San Francisco Neighborhoods


The neighborhoods of San Francisco are as diverse as they are fascinating. Whether moving to the Golden Gate City or just trying to get to know its most unique areas, this San Francisco neighborhood guide breaks down the basics of each neighborhood, outlining the main drags and some of the more notable hotspots unique to each. No trip to San Francisco would be complete without visiting such destinations as the Castro, Haight-Ashbury, SOMA, Chinatown, North Beach, Union and Pacific Heights.

Castro District  

Epicenter: Castro and 18th St.

Reputation: gay. Main Drag: Market & Castro. Hotspots: The Cafe, Q-Bar, Lookout, Castro Theatre.

The universally agreed Mecca of gay life is San Francisco's Castro District. The affluent North side of Market is home to a predominantly gay and lesbian community, excellent bakeries, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and of course, gender bending bars. The famed Castro Theatre, the Castro's historic art deco movie palace, screens old and independent films from around the world. On Halloween, the center of San Francisco is the Castro, with crowds in the thousands celebrating in the streets.

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Epicenter: Grant and California

Reputation: exotic, crowded, open markets. Main Drag: Dragon Gate, Bush and Grant. Hotspots: Lychee Garden, House of Nanking.

Enter at "Dragon's Gate" at Grant Avenue and Bush Street. San Francisco's bustling Chinatown is a tightly packed warren of Chinese restaurants, shops, temples and street vendors. Great for exotic gifts, and fireworks on Chinese New Year.

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Cole Valley 

Reputation: Middle-aged couples, young professionals, nice apartments. Main Drag: Cole & Carl. Hotspots: Eos, Zazie.

Cole Valley is a colorful and quaint San Francisco neighborhood with a distinct community feel. Unlike it’s frequently packed neighbor, the Haight, mom & pop businesses make up the majority of this neighborhood’s shopping opportunities; the main drag is a bit more “big city” with dozens of cafes and restaurants, some of which are considered some of the best Bay Area dining spots. Dramatic city views are perks of living in or visiting Cole Valley, especially if you drive up to the top of Tank Hill to enjoy the panoramic vistas.

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Financial District 

Reputation: 9 to 5, $$$. Main Drag: Market & Drumm. Hotspots: Ferry Building, Embarcadero Center, Justin Hermann Plaza.

Occasionally called the “FiDi” (although we’ve yet to hear many actual San Franciscan’s use the term), the Financial District neighborhood of San Francisco is aptly named for an abundance of modern and historic buildings that house headquarters of corporations like Charles Schwab, Gap Inc., VISA, the 12th district of the Federal Reserve and more. This area isn’t all work and no play, though; shopping malls like Embarcadero Center, the Ferry Building and Crocker Galleria frequently welcome spree-loving locals and leisure travelers. By virtue of all the businesses in the area, there are also plenty of snazzy little bars where many of the corporate bigwigs have been known to enjoy a martini lunch.

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Fisherman's Wharf 

Epicenter: Embarcadero and Taylor/ Pier 39

Popular with tourists and sea lions, Fisherman's Wharf is full of shops, silly museums and family fun. Still a working wharf, its vendors sell thousands of tons of fish and shellfish. Take an early morning walk down "Fish Alley" to see fisherman at work. Later, the Wharf is boardwalk-style family entertainment with decidedly tourist attractions such as Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum, the Red & White Fleet, the Wax Museum, and, of rare interest to local San Franciscans, the Aquarium. For maritime-lovers and WWII buffs, the San Francisco Maritime Musuem is at the foot of Polk St. and massive USS Pampanito is docked right at Pier 45.

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Epicenter: Haight and Ashbury

Reputation: hippies and headshops. Hotspots: Amoeba Records, Red Vic movie theater, Villains.

The stretch of shops now referred to by San Francisco locals as the Upper Haight was the center of '60s psychedelia. Despite gentrification and proliferation of stores like Ben & Jerry's and The Gap, it still retains its hippie counterculture credentials, and is dotted with Victorian houses, anarchist bookstores, piercing salons and clothing funky shops.

