San Francisco

Union Street/Cow Hollow’s best

Many of the upscale shops and restaurants that fill trendy Union Street and Cow Hollow are inside vintage Victorian and Edwardian buildings. Of particular interest are the 1874 Cudworth Mansion farmhouse at #2040 and the Twin Wedding Houses at #1980, both now occupied by shops and restaurants.  Flower stands add a seasonal burst of color on the four blocks running between Fillmore and Octavia streets–where the heaviest concentration of shops occurs–but boutiques continue on in both directions and down side streets.  This area is referred to as Cow Hollow, in reference to the fact that it was once the city’s dairy community.  In the 1800s, the Cow Hollow section consisted of 30 dairies.

For the annual Union Street Festival in June,  the street is closed off from Gough to Steiner.  It begins with a Saturday morning Waiter Race in which competing servers must open a bottle of wine, pour two glasses, and carry them intact on their tray to the top of Green Street and back again.  Music, food, and crafts booths round out the fun.

Location: Between Gough St. & Divisadero St., in Pacific Heights. 
Getting here by public transportation:  Take the #45 bus from Kearney/Geary streets, off Market Street.

Union Street flower stand in San Francisco, California
Union Street flower stand

Union Street annual events

Union Street Spring Festival  
June.  On Union Street, between Gough and Fillmore streets.  Free. 

Union Street attractions

Octagon House 
2645 Gough St./Union St.  By donation. 
Built in 1861, when this architectural style was a fad throughout the country, this 2-story, cupola-topped eight-sided house is now one of only two left in San Francisco.  The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in California bought it from PG&E in 1952 for $1 and moved it from across the way on Gough Street to this location.  The society has restored and furnished it and turned it into the only museum of Colonial and Federal decorative arts on the West Coast.  Items displayed date from 1700 to 1830.  Of special interest is a display featuring the signatures of 55 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.  The house’s well-groomed garden and the tiny, fenced-in  Allyne Park located adjacent are both perfect for a stroll.

exterior of Octagon House in San Francisco, California
exterior of Octagon House

Vedanta Society of Northern California   
2323 Vallejo St. 
This is the ornate domed and towered New Temple.  More description and images.

exterior of Victorian main temple of Vedanta 
Society in San Francisco, California
exterior of Victorian main temple of Vedanta Society

Union Street restaurants

Mel’s Drive-In
2165 Lombard St./Fillmore St. 
Long ago when Mel’s was a real drive-in, carhops brought trays out to clamp on windows for in-car dining.  That would be back In 1947, when San Francisco’s first drive-in restaurant was opened at 140 South Van Ness Avenue by Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs.  Carhop service was available to 110 cars.  This scene was depicted in the 1973 movie “American Graffiti” when Mels Drive-in starred as “Burger City.”  Now the eating goes on inside the restaurant.  Seating is at a long counter, in booths, or at tables with chairs, and an oldie but goodie can be played for two bits on a computerized table-top mini-jukebox.  (An interesting aside:  Jukeboxes were invented in San Francisco in 1888.)  Dress is just-off-the-jogging-trail casual.  Menu items include the Famous Melburger with all the trimmings, a variety of veggie burgers, fries with the skins still on, and, of course, BIG onion rings.  All this plus salads, soups, and sandwiches galore.  For more substantial appetites, the menu offers a chicken pot pie, meat loaf served with lumpy mashed potatoes and gravy, and the day’s blue-plate special.  Among the drinks are flavored cokes and thick, old-fashioned milkshakes served in the mixer tin.  Desserts include chocolate fudge cake, banana cream pie, and a banana split.  Kids love that their meals are served in boxes that look like cars, and teens call this place “cool.”  The menu has trendified.

A branch is at 3355 Geary Boulevard, the exact location of one of the three original Mel’s.  More branches are at 801 Mission St. and at 1050 Van Ness Ave.

Palm House 
2032 Union St./Webster St.
Named for the more-than-150-year-old Canary Island palm that the front of the restaurant wraps around, this popular drinking spot.  More description and images. 

1944 Union St./Laguna St. 
Consistency is a strong point at this popular watering hole.  Drinks are strong and tasty, and the cafe food is always just as remembered.  A good hamburger comes on a Kaiser roll with a side of thin, greaseless fried potato rounds, and the corned beef hash is neatly chopped and topped with two poached eggs.  Chops, steaks, and fresh fish flesh out the menu.  For dessert, try the housemade apple brown Betty.  Seating areas include sidewalk tables, the boisterous bar area, a dark but quiet back room, and a sunny back porch.

exterior of Perry's on Union Street in San Francisco, California
exterior of Perry’s on Union Street

Roam Artisan Burgers   
1785 Union St./Octavia St. 
Burgers and shakes are the fare here.  More description and images.

Rose’s Cafe   
2298 Union St./Steiner St. 
Known for its house-baked goods, Rose’s is especially choice at breakfast.  More description and images.

Shake Shack + Indie Superette 
3060 Fillmore St./Filbert St.
Order up the famous NYC burger here.  Or select something from the next door mini market’s extensive vegetarian menu.  More description and images. 

Union Street hotels

Motel Row 
Lombard St. from Van Ness Ave. to the Presidio. 
A plethora of lodgings lines this 20-block corridor. 

Hotel Del Sol
3100 Webster St./Lombard St.  57 rooms.  Some kitchens.  Pool; sauna.  No smoking.  Free parking. 
Formerly a 50s-style motor lodge, this family-friendly lodging has been transformed with vibrant colors and comfortable furnishings.  The colorful guest rooms feature beach house decor, and several palm trees and a hammock await in the vibrant pool area. 

exterior of Hotel del Sol in San Francisco, California
exterior of Hotel del Sol

Union Street Inn 
2229 Union St.  6 rooms.  2-night min.  No pets.  Children not encouraged.  Afternoon snack; breakfast.  Self-parking nearby. 
Set within a 1904 Edwardian, this sweet inn has spacious, airy rooms with antique accents.  An English-style garden is heavy on roses, and a detached cottage inside the original carriage house has a private garden. 

(; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)