Today upscale Jackson Sq is framed by Washington, Columbus, Pacific and Sansome Sts – but before the gold rush filled in the area with abandoned ships, this was a notorious waterfront dock area. Behind the iron shutters of these Italianate brick buildings, whiskey dealers, loan sharks, madams, lawyers and other hustlers plied their trades.

Current tenants are ad agencies, antiques dealers and interior designers – all of them much more subtle about wheedling money from unsuspecting consumers than Jackson Sq's original occupants. Notorious gold-rush saloon owner Shanghai Kelly and madam Miss Piggot made an almost literal killing, conking new arrivals on the head and delivering them to ships in need of crew.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby attractions

1. AP Hotaling Warehouse

0.09 MILES

'If, as they say, God spanked the town/For being over-frisky/Why did He burn His churches down/And spare Hotaling's whiskey?' This saloon-goers' retort…

2. Transamerica Pyramid & Redwood Park

0.18 MILES

The defining feature of San Francisco's skyline is this 1972 pyramid, built atop a whaling ship abandoned in the gold rush. A half-acre redwood grove…

3. Columbus Tower


If these copper-clad walls could talk, they'd name-drop shamelessly. The tower's original occupant was political boss Abe Ruef, ousted in 1907 and sent to…

4. Chinese Culture Center

0.24 MILES

You can see all the way to China from the Hilton's 3rd floor inside this cultural center, which hosts exhibits ranging from showcases of contemporary…

5. Beat Museum

0.24 MILES

The closest you can get to the complete Beat experience without breaking a law. The 1000-plus artifacts in this museum's literary-ephemera collection…

6. Jack Kerouac Alley

0.27 MILES

'The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great…' This ode by the On the Road and Dharma Bums author is embedded in his…

7. City Lights Books

0.27 MILES

No one could have predicted the cultural force City Lights would become when it first opened in 1953. Sure, it had a proletarian ethos suggested by its…

8. Wentworth Place

0.27 MILES

Dragons bring this shadowy brick byway roaring to life. The narrow entryway is illuminated with 'Dragon Boats Chasing Moonlight,' a new mosaic mural…