Each of these essential California adventures has been tried and tested by a Travel section staffer or contributor. To search the state by region, use the filter below.
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Why: High-end shoppers, scruffy buskers, baristas on break, kids, codgers, cops, robbers, jaywalkers and fast-talkers -- everybody shows up in Union Square sooner or later. Bring a hot drink, find a comfortable seat and drink it all in.
What: Union Square, which fills a single square block, is the epicenter of San Francisco tourism. It's surrounded by a shopping district in which Macy's vies with five other department stores (and dominates them all when it comes to holiday displays); the Westin St. Francis Hotel tends to high-dollar travelers and the Kimpton Sir Frances Drake tends to only-slightly-less-high-dollar travelers.
The square's 2.6 acres (once a site of sand dunes) were set aside in about 1850, and its name came from the pro-Union demonstrators who massed there during the Civil War. After various updates through the years, the space has less grass than it once did, but more heart-shaped artworks (one at each corner) and more seats. and there's a pricey parking garage underneath.
If you're in the square after dark, there's a good chance you'll hear a street musician or even an entire band -- probably stationed at the busy northwest corner, close to the passing cable cars.
In winter the square puts up a massive Christmas tree and menorah, holiday lights and a skating rink (Nov. 1, 2017, through Jan. 15, 2018). In other seasons, you might find an art show, a free concert or a big tent signifying a private party to which you aren't invited. No worries -- all those neighboring shops and department stores will be happy to have you.
Where: In the rectangle surrounded by Powell, Post Stockton and Geary streets, three blocks north of the Powell St. BART station and the Powell/Market cable car turnaround. It's 381 miles northwest of downtown L.A.
How much: Free. Or $8,897 if your company wants to throw one of those private parties.
Info: Union Square