From its southwestern end where the LGBT movement is more evident to the northern tip that looks out to the San Francisco bay, taking a walk down San Francisco’s Market Street tells a story about this beautiful city’s history, its local culture, and how it came to be.
Market Street is downtown San Francisco’s major thoroughfare. This is the main road that easily connects the city together. This is also where a lot of the happenings are.
Looking at the photo of Market Street below, you’ll easily get it when I say it’s the artery of San Francisco.
When visiting San Francisco, you must start walking down Market Street first, then move out from there (Ok, ok, right after you see the Golden Gate Bridge. Geez).
It’s like soaking all the wonders of whatever it is in a museum. Only this time while taking a leisurely walk along a single stretch of local history and culture. Cool, eh? No need for a map!
The bonus part of it is a good itinerary for budget travelers out there since there’s no need to take the taxi. You’re gonna be on your feet for a good 4-8 hours depending on your travel feels – the whole stretch is a good 3 miles!
How to get to Market Street from SFO airport
If you’re arriving from the SFO airport, take a BART train from the SFO station and hop off at Civic Center station in downtown SF. This is where your journey down Market Street begins.
Starting from the southwestern end of Market Street as we know it going out towards the other end where the SF bay is, these are the places you must visit and see when in downtown San Francisco.
If you’re feeling a little bit naughty, this is where you should go to get your fix of ‘leather’ goods and vibrators of all kinds, if you know what I mean. Ok, enough of that.
The Castro is one of the most prominent symbols of the LGBT movement throughout this world. I actually couldn’t find words to describe this part of Market St., mainly because it’s too complex for me to understand, and I lack the deep background of its history for me to accurately describe.
All I know is that the gay movement is more evident here (tons of organizations dedicated to the LGBT movement are found here), and I think these photos would be enough how Castro District makes ‘Murica truly the land of the free, and that all people are equal no matter what their thinking is.
Just a few blocks after Castro is where you’ll find Tenderloin District. This part of the city being the economically depressed area of SF for years, you’ll know you’re in it when you notice the sudden shift of scenery.
From the colorful Castro District, things turn into grey with all these gentlemen’s club that are closed for the day, pawnshops, and small convenience stores that have small entrances for reasons I don’t know but I’m gonna assume anyway: so they can easily close shop when there’s threat outside? Just my observation.
One of the astounding contrasts of the generally wealthy San Francisco is the high number of homeless people in this part of the area (although homeless people are everywhere in SF). Most are just ok sitting down the corner talking to themselves with a sign asking for alms, but there have been a few times where I’ve seen homeless people being arrested for reasons I don’t know.
A friend who’s a nurse working at the San Francisco General Hospital always tells me to avoid this area because of the general stigma that it’s a crime-ridden part of the city. But I walked by the streets many times already, and I managed to pass through unharmed. And these homeless people are generally nice, so just walk by without attracting attention to yourself, and you should be ok.
It’s like a walk through time when America is in its great depression. Homeless people everywhere. Empty buildings. Policemen everywhere. But there’s a distinct beauty in it, one that shouldn’t be missed.
Tip: it’s generally safe to walk though Tenderloin as long as you do not talk to strangers and look them in the eye, and as long as you do it during daytime to avoid getting mugged.
Hey, it’s the Twitter Headquarters just past Van Ness Avenue, right in the gritty Tenderloin District! Twitter has been altering the face of the Tenderloin ever since it moved here. See this building and you’ll realize that you are in the tech capital of the world, with Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Apple in the neck of the woods (somewhere in the Bay Area).
It’s impossible to miss the Twitter HQ with its big twitter sign. However, it’s not easy to come in and visit (not allowed, actually, since it’s not a museum and people are working inside). But if you still want to take a shot to come in and take a look inside Twitter’s ultra-cool workspace, you must have a friend who’s working inside to show you around. Maybe it’s time to add people up on LinkedIn way before you go to SF?
San Francisco City Hall / Civic Center
Walk past Twitter HQ and look to your right, and you’ll see this glorious building that is the City Hall.
You are free to enter during business hours, and it’s actually a charm inside this beaux-arts building, which was built in 1915. Perfect for a photo-op, so don’t be surprised to find a wedding pictorial when you go inside this government office.
And also there’s a museum inside that’s all about San Francisco and how it came to be as a city. Some pretty interesting stuff in here (not to mention entrance is free), so I highly recommend this little known tourist attraction.
