Union Square

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Union Square Although Union Square's name technically refers to its 1850s-era beginnings as a place where pro-Union rallies were held prior to the Civil War, today it is better known for its surrounding blocks full of shopping options... San Francisco United States 37.787994 -122.407437
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Union Square - Outdoor Activity | Park | Plaza | Shopping Area in San Francisco.
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Party Earth Review Although Union Square’s name technically refers to its 1850s-era beginnings as a place where pro-Union rallies were held prior to the Civil War, today it is better known for its surrounding blocks full of shopping... ... read full review

  • Hours:

    24/7; official park hours 6am–midnight

  • Recommended as:

    • Day Spot
    • Night Spot

Party Earth Union Square Review

The Scene

Although Union Square's name technically refers to its 1850s-era beginnings as a place where pro-Union rallies were held prior to the Civil War, today it is better known for its surrounding blocks full of shopping options...

Although Union Square’s name technically refers to its 1850s-era beginnings as a place where pro-Union rallies were held prior to the Civil War, today it is better known for its surrounding blocks full of shopping options, live theater, restaurants, boutiques, and hotels.

Six department stores, including high-end chains like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, keep the chic set busy for hours – and if a new Giambattista Valli cocktail dress doesn’t burn out the fashionistas’ Amex cards, then the fine art and antiques at the dozens of art galleries should do the job.

Tidal waves of tourists flood the area daily to jump on the historic cable cars that run along Powell Street, pop into one of the major chain stores, or fill up at eateries ranging from single-room dives to multi-level banquet halls.

As night falls, the nearby Curran and American Conservatory satiate theater lovers craving a little bit of New York’s Broadway, as dance happy throngs in their finest duds line up outside the small but very popular selection of upscale clubs.

Saloon-style dens, cozy jazz joints, and culinary cocktail lounges – though also limited – provide a hangout for everyone in between, while weekends entice brunch goers to the historic French Quarter northeast of the plaza and the open-air cafés of Belden Place.

When the new year approaches, the city’s Christmas tree and Menorah lighting brings thousands to the Square itself, which also hosts various concerts, public events, and wine tastings within its tree-lined expanse.

With so much to be had, Union Square is both a launch pad and a runway – a perfect place for San Francisco denizens to set off on an adventure into the city, or to recuperate after finishing one.

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Tip from Emma:

Check out TIX Bay Area in the middle of the square – it’s a box office outlet that sells half-price tickets to performances all over the city.

  • Crowd

    Lots of tourists, shoppers, photographers, foodies, chic ladies, artsy types, theater lovers, families, young professionals, club-goers, brunch fanatics, hotel guests, and more tourists. All ages.

  • Entertainment / Music

    More than a hundred retail outlets are within easy walking distance, including the Apple Store (1 Stockton Street), Macy’s (170 O'Farrell Street), Saks Fifth Avenue (384 Post Street), Nordstroms (865 Market Street), Neiman Marcus (150 Stockton Street), and many other major chains.

    Art Galleries:
    Dozens of art galleries and boutiques are nearby, though many are closed on Mondays and Sundays. Artists frequently display works in the park.

    Large theaters nearby include ACT American Conservatory (415 Geary Street) and the Curran (445 Geary Street).

    Live Music:
    Live music options include blues at Biscuits and Blues (401 Mason Street), DJs and various local acts at Swig (561 Geary Street), a piano man playing nightly at Lefty O'Doul’s (333 Geary Street), jazz at Harry Denton's Starlight Room (450 Powell Street) and Bix (56 Gold Street), and dancing, DJs, and occasional live acts at Vessel (85 Campton Place) and Ruby Skye (420 Mason Street).

    Every July 14, the area around Beldon Place – the city’s official French Quarter – explodes with berets and “Bonjour!” during the massive Bastille Day celebration. The Jewels in the Square Performance Series brings live music, dance, outdoor movies, and other entertainment to the park, Wednesdays at 12:30pm and 6pm, and Sundays at 2pm from April through October.

    The park features an ice skating rink from November to mid-January. Annual Christmas tree lighting and Menorah lighting.

  • Food / Miscellaneous

    Restaurants run the gamut and include the food court and Cheesecake Factory in Macy’s (170 O'Farrell Street), giant steaks at Alfred's Steak House (659 Merchant Street), pan-Asian cuisine at Postrio (545 Post Street), bargain hot dogs at Show Dogs (1020 Market Street), and savory crêpes at Crêperie Saint Germain (222 Second Street).

