City Sightseeing, Districts

The Epic of Union Square, part 1 of 4

I have lived in San Francisco’s downtown area for about ten years and in that ten years, I have grown to love Union Square. I first came to this city to study art at the Academy of Art College (back when it was a college and not a University) and I have fond memories of the Square, whether it was me waiting to meet some friends, sketching crowds of people, taking in the art on the weekend when the Artist Guild of San Francisco have their displays up, or just to pass through on my way to the Metreon. It has become synonymous with the word Home to me and I consider it correct that I would end up working in Union Square as a concierge, where I get to inform tourists and travelers all about it, it’s history, and things to do around it.

Union Square is in an interesting cross-road like bridge. It’s on the edge of the Theater District and the Tenderloin and you pass through it on your way to the South of Market, Nob Hill, China Town, and the Financial District. There’s always a hub of activity in the Square, whether it’s a head quarters for the Nike marathon, a presentation space for the Oracle conference, or the site of any number of cultural activities for the peoples that call San Francisco their home. It’s one giant chameleon, constantly changing its colors to fit the vibe of whatever peoples need to use it.
It’s difficult to define the district as anything but a mini-slice of Manhatten: fine dining, fancy shopping, European-style cafes that stay open past seven, and it’s home to the cities Macy’s Department store. The Square itself sits on top of a parking garage and, if you’re walking, it can be entered from four different directions on their corners. On the Square itself there are two cafes (Cafe Rulli on the Stockton Street side & Bancarella on the Powell Street side) and even a discount theater ticket booth. It’s also where several tour buses stop to pick up more of its passengers or to let passengers off to explore the streets and alleyways of downtown.
What makes Union Square constantly buzz with activity is due to the fact that it’s surrounded by four of the cities most frequented streets: Post Street and Geary Street on the North and South side, and Powell Street and Stockton Street on the West and East side. Post and Geary can be considered the Art streets, as there are several theaters and fine art galleries that line them including the American Consveratory Theatre–the Bay Area’s largest regional theatre–and the Curran, which plays host to touring productions that come to our city from Broadway. As for Art Galleries, the Dr. Seuss Art Gallery is home to some rare sculptures from the poetic doctor and right next to it, there is an art gallery devoted to the Art Nouveau movement, including official prints of Cheret, Alphonse Mucha, and Toulouse Loutrec.
Powell and Stockton are home to the majority of fashion boutiques and stores that includes San Francisco’s Barney’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nike Town, and Macy’s Department Store. Powell Street is also home to the world famous San Francisco Cable Car ($6.00 a ride) as well as the largest Gap Inc. store in the city. A quick hop across Market street will land you in the Westfield Shopping Center, which is home to several unique stores from Europe such as Zara, MaxMara, and Makaido Stationary Store. It also plays host to Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and the Century movie theater.
Down Stockton you can find the Apple store where Apple Genius’s are there to assist in whatever questions you have on the Bay Area born and raised product, and across the street is a Forever XXI, a Ferrari Store, and even a store that sells Ghirardelli chocolate. If you’re feeling adventurous you can even walk further down Geary and Post streets as they cross Stockton and venture into the more expensive boutiques of Prada, Gucci, Burberry, and the world famous Gumps.
So you see, Union Square is an interesting hotbed of activity. It is both shopping district and theater district, gallery district and public park. It’s the gateway to the historic districts like Chinatown and Nob Hill, and it is a place where there is always something going on.