by Brian Dolan, University of California, San Francisco
The St. Francis Hotel is centrally located on Powell Street next to Union Square. It is surrounded in every direction by ethnically diverse areas with museums, shops, and restaurants. To get a sense of the landscape, here is a basic breakdown of some of the main neighborhoods in San Francisco and the directions to them from the hotel.
Geographical Orientation and Neighborhoods
Union Square – The Heart Is Where the Hotel Is
Often thought of as the retail heart of the city, it is interesting to note that Union Square has more theatres than any other neighborhood in San Francisco. Many were built not long after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Still, virtually every fashion label in the world has set up shop in and around the Square, a landmark park in the heart of the downtown shopping and hotel district. Granite plazas, a stage, a café, and four grand entrance corner plazas bordered by the park’s signature palms, pay tribute to the Square’s distinctive history and offer a forum for civic celebrations. The cable cars head up Powell Street from here, traveling right in front of the conference hotel.
Neighborhoods To The North
Chinatown – Just North of the Hotel. “Dragon’s Gate” entrance two blocks east and two blocks north.
Built near Portsmouth Square, the historic heart of San Francisco, Chinatown is the oldest and one of the largest in the United States. The entrance to Chinatown at Grant Avenue and Bush Street is called the “Dragon’s Gate.” Inside are 24 blocks of shops and restaurants, most of it taking place along Grant, the oldest street in San Francisco. This city within a city is best explored on foot; exotic shops, food markets, temples, and small museums comprise its boundaries. Visitors can buy herbal remedies, enjoy samples at a tea bar, or order a “dim sum” lunch. The former central telephone exchange of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company stands at 743 Washington St. Now a bank, it is the first Chinese-style building constructed in San Francisco, and the exact site where California’s first newspaper was printed.
North Beach – North of the Hotel just past Chinatown.
North Beach, rich in Italian heritage, compresses cabarets, jazz clubs, galleries, inns, family style restaurants, and gelato parlors into less than a square mile. A perfect spot for cappuccino and espresso, North Beach is transformed into one of San Francisco’s most electric playgrounds by night; live music and dancing keep the streets swinging. In the morning, practice tai chi with the regulars in Washington Square and from here, catch the No. 39 bus to the top of Telegraph Hill. Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill offers amazing views. Thirty local artists painted murals on its ground floor walls in 1933. This hill is also laced with stairways off Filbert and Greenwich streets as well as lush gardens. Not really the easiest place to get to on public transport, though various bus routes can be selected. Uber or Lyft may offer a better alternative.
Fisherman’s Wharf – North of the Hotel all the way to the water, just past North Beach.
Where the tourists are. More than 75 percent of San Francisco’s visitors include Fisherman’s Wharf on their itinerary. Waterfront marketplaces and the Wharf’s famous fishing fleet make for a terrific fish story. Fishing boats, sea lions fighting for space on rafts, seafood stalls, steaming crab cauldrons, souvenir shops, sourdough French bread bakeries… you know you’re in world-famous Fisherman’s Wharf. The historic F-Line streetcar and two cable car lines terminate in the area and sightseeing boats and boat charters link to Alcatraz (“The Rock”), Angel Island, Sausalito, and other points around San Francisco Bay.
Neighborhoods To The East
Embarcadero/Financial District – Walk east down any street north of the Hotel and it will intersect with Market or directly with Embarcadero.
Sea captains and captains of commerce, the old haunts of the Barbary Coast and an island with worldly airs yield a bounty of fun. Lined with deep-water piers, The Embarcadero is literally where one embarks. At the foot of Market Street is the Ferry Building, a revived public space housing a food hall, restaurants, and a farmers market. The Ferry Building is also the terminal for ferries to Marin County, Vallejo, Oakland, and Alameda. Piers 7 and 14 offer vistas of the skyscrapers of the Financial District and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The Exploratorium, a “21st century learning laboratory,” engages all ages at its new home on Pier 15. Across the bay is Treasure Island, a man-made island that was the site of the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. Jackson Square, one of 11 historic districts, has many buildings dating from the mid-1800s—some of which are supported by old ships masts.
