrians that fill them, but it can be done. Parking isn’t too hard to find either as long as you’re willing to pay for a spot in a parking lot. If you plan on street parking, there are metered curbs available, but good luck finding a spot!

Public transportation to Union Square is cheap, convenient, and the most recommended way of getting into this area. If you’re coming from outside the city, the BART is the best way to go. Just get off at the Powell St. station and you’ll find yourself right next to the San Francisco Centre. If you’re travelling within the city, the MUNI has several lines that travel around this area, namely the J, K, L, M, N, and T lines. And if you’re looking for a uniquely San Francisco experience, the cable cars can take you to and from the nearby Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood. Don’t forget to take pictures while you’re riding!

There truly is a little something for everyone in the neighborhoods of Downtown and Union Square. They are must-stop areas in a city full of so many, and offer so much that is unique to this town. Whether it’s shopping or eating, there aren’t too many better spots in the city. If it’s people-watching you’re looking for, this is the place. In short, there’s a good reason why thousands of tourists flock to these neighborhoods every year.


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