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Union Square

by Cyndy Ainsworth

The center of the action in downtown San Francisco is Union Square. On a sunny afternoon an eclectic mix of office workers, shoppers, tourists, soapbox orators, and street musicians congregates in this 2.6 acre manicured park to get a tan, eat a brown bag lunch, or just enjoy the atmosphere. Unfortunately over the last few years the square has become home to an increasing number of panhandlers and pigeons, making it a somewhat less appealing place to while away a few idle moments. Still, you can't visit San Francisco without spending some time in the area.

Built in 1850, Union Square got its name from a series of violent, pro-Union demonstrations that took place nearby in the period just before the Civil War. The Victory Monument in the center of the square, a 97-foot Corinthian column topped by a bronze figure symbolizing naval conquest, commemorates Commodore George Dewey's victory over the Spanish fleet at Manila in 1898.

The area around Union Square is perhaps best known for its shopping. Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Macy's border the square, and just a few block away the San Francisco Center is host to the Nordstrom Center with Bloomingdale's and 70 other stores. The blocks surrounding the square are lined with boutiques and specialty shops, from Emporio Armani to Tiffany, from Crate and Barrel to FAO Schwartz. Relative newcomers like Borders Books and Records, a Disney store, a Virgin Megastore, and Niketown keep the retail scene jumping.

Union Square is also the heart of San Francisco's hotel district, with over 40 hotels within a few blocks. Accommodations range from posh to budget, and the convenience can't be beat. The Visitor Information Center at Hallidie Plaza is just a few blocks away, there's convenient transportation to just about any destination in the city, and many of the city's best restaurants are close at hand.

Just west of the square is San Francisco's theater district. The Golden Gate and Curran are generally used for touring plays and musicals; the Geary Theater is home to American Conservatory Theater (ACT), San Francisco's award-winning theater company; the Theater on the Square and Marines Memorial Theater are used for both touring companies and locally produced shows. The TIX Bay Area office on the east side of Union Square is a full service ticket agency that also sells discount tickets to many San Francisco productions.

Union Square Parking
The best parking rates are at the Sutter-Stockton Garage (enter from Stockton just north or Sutter or from Bush just east of Stockton) and the Ellis-O'Farrell Garage (enter on Ellis between Stockton and Powell). The Union Square garage right under Union Square (enter from Geary between Stockton and Powell) is convenient but a little more expensive.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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