Berkeley / “East Bay” / Oakland
While not SF neighborhoods, travel to Berkeley or Oakland is very easy by catching the BART at the Powell Street BART/MUNI station (Powell and Market), which takes the subterranean tunnel to the other side of the Bay.
Neighborhoods To The South
Market Street – Just two blocks south on Powell, the diagonally transecting Market Street is rapidly re-developing.
Central Market, also known as Mid-Market and in some quarters, as Twitter-hood – an homage to Twitter headquarters at 1355 Market St. – is roughly a seven-block area of Market Street. A combination of enterprise zone, high tech (in addition to Twitter, tenants in the area include Spotify, Square, and Yammer), arts groups, retail, and restaurants, Central Market is witnessing a boom in new, mostly residential, construction as well.
Market Street has long been the thoroughfare where the city celebrates, whether it’s the end of World War II or the parade celebrating the World Champion San Francisco Giants when crowds of 50 deep lined the city’s “Path of Gold,” the latter a reference to 321 lamp posts which feature distinctive amber colored lights.
This nexus of Civic Center, Hayes Valley, the Tenderloin, and South of Market is easily accessed by the F-line historic streetcars. Major Broadway productions are featured on the stages of SHN’s Golden Gate and Orpheum theaters, and the American Conservatory Theater opened the new Strand Theater at 1127 Market St. in Spring of 2015 with the West Coast premiere of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information. The Warfield, 982 Market St., also hosts a number of Live Nation performances throughout the year. Night markets are springing up along the corridor (which is restricted to through traffic between 6th and 10th streets), and in the blocks closer to the Castro end of Market, there are a number of vintage furniture emporiums.
South of Market, also known as “SOMA,” is more than two square miles of nightclubs, fashionable restaurants, art hubs, AT&T ballpark (home to the SF Giants), and UCSF’s new Mission Bay campus and hospital, celebrating the largest biomedical university expansion in the United States. Yerba Buena Gardens, “the largest concentration of art west of the Hudson River,” is an oasis in the heart of the city. Moscone Center and more than a dozen museums are located here as well as a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The South Beach area, recently transformed into a mixed-use waterfront neighborhood, includes the restored warehouses in the South End Historic District and several marinas.
Neighborhoods To The West
San Francisco’s professional opera, symphony, and ballet companies are all located in historic venues opposite City Hall; the arts found here are as resplendent as the area’s Beaux Arts architecture. Across Van Ness to the west on Hayes Street is “Hayes Valley.”
Fillmore/Japantown – A mile walk down Post or Sutter Street
One of the most lively entertainment districts in San Francisco, the Fillmore is frequented by jazz, blues, and rock-and-roll luminaries. Take advantage of the rich cross culture with the adjacent Japantown, the oldest of only three in the U.S.
Golden Gate Park – extending all the way to the Ocean
With more than 1,000 acres to explore, Golden Gate Park starts where the Haight-Ashbury ends and continues to Ocean Beach on the edge of the Pacific. Explore museums and landmarks, giant redwoods, trail, lakes, windmills, and gardens. The Cliff House Restaurant (reservations required) has fantastic views of the Pacific.
The Mission – can take the MUNI or BART from Powell Street to Mission/16th Street
Featuring a culturally diverse and vibrant range of San Francisco’s art scene, the Mission offers murals, galleries, cafes, bookstores, and boutiques with eclectic wares as well as Mission Dolores, one of the oldest structures in San Francisco. An array of Latin American cuisine.
Sweeping views and grand Victorians, pride of place and person coalesce in an area embracing the “gay capital of the world.” Castro, Diamond Heights/Twin Peaks, Glen Park, Noe Valley, Upper Market San Francisco’s historic F-Line streetcars are one of the best ways to reach the Castro and Upper Market areas. The Castro, and nearby Noe Valley, offer village-like amenities including pedestrian-friendly streets, Victorian homes in historic Eureka Valley, an array of trendy stores, and outdoor cafes for the “see and scene” crowd. The upper stretch of Market Street coils around the lower reaches of Twin Peaks. Noted for their sweeping vistas of the Bay Area, these crests are popular with sightseers. Glen Park on the lower slopes of Diamond Heights has a canyon park and is near a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station.
