San Francisco’s Union Square thrums with festive energy during the holiday season. Flagship stores are bedecked, cable cars are clanging, the ice skating rink is wide-open and kittens and puppies inhabit the annual Macy’s + SPCA window display. But what to do after you’ve pulled off your skates or had your fill of department store shopping? Here are some less conventional ideas that run the gamut from classy to cozy to truly offbeat. It might be the holidays, but put down the cookie cutter and embrace the singularity of San Francisco.
1. Tea Under the Tree at Sir Francis Drake Hotel
Every holiday season, beloved Crown and Crumpet serves an elaborate pop-up afternoon tea at Sir Francis Drake Hotel. Indulge in sparkling wine, tea sandwiches, warm savories, scones, crumpets, clotted cream, lemon curd—basically, everything scrumptious. A make-and-take-home holiday craft even captivates the kiddos. Call 415-771-4252 for the schedule and reservations.
2. Shop Off the Beaten Path on Maiden Lane
Tucked just off Union Square but away from the hustle and bustle is picture-perfect Maiden Lane. Lined with trees and draped with string lights overhead, this gem of a shopping destination is closed to traffic, making it the perfect place to take a stroll and window shop. You’ll find charming cafes, high-end designers from Marni to Maison Margiela, and elevated basics from the likes of Theory and TSE.
3. Chilly Treats at the Museum of Ice Cream
For a good dollop of frostiness, opt for ice cream in the winter. The Museum of Ice Cream is the perfect place to sample treats from favorite local vendors like My/Mo Mochi, La Michoacana, and Ghirardelli while taking your Instagram game to soaring new heights. Sweet news? The museum recently announced it is making San Francisco its permanent home. Installations have included a gummy bear forest, a cave of Pop Rocks, a mint jungle, and a swimming pool completely filled with sprinkles. More whimsy-filled surprises are just around the corner; the experience promises to be entirely new starting in 2019.
4. Heartwarming Ramen
There’s nothing cozier than a steaming bowl of ramen, especially after the requisite line outside your mobbed noodle shop of choice. Two spots near Union Square that draw flocks of fanatics are Mensho Tokyo and the newly opened and larger Ippudo outpost at Yerba Buena Lane. A slow-cooked broth, a pile of chewy noodles, a perfectly soft-boiled egg—it’s a bowl of pure winter goodness.
5. One Kearny’s Roof Terrace Respite
One of San Francisco’s hidden secrets is the privately owned public open space (or POPOS) at the very top of One Kearny. With a stunning view of Union Square and the downtown skyline, it’s the ideal spot to take a break from the clamor of the holiday hustle. This urban secret garden is open to public access 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
Located right on Union Square, just steps from myriad department stores and high-end boutiques, Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel is the place to be for the holidays.