Explore San Francisco’s eclectic neighborhoods.
We may be known as the City by the Bay, but we’re more than just waterfront experiences. From Nob Hill to Chinatown to the Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco is home to a diverse array of neighborhoods and communities.
A national park within the city, the Presidio is both a lush getaway with hiking trails and creeks plus 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 urban environmental education center with programs for schools, after school programs, summer camps and more. This area frequently hosts exhibits, walking tours and nature activities that give a good glimpse into the area’s beauty and history.
The Castro is a mecca of gay life and culture. The affluent north side of Market is home to a predominantly gay and lesbian community and features excellent bakeries, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and LGBTQ+ bars.
The famed Castro Theatre, the Castro’s historic art deco movie palace, screens old and independent films from around the world.
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, it still retains its hippie counterculture credentials, and is dotted with Victorian houses, anarchist bookstores, piercing salons, and funky clothing shops.
Enter at “Dragon’s Gate” on 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 gifts and fireworks for Chinese New Year.
Cole Valley is a colorful and quaint San Francisco neighborhood with a distinct community feel. Unlike its frequently packed neighbor, the Haight, mom & pop businesses make up the majority of this neighborhood’s shopping opportunities; the main drag has a big city vibe with dozens of cafes and restaurants, some of which are considered some of the best dining spots in the Bay area.
Dramatic city views are a highlight of Cole Valley, especially if you drive up to the top of Tank Hill.
The Financial District neighborhood is aptly named for an abundance of modern and historic buildings that house headquarters of corporations like Charles Schwab, Gap Inc., Salesforce, Google, VISA, the 12th District of the Federal Reserve, and many more. This area isn’t all work and no play, though; there are shopping malls like the Embarcadero Center, the Ferry Building, and Crocker Galleria.
By virtue of all the businesses in the area, there are also plenty of chic bars where many corporate bigwigs have been known to enjoy a three-martini lunch.
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 neighborhood, including Absinthe, Zuni Café, and the Hayes Street Grill.
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, dive bars, and huge nightclubs.
What Noe Valley lacks in nightlife, it makes up for in quaint cafes, craft boutiques, and coffeehouses. City dwellers seeking a more relaxed pace flock to this progressive San Francisco neighborhood, where diverse families push strollers and Labrador retrievers are common.
The heart of San Francisco’s predominantly Latino neighborhood is 24th Street, which is home to a colorful collection of authentic restaurants, taquerias, bakeries, produce markets, specialty shops and murals. Something that you can’t miss is Mission Dolores at 16th and Dolores, the oldest structure in San Francisco (many of San Francisco’s Spanish pioneers are buried onsite).
The Marina District
The Chardonnay-swilling set swap business cards with each other, making dates and deals simultaneously. Shopaholics cruise Union Street looking at makeup while young professionals mingle on the Marina Green. This northerly San Francisco neighborhood affords gorgeous views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, and fantastic people watching.
A neighborhood packed with pretty architecture and plenty of culture, Japantown is a lively destination for both living and playing. There’s almost always something to do here, whether shopping in Japan Center (which houses dozens of restaurants and the largest Japanese bookstore in the US), visiting the eclectic shops on 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 convenient.
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 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 and delicious food.
Rising over the west flank of North Beach, Russian Hill has an isolationist, artistic vibe. 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 cafés make it one of our favorite San Francisco neighborhoods
Located in the heart of the city, Twin Peaks is a breathtaking neighborhood that rises above the rest (literally!). Occupying two of San Francisco’s highest summits, Twin Peaks offers a quiet seclusion from the city below. The neighborhood’s high-altitude location removes it from hurried urban activity, while the steep descent from its hilltops is worth it for the sweeping San Francisco vistas.
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.
San Francisco’s sprawling South of Market District (SoMa) is home to web gurus, urban warriors, and offbeat artists with an industrial, warehouse nature.
Dance-hungry hipsters flock to bars like 1015 Folsom and the infamous End Up, while gay bars like The Eagle, The Stud and the Hole In the Wall draw a community more diverse than the Castro. In the daylight hours, look for substantial San Francisco discount shopping, like inexpensive fabrics, designer labels and furniture.
North Beach at night is a bustling neon home to bars, cafes, restaurants, and clubs. Meander through the narrow streets off Broadway and see why this area is also San Francisco’s Little Italy.
This neighborhood still holds onto its 1950s Beatnik legacy with the bohemian City Lights Bookstore at the corner of Columbus Ave and Jack Kerouac Alley. The North Beach Jