Fun, Food, Arts and Culture in San Francisco’s Embarcadero District

Photo by Carole Terwilliger Meyers

A walking tour from San Francisco's Ferry Building to Union Square

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Begin your San Francisco day with a quick breakfast at the Ferry Building. When fueled up, meander through the busy Financial District, stopping to visit a few art galleries and shops, and then head into downtown Union Square for lunch and more shopping.

San Francisco’s Embarcadero District


Located on San Francisco’s waterfront where Market Street meets The Embarcadero, the landmark Ferry Building is also a culinary destination. Begin your morning here, exploring the many restaurants and specialty shops within.

Start at Blue Bottle Coffee for a cuppa’ to warm you up while you browse. For a pastry to go with it visit Acme Bread Company, or settle in for a more elaborate breakfast at Boulettes Larder, where the tiny dining room overlooks the Bay Bridge and where the menu is short but sweet. Step out one of the back doors for an up-close view of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and Yerba Buena Island—if you’re lucky you might even spot a sea lion. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market surrounds the exterior of the building with more options.

Exiting the building through its central entrance, cross the streetcar tracks and head for Market Street. An informal outdoor crafts market starts setting up mid-morning, offering the chance to pick up a unique handmade souvenir. The huge Embarcadero Center complex that covers several blocks to your right/north hold a mixture of shops and restaurants as well as a movie theater and the grand Hyatt Regency San Francisco hotel with its glass elevators and 17-story-high atrium lobby–the world’s largest.

Continue down Market Street to Geary Street and turn right. In this first block at #49 is an enclave of art galleries that include the Haines Gallery, which shows emerging and established artists from around the world, and the Robert Koch Gallery, which purveys historic and contemporary photographs by both emerging photographers and well-known artists. More galleries are found across the street at #77 and scattered along this block.

Backtrack to Kearney Street and make a zag two blocks left/north over to Post Street, then another left to Gump’s, which is San Francisco’s oldest store—it opened in 1861—and is known for stocking fine Asian imports and spectacular American crafts. Exit through the back door, and turn left onto pedestrians-only Maiden Lane, which is lined with upscale shops. At Union Square, turn left heading to Geary Street. It’s time to start looking for a lunch stop.


Though Neiman Marcus is an elegant department store filled with dazzling goods, save the shopping for after a refined lunch enjoyed under the store’s gorgeous 1909 stained-glass-domed rotunda. Seating includes private half-moon booths as well as tables overlooking Union Square. If you’re not hungry yet and can last until 2 p.m., wait for afternoon tea, when service beings with a petite cup of chicken consume and a fresh-from-the-oven popover with strawberry butter as well as the expected finger sandwiches, sweets and scones.

Alternatively, The Cheesecake Factory in Macy’s offers an eclectic menu and plethora of huge cheesecakes and also overlooks Union Square, while the more modest purple-painted King of Thai Noodle next door to Macy’s on O’Farrell Street serves up stir-fries fast, including pad kee mao—stir-fried flat rice noodles with and chicken-pumpkin curry.


Spend a few hours shopping this vibrant downtown area. Powell Street, where the cable cars clang, and Union Square are at the center. When you tire, consider which way to go for the evening. You can hop on—more likely wait in line for—one of the cable cars and take it all the way to the stars . . . or to Chinatown or Fisherman’s Wharf. Or you can stay in the area and head to hidden Le Colonial for French Vietnamese appetizers and an exotic cocktail, or join some new friends for the Union Square Cocktail Tour. All of these places will put you in the center of some tempting dining choices.

Explore Another San Francisco Itinerary

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Top Family-Friendly Adventures … Best attractions for the entire family
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