Like a strong spine that supports a body, Market Street is San Francisco’s main thoroughfare running from the Ferry Building at the Embarcadero to the Twin Peaks neighborhood in the southwest. This highly trafficked street is where you’ll find the city’s flavors and colors coming together in a cacophony of characters: tourists and travelers from all over the world, tech industry men and women going to work in the disco-ball skyscrapers, and long-time locals popping into their favorite eateries and stores.
This wouldn’t be a true San Francisco street if it didn’t have some sort of quirk, and true to form, Market Street is a little out of the ordinary because of the way it divides the city’s two street grids thanks to civil engineer Jasper O’Farrell – the roads on the northwest of Market are nine degrees off from being properly perpendicular or parallel to the main vein. HI San Francisco Downtown on Mason Street and HI San Francisco City Center on Ellis are on this side of Market, and from both the buildings it’s a quick walk to the main street.
Before your stroll, take a look at this video of a trip down Market Street taken less than a month before the infamous 1906 earthquake. Get a glimpse at a time when there traffic consisted mainly of streetcars, horse-drawn carraiges and the new horseless carraiges, and the lane truly functioned as a city hub.
Starting at the Embarcadero end of the street, with the Ferry Building’s clock tower keeping watch over the bay and the city, you’ll see San Francisco’s old meeting its new. Tall mirror-window buildings stretch upwards alongside beige European-style blocks while suited folk hurry past those with more time to stroll the tree-lined sidewalk. This end of Market is where folks do their high-end shopping and dining, and if you’re travelling on a budget, you can just do a Breakfast at Tiffany’s and window shop with a coffee and pastry from local favorite Philz to take it all in without losing your life savings. As you get closer to Powell Street, where there’s often a long line waiting to board the cable car, there are even more opportunities to shop or play Audrey Hepburn or you can keep going as the crowd thins out and more of Market reveals itself. Pop into the International Art Museum of America (1025 Market Street) for a free walkabout amongst Chinese calligraphy, contemporary art and sculpture and pre-20th century European art; then pop in a few doors down for some replenishing Mediterranean fare at the Flying Falafel (1051 Market Street; between Taylor and Golden Gate Streets) to fuel you up for walking the rest of the lane.
Take your yummy, goodness-brimmed pita to go, and enjoy it on the lawns in front of the globe of San Francisco’s city hall building, its front steps greeted by a line of Sycamore trees, and get in a good bout of people watching. City Hall isn’t technically on Market Street, but the slight deviation from the path is made up by the simply prime location.
Next, continue up Market and set aside a good chunk of time for a stop at long-time resident Grooves Record Store (1797 Market Street; between Octavia andMccoppin Streets) so you can browse through the eclectic collection of obscure artists and international albums. You can even listen to the records that pique your interest at the store’s listening stations, and what better conversation starter is there than music? Now you’re in The Castro, the current epicenter of the city’s LGBT culture and campaigning that picked up where the Tenderloin left off. On this end of San Francisco’s main street, the light that’s been freed from behind the skyscrapers bounces on murals and brightly painted store fronts. Kill two birds with one stone by getting some neighborhood culture and snacking at Sweet Inspiration (2239 Market Street, between 16th and Noe Streets), the long standing spot for pastries, cakes and coffee served up alongside visual art, poetry and music by local artists. This leads you to the 17th Street stop for the F-Market and Wharves historic street car; get your $2.25 ready and then take this living piece of history back to where you started while taking in the buildings and people and smells and sounds of Market Street all over again.