Insider Tips on
San Francisco Neighborhoods

Explore San Francisco neighborhoods, and experience this city the way the locals do!

Many tourists spend most of their time concentrated in the Fisherman’s Wharf and downtown area. There are good reasons for this: you are close to public transportation, and have easy access to most of the city’s main attractions.

That said, if you really want to understand the personality of San Francisco and its residents better, exploring the different San Francisco neighborhoods is the way to do that.

What you will find in this section of San Francisco Neighborhoods:

This is arguably the best section of the SF travel guide, because it's where all the information comes together in a truly manageable format. It includes sample itineraries for each neighborhood, with recommendations for places to eat, to shop, to drink and to sleep.

For example, you'll learn about...

  • The most interesting streets to walk along.
  • How to include nearby attractions as part of your neighborhood explorations.
  • Suggestions on how to find those quirky bookstores, funky San Francisco shops, darling boutiques, tasty coffee, as well as a wide range of amazing places to grab a bite to eat or quench your thirst.

Which San Francisco Neighborhoods to Start With:

The classic neighborhoods to check out first are North Beach, Chinatown, the Mission, the Castro, Haight-Ashbury and the Marina. These areas offer the most in terms of quickly illustrating some of the distinct and colorful differences of San Francisco neighborhoods.

If you have more time, definitely check out Hayes Valley, Japantown and the Fillmore district, and Nob or Russian Hill.

If you really want to venture away from where most tourists go, spend an afternoon visiting Noe Valley, Bernal Heights or the Sunset and Richmond districts.

San Francisco Neighborhoods Guide:

The following is a quick and dirty description of the different San Francisco Neighborhoods. For more detailed information including sample itineraries just click on the related link.

North Beach:
With its Italian roots, North Beach is lively, colorful and chock full of cafes, Italian eateries, and good places to grab a drink. Popular with locals, it's also close to downtown, Fisherman's Wharf and Coit Tower, making it a well-liked neighborhood for tourists to explore as well.

The largest in the world outside of China, Chinatown bustles with activity during the day. Sample some dim sum, go for a tea tasting, wander through the food markets and herb shops, or pop into one of the local dives for quirky afternoon experience.

The Mission:
A touch gritty, the mission district is one of the sunniest neighborhoods in the city. Hipster and Latino influences dominate, and it's here that you will find the highest concentration of Taquerias in the city, as well as some of the city’s most happening nightlife. There are also excellent restaurants serving high-quality, artisanal fare, bohemian boutiques, urban-chic furniture stores and the oldest record store in SF.

The Castro:
The gay district of San Francisco, easily identifiable by rainbow flags lining Market, Castro and 18th streets, is a gorgeous neighborhood with beautifully restored Victorian homes, great restaurants, a bumping nightlife scene, and the coolest movie theater in the city.

Best known for its connection with the hippie movement of the 60s - the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin both had homes here - you can still see remnants of this colorful past represented in many of the neighborhood's shops. You'll also find thrift stores, boutique shopping, world markets, tasty restaurants, and some of the best shoe shopping for those who are looking for something original.

The Marina:
Posh, trendy and upscale, this is where San Francisco’s well-heeled folks come to shop, dine and throw back a cocktail or two, or three...

Hayes Valley:
Hayes Valley is an up and coming neighborhood, or perhaps it's more appropriate to say that it's already arrived. It used to be the location of several housing projects, but now it's where you go to find unique, designer clothes and shoes that sell for hundreds of dollars. Located close to the Civic Center, Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall, people often dine here on their way to a show. Even if you don't want to shop here, it's fun to browse, and there are plenty of great and affordable restaurants (like the best German restaurant in town), as well as the cutest candy store in the city.

The Fillmore District and Japantown:
The Fillmore district and Japantown are located right next to each other, so I mention them together. Another area with great shopping and dining options, come here to experience one of the four music venues near the intersections of Fillmore and Geary, visit Sundance's newly remodeled and swanky movie theater, or soak in the Japanese-style baths at Kabuki Springs and Spa.

Inner Sunset:
Because it's often foggy, I’ve heard people joke that the sunset district is the part of town where the sun is always set. Perhaps that helps to explain the down-to-earth vibe that you find here. Shops and restaurants line the streets near 9th Avenue and Irving, and are located close to an area of Golden Gate Park which has the Japanese Tea Gardens, Academy of Science museum, and De Young museum.

Outer Sunset:
The outer sunset begins roughly around 19th avenue, and is more residential and a bit more sleepy than other parts of the city. The far reaching avenues have a beach community vibe, and many surfers and outdoor enthusiasts live here to be close to Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park. There are pockets of Asian communities and shops, as well as a good handful of Irish pubs.

The Richmond District (Inner and Outer):
These are the sibling neighborhood districts to the Sunset districts, located along the northern side of Golden Gate Park. The inner Richmond along Clement is considered a mini version of Chinatown, and has some great restaurants and shops. The outer Richmond is where you can find attractions like the Legion of Honor museum, the Cliff House, Sutro Baths and Lands End.

SOMA (South of Market):
SOMA is a very urban neighborhood that has been becoming more hip and trendy with each passing year. Characterized by mostly warehouse buildings and artsy loft-style apartments, it's not exactly charming, but it's got a happening night life, and most of San Francisco's late-night night clubs are found in this part of town.

Nob Hill:
An affluent hill in the center of the city, this neighborhood is characterized by grand views of the surrounding city and steep streets, gorgeous homes, the famous Big Four Hotels (the Fairmont, the St. Francis, the Huntington, and the Mark Hopkins), as well as the Grace Cathedral. For a ritzy experience, try high tea at the Mark Hopkins. For something more campy, have a cocktail in the Fairmont's Tonga and Hurricane Room. For something off the tourist beaten track, try the charming little Italian place, Nob Hill Cafe.

Russian Hill:
Russian Hill is a quintessential San Francisco neighborhood. Charming and hilly, it's streets are tree-lined and full of Victorian homes, as well as a cable car that rambles through. It's close to tourist attractions, yet still off-the-beaten-track for most visitors. Polk Street has cafes, restaurants and shopping.

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