Union Square

Establishment neighborhood
Palihotel San Francisco
417 Stockton St., Union Square
If we were to dream up the ideal, minimalist urban loft, the Palihotel—nestled right by heart-of-the-action Union Square—is it. Worn white brick walls, low-to-the-ground beds with warm striped throws, stylish mid-century-style chairs, and copper light fixtures distinguish the roomy spaces, and, like its sister properties, this outpost is sympathetic to the existing neighborhood style with its imposing, Mission Revival-style façade. Inside, though, soft pastel colors, plenty of stripes, and vintage-looking floral patterns adorn the common areas (which feel made for the freelance traveler who needs to bust out emails but appreciates pretty surroundings and quick service). Foodwise, Fisher Loft on the second floor is the kind of spot you check out for breakfast and come back for dinner: the burgers, jammy eggs, frisée salad, and (if you’re feeling extra) caviar service are menu standouts.
Del Popolo
855 Bush St., Union Square
Before adding a bricks-and-mortar location last year, the guys at Del Popolo were slinging pies out of their now-famous mobile pizzeria. Why famous? Other than the killer Neapolitan-style pizzas, which range from classic Margherita to a honey-spiked potato pie, it’s the ingenious use of a converted shipping container fastened onto a Freightliner truck in place of a standard food truck that got people talking. And lucky for us all, even with the free-standing restaurant (they tacked on some antipasti dishes and a pretty badass wine list to the restaurant menu), they’re still serving pies on the go all over the city out of the mobile pizzeria that started it all.
450 Post St., Union Square
In a city that's known for great seafood, Farallon has been a go-to spot for fish and shellfish for almost 20 years now. It's sort of an old-school joint at this point, but the oyster menu is miles-long, and the dinner options always include a great lobster dish and excellent grilled fish. Décor-wise, they’re famous for the jellyfish lounge, where jellyfish lamps hang from the ceiling and the mezzanine level itself is shaped like the creature. While it;s a little bit over-the-top, you have to appreciate the lengths they took to make the space unique and special. The private rooms here are decorated in the same fantastical style, and they've been around long enough to appreciate the value of having an event planner on staff, which always makes things easier.
The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel
495 Geary St., Union Square
This gem celebrated its 100th birthday a couple of years ago (it did receive a Philippe Starcke makeover in the interim) making it particularly good time to book a stay. In the famously ornate lobby you'll find furniture pieces by Ray and Charles Eames and Salvador Dali; the standard rooms while on the tight side make up for it in comfort and beautiful pastel-hued décor. Downstairs, the plush Redwood Room is perfect for drinks and snacks at the stretch bar which lent the local-approved lounge its name.
Fraenkel Gallery
49 Geary St., Union Square
Jeffrey Fraenkel opened his eponymous gallery when he was just 24, and over the course of the last 35 years has built his brand as one of the best photography galleries in the country. With a formidable list of artists (he's shown everyone from Sol LeWitt to Diane Arbus, and he handles the estate of Garry Wineograd) and a slew of loyal collectors, he's had an enormous influence on many significant photography collections in the city. Currently on show: Carrie Mae Weems curates the Diane Arbus photographs that speak to her the most. Don't miss the Fraenkel Gallery's satellite pop-up space in Presidio Heights. The idea behind it is somewhat grab-and-go: each piece—from the likes of Diane Arbus, Adam Fuss, and Adam Levitt—is already framed for instant purchase.
Haines Gallery
49 Geary St., Union Square
Cheryl Haines has had a long and successful career as a gallerist, but she's best known in her home city as a fierce advocate for public art—she's the visionary that brought Andy Goldsworthy's signature Spire in the Presidio. Most recently, she's gained critical acclaim for bringing a major site-specific work by Ai Wei Wei to Alcatraz (and dying her hair blue in the process). With artists like James Turrell on her roster, a visit to her tiny Union Square gallery, which is a total hidden gem compared with the large public artworks she's better known for, is never a disappointment.
Altman Siegel (Closed)
49 Geary St., Union Square
Claudia Altman-Siegel worked for Luhring Augustine Gallery in Chelsea (they represent such luminaries as Rachel Whiteread and Christopher Wool) for 10 years before striking out on her own with her namesake San Francisco gallery. Her space is inside the 49 Geary building in the Financial District, an unassuming structure that houses some of the best galleries in a hyper-convenient, if seemingly sterile, location. You can rely on her to show work from excellent newcomers from the local area and beyond, with a roster of bright stars like Garth Weiser and Sara VanDerBeek.
Blue Bottle Coffee
66 Mint Plaza, Union Square
There are now ten locations strong in the bay area, with cafés in the Ferry Building, Hayes Valley, Heath Ceramics, Market Square, Mint Plaza, and on Sansome. There are two locations in Oakland, on Broadway and Webster St. Perhaps the most groundbreaking of their brews is the chicory-spiked New Orleans cold brew, which comes in a handy single-serving carton. They also make a pretty great granola in-house while the SFMOMA rooftop location is home to Chef Caitlin Freeman’s modern art desserts. Think: a loaf cake made to look like a Mondrian painting and cookies inspired by Richard Serra’s sculptures.