GCN4 is a transcriptional activator in the bZIP family that regulates amino acid biosynthetic genes in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The N-terminal 100 amino acids of GCN4 contains a potent activation function that confers high-level transcription in the absence of the centrally located acidic activation domain (CAAD) delineated in previous studies. To identify specific amino acids important for activation by the N-terminal domain, we mutagenized a GCN4 allele lacking the CAAD and screened alleles in vivo for reduced expression of the HIS3 gene. We found four pairs of closely spaced phenylalanines and a leucine residue distributed throughout the N-terminal 100 residues of GCN4 that are required for high-level activation in the absence of the CAAD. Trp, Leu, and Tyr were highly functional substitutions for the Phe residue at position 45. Combined with our previous findings, these results indicate that GCN4 contains seven clusters of aromatic or bulky hydrophobic residues which make important contributions to transcriptional activation at HIS3. None of the seven hydrophobic clusters is essential for activation by full-length GCN4, and the critical residues in two or three clusters must be mutated simultaneously to observe a substantial reduction in GCN4 function. Numerous combinations of four or five intact clusters conferred high-level transcription of HIS3. We propose that many of the hydrophobic clusters in GCN4 act independently of one another to provide redundant means of stimulating transcription and that the functional contributions of these different segments are cumulative at the HIS3 promoter. On the basis of the primacy of bulky hydrophobic residues throughout the activation domain, we suggest that GCN4 contains multiple sites that mediate hydrophobic contacts with one or more components of the transcription initiation machinery.