As you walk towards the Bay down California Street, Chinatown sits to your left. Take a right; instead, on Powell and within a few minutes you’ll be at Union Square. This small, one-block plaza’s name comes from the fact that rallies in support of the Union Army were held here in the years leading up to and during the Civil War, but today the area is most famous as the center of high-end shopping in San Francisco.
You’ll find familiar national department store’s San Francisco locations—Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Nordstrom, for example—as well as boutiques from international brands including Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton. There are also some only in San Francisco stores worth seeking out. Gump’s has long been the city’s most famous luxury retailer and it continues that tradition at its Post Street location, where a giant Qing Dynasty gilded wood Buddha gazes down on the sales floor. The Xanadu Gallery on Maiden Lane specializes in Asian art and is notable as one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most important buildings in California. Here, he worked through many design concepts that would later appear in the Guggenheim in New York.
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Into San Francisco’s Heart
One glance at San Francisco spreading out from the top of one of the city's seven hills, and you're done for. Start exploring: The city is a peninsula and all paths lead out from Union Square, the heart of downtown. Follow one of the many public transportation routes (called MUNI) to the unique neighborhoods to find the pulse of the city. Head towards the waterfront through the posh Marina, delve into the colorful and diverse Mission District, or relive the summer of love in Haight Ashbury.
If you are in San Francisco before and after Christmas and New Year's, be sure to get to Union Square at night to see the Christmas light displays, including the lights in the stores and the huge Christmas tree. To help you warm up, there is a cafe serving hot chocolate, coffee, and pastries. If you come during the day, you can try ice-skating at the rink in the center of the square. Cable cars stop at the square, making this a convenient stop during your sightseeing.