MUNI/San Francisco Municipal operates buses, trains, cable cars and the F-line heritage streetcar. The MUNI buses remain above ground while MUNI metro runs on rails and sometimes go underground. Bus stops come in many forms; small bus shelters, yellow paint on street poles, and white paint on streets. Metro stops can be found on an island in the middle of the street and stations.
Tips: For all MUNI times and buses you can go online to http://www.511.org/ or you can call 511. In addition to this there are also many different smartphone apps that provide maps, routes, and times.
The BART system is the fast, easy, inexpensive way to travel around the Bay Area. BART’s all electric trains travel to/from Pittsburgh/Bay Point, Richmond, Dublin/Pleasanton, Fremont, and Oakland International Airport in the East Bay. Trains from the East Bay go through the Transbay tube and under the San Francisco Bay to/from San Francisco and cities on the San Francisco Peninsula to San Francisco International Airport and Millbrae.
Arriving by Air
Flying into San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
After you’ve picked up your luggage, look for signs for the free tram service, AirTrain. The AirTrain Red line takes passengers to all the terminals, garages, and BART, while the blue line does all that plus the rental car center. Take either line to the Garage G and BART stop and hop on the BART train going towards Pittsburg/Baypoint. On a BART map, it’s signified as the yellow line.
BART costs are associated with how far stations are; the further away, the higher the fare price. At each machine in the station, there are price charts displaying costs to and from stations. Buy your ticket, pass through the gates by slipping your ticket through, and get to the boarding areas. Don’t worry if you run out of funds when you exit; you can always add more inside the station. The BART fare from SFO to Powell Street, two blocks away from the conference hotel, is $8.65 ($3.20 for seniors).
You can use this BART tool to navigate which stations are closest to your destinations. Keep in mind that all BART services close at midnight and resume at 4:00 am on weekdays, 6:00 am on Saturdays, and 8:00 am on Sundays.
Fly into Oakland International Airport (also known as OAK)
After you’ve picked up your luggage, look for BART signs. Taking BART from OAK is the convenient, fast, low-cost way to get to San Francisco, as well as other surrounding cities. The new automated people movers go from OAK to the Coliseum station where you take a train to your final destination. OAK trains depart every 5 minutes from 8:00 am – 8:00 pm daily. Service is less frequent at other times.
The BART fare from Oakland to Powell Street, two blocks from the hotel, is $10.05 ($3.75 for seniors).
San Francisco has been a dining destination since the Gold Rush when prospectors would spend their coins on hangtown fry—an oyster and bacon omelet. Today the year-round produce and diversity of restaurants allow creativity and innovation to flourish. While generally pretty pricey, in part owing to real estate costs and pressures created by drought, one can still find gems throughout the $ to $$$$ range. While too many options exist to produce even the most basic of dining options, we take the liberty of sharing a few of our own favorites within easy transportation from the conference hotel.
Belden Place—walking distance to the hotel, Belden is a small alley on Bush Street between Kearny and Montgomery, in the “French Quarter of San Francisco.” This festively lit alley has seven restaurants with inside/outside seating. A range of American and European cuisine in the $$ – $$$ range.
Mission/16th Street area
Many Latin American choices, taquerias.
- Venga Empanadas. (433 Valencia Street). Argentine-style empanadas. $
- Limon Rotisserie (524 Valencia Street). Peruvian tapas. $$
Embarcadero (Ferry Building)
Even if fog creeps in to cover most of the peninsula there is still a good chance that it is sunny and calm at the Ferry Building, which has a few great outside seating options.
- Gott’s Roadside. American burgers and beers. $
- Hog Island Oyster Co. Recently expanded its space because lines were so long. Views of the Bay Bridge. $$
- Slanted Door. Causal atmosphere in this award-winning Vietnamese restaurant with Bay views. $$$
Hayes Valley (across Van Ness near Civic Center)
Boutique and Michelin star-rated restaurants in this area notable for having more female executive chefs than any other area in the city such as:
- Traci Des Jardins’ Jardiniere
- Judy Rogers’ Zuni Café
- Patricia Unterman’s Hayes Street Grill, and most recently
- Dominique Crenn’s Petit Crenn.
Reservations usually required at all these restaurants which are in the $$$ to $$$$ range.