The Van Ness / Civic Center region is major historical and cultural part of San Francisco. Many government buildings are located along Civic Center Plaza and United Nations Plaza. Part of the historical significance of this area owes to the signing of the United Nations Charter in 1945 at the Herbst Theater and its designation as national historical landmark in 1987. The Van Ness corridor is the primary location for the district's retail and cultural center.
Once known as Highway 101, Van Ness Avenue is now the home of a neighborhood known as the ‘Van Ness Civic Center’. Situated around this busy historic stretch of road are some of the most beautiful and iconic buildings to be found in the city by the bay. It used to be a residential district full of beautiful and well-appointed mansions until it was used as a firebreak in the San Francisco fire. Since then it has become home to some of the most beautiful pieces of architecture the city has ever seen, including the seat of government, City Hall.
Since the San Francisco fire tragedy, there haven’t been many new stand-alone homes built in this area, so the majority of the people who live in the Van Ness / Civic Center district live in condominiums and lofts. The area is well known for its copious collection of restaurants and shops, being a beautiful market district in the center of the city. Along with its assortment of culinary delights, it also offers many artistic entertainment opportunities. The War Memorial Opera house is one example of a grandiose piece of old world architecture that will awe and inspire you.
For those who prefer to get around without using their own vehicle, there are many options to travel to and from the Van Ness Civic Center. The local neighborhoods are accessible from the bus route, and the entirety of Van Ness is incredibly walkable for those who prefer to travel by foot. In general you can reach over 37 bars, restaurants, and coffee shops within 5 minutes of any portion of the Van Ness road. In addition this part of town is very well known for hosting large events and festivals for everything from Christmas to Earth Day.
In regards to the rental apartments and such you can find in the area, know that if you long for 1950’s living, this place will suit you beautifully. The architecture and style of the time are very evident in the buildings here, and it’s said the best view of the Civic Center is from the third floor, drawing a premium on those locations. With the University of California being nearby, it’s not uncommon to find Law Students living here, though they prefer to take their amusements elsewhere. The Opera, Symphony, and other entertainments of this area come with a bit of a steep price tag.
The austere and daunting designs of this area may have been exactly what Daniel Burnham had in mind when he designed and planned the areas along this street. The buildings are aesthetically beautiful, but architecturally intimidating, encompassing the awe that government can inspire in those who travel its streets, displaying the protective presence of the municipalities’ leaders to its constituents. It’s entirely possible this was intentional, the dramatic tragedy of the fire in 1906 likely inspired Daniel Burnham to craft an area that reassured a devastated and traumatized populace.
As is the nature of San Francisco, there is no place within its boundaries that won’t be splashed with an array of the city’s own color and culture. As a tribute to this every Sunday and Wednesday one can find the ‘Heart of the City’ farmers market offering a panorama of prepared foods, affordable produce, and the occasional greenhouse artifact or potted plant. All in all it provides a delicious breath of fresh air to this stone edifice of modern governance. For those wanting to be at the heart of everything, the Van Ness district is a wonderful place to love, live, and eat!