How to Enjoy a Conference in San Francisco (Union Square / SOMA)

San Francisco is a great city, and conferences can be a lot of fun, but it is easy to get stuck into a hotel or convention center like Moscone and not actually enjoy the City while you are there. Last year I spent five days out at a convention at Moscone and staying at Union Square and forced myself to get out and explore this part of the City that I normally leave for the tourists.

Without a car or necessarily large gaps of time in your schedule exploring can get complicated but there are a few tips that can help you find more than just the standard stops when you’re at any conference.

  1. Before you go reach out to friends who live nearby, they may have to head to meeting or events in the more “touristy” area but have good finds that you might not easily see.
  2. Ask your bartender/barista/waiter where there favorite spots are around their work. Where do they go to grab a coffee, drink or bite? What do they do on breaks in the area?
  3. Yelp! Not everyone is a fan of yelp but it is often a great place to start getting ideas from or find a place that you wouldn’t see just walking by. Make sure to skim the reviews and not just go by the stars so you know what you’re going to walk into. Like does the place take a long while? Or is it a place locals actually go.

After using these tips I was surprised to find out how much I actually enjoyed the Union Square / SOMA area that I normally avoid. It’s not just for tourists and I will definitely be coming back to many of the restaurants and bars I tried out. If you’re going to be visiting the area take a look at the list below for some good finds just outside of the convention center and hotels.

Wherever your convention is next time make sure you get out and enjoy the location. Have you done this recently? Let us know what you recommend down in the comments whether it was in San Francisco or elsewhere.



624 Post Street, San Francisco

This great Italian restaurant is hidden in the Andrews Hotel. From the bread we started with to the limoncello for a finish it was a great dining experience. We were able to walk in with out reservations and were sat in about ten minutes. The food was authentic and flavorful; the wine was luscious and well priced. It’s a great way to enjoy some good Italian food in the city without dealing with the parking hell that is North Beach (Little Italy).

75 Yerba Buena Ln, San FranciscoMexican Food Tropisueno San Francisco

Looks like a nice restaurant but tastes like street tacos: the perfect combo. I ordered an enchilada and a taco for about $6 and they more than filled me up, along with free chips and a variety of salsas. Plus TVs where you can stop in to watch a game if you need a break from the conference.

Café Madeliene

Various Locations

A little lunch café with great salads, sandwiches and soups. Oh and the pastries looked amazing but I used my willpower and passed. A friend from the city and I met up there to enjoy a quick catch up lunch. Very impressed.


Fireplace Eno San FranciscoEno Wine Bar

320 Geary Street, San Francisco

I didn’t even notice this place as I walked by it for the first two days under my hotel but then I saw a sign making a wine joke and had to stop in. It is a cozy place that I fit in both in my jeans one night and a formal dress the other. They had a World Cup themed tasting flight. Not a place for cheap wine but definitely worth the cost. Cheese and chocolates great as well.


246 Kearny St, San Francisco

One of those places that has a bit of a prohibition feel to it, which mind you I love. You need to sneak upstairs to overlook the place and get out of the crowd a bit but once we got away from the bar the place had a great feel and the cocktails couldn’t have been better.

Dirty HabitDrinks Dirty Habit San Francisco

12 4th St, San Francisco

This is a bar hidden up on the top of the Palamor Hotel. Walk right through the bar and there is a huge patio. Good patios in San Francisco seem to be few and far between, especially down by Market Street. This place was a great way to spend a perfect SF afternoon and enjoy their craft cocktails.


Nespresso Coffee San FranciscoNespresso

90 Grant Ave, San Francisco

Want a fun coffee experience? Stop by the Nespresso store. So I am spoiled and we have one at home and I still enjoy sitting down in the café and enjoying one of the creative drinks they make out of the same thing I have at home (Photo you once sent Silvio). Plus the open windows make it a great place to people watch everyone walking around Union Square. If you don’t feel like the café you can also head downstairs to the shop where you can taste the new flavors they are offering.

La Boulange de Yerba BuenaSan Francisco Moscone Coffee Shop

781 Mission Street, San Francisco

Now yes they are owned by Starbuck and the coffee isn’t amazing but if you need a quick break to get away from your conference this patio feels like another world (photo). Grab a coffee or a salad and enjoy a break to catch up on emails or even better read a book.

Places to enjoy

Jesse Square Garden

Mission Street between 3rd and 4th

This garden just across the street from Moscone North is a quick escape with a great view. Grab your book or if you’re hungry you’ll find food trucks parked right there.

St. Patrick Church

756 Mission St., San Francisco

If you’re someone like me who enjoys a beautiful church St. Particks’s is a worth popping your head in. The current church was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and has a great history as a piece of the city that hasn’t changed.

I didn’t have a chance but there are a variety of museums right around Moscone and Union Square from the Contemporary Jewish Museum to the Cartoon Art Museum. (Unfortunately, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is closed for renovations until 2016.)

Looking for even more things to do check out our “Best Things To Do in San Francisco” list.

For more information about San Francisco check out these great books on Amazon including 111 Places in San Francisco That You Must Not MissLonely Planet San Francisco, and Fodor’s San Francisco.

About Megan

Megan MacNee is the founder of Traveling Nine to Fiver. From nine to five she works in the non-profit world in California. She focuses on exploring the world from her own backyard to across the globe. You'll find her sharing about explorations through food, books, travel, and more.