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Union Square

This iconic plaza is the perfect place to indulge in a shopping spree.

TravelCurious Tip

Be sure to check out what events are going on in Union Square when you visit. There’s usually some sort of improv theatre or jazz night..

Union Square is a public square in downtown San Francisco, but it also refers to the shopping, hotel and theatre district that surround it. It earned its named during the American Civil War when it was used for rallies for the Union Army. Today, it’s raison d’être is rather different: shopping. The area surrounding the square is home to one of the most densely-packed and glamorous selections of stores, boutiques, art galleries and beauty salons to be found in the United States.


Six department stores can be found within three blocks of Union Square, including Neiman Marcus, Macy’s (separate Men’s and Women’s, naturally), Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York. Add to that a small armoury of luxury retailers as well as flagship technology stores, including Apple, of course, and you can see why people are drawn here like moths to a flame.


Even if they no longer cheers the troops here, Union Square is still the ceremonial heart of San Francisco. It is the site of many public concerts and events, protests and parties, as well as the annual winter ice rink, Christmas tree and Menorah lighting. Since 2009, in each corner of the square there has been a painted heart sculpture from the Hearts in San Francisco public art installation. Every year, they are auctioned off and new ones take their place — often the old ones pop up in other parts of the city.


Don’t miss the central pillar either: atop it is the Goddess of Victory, as modelled by Big Alma Spreckles, who volunteered her services when she found out that sugar-baron Adolph Spreckles was in charge of the monument committee. Spreckles eventually became her sugar daddy, and in the end she donated her fortune to build the Legion of Honor.

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in San Francisco
Painted Ladies
These colourful Victorian homes are an icon of the city.
Ghirardelli Chocolate
Started by an Italian confectioner in San Francisco during the gold rush, Ghirardelli chocolate is a San Francisco institution and a must for all travelers.
Yerba Buena Gardens
YBG is a sprawling green space across several city blocks, which serves as a respite to the urban jungle which surrounds it.
Ferry Building Marketplace
Now a dedicated marketplace for local vendors, restauranteurs, and artisans, the Ferry Building Marketplace was once the thoroughfare for the ferry, which was the only way to access the city for travelers and commuters until the 1930’s.
Old Saint Mary's Cathedral
Built in the heart of Chinatown, the historical landmark has served as a safe and holy place since the beginning of the Gold Rush.
POPOS
POPOS "Privately owned public open spaces" refers to publicly accessible spaces throughout the city in the form of plazas, terraces, atriums and small parks that are maintained by private developers but accessible to all.

Related Tours

Private Full Day Highlights with Alcatraz Island Tickets
Immerse yourself in the highlights of San Francisco, the city on the Bay, and uncover the secrets of Alcatraz – the infamous island prison. On your private tour of San Francisco, you will:

  • Enjoy the personal attention of your private guide.
  • Explore Union Square— San Francisco's bustling shopping area.
  • Learn the history of its famous neighbourhoods, including Chinatown, Nob Hill, and North Beach.
  • Take a cable car across town for fantastic cityscapes and soak up the San Francisco skyline from the top of iconic Nob Hill.
  • Immerse yourself in the customs, cuisine, and curiosities of Chinatown.
  • Visit Ghirardelli Square, with breathtaking views, fantastic shopping, dining options, and of course - world-famous chocolate!
  • Enjoy striking views of the Golden Gate Bridge from atmospheric Fisherman's Wharf. 
  • Walk around the historic Pier 39, and see the famous seals basking in the sun.
  • Dig into some of San Francisco's famous seafood - like clam chowder soup in a sourdough bread bowl (price not included).
  • Finally, take a ferry to visit the world’s most notorious island penitentiary: Alcatraz, where you will enjoy a self-guided audio tour of the island or join one of its small ranger-led tours when you disembark.

On this Private Full-Day Tour of San Francisco Highlights, you will learn about the city’s founding when Spanish colonists settled the area during gold-rush fever. See first-hand San Francisco’s colourful mix of quaint buildings and modern architecture in a stunning ocean-facing city. Home of the flower power movement, San Francisco is famous for its social conscience, political activism and is now a thriving digital hub. 