    A large selection of mostly higher end French cafés populates Belden Place. Parking near the Square can be very difficult, especially on weekends.

  • Prices

    Prices range from bargain bites to mortgage-level meals, though overall costs tend to drop a block or two from the Square.

  • What to Wear / Dress Code

    Anything goes, from skater gear to Louis Vuitton. Most of the higher-end establishments have dress codes.

  • Hot Nights / When to Go

    Mondays through Thursdays for a less crowded but still bustling scene, Friday and Saturday nights for the party vibe, or weekdays, especially when it’s sunny, for an overall packed scene.

  • Close By

    The Sir Francis Drake Hotel (450 Powell Street) is a ritzy joint that provides stunning views of the Square and surrounding neighborhoods.

Union Square User Reviews

Average rating:
Right in the Heart of Everything!
Maggie R. Mar 31, 2013
Union Square is amazing. I was in San Francisco for a few days in November with my sister, and we stayed right next to the square. The atmosphere here is amazing, and there's so much to do! There was a skating rink set up in the middle of the square for the winter months, which was a wonderful way to spend an evening with the city lit up while people wandered through the streets. The shopping here is all you could ever ask for. You can find anything from high-end designer names to cheaper retail chains everywhere you look. Narrower side streets merge nicely with busier wide streets in a way that caters perfectly to the casual pedestrian and busy businessperson. It's perfect for strolling through the area and letting the sights sink in. You won't go hungry for long while in the Union Square area, either. I ate at a delicious Irish pub called Johnny Foley's just a couple blocks from the square, and there are plenty of sit-down restaurants and pizza joints scattered around as well. This area is a food lover's paradise. I can't imagine anyone going hungry for long if they're in the Union Square area. The transportation by the Square is incredible as well. Several BART stations are located along Market Street, and plenty of bus stops can be found in various places. Union Square is really one of the most centrally located places in the city, and it's a great place to base yourself if you're planning on staying for a few days. There are plenty of attractions within walking distance, and the touristy cable car has several convenient stops nearby as well. I absolutely love Union Square, and I plan on going back again soon! Great experience, great place, great city.
Be There and Be Squared
Leo L. Mar 29, 2013
Union Square is anything but a square, aside from its shape formed by the crosswalks and sky-high buildings. Feeling like shopping until you drop? This is the place. How about an afternoon rest? Tis the place as well. From sun-lit cafe right in the middle of all the commotions to the eclectic variance of shops, Union Square is for the young, the old, the energetic, the lethargic, and the busy bees and let-me-be's. Ranging from shops like Louis Vuitton and Chanel to Nike's and Pac Sun, this little place is a big harvest of clothing goodies and delicious treats. Perhaps indulging yourself with expensive gifts has left you feeling a bit pinched in the wallet? No worries, the hot dog and pretzel stands are right outside to help you bounce back from that monetary expenditure. Feeling like a little music? The opera man is not so far away, tip him and you'll hear anything you'd like. China Town is just a tunnel away, Japan Town only requires a 5-minute bus ride. Union Square is not only a great place of tourism, shopping, and entertainment; it is also a convenient silk road to all the other fun destinations you might want to check out. Its location and provision are the perfect blend of easy fun. Come and check it out!
A mini version of New York
Trung N. Mar 6, 2013
It's like New York with the crowd of tourists and San Franciscans hanging out either to shop or enjoy the sun in this city. On a daily basis, it's a great place to take photos, have quick bites or snacks while enjoying the Bay's breeze from Fisherman Wharf. In holiday season, it's crowded for cultural reason: the Christmas tree, ice skating ring, and concerts are visual bells of the holiday seasons (along with Starbucks holiday drinks of course) If you don't like crowd, and is more of an observer, then walk across the street to Maiden Lane. It's next to Arthur Beren store, and right across the street, so you can't miss it. There, you can either have a cup of coffee at Italian restaurant called Mocca and have direct view of Union Square, then proceed to shopping at a French perfume boutique called Diptyque (their scent is natural and distinctive), and other boutiques such as Hermes which is right at the street corner ;) JD.
San Francisco Shopping Haven
Allen N. Feb 19, 2013
Looking for a New York shopping experience in the City by the Bay without the crowds [Well, slightly less crowds]? Union Square it is. Walking along the square and this downtown area, you get the 'city' vibe of New York city and of other major cities around the world, without the stress of heavy traffic, congestion and arguably unfriendly people. Here you can find stores by major designer brands, from Giorgio to Prada, as well as a few lesser-known specialty stores, in addition to the luxury department stores in this area. After a killer shopping spree, grab a Jamba Juice smoothie with bags in hand and catch up with a friend, or meet a new friend, out on the square on a mild, sunny San Francisco day.
