(Last Updated On: December 8, 2023)

I’ve been wondering what San Francisco Union Square Christmas shopping would be like this year. There’s all the scary news about SF store robberies and car break ins. Also, many major San Francisco stores have closed recently including Nordstrom’s flagship store, Old Navy, Gap, DSW and Disney.

So, being the amazing travel blogging investigative reporter that I am (haha), I figured I’d head up there to find out for myself and for all of you!

This may not be quite as brave of me as I’m trying to make it, since my visit is taking place during the APEC Summit where many world leaders will be in attendance. So, along with Union Square’s police presence being increased in general for the holiday season, security will be a huge focus overall.

Shopping Experience

The Tenderloin

My drive into the city from the south routed me right thru the Tenderloin district. There were many scenes like this in that area:

As I got closer to the Nob Hill / Union Square area there were no more tents or people laying/sitting on the sidewalks.

Union Square

As I wandered the two blocks from my hotel to Union Square in the rain I noticed that there were no tents, nor people laying or sitting on the sidewalks! It fact the whole area looked kind of weirdly clean!

I imagine this is because of the big world leader summit which was in its final days. From looking at the street closures for the event it seemed that the big wigs were staying at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, and meeting at Moscone Center south of Union Square. So that would mean they would be driving right thru this area to go between the two places.

I have read that the SF Mayor also declared that Union Square would be safe and clean for Christmas shopping, so I’m sure it’s all connected.


Macys is still hanging in there, thank goodness. Though there are many Macys stores still scattered around, the SF Macys is fun to go to because it is so big! 7 floors of merchandise! If you need to do a major wardrobe over haul, this Macys would be a good place. Large range of price points and items from which to choose.

I did notice that the Mens clothing used to be in its own separate store across Stockton Street, but now it’s moved to a floor in the main Macys.

While Macys seems to be going relatively strong in SF, I must admit to being rather underwhelmed with the Christmas decorations. I remember in “the old days” it used to be kind of magical in the department stores. Now it felt sort of “meh”. Even the “Holiday Lane” section was just a small section of the 6th floor with lots of gaudy looking Christmas trees.

On a positive note, they did have adorable pets for adoption in some of the window displays. Also, their Union Square facing sparkly wreath in every window display is beautiful!

Union Square area to Market Street

I was shocked to see how many vacant, “For Rent” storefronts there were in the streets south of Union Square, including Market Street! On Powell Street, where the Cable Car turn around is, I’d say 90% of the shops were vacant! Only Burger King, Sephora and Urban Outfitters remaining.

Westfield San Francisco Center Mall

I was really curious to see what this would be like, since I knew that one of the Mall’s anchors, Nordstroms, had left recently. The side of the mall where Bloomingdales is remained fairly busy and there were not a lot of empty stores.

However, the Nordstrom side was very different. The number of remaining store decreased with each floor you went up to. Then, seeing the escalator which led to the top 4 floors that Nordstrom had occupied just boarded up was kind of heartbreaking. It also looked spooky.

I remember back in the rustic old days of the 1990s my pals and I would come to this mall to shop and more importantly bar hop within Nordstroms! There was a champagne bar in the Women’s Clothing section, British Pub in the Mens Clothing section, and then a restaurant with great views on the top floor! Those were the days, I tell ya!

Where I stayed: White Swan Inn

I found a great deal on a hotel for the night thru Booking.com. I usually will double check on the hotel’s direct website for the rate they are offering, and most of the time it seems to be less than or the same as Booking.com. In this instance I was able to get a room for which the hotel was charging $180, for for only $119 on Booking.com. (Plus $65 for valet parking for the night). Pretty good for SF.

White Swan Inn

The White Swan Inn is described as part 1960’s Carnaby Street and part Cotswolds. I would add, part grandma’s house. Not in a bad way, what’s not too like about grandma’s house?

It was cute with the floral wallpaper and sort of hodgepodge of furniture. It was clean and charming with a comfortable bed, and that’s the most important part for me. There was a gas fireplace with a note saying to only use the wall switch to turn it on. It was quite a mystery for me trying to find this mysterious switch. Finally I spotted it, behind a pillow!

The Inn has a large lounge on the bottom floor with tables, a fireplace, couches, and a patio with outdoor seating. They offer coffee and tea all day. From 5-6:30 they have a wine and cheese serving, and breakfast is included in the morning! Breakfast was nice with pastries, hard boiled eggs, cereals, oatmeal, yogurt with toppings, fruit and toast.

By the way, if you lean more toward staying at a French grandma’s house instead of a British grandma’s house you can check out the White Swan Inn’s sister hotel next door, Petite Auberge!

Video tour of the White Swan Inn

Where I Dined: KeyKlub

My San Franciscan nephew recommended this place to me and it turned out to be right across the street from my hotel, so I checked it out for dinner. I got the cheeseburger and it was delicious! KeyKlub only servers wine and beer, btw. Not even soft drinks! (I was able to get water.)

I would have never tried this place because from the outside it looks rundown and closed! So don’t let the outside appearance scare you away.

Map of mentioned places

Final Thoughts

I must say it felt disappointing to visit the Union Square area. It used to be such a Christmas destination for my friends and I, then later my family when my kids were little. I’m not sure exactly what made it change, the economy or less in person shoppers generally. Its probably a combination.

I doubt it will ever return to being what it was, but I’m sure a new incarnation will evolve eventually.

Despite my doom and gloom, don’t let me dissuade you too much! There are still excellent restaurants in the area (and the whole city!), great places to stay, beautiful scenery, the ice skating rink, and the beautiful Union Square Christmas tree!

Let me know what you think of Union Square these days in the comments! Are Christmas decoration diminished in your area? Thanks for reading!