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American Conservatory Theater Union Square
American Conservatory Theater, Union Square, Photo Credit Kimpton Hotels
Union Square Cable Car Turnaround
Union Square Cable Car Turnaround, Photo by Tony Fischer
June 24, 2011

Union Square's Guide to Your Next Trip to San Francisco

Tourism is a major industry in San Francisco. We played host to approximately 15.9 million visitors last year, and interacting with tourists is part of our everyday lives here. Nowhere is this truer than in Union Square. We boast the title of number one tourist destination in the City, which is why we thought we’d address you, the travelers, seeing San Francisco perhaps for the first time, unfamiliar with the blustery cold of our summers, the hurried bustle of our streets and the wonderful diversity of our cultural offerings. 

Bring All-Weather Gear

Our first bit of advice is simple, but perhaps the most important of the lot. Wear layers! It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, even if it’s mid-July, please wear layers. Our famous fog has bite. It is a topic of endless discussion here – the way you can be sunning yourself on an outdoor patio enjoying a lovely afternoon and suddenly the temperature drops 20 degrees, and you find yourself battling wind and moisture and running for the nearest heat lamp. We’ve taken to always carrying sunglasses and an umbrella here. If you’re a lady, leggings can be extremely helpful, as they can be thrown on under a dress if the wind picks up. A cardigan and a light coat are also advisable. For men, carry a light jacket at all times, and we’re sorry, but rarely is there an appropriate time to wear shorts. 

Consider Leaving your Car at Home

It’s true the Bay Area is more than just San Francisco: it’s wine country to the North, the hip and edgy East Bay, beautiful Marin County to the West and perhaps even a trip to Silicon Valley, but within the city and even to get to many of those other places it can be more convenient to take public transit, ride a bike or event walk. This city is only seven miles by seven miles large, so it’s not difficult to take a stroll from your hotel in Union Square to the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero or to walk from the Financial District to City Hall. We also have a fairly comprehensive public transit system that includes the charming F line, made up of old street cars from around the world. In fact, our historic cable cars are a tourist attraction by themselves, but they’re also a convenient way to get from Union Square to China Town, North Beach or Fisherman’s Wharf.

Catch a Show

Unlike New York, San Francisco isn’t well-known for our theatre district. Visitors don’t necessarily think a show is in order, but this city is filled with talented performers, major theatres that bring in national shows and small experimental theatres that will broaden your horizons. In Union Square we boast the prestigious American Conservatory Theater where you can catch an array of classic and contemporary plays with stellar actors. We’re also lucky enough to have SHN theaters sprinkled in and around the district. This company brings major Broadway plays to San Francisco. If you’re interested in a more unique experience, check out one of our smaller theatres like the Alcove or SF Playhouse showing edgy, sometimes controversial, but always interesting material.

Visit Some Local Boutiques

While Union Square is lucky enough to boast a large collection of flagship stores from respected national brands and international stores as well as prestigious department stores and luxury boutiques, we also have a hand full of quirky, fun and unique San Francisco-based stores. Highlights include Goorin Brothers Hats – a high-end hat store with a classic flair, Britex Fabrics – a store filled to the brim with gorgeous fabrics, Karikter – a store dedicated to adorable European housewares, children’s goods and bath products and the impressive luxury department store Gump’s.

Eat, Eat, Eat!

Food is an attraction in and of itself here in San Francisco. Very few cities can boast the fresh, local produce, organic, high-quality proteins and innovative local cuisine that we have here. In Union Square alone we have hundreds of restaurants and cafés of every cuisine and price point. Perhaps you’re an Italian food connoisseur, so you might want to visit Scala’s Bistro (of Top Chef fame), San Francisco classic Kuletto’s or the brand new pizzeria Cupola. Or maybe you want that off-the-beaten path, undiscovered restaurant with great food feel? Try Akiko’s Sushi or Katana-ya. If you want some old fashioned American food, Lori’s Diner is always a favorite or for a more high-end experience try Huber Keller’s Burger Bar in Macy’s. The many, many wonderful dining options are nearly endless, and it would be impossible to name them all here.

Visit All of San Francisco

This may seem like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot a bit here, but we encourage you to visit areas outside of the well-known attractions that every tourist visits. There is life outside of Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, Ghiradelli Square, the Golden Gate Bridge and yes, Union Square. While we think Union Square makes a great home base, since we’re at the center of town, filled with great restaurants, shops, hotels and theatres and close to many forms of public transit, we encourage you to take that public transit and get out a little. No trip to San Francisco would be complete without either a peak at the hipster-filled Mission district, a stop in the vivacious Castro district, a trip to SFMOMA in Yerba Buena Gardens, a jaunt to the famed Fillmore jazz neighborhood or a stop at one of the many eclectic and unique neighborhoods that makes up San Francisco. We know it can be intimidating to wander off the beaten path, but we’re a friendly lot here in San Francisco, and you’ll be rewarded for your bravery.

We hope we’ve given you a great starting point for your next trip. There are hundreds and hundreds of unique experiences to be had in this fair city. This is simply a cross section of those experiences to inspire you for your next trip to the City by the Bay.