Cable Car Turntable at Powell & Market Sts.
We all know San Francisco is famous for its Cable Cars that take us back through time. It’s still all functional; in fact it’s the world’s last manually operated cable car system. But the routes have been limited and now only three of its original 23 lines remain, and these are used mainly by tourists and not as a general mode of transportation for locals because, well, there are subways now and cars are more efficient in getting locals from point A to B.
The cable cars do not run through Market Street, but one of its turntables is conveniently located right at Powell & Market Streets, so it’s the perfect opportunity to experience seeing it in person at the same time witness how it goes back the other way by means of a turntable if you’re curious to know.
Westfield Shopping Mall
This is just your normal huge shopping center in a busy downtown like SF, but what sets it apart is its upscale feel and the fact that, well, it was nominated as one of the ‘world’s best shopping centers’.
I would never buy anything at Westfield because their goods are priced for the upscale people and not for the traveler like me, so if you feel me, walk across the next intersection just past the beautiful Old Navy flagship store and Levi’s Market Street (one of the two Levi’s stores in the world where you can get customized jeans) and you’ll see ROSS (Market & 4th Street).
I don’t know what ROSS means (or maybe it’s just a name), but trust me when I say this: if you’re planning to shop for signature clothes on a HUGE discount, enter the doors of ROSS already. This is a wonderland for cheapskates looking for Nike shoes at 65% off and 10 dollar shirts that don’t look bargain at all.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in SF many times already, and this STILL is the place where I can find the cheapest buys (aside from downright cheap souvenirs in SF Chinatown).
SF Financial District
as you go through Market Street and notice the buildings stand taller and taller, it means that you’re in the Financial District.
Nothing much to see here really, just offices, coffee shops, bars and restos. But if you’re a fan of tall office buildings and the busy working class culture of commuters and office people in suits, you’ll enjoy the vibe and the energy this part of the city brings.
Sutter Station Tavern (Market & Sansome Street)
If the Krusty Krab was an old pub with Mr. Krabs as the bartender in real life, then this may be it. Unlike the usual bar destinations in SF where it’s all formal and friendly, in Sutter Station Tavern the bar and the service is unpretentious but it has that classic, old-school feel to it.
It’s another stark contrast to San Francisco’s energetic vibe, and it’s possible that it’s only dive bar in the classy financial district. I know that dive bars are regarded by locals as sinister and detrimental, but for a tourist like me who’s more interested in the local culture, then this is where you’ll see a different version of the American drinking culture, just like in the movies.
*If you ever want to try pub crawling, check out my SF pub crawl experience.
Autodesk Gallery (One Market Street)
This is something that most tourists do not know of. If you’re a fan of inventive engineering/technology and creative design (and partying at the same time), this should be on your bucket list when visiting the tech hub of the world (SF, I mean).
The Autodesk Gallery runs a ‘design night’ ($20-25 at Eventbrite) every first Thursday of the month, wherein participants explore innovative technology designs in daily objects, like for example, in fashion, art, or in cars. The experience comes with an open bar, food, music, and activities. For $25, that’s what I call value for money.
If in case you’re unable to make it on the first Thursdays, the gallery is open for free to the public every MWF so that means you don’t have a reason not to go.
Ferry Building at The Embarcadero (End of Market Street)
You know you’re literally at the end of your Market Street tour when you finally get to the SF bay and see the iconic Ferry Building and its timeless clock tower (pun intended), which was opened in 1898.
Originally opened as a terminal for passenger ferries of course, like the SF cable cars, its use gradually declined ever since the opening of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Nowadays this beaux arts style building is being used as modern office spaces and bistros with a panoramic view of the San Francisco bay. It is still being used as a ferry terminal, but this time mostly for purposes of tourism and not for getting across the bay.
There is also a huge marketplace inside this building that you shouldn’t miss, because this is where you can find artisanal and local produce (wines, cheese, crackers, etc.) that’s near impossible to see somewhere else in the city (but they are damn expensive so…).
If you think the tour ends at the Ferry Building, we’re not quite done yet. Once you reach the ferry terminal, look to your right. Now try not to drop your jaw when you see the Bay Bridge that’ll actually make you feel so small. Yes, it’s like seeing an aircraft up close. Only this time it’s longer.
The Bay Bridge is Golden Gate Bridge’s lesser known but equally gorgeous sister. It runs from San Francisco to Oakland, and you can make a stop at Treasure Island, too as the bridge is structured through this small, historic island.