There’s no way around it. Maiden Lane has a bit of a bawdy past. Originally named Morton Street, the area became known as a red light district in the 19th century. Brothels lined the street with women calling down through windows to the men below. It was common knowledge that the police would avoid the area, so corrupt behavior was rampant. Later it was redubbed Maiden Lane in reference to all the lewd activity. But, this era of infamy soon came to an end. The great earthquake and fire of 1906 burned down all the buildings along Maiden Lane, and by that time property had appreciated so much that legitimate businesses came in to take their places.
This allowed the lane to become what it is today – a charming and intimate alleyway that is home to San Francisco’s largest concentration of luxury retailers. Today, the lane has beautiful metal gates designed by Brand + Allen Architects that are closed from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm daily, allowing for a car free oasis within bustling Union Square. Chic restaurants, high-end retailers and top notch office space now occupy the buildings along this pleasant walkway. Maiden Lane is also home to San Francisco’s only Frank Lloyd Wright building, which now houses the Xanadu Gallery.
If you’re in the area, you won’t want to miss a lovely stroll down this historic pathway. Of course, browsing the windows of famed luxury stores like Chanel, Hermes and Prada is a must. If you’re more interested in a little bling, Manika Jewelry offers an exceptional selection of rare pieces from local and international jewelers, many of which are eco-friendly and one-of-a-kind. If you happen to be in the market for a pair of fashionable, high-quality glasses, Spectacles is one of the oldest stores on the block (1958) and boasts a wide selection of well-crafted glasses and lenses. For a truly relaxing and rejuvenating trip to Maiden Lane, a stop by BellaPelle is in order. This skin studio provides top of the line facials and skin treatments as well as waxing and makeup services. And to continue the relaxation at home, don’t forget to pick up an aromatic candle at Diptyque, the legendary French perfumer and maker of luxury scented candles.
The fashionistas in your group might want to visit the edgy British shop All Saints if only to see the storefront clad with antique Singer sewing machines. Downtown, Tory Burch and Theory also offer a nice selection of fashion-forward women’s wear. Those with a bit of a shoe fetish will enjoy a stop by Glory Chen Shoes for locally designed shoes that are works of art in and of themselves or London Sole for a chance to buy shoes from the “Queen of Ballet Flats”. If you know someone who sews, Britex Fabrics is a must. Their selection of fabrics from around the world, notions, ribbons, buttons and laces is unparalleled in the Bay Area.
With all this shopping, you might find yourself famished, and you’ll be in for a treat. The cafés along Maiden lane provide outdoor seating and sometimes live entertainment for the perfect al fresco meal. MOCCA on Maiden Lane is an old-fashioned Italian deli with a wide selection of Italian favorites, and Bistro 69 is a sandwich shop with Mediterranean flare, offering some Mediterranean classics like falafel, hummus and dolmas, alongside traditional sandwiches and pasta dishes.
Even with all of these diverse offerings, Maiden lane remains a quiet retreat within a busy and exciting district. If you want to get away from the crowd next time you’re in Union Square stop by, contemplate San Francisco’s colorful past and enjoy an afternoon of world-class shopping. A full list of Maiden Lane businesses is available here.