Union Square - The Center of it All
Jamila C. Feb 17, 2013
Union Square is a favorite destination within San Francisco. After walking the California hills and crossing busy streets, welcome to Union Square! This is a hub for great shopping, hotels, restaurants, and sights of the city. The area is embellished with over sized heart statues that make for a great photo op; why not, everyone else leaves their heart in San Francisco. The holidays are magical due to the annual Macy's Tree Lighting as well as ski rink. There is a parking garage under ground, and benches to sit and rest during one's trek around the city. A great place to visit!
It's Christmas time in the City
Consuelo C. Dec 11, 2012
The City has regained this infamous park and created the jewel for the Season... From the giant Christmas Tree and ice skating rink in the Square to the puppies in the windows of Macys and the sugar castle at the Westin St. Francis, the frivolity of Christmas abounds. Experience the Afternoon Tea at Neiman Marcus, luscious Mussels and Pomme Frites at Scala's or Truffle Burgers at Burger Bar/Macy's.... Curran Theater and ACT are just up Geary Street and the infamous Cable Cars on Powell will take you all the way to the Bay..
Best during the holidays
Jackie D. Dec 4, 2012
My favorite time to visit Union Square is during the holidays when it's fully decorated. It's a beautiful sight to see the gigantic Christmas tree in the middle of the square and the wreaths hanging in Macy's' windows. There are tons of great shops in the area that make it heaven for shopaholics. The high end shops tend to directly line the square, but really there's something for everyone down any of the off shoot avenues. Union square is also really easy to get to via Bart and it's certainly way cheaper than paying to park in the Union Square garage.
Great Shopping!
Kirsten H. Dec 2, 2012
Union Square has it all, from cute boutiques to massive department stores. Even though it is the busiest time of year, my favorite time to go is during Christmas time. There is a huge Christmas tree in the center and people are ice skating as well. They have Saks, Neiman Marcus, Barney's, Macy's, Forever 21, and plenty of high-end designers as well as cheaper places too. There is also a Westfield Mall located down the street. It is definitely touristy, but if you are visiting San Francisco, it is a must see destination.
Eleni S. Dec 2, 2012
I loooove Union square! It is so fun and great place to hang out, shop and eat!! During the holidays, it is absolutely beautiful! I went with my family a few years ago and had the best time ever. It is in the heart of the city and I cant wait to go back to Union square. During the holidays, there is a beautiful tree and an ice skating rink. It is so fun getting hot chocolate and then going ice skating afterwards. The atmosphere at Union square is amazing and I definitely recommend going there with family and friends! Its amazing!
Kaile K. Nov 29, 2012
You have to go to Union Square if you have never been to San Francisco! It's a great area to hang out and shop (the shopping is GREAT in this area). My favorite time of year to go to Union Square is during the winter because they have an amazing ice skating rink and a giant Christmas tree! Its pretty touristy and crowded usually, but its always a great time!
the place to be in San Francisco!
Nicole B. Nov 29, 2012
I've only been here a few times but I love it every time. It's a great place to walk around and shop or just browse because of course it has a lot of the pricey shops placed here! You get to see the real down town of San Francisco here and it's pretty central to a lot, like bars and restaurants! It's definitely a must go if you're just visiting once! It will seem pretty touristy but it's so worth it! It's fun to walk up and down the steps or even sit there and chat with friends. It's a great place to people walk! Definitely go if you can :)
A Must See in SF
Caroline c. Nov 28, 2012
Union Square is a must see in San Francisco. Sure it's a little tourist, but it is also really fun. There is lots of shopping in the area (stores include Macys and Saks 5th Avenue). It is a really fun place to go at Christmas time. There is a huge tree and an ice skating rink and it just feels very in the spirit of the holiday season. Macys always has their store windows decorated and they have puppies and kittens from the humane society. Another fun thing to do is eat at the Cheesecake factory, which has great views of Union Square. Close to BART which is a plus. Definitely recommend!
Union Square
Anna V. Nov 19, 2012
