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Tulip festival brings life to Union Square as thousands line up to pick flowers

An aerial view of a busy city square with a crowd, colorful flowers, and surrounding buildings.
People line up to pick flowers at the Tulip Day festival at Union Square on Saturday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Spring arrived early in San Francisco on Saturday as thousands filed through Union Square to see a colorful display of 80,000 tulips—and pick a bunch to take home.

The free event, co-organized by the city, the Consulate General of the Netherlands and other local groups, brought much-needed foot traffic to the shopping district, which has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years—the latest blow being the announcement that Macy’s will close its flagship store.

According to event organizers, visitors were allowed to take up to eight tulips per person—if, that is, they could get their hands on them.

The tulip garden didn’t officially open until 1 p.m., but crowds began lining up hours beforehand, zigzagging around the square and surrounding streets. Locals and out-of-towners who spoke with The Standard as they waited in line were split on their perception of the area and if events like Saturday’s could energize the famous shopping district.

“I don’t frequent this area. The last time I was here was probably for last year’s tulip event,” San Francisco resident Annalise Martin said. “There’s just nothing here for me to come here more often. A lot of things have closed down, which makes it depressing.”

Others, like Sacramento resident Ocean Tran, who came out with his wife and three children, said they planned to make the trip out to the city worthwhile by staying around Union Square and possibly visiting other nearby attractions.

“It’s spring break,” he said. “Once we are done here, we may head over to the piers. It’s really up to these kids.” 

Tran added that he wasn’t worried about the narrative about the state of Union Square, but he understands how residents might not want to spend much time in the neighborhood.

“For me, if I’m coming to San Francisco, I’m going to stay here for a while and enjoy it,” he said. “Now if you’re in town, you’re close by, which probably makes it easier for someone to just come for the tulips.”

By noon, the line of tulip enthusiasts had gotten so long and unruly that city ambassadors had to stop people from cutting or saving spots for friends who left to get food. Visitors who hoped to go to the bathroom were allowed to leave and return but only after taking a selfie with an ambassador who was posted at the base of the metal dividers to prove they had been in line already.

Siblings Janet and Richard Lira came with a group of four friends from the East Bay in hopes of snagging some tulips, but they arrived around 12:45 p.m. and were told by ambassadors that they would likely not get any flowers.

“He told me, ‘I wouldn’t even recommend getting in line. Just go home. It’s not even worth it,’” Richard said, laughing. 

A colorful tulip garden with people, surrounding a central monument.
An aerial view shows the tulip display at Union Square | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

“I think the flower event is a bright and exciting experience,” Janet added, after waiting in line for less than an hour. “Unfortunately, I was not able to get any flowers. The staff wasn’t very helpful or organized, and the line situation was very confusing.”

The siblings said that even though they weren’t able to pick any flowers, they planned to spend the rest of the afternoon in the city.

“We will probably go get some food now,” Richard said. “Might as well while we are out here.”

Joel Umanzor can be reached at