Unlike other cities of its caliber, San Francisco isn’t arranged in a grid-like format, nor is it easily divided into sections. Areas are constantly being renamed and new ones popping up – like Cow Hollow, the Dog Patch, and Tender Nob (where the Tenderloin and Nob Hill meet). In essence, it’s easier to go by address than neighborhood, as even San Franciscans have trouble discerning boundaries between the various districts. Nonetheless, a few areas have defied the transformations of time, among them alternative, bohemian Haight where the “Summer of Love” is still very much alive, Haight’s edgy neighbor, the Castro, the epicenter of the city’s gay and lesbian scene, and the artsy Mission, home to unassuming eateries and street murals galore.
San Francisco Neighborhoods
Union Square / Nob Hill / ChinatownExplore big-name retail stores and high-end hotels in Union Square, and discover cute boutiques and opulent apartment houses in Nob Hill. Nearby Chinatown is your stop for all things Chinese.
North Beach / Fisherman’s WharfHome of San Francisco’s “Little Italy,” North Beach is loaded with cool cafés and family-owned eateries. Fisherman’s Wharf is the ultimate tourist attraction, with performers, shops, and fresh seafood.
Presidio / The MarinaThe Presidio, home to museums and golf-courses, served as a military garrison under Spanish, Mexican, and American flags before becoming a national park in 1994.
The Castro DistrictThe Castro is the city’s queer center. Find bookstores, shops, and the Castro Theater here. Many hip restaurants are moving to the neighborhood, and the Castro also houses some of San Francisco’s most hopping late-night bars and clubs.
South of Market / Yerba BuenaThe once industrial area called South of Market – or “SoMa,” as it’s more widely known – began to welcome hip new restaurants into its abandoned warehouse spaces during the Dot-Com Boom. Today, it is also popular for the Museum of Modern Art and Yerba Buena Gardens’ relaxing green space and waterfalls.
Haight-Ashbury“The Haight” has changed dramatically over the years but it still maintains that hippie “Summer of Love” vibe. Starbucks-wielding commuters mingle in funky, incense-and-peace-symbol laden shops.
JapantownChinatown’s popularity has waxed and waned, and Japantown is now the cool neighborhood on the block. Experience a traditional music and dance performance, see a Japanese film in one of the many movie theaters, watch martial arts performed outdoors, or pamper yourself with a relaxing treatment at one of the area’s several spas.
EmbarcaderoFor a city with ocean and bay on three sides, San Francisco hasn’t made much of its waterfront real estate. The eastern waterfront, known as the Embarcadero, offers unparalleled views of the Bay Bridge but is most famous for housing the Ferry Building, which is chock full of some of San Francisco’s most beloved local food brands like Cowgirl Creamery cheese, Blue Bottle coffee, and Miette pastries and candies.
The MissionTraditionally an immigrants’ neighborhood, where Spanish is heard as frequently as English and colorful murals abound, the Mission has seen an influx of twenty-somethings who love its vibrant culture, abundant bars, and cheap rent. Plenty of Latin flavor can still be found around Mission and 24th streets, but the hipsters have taken over Mission Dolores Park, sprawling on the grass to take in the downtown views on sunny days. Valencia Street is the central artery for the hood’s new iteration.
Hayes ValleyThe old freeway on-ramp that used to run through Hayes Valley? It’s now a thriving community garden – just one example of the recent transformation of this neighborhood that usually goes unexplored by visitors. Boutiques and cafés have now taken over the ground floors of many old Victorian and Edwardian houses on Hayes Street, bringing new life to a once neglected area.
The FillmoreCommunity redevelopment doesn’t always go as planned, and for many years the Fillmore (or, the Fillmore District) suffered the consequences of ill-conceived efforts. But today, the former Harlem of the West is once again a live music mecca.
Golden Gate ParkLarger than New York’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park is full of curious nooks and crannies – the Shakespeare Garden, the AIDS Memorial Grove, the Japanese Tea Garden – and two recently updated blockbuster attractions: the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum.
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