Union Square is a very touristy location, but also a very great location. It is such a fun place in San Francisco with a large variety of stores and restaurants, and a lot of very high end stores. It is also just a short walk from market street and the westfield mall. One of my favorite places to eat at Union Square is Mocca right on Maiden Lane. Also, it is so fun to just sit on the steps around the outside of the square. During the holidays, the decorations are beautiful and they put up a big christmas tree and an ice skating rink! I always, always come to Union Square when I am in the city because there is so much to do and see and it is one of the nicest areas in my opinion!
Great place
Eden M. Nov 14, 2012
Union Square is such a fun place to be, whether it be for tourists or San Franciscan natives. Union square offers great shopping, a fun atmosphere, and good food. There are plenty of places to go shopping in Union Square and the prices can range from very high to low (theres Macy's, Saks 5th Avenue, Barney's, Victorias Secret, etc.). During Christmas time, Union Square is especially fun to visit because the decorations are so pretty and they even put in an ice rink! Union square is definitely one of my favorite places to spend the day, even when I am by myself because there is so much to do and see!
Fashion Capital
Rachel G. Nov 13, 2012
Union Square Think of Melrose when you think of San Francisco’s Union Square. This is the fashion capital of the city. When I say fashion capital, I am referring mostly to the high-end fashion. I like to come here especially during Christmas. Macy’s ALWAYS does a great window display for Christmas and Union Square park is filled with lights and a giant Christmas tree. Another wonderful thing about here during Christmas is the ice rink! One of the best things to do in the city during the holidays. They do ice rinks in Union Square and at Embarcadero. I look forward to these ice rinks year round!
Union Square
Jaclyn W. Nov 8, 2012
Union Square in San Fran is designed similarly to the one in New York. The only difference being that San Fran is way cleaner and their shops look a lot nicer. There are plenty of places to go shopping in the area and it is interesting to people watch for fashion reasons alone. An Italian cafe sits neatly in the middle of the square and is perfect for a quick cappuccino. East Coasters beware though. If you can't handle tourist central in New York, San Fran is a whole new level. The pace is a lot slower.
Shopping and Squandering
Guy G. Oct 7, 2012
We lived in the hotel Villa Florence, which is close to the Union Square. It is no more than a small area where tourists can enjoy some relaxing time and music. What surround the square are hundreds of boutiques and stores of big brands. Coming from Los Angels where there are more open spaces, I didn't find this area an attractive place for shopping because of the confusing roads,congested traffic and clustered big buildings. Nevertheless, it seems that people love shopping there, although things are generally quite expensive. A good thing about it is that people look really stylish unlike Angelenos who dress more casually in general. In short, this is a good place and a popular site for new tourists; however, I don't recommend it for those who prefer more quite atmosphere.
People watching and endless shopping
Annie C. Sep 6, 2012
Union Square is a landmark that must be experienced when visiting San Francisco. With a stage, the Square hosts free concerts, readings, and various public events including salsa dancing, It's a great place to people watch as it attracts tons of tourists on their way to the nearby shopping and good eats. I like sitting on the steps in front of Macy's and grabbing a street dog for a quick lunch. If you're visiting during the holiday season, eat at the Cheesecake Factory located on the top floor of Macy's during your shopping break and enjoy the view of the seasonally decorated Union Square. It's easily accessible with public transit like BART and MUNI located beneath The Westfield shopping Centre; parking downtown can be an expensive pain. You can even hop on the cable car on Market and Powell St, walk to Chinatown a few blocks away or enjoy a movie at the nearby Metreon. The possibilities are endless, just don't be surprised if you find yourself going on a spontaneous shopping spree.
A fun SF destination, particularly in the winter
Katya L. Aug 16, 2012
Known as the chic shopping area of downtown San Francisco, Union Square is actually home to a much wider variety of shops, restaurants, and apparel/goods stores. The square itself is bordered by Neiman Marcus, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue, which are sights in themselves. Walk down any side street, and you'll find an array of less expensive and mainstream shops, such as Forever 21, H&M, and Old Navy, among others. Eateries around the square include the Cheesecake Factory, Chipotle, and a cafe in the square. If you're planning a special trip to Union Square, come in December. The holidays are stunning in the heart of San Francisco, with an 80 foot tree and skating rink in the center. Plan for traffic and parking, as this time can generally get crowded. And although Union Square is known for its shopping, look around for the artistic flair in and around the square. Large hearts painted after different SF landmarks stand all around the area. You'll more than likely see a tourist or two posing in front of one.
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