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San Francisco, California’s Union Square

By April 28, 2015October 17th, 20172 Comments

A cable car in Union Square. Photo by Prayitno.In the heart of San Francisco, Union Square offers a small slice of serenity amidst the hustle and bustle of the downtown area. The public plaza—bordered by Geary, Powell, Post and Stockton Streets—was once home to rallies in support of the army during the Civil War. It has since been added to the list of California Historical Landmarks alongside places like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.

Union Square hosts events and activities in its core, and it is surrounded by a vast amount of restaurants, shops, theaters and hotels. With constant movement, from early-morning coffee drinkers to late-night wanderers, this active part of the city provides endless activities to satiate your children’s need to explore.

Where to Eat

Lori’s Diner is a favorite for family dining in the Union Square area. Children love 1950s-themed diners, each filled with red glitter vinyl booths, tableside jukeboxes and vintage memorabilia all over the walls. The retro atmosphere coupled with simple food options—hamburgers, hot dogs, pancakes (breakfast is served all day!)—will get kids excited. If the booths are full, sit at the counter and sip a milkshake, a float or a cream soda while you take in the vintage motorcycles, cars and pinball machines strewn throughout the three locations within walking distance of Union Square.

Lori's Diner in Union Square. Photo by Nicolas Nova.

If you’re looking for something a little fancier that will still capture the interest of the kids, check out Puccini and Pinetti on Ellis Street. The modern Italian grill mixes traditional Italian dishes with California flair. More affordable than other sit-down options nearby, it’s great for families. The kid’s menu features classics like macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs and grilled cheese, but it also gives kids the chance to build their own pizza. If you’re looking for a healthier option, the kid’s menu also offers grilled chicken served with vegetables.

Where to Play

Union Square is, of course, home to some fantastic places to shop. With a Neiman Marcus, a Saks Fifth Avenue and the second largest Macy’s in the country, any avid shopper would be in heaven. However, kids often aren’t interested in department stores—but have no fear! There is plenty to learn about what to do in San Francisco with kids.

The cable cars are a staple of San Francisco tourism. Don’t leave without taking a spin. Designed by a man who witnessed horse drawn cars sliding backwards down the city’s steep hills, the cable cars first opened to the public in 1873. Though you can catch them at the Powell Street turntable on Market Street, head up near Union Square to beat the crowds and hop on one outside of the Westin St. Francis.

The Heart Project in Union Square. Photo by Samantha Marx.

Also within walking distance of Union Square is the Children’s Creativity Museum located in the Yerba Buena Gardens. With emphasis on creativity, collaboration and communication, the museum provides a dynamic learning environment that will enamor children and parents alike. The Community Lab encourages self-directed free play, the Innovation Lab gives children the opportunity to invent something new and the Design Studio teaches little ones about technology. They also have an Imagination Lab, an Animation Studio and a Music Studio.

Your trip simply wouldn’t be complete without a stroll through Union Square itself. The Hearts in San Francisco project, in which artists paint uniform hearts that are placed throughout the city each year before they are auctioned off for charity, can always be found in the square, providing a fun and ever-changing photo opp. Union Square is also home to events like art shows and religious celebrations.

Where to Stay

Staying near Union Square means you can shop, eat and explore right in your hotel’s backyard. It just makes life easy—and every mom needs easy when determining what to do in San Francisco with kids. Luckily, Personality Hotels provide comfortable boutique hotels in the area.

The view from Kensington Park Hotel in Union Square.

If you just want a basic room, try the upscale Kensington Park Hotel. The elegant atmosphere offers a vintage feel and incredible views of the area. For kid-centric rooms with a little more pizazz, consider Hotel Diva or Hotel Union Square. Hotel Diva’s Little Diva’s Suite features bunk beds, board games, dress-up costumes and movies to keep kids entertained even when they are enjoying downtime at the hotel. Hotel Union Square offers a similar suite—the Kid’s Suite—that encourages children’s creativity with inspiring retro décor, educational games, books and a writing desk.

For more information visit:
Golden Gate Park
Cable cars
Children’s Creativity Museum


Ashley Ryan

Author Ashley Ryan

Ashley Ryan is a southern California native with a background in journalism and anthropology. She loves learning about other cultures and combines her passions for traveling, writing and photography in her professional work. To learn more or get in touch, visit

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