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Hayes Valley 

Epicenter: Hayes and Laguna

Reputation: trendy. Hotspots: Patxi's, Absinthe.

With its close proximity to the San Francisco opera, symphony and theatre district, Hayes Valley is ground zero for the downtown socialite. Hayes Street teems with shoe stores, hip boutiques and quirky home furnishing stores. Some of San Francisco's best restaurants surround this once socially decimated San Francisco neighborhood, including Absinthe, Suppenkuche, Zuni Cafe and the Hayes Street Grill.

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Reputation: sushi, Zen design. Main Drag: Post & Buchanan. Hotspots: Kabuki Spa, Takara, Do Re Mi Karaoke.

A neighborhood predictably packed with pretty architecture and plenty of culture, Japantown in San Francisco is a lively and colorful destination for both living and playing. There’s almost always something to do here, whether shopping in lively Japan Center (which houses dozens of restaurants and the largest Japanese bookstore in the US) or in the odd shops of the streets adjacent to the Center, or hitting up events like the Cherry Blossom Festival. By virtue of the Japan Center Garage, affordable parking is shockingly convenient in this slice of San Francisco.

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Lower Haight 

Epicenter: Haight and Fillmore

Reputation: thirty-somethings with attitude. Hotspots: Molotov's, Mad Dog in the Fog, Upper Playground.

Unlike its hippie-historied sibling, the Lower Haight is more punk than peace. Barflies spill onto the street on weekends, rocking out to metal, reggae, techno or rock, depending from whence they come. In the daylight, the Lower Haight sprawls with organic food shops, riotus hair salons, coffehouses and up and coming boutiques.

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Epicenter: Union and Fillmore

Reputation: meat market, frat party. Main Drag: Union & Buchanan. Hot-spots: Matrix, Blue Light, Balboa Cafe.

The chardonnay swilling set trade business cards and napkin'd numbers with each other, making dates and deals simultaneously. Sorority girls gone grown up fraternize with local real estate agents and club promoters. Shopaholics cruise Union Street looking at MAC makeup while young urbane professionals mingle on the Marina Green. This northerly San Francisco neighborhood affords gorgeous views of the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the mating dances of the upwardly mobile.

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Mission District 

Epicenter: Mission Street between 16th and 24th Streets

Reputation: hipsters, Latinos, cheap food and drink. Main Drag: 16th & Valencia; Hotspots: Zeitgeist, Pork Store, El Farolito.

The heart of San Francisco's predominantly Latino neighborhood is 24th Street, a colorful collection of authentic restaurants, taquerias, Mexican bakeries, produce markets, specialty shops and murals. Mission Dolores at 16th and Dolores streets is the oldest structure in San Francisco (many of San Francisco's Spanish pioneers are buried on the site) and, two blocks away, on Dolores and 18th St., the palm tree studded Dolores Park (ÒDolores BeachÓ to sunbathers) still has a Spanish flavor.

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Nob Hill 

Reputation: ritzy hotels, great views. Main Drag: California & Mason. Hotspots: Grace Cathedral, Fairmont Hotel.

As one of the most iconic neighborhoods in San Francisco, Nob Hill enjoys a well-deserved reputation for privilege, a swanky style and a broad array of landmarks. Nob Hill’s personality is truly unique in its marriage of both old and new – vintage barber shops and classic cocktail lounges mingle with upscale boutiques, sassy dive bars and huge nightclubs, not to mention some of the most famous hotels in San Francisco.

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Noe Valley 

Epicenter: Noe and 24th St.

Reputation: Smalltown, USA. Hotspots: The Dubliner, Joe's.

What Noe Valley lacks in nightlife, it makes up for in quaint cafes, craft boutiques and coffeehouses. Citydwellers seeking a more relaxed pace flock to this progressive San Francisco neighborhood, where lesbian mothers push strollers and Labradors are more common than Republicans.

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North Beach  

Epicenter: Broadway and Columbus

Reputation: strip clubs and Italian food. Hot-spots: Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, Stinking Rose.

