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Top 10 Things to do in Union Square

From shopping to hopping a cable car, Union Square has a wealth of attractions.


Looking for things to do in Union Square? Sure, Union Square is San Francisco's central shopping district, but it's also the best spot to catch a cable car, visit the city's Little Paris, and rub elbows with the ladies who lunch. 

Catch a Cable Car

Muni cable car # 5 climbs over the brow of the Hyde Street hill. The "Crookedest Street in the World", Lombard Street, (not even the crookedest street in San Francisco, BTW) is off camera right. Alcatraz (The Rock...) is in the distance to the left of the cable car.
pfsullivan_1056/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

There is no better way to experience the hills and views of San Francisco than aboard one of the city’s famous open-air cable cars. To get the most bang for your buck (a ride costs $5), hop a Powell-Hyde car at Powell and Market Streets and head towards Fisherman’s Wharf—you’ll see the sparkling bay and Alcatraz in the distance.

Location: Market and Powell Streets

Hours: 6 am to 12 am daily

Shop at the Westfield San Francisco Centre

This impressive upscale emporium is a jewel in San Francisco's retail crown, with a host of luxury and European shops (including H&M, Zara, and Karen Millen) and the sparkling new Bloomingdale’s. Be sure to have lunch in the restaurant court, where some of the city’s best chefs have satellite eateries.

Location: 865 Market (at 4th St.)

Hours: Mon to Sat 10 am to 8:30 pm; 10 am to 7 pm on Sundays


Lunch at Neiman Marcus

Courtesy Neiman Marcus

If you’ve ever heard the term ladies who lunch and wondered who they are and where they go, book a table midday at the city’s signature Rotunda Restaurant at Neiman Marcus, an exquisitely elegant dining room beneath a stained glass dome overlooking Union Square. The Rotunda serves expertly-prepared food and sometimes features a fashion show. A formal afternoon tea is served daily. Read full review.

Location: 150 Stockton Street (top floor); 415-247-2740

Hours: Mon to Thurs 11 am to 4pm; Fri and Sat 11am  to 5pm; Sunday 12 pm to 4 pm


Check out San Francisco’s Little Paris

Courtesy Cafe Claude

Any Francophile visiting San Francisco should see the city's little French Quarter, located on Claude and Belden lanes just off Union Square. These tree-lined alleys house a number of charming restaurants, bars, and boutiques. Café Claude (7 Claude Lane; 415-392-3505) boasts live jazz on the weekends and an intimate zinc bar. The boutique lodging Hotel des Arts is just down the street.

Location: Claude Lane between Sutter and Bush; Belden Lane between Bush and Pine

Catch a Show at American Conservatory Theater

Courtesy ACT

Housed in a beautifully restored neoclassical building, The American Conservatory Theater’s (aka A.C.T.) repertory has mounted award winning productions by major playwrights including Tony Kushner (Angels in America) and Tom Stoppard (The invention of Love). Perennial favorites include A Christmas Carol, which runs for two weeks each December. Visit A.C.T. for a performance calendar or for tickets call 415-749-2228.

Location: 405 Geary Street (at Mason St.)

Hours (box office): Tues – Sun 12- curtain; Mon-Fri 12-6; Sat and Sun (on non performance days) 12- 4.

Take in a Gospel Concert at Glide Memorial Church

Courtesy Glide Memorial Church

One of the most prominently liberal churches in the United States, Glide is associated with the United Methodist Church and is famous for its Sunday gospel choirs and numerous social service programs. The Glide Ensemble Choir performs every Sunday.

Location and Phone: 300 Ellis St; 415-674-6000

Hours: Sunday celebration concerts held weekly at 9 am and 11 am

Have Coffee in the Park

Courtesy Emporio Rulli

Emporio Rulli’s Il Café at Union Square may not be the most economical place to buy a cup of coffee downtown, but it is worth the markup to sit outside in the park and enjoy one of the bakery’s classic Italian pastries with a steaming espresso. The café also offers light lunch fare and a wine of the week by the glass.

Location: Union Square Park (east side); 888-88-RULLI

Hours: Open daily 7:30 am to 7pm

Visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Courtesy SFMOMA

Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art houses an important collection of 20th-century paintings, photographs, and installation totaling 17,000 pieces. Works by Picasso, Matisse, Josef Albers and Alexander Calder are on view, as are pieces by distinguished California artists. There’s also a stylish café and museum store selling art and design books, modern furnishings, and artful gadgets. The museum's new roof garden is also impressive.

Location: 151 Third St. (at Mission)

Hours: Open daily except Wednesdays 11 am - 5:45pm; open until 8:45 pm on Thursdays

Admission: $18 adults/$12 Seniors/$9 Students; free admission first Tuesday of the month


Shop on Maiden Lane

This charming pedestrian alley just of Union Square is an intimate spot to shop or dine. Cafes such as Bistro 69 (69 Maiden Lane; 415-398-3557) set up tables outdoors under umbrellas, giving this street a quaint European feel. Among the exclusive shops here are Paul Smith, Chanel, Gumps, Marc Jacobs, and Diptyque.

Location: From Stockton to Kearny between Grant and Post Streets

Hours: Most shops open daily

See the Only Frank Lloyd Wright Building in San Francisco

Photo by Carol M. Highsmith Courtesy AIA

Stop by 140 Maiden Lane (between Grant and Stockton) to see the exquisite building designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1948. With a spiral ramp leading to the upper floor, the structure was one of the prototypes for the architect’s Guggenheim museum in New York. The building is now occupied by folk art gallery Xanadu Tribal Arts, also worth a visit.

Location: 140 Maiden Lane (between Grant and Stockton)

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