If you're a first-time visitor, hop the Powell-Hyde cable car downtown. It will carry you to Victorian Park, and downhill to the north is Hyde Street Pier with many early California coastal vessels. All four museum ships are open to the public. From the Pier, turn right (west) along the Aquatic Park shoreline. A cement path leads past a patch of Italy (the bocce ball courts) onto the crescent-shaped Municipal Pier. Returning via Beach Street, stop in at the ship-shaped National Maritime Museum at the foot of Polk Street. Across the street is Ghirardelli Square, which was once a woolen mill, later a chocolate factory and now a popular retail/dining complex.
WALKING TOUR No. 2 Chinatown
(Distance: approximately 15 blocks)
Enter Cathay by the Bay via the dragon-crested gate at Grant Avenue and Bush Street, a 1969 gift from the Republic of China. As you peruse the eight-block length of Grant Avenue, the main stem, lift your eyes to the calligraphy street signs, dragon lamp posts and arched eaves. Two blocks beyond the gateway turn right (east) at California Street into St. Mary's Square, a plot with a 12-foot statue of Dr. Sun Yatsen, founder of the Chinese Republic. Across the street you will see Old St. Mary's church, built in 1854. Continue north on Grant Avenue. Turn right (east) on Sacramento Street, then left (north) on Kearny Street. A half-block up on the right is Commercial Street, a small alley with the Pacific Heritage Museum of San Francisco. Return to Kearny Street and turn right (north). On your right is Portsmouth Square, San Francisco's birthplace. The square is the scene of tai chi rituals in the early morning. On the square's north side (720 Washington) is Buddha's Universal Church. Turn left (west) and walk up Washington Street, noting the quarter's oldest pagoda-style edifice, to Waverly Place. This is the street of the painted balconies, and it harbors three temples. Return to Washington Street and turn left. Walk one block to Stockton Street, turn left and continue south. These blocks are the main Chinese neighborhood district. The role of the Chinese in the Old West is shown at the Chinese Historical Society (965 Clay St.). To reach Union Square, walk straight ahead seven blocks via the Stockton tunnel, or board a southbound Muni-30 Stockton bus.
WALKING TOUR No. 3 Union Square
(Distance: approximately 17 blocks)
Start your walk at the Visitor Information Center on the lower level of Hallidie Plaza, Powell and Market streets. Follow the cable cars up Powell Street three blocks to the city's hub, Union Square, so named on the eve of the Civil War when it was the site of a series of pro-Union demonstrations. As you look around, it is clear why this is among the top four shopping areas in sales volume in the nation. Union Square shoppers also have access to a TIX Bay Area booth on the Powell Street side for half-price, day-of-show tickets (cash only). Walk right (east) on Geary Street one block. Cross Geary Street at Stockton Street and cut diagonally through Union Square, noting the monument to Adm. George Dewey. The monument and the Westin St. Francis on the west withstood the 1906 earthquake. Walk right (east) on Post Street one block to Stockton Street. Turn left (north) and stroll up Stockton Street, pausing at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco to see Sculptor Ruth Asawa's San Francisco fountain. Continue to the end of the block and walk right (east) on Sutter Street to the Hallidie Building. This 1917 landmark has been revered as the "world's first glass curtain-walled structure." Opposite is the charming Crocker Galleria, a three-level, glass-canopied retail complex. Exit the Galleria on Post Street and walk right (west) for 2.5 blocks. At Stockton Street bear left (south) for a half block and turn left (east) to Maiden Lane, full of upscale shops and galleries. This used to be the Barbary Coast's most lurid red light district. Maiden Lane runs for two blocks to Kearny Street.