San Francisco's version of the Red Light District, North Beach at night is a bustling neon home to strip joints, bars, cafes and restaurants. Meander through the narrow streets off Broadway and see why this is San Francisco's "Little Italy." Like is Italian heritage, this San Francisco neighborhood still holds onto its 1950s Beatnik legacy with the bohemian City Lights Bookstore at the corner of Columbus Ave and Jack Kerouac Alley. Don't miss Tai Chi in the nearby Washington Square on weekdays or the North Beach Jazz Festival every August.

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Pacific Heights 

Epicenter: Fillmore and Sacramento

Reputation: yuppies and families. Main Drag: Fillmore & California. Hotspots: Fishbowl, Godzilla Sushi.

One of San Francisco's more exclusive neighborhoods, Pacific Heights houses more than its share of mansions and gorgeous parks, with sweeping views of the marina and Bay below. On Fillmore Street, Pacific Heights neighborhood visitors will find upmarket shops and boutiques, like Kiehl's, Betsey Johnson and Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic. Restaurants like the Elite Café, Jackson Fillmore and Vivandi Porta Via keep locals happy with their casual class.

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Panhandle / NoPa 

Reputation: USF students, easy access to GG park. Main Drag: Turk & Masonic. Hotspots: Papalote, Madrone.

Named for the area’s lush Panhandle park, the Panhandle neighborhood of San Francisco is a relatively peaceful destination packed with local coffee shops, quaint businesses and pretty Victorian and Edwardian homes. This tiny neighborhood is located in the center of the city, sandwiched between bigger, more well-known neighborhoods like the Haight, Hayes Valley and the Western Addition, giving residents easy access to dozens of popular gathering spots and notable destinations.

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Potrero Hill 

Reputation: unpretentious, residential. Main Drag: 18th between Connecticut & Texas streets. Hotspots: Connecticut Yankee, Succotash.

The Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco boasts some of the city’s cleanest streets, houses with small gardens, and an odd assortment of O.J. Simpson murals (since this is where he grew up). This cute neighborhood enjoys a peaceful sort of ambiance as it’s basically isolated from the hustle of the rest of the city by freeways and tracts of industrial properties—many of which now house condos and lofts— contributing to a slower pace. The main drag plays host to a variety of unique stores, and this area boasts a diverse selection of restaurants and nightspots.

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Reputation: former military compound, isolation, beautiful landscaping. Main Drag: Presidio Blvd. Hotspots: Baker Beach, Presidio Bowl, Presidio Social Club.

A national park within the boundaries of the city, the Presidio is both a lush getaway with hiking trails & creeks and a charming neighborhood peppered with restaurants, interesting old military structures, and beautiful, historic former officers’ homes. The area is also home to Crissy Field Center, an urben environmental education center with programs for schools, after school programs, summer camps and more. For both locals and travelers, this area frequently hosts exhibits, walking tours and nature activities that give a good glimpse into the area’s beauty and history.

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Epicenter: 6th Ave. and Clement St.

Reputation: Asian families, foggy weather. Hotspots: Burma Superstar, Brothers Korean BBQ.

San Francisco's Richmond District is largely residential but the bustle and business of Clement Street (and, a few blocks south, Geary Boulevard) make this a popular evening out. Vietnamese, Malaysian and Tibetan foods and businesses belie the neighborhood's ethnic diversity. Flanked by the forests of the Presidio to the north, Golden Gate Park to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Richmond District is a sports enthusiast's paradise.

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Russian Hill 

Epicenter: Union and Hyde

Reputation: expensive condos, rich folk. Main Drag: Hyde & Green. Hotspots: Bacchus, Sushi Groove.

Rising over the west flank of North Beach, Russian Hill has an isolationist, artistic vibe reflective of its history. As late as the 1970s, this tony San Francisco neighborhood was considered rather bohemian (in fact, it served as the backdrop for Armistead Maupin's ribald "Tales of the City" novels). While it has moved decidedly upscale, Russian Hill's magnificent views, winding staircases and charming café's make it one of our favorite San Francisco neighborhoods.

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Sea Cliff 

Reputation: where Danielle Steele and Robin Williams live. Main Drag: Sea Cliff Ave. Hotspots: lots of ridiculous mansions.

