Hometown Tourist Travel

Union Square, San Francisco – I’ll Stop Avoiding You

Anyone who lives in a major city has an area of town they would rather lick their boot than go near. For me, that’s the Union Square area. It is perpetually packed with tourists, walking too slow, five-across the sidewalk and it makes me want to tear my hair out. In fact, before a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t have told you why tourists even flock to that part of town. Which is why I decided to go!

My first stop on my great Union Square-centric tour was the Museum of the African Diaspora, also known as MoAD. The museum is a Smithsonian affiliate, however, unlike the National Museum of African American History and Culture, MoAD focuses the bulk of its energy on more contemporary works. While all three floors of the museum offered something engaging, The Ease of Fiction exhibit was my favorite. An exploration of the duality of cultures and the intersection of art and identity, the exhibit is beautifully done and thought provoking. At $10 for adult admission, MoAD is worth every cent and then some.

Pro Tip: You only need about an hour to get through it. That said, don’t let the time fool you. The space offers a unique perspective your won’t catch anywhere else on Museum Row.

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My favorite part of this interactive exhibit was the poor kid who’s dad yelled at him for touching the art. Luckily, he was able to point to the sign and go back to playing!

Directly across the street from MoAD is the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). This contemporary art space was designed specifically with community and civic engagement in mind. Right next to the building is a lovely multi-tiered park, where the YBCA holds the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival which goes on throughout the summer. It is worth checking out the YBCA calendar and bringing a picnic if the weather is nice. The acts are unlike anything you’ll catch at other venues and I had a great time just perching on the upper most tier of the park with a book to soak up the sun and music for a few hours.

After thoroughly shaking off Karl Fog Monster at the park, I took myself on a tour of San Francisco’s architectural past and present, using the Detour app. This app uses your phones GPS to move you through guided audio tours of the city. Y’all I am in love with this app! I had so much fun and learned a ton about POPOS aka Privately-Owned Open Public Spaces during the architecture tour. Prior to taking the tour, I did not know that San Francisco requires all land development deals enacted after 1985 to have some public space available (businesses often hide them). One of the many tours available through Detour takes you to these spaces, and gives you an hour long, engaging walking tour of the most historic and interesting buildings in the area. I never thought much about SF’s skyline compared to a lot of places, but I will now.

Pro Tip: Detour is free through Labor Day, so download it and see if a tour is available in your neighborhood.

Bonus Pro Tip: You may feel awkward wandering into buildings, but those roof gardens are for you. If a security guard asks what you are doing (as happened to me) feel free to let them know and keep right on exploring!

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Yerba Buena Patio for the win! (They even have wifi!)

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The Shell Building was the last Art Deco building built in SF. It was completed just weeks before the market crash that kicked off the Great Depression. Here it is reflected in the International Style Crown Zellerbach Building built in 1959.
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You are totally allowed up on the roof of the stunning Wells Fargo building!
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POPO signage–look for them around town as a cue to enjoy the space.

My last stop of the day was to meet up with some friends for a comedy show at the slightly sad looking, historic Shelton Theater. Cheaper Than Therapy happens every Thursday through Sunday, and you get your $15 worth. Originally, I was skeptical. I mean, how big can the comedy market be in San Francisco, especially after living in L.A. for so long? I was wrong. The show is an hour long and each comedian does about a 10-minute set. It is the perfect set-up. Not long enough to get irked by any one act, and because the time is so short, everyone brings their A game. They have a bar and you can bring your drinks into the theater. We cackled the whole time, and I will be back.

A few notes on where I ate over the course of my Hometown Tourist Adventure:

  • Hogwash (Cause sometimes you gotta have beer for breakfast) – House made sausages and 30+ beers you can try. When my breakfast spot of choice had a line out the door, I called an audible and boy, was I glad I did.
  • The Cavalier – Located inside the Hotel Zetta, The Cavalier is a fantastic spot to stop and grab a bite and a cocktail. It has a unique sort of British hunting lodge theme and a happy hour that even runs on weekends. Better still, the guys behind the bar were crack-ups and good at their jobs. Add this to your list of spots worth braving the Westfield Mall crowd for.
  • Dirty Habit – If you don’t mind hit and miss service, the food here is slow but good. We made a reservation, but the table was pretty lousy, leaving me to wonder if it made much of a difference.

Pro Tip: Hogwash will let you test your beers before you buy, so don’t be afraid to ask about the things that strike your fancy on the menu.

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This lady wants you to laugh at Cheaper Than Therapy.
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Breakfast, courtesy of Hogwash.
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Noms at the Cavalier. The quail eggs are delicious!

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