Justin Herman Plaza

Embarcadero Plaza, previously known as Justin Herman Plaza, is a pulsating, vibrant public space located at the heart of San Francisco, California. Initially named after M. Justin Herman, an influential city planner who extensively shaped the cityscape, the plaza beautifully combines urban aesthetics with a unique community spirit.

This bustling urban space is situated at the junction of Market Street and the Embarcadero, an intersection of economic, cultural, and social dynamism. It provides a magnificent view of the Ferry Building, one of San Francisco's most iconic landmarks, and the Bay. The plaza is dominated by the abstract Vaillancourt Fountain, standing at a height of 40 feet. This unconventional piece of modern art was designed by the renowned Québécois artist Armand Vaillancourt in 1971, and since its inception, it has been a center of dialogue, debate, and discussion around public art and its purpose.

During any given day, the plaza brims with a blend of locals and tourists engaged in a variety of activities. Lunchtime sees a confluence of nearby office workers seeking a moment of respite, while evenings are usually reserved for gatherings, protests, rallies, and sometimes even impromptu performances. The plaza also serves as a stage for outdoor concerts and seasonal events like the holiday ice-skating rink, which transforms the plaza into a winter wonderland.

Embarcadero Plaza isn't just a stand-alone attraction but also serves as an entry point to other notable landmarks, including the historic Ferry Building Marketplace and the scenic Embarcadero Promenade. The plaza's location is as central as it can get.

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Why visit Justin Herman Plaza?

  • Art and architecture. The Vaillancourt Fountain on Embarcadero Plaza is a testament to the city's commitment to public art. Its abstract design, though controversial at times, embodies the spirit of San Francisco — unafraid to be different and always open to discussion.

  • Proximity to other attractions. The plaza is strategically located near some of the city's most notable attractions. It is an excellent spot to begin a tour of the Ferry Building Marketplace, enjoy a walk along the Embarcadero Promenade, or delve into the bustling streets of the Financial District.

  • Events and activities. The plaza is a hotbed of activities throughout the year. From music festivals and political rallies to bocce ball games and the seasonal ice-skating rink, there's always something happening that engages both locals and tourists.

  • Historical significance. The plaza commemorates M. Justin Herman, a city planner who played a significant role in San Francisco’s urban development post World War II. As you explore the plaza, you're stepping into a piece of the city's history.

  • Photogenic views. Justin Herman Plaza is a favorite spot among photographers and social media enthusiasts alike. From there, you can capture stunning shots of the San Francisco Bay, the historic Ferry Building, and the city skyline.

  • Culinary delights. The area around the plaza offers a wide array of dining options. Whether you're up for some gourmet food at the Ferry Building Marketplace, a hot dog from a street-side vendor, or a meal at a sophisticated restaurant, you're in for a treat.

  • Public transportation access. The plaza is easily accessible via various modes of public transportation. The historic Market Street Railway, the Muni Metro, and BART all have stops nearby, making it convenient for tourists to reach the plaza from different parts of the city.

Best places to visit near Justin Herman Plaza

  • Ferry Building Marketplace. Located adjacent to the plaza, the Ferry Building is a vibrant marketplace with various food vendors, gourmet shops, and artisanal products. Don't miss the Saturday farmers market.

  • Exploratorium. This unique science museum offers hands-on exhibits, interactive displays, and educational experiences for visitors of all ages. It's located just a short walk from the plaza.

  • Embarcadero Center. This complex features a shopping center, multiple office buildings, and an ice skating rink during the winter months. Enjoy shopping, dining, and stunning views of the bay.

  • Coit Tower. Positioned on top of Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower offers panoramic views of San Francisco. Take a leisurely stroll from Justin Herman Plaza to this iconic landmark and enjoy the beautiful murals inside.

  • Pier 39. A popular tourist destination, Pier 39 offers a variety of attractions, including shops, restaurants, street performers, and the famous sea lion colony. Take a leisurely walk along the waterfront and enjoy the lively atmosphere.

  • Ghirardelli Square. Chocolate lovers shouldn't miss Ghirardelli Square, home to the renowned Ghirardelli Chocolate Company. Indulge in delicious treats, shop for souvenirs, and enjoy the charming ambiance.

  • Chinatown. Located nearby, San Francisco's Chinatown is one of the oldest and largest in the United States. Explore its vibrant streets, browse through the shops, and sample delicious Chinese cuisine.

  • North Beach. Known as San Francisco's "Little Italy," North Beach is a lively neighborhood with Italian restaurants, coffee shops, and historical landmarks. Visit Washington Square Park and enjoy the neighborhood's unique charm.

  • Alcatraz Island. Take a ferry from Pier 33 and embark on a tour of the infamous Alcatraz Island. Explore the former maximum-security prison and learn about its intriguing history.

  • Golden Gate Park. Although it's a bit farther from the plaza, Golden Gate Park is definitely worth a visit. It offers numerous attractions, including the Japanese Tea Garden, California Academy of Sciences, and the de Young Museum.

What are the most interesting and unique facts about Justin Herman Plaza?

  • Justin Herman Plaza has often served as the starting point or endpoint for several city races, like the famous San Francisco Critical Mass bicycle rides.

  • During the winter months, Justin Herman Plaza becomes home to an ice rink. It's one of the most popular holiday destinations in the city and has been a beloved tradition for many locals and tourists.

  • Over the years, the plaza has seen numerous significant protests and demonstrations. One of the most notable is the Occupy SF movement in 2011, a part of the larger global Occupy movement, which protested against social and economic inequality.