One of the most affluent neighborhoods in San Francisco, Sea Cliff is a stunning destination filled with multi-million-dollar homes, gorgeous landscaping and some of the most coveted views of the city, the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Tour busses and vans are largely banned from this area to maintain the privacy and exclusivity, but if travelers have a chance to drive themselves around the luxurious streets of Sea Cliff, they’ll have no trouble understanding why this neighborhood is home to corporate executives, famous musicians, political bigwigs and stars like Robin Williams.

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Sixth Street  

Reputation: Gritty and unrepentant. Main Drag: Sixth Street (between Market & Folsom) Hotspots: hip boozing joints like Club 6 and Anu.

Famously gritty and bold, Sixth Street enjoys a truly unique character. This San Francisco neighborhood has spent a great deal cleaning up its streets, building facades and tough reputation while still ardently maintaining the daring, yuppie-repelling personality that makes it so enticing. Funky bars and edgy salons mingle with turn-of-the-century SRO hotels, a smattering of sketchy liquor stores, odd art installations, intriguing art galleries and affordable restaurants.


Epicenter: Folsom and 11th Street

Reputation: warehouses, nightclubs, leather bars. Hotspots: Slim's, Eagle Tavern, Asia SF.

San Francisco's sprawling South of Market district (SOMA, in popular parlance) is home to web gurus, urban warriors, offbeat artists, and an unending supply of club kids. This San Francisco neighborhood's industrial, warehouse nature is perfect for the megaclubs and leathermen alike. Dance-hungry hipsters flock to bars like 1015 Folsom and the infamous End Up while risque gay bars like the Eagle, the Stud and the Hole In the Wall draw a more community more diverse than the queens of the Castro. In the daylight hours, look for substantial San Francisco discount shopping, like cheap fabrics, designer labels and furniture.

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Epicenter: 9th Ave. and Irving

Reputation: the 'Burbs. Hotspots: Hotei, UCSF.

The Sunset is one of San Francisco's most family-friendly neighborhoods, with sprawling blocks of quaint single-family abodes. The restaurants and bars at western base of Twin Peaks provide lattes to baby-clad mothers while the surfing community holes up on the cool, fog-laden beachfront huts lining the Great American Highway.

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Epicenter: Polk and California

Reputation: seedy, dirty, great Pakistani food. Main Drag: Turk & Leavenworth. Hotspots: Bambuddha Lounge, Chutney Restuarant.

The Tenderloin, so named for the choice cuts of meat afforded to police officers who worked this once violent 'beat', is indeed still a rag tag San Francisco neighborhood, but not without its charm. While Glide Memorial church attracts large numbers of bohos and hobos alike, bustling Polk Street attracts brunch brats and (in the evening) all manner of debaucher. Not for the faint of heart, but certainly exciting.

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Union Square 

Epicenter: Post and Stockton

A lone Corinthian column surrounded by newly installed palm trees marks SF's mecca for shopaholics. Ringed by Macy's, Saks, Neiman Marcus and Levi's stores along with colorful flower stands and street performers. Surrounding streets feature superstores like Virgin Megastore, FAO Schwarz, Gump's and Britex Fabrics along with boutiques for Coach, Bulgari, Cartier, Thomas Pink, Louis Vuitton, MaxMara, Emporio Armani, Diesel, Prada, Celine, Escada, Gucci, Guess, Hermes, Agnes B., Betsey Johnson and Wilkes Bashford.

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Upper Market 

Reputation: Busy hub. Main Drag: Market and Church. Hotspots: Safeway, Amber Bar, Chow.

When doing research on San Francisco’s Upper Market neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to see it with a hyphen attaching it to areas like Castro, Twin Peaks Noe Valley and other nooks of the city. Because of this neighborhood’s lively and central location, residents of and visitors to the Upper Market area enjoy easy access to those aforementioned neighborhoods, not to mention outstanding views from atop the Peak, village-like shopping areas, beautiful and colorful Victorian homes, fantastic restaurants and some of the most popular nightclubs in the city. What’s more is that the historic F-Line streetcars run throughout this entire area to grant locals and travelers a car-free experience.

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