History, Art, Music ... Free December Discoveries in San Francisco's Financial District; an Easy Side Trip for Union Square Christmas Shoppers

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History, art, music . . . free December discoveries in San Francisco's Financial District

An easy side trip for Union Square Christmas shoppers

A forest of towering corporate headquarters and bank buildings, San Francisco's Financial District can be a hard place to get to know. But it holds all kinds of free surprises: noontime concerts, displays on local history, even some splendid art.

School vacations are a good time for a family outing, since most of the commercial buildings are open only on work days.

We list 14 of the best free attractions. Numbers correspond to those on our map. As you stroll, glance into lobbies and keep your eye out for sculpture, handcrafted ship models, and Christmas decorations.

1. World Trade Center, Ferry Building. See the grandeur of yesteryear, when this was the eastern portal of the city before the Bay Bridge was built. Five huge murals of the Pacific by Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias, done for the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939, line the rampway from the first to the third floor.

2. One Market Plaza (Southern Pacific Building), 1 Market Street. This month, holiday decorations replace the changing art exhibits near the elevators in the expansive lobby--past the restaurants, shops, and skylit fountain.

3. World of Economics, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, 101 Market Street. Hands-on exhibits highlight this innovative lobby museum. In one computer game, you must, as president, control spending and taxation to keep both unemployment and inflation down; if you fail, you're booted out of office. The museum is geared for ages 12 and up, but younger children will have fun reading the cartoon displays. In the auditorium, 20-minute video programs (on the state of the economy, international borrowing, and other topics) are screened at 12:15 and 12:40.

4. Teleguides, Embarcadero Center, Buildings 1 through 4 (below the escalators). Installed a year ago, there are now 139 Teleguides around the Bay Area. Push a button, and a computer screen gives information about almost any aspect of the city you choose--neighborhoods, transit, cultural events, landmarks. The Embarcadero Center sponsors daily Christmas music performances this month; for a schedule, call (415) 772-0585.

5. Crown Zellerbach Building, 1 Bush Street (at Market Street). Changing art exhibits are on view in the lobby. December 3 through 14, you'll see paintings by the Marin Society of Art; Christmas displays round out the month's offerings.

6. A World of Oil, Chevron Building, 555 Market Street. Glorifying the slippery substance that fuels the world's economy, exhibits on oil exploration, production, and refining include a microscope through which you can see fossils of the type that make hydrocarbons. The museum's auditorium shows a film each noon (many subjects). A lobby gallery--closed for repairs this month--has changing art exhibits.

7. Montgomery Washington Tower, 655 Montgomery Street. Small but excellent displays on 19th- and 20th-century San Francisco--and, charmingly, on the history of this street corner.

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