Your Private Full-Day Tour of San Francisco Highlights will take you through an urban landscape, set on the northern tip of a peninsula, shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and the Pacific’s rolling waves. At the top of Nob Hill, soak up an extraordinary cityscape at cable car height. Set on San Francisco's picturesque steep slopes, enjoy a stunning skyline across streets crisscrossed by streetcars, yellow taxis, and jogging trails. 

Wander through some world-class shopping malls in Union Square, where big-name brands and local stores nestle amongst chic boutiques. Lastly, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, lined with seafood cafés, are home to basking sea lions, jugglers, and mime artists, with striking views across the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Angel Island. Enjoy lunch at one of the many eateries on Pier 39 before your guide takes you to Pier 33, where you will board a pre-booked ferry ride to Alcatraz Island. Please note: your guide will not be joining you on the island, as private guides are not permitted to operate on the island. On arrival at Alcatraz, take an audio tour at a leisurely pace to hear tales of notorious felons such as Al Capone and Robert Franklin Stroud in this former fort, a military prison and maximum-security federal penitentiary. Once you are finished exploring Alcatraz Island (most people spend about 2 hours), you can hop any return ferry to San Francisco, where you will be dropped off at Pier 33. 

Please note: Alcatraz tickets are in high demand during the summer and tickets cannot be guaranteed at the time of booking. We will contact you soonest should we are unable to obtain tickets.
Additionally, please note that if you wish to spend more than 2 hours exploring Alcatraz, you should book the 8 AM tour time, rather than the 9 AM time. 
Lastly, please note that bags larger than a standard backpack are not allowed on Alcatraz Island. Over-sized packs and luggage are not permitted. No exceptions. There are also no storage lockers at Pier 33. 
Half Day Highlights of San Francisco Private Tour
Dating back to 1776 and considered by many to be the USA’s most beautiful city, San Francisco - a.k.a. The City by the Bay - is a vibrant mix of exotic cultures, and is renowned worldwide for its liberal free-thinking ideals. On your private half-day tour of San Francisco, you will:

  • Enjoy the personal attention and expertise of your private guide.
  • Learn the history of its famous neighbourhoods, including downtown, the Financial District, Nob Hill, Chinatown, and Little Italy.
  • Explore Union Square, San Francisco's bustling shopping area.
  • Immerse yourself in the customs, cuisine, and curiosities of Chinatown.
  • Take a cable car to the top of Nob Hill for spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline.
  • Venture through North Beach to absorb the community’s Italian heritage.
  • Enjoy striking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island from atmospheric Fisherman's Wharf – and glimpse the basking seals!
On this Private Half-Day Tour of San Francisco Highlights, you will learn about the city’s founding in 1776, when Spanish colonists settled the area during the gold-rush fever, to the city in the modern era, famous for its political activism and social inclusivity the world over. See first-hand San Francisco’s colourful mix of quaint buildings and modern architecture in a stunning ocean-facing city.

San Francisco’s strong historical bonds with Spanish America and Mexico are evident all over the city and reflected in its Hispanic population, vibrant arts, music, and festival scene. San Francisco is famous for its long-standing progressive stance on activism: the city is credited with trailblazing the “Flower Power” peace movement, and powering the gay rights movement as one of the largest and most prominent LGBT communities in the world.

On your private tour, you will explore this fascinating urban landscape, set on the northern tip of a peninsula, shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and the Pacific’s rolling waves. Set on San Francisco's picturesque steep slopes, enjoy a stunning skyline across streets crisscrossed by streetcars, yellow taxis and jogging trails. Wander through some world-class shopping in Union Square, where big-name brands and local stores nestle amongst chic boutiques. Enjoy a historic cable car ride from one part of the city, over Nob Hill to the waterfront. At beautiful North Beach, known colloquially as Little Italy, soak up the ambience of the city’s lively historic Italian-American community. Lastly, Fisherman’s Wharf, lined with seafood cafes, is home to basking sea lions, jugglers and mime artists and enjoys striking views across the Golden Gate Bridge, the infamous island prison on the sea, Alcatraz, and Angel Island.

Please note: Historic cable cars cannot run in adverse weather conditions, so on days with inclement weather you will take an Uber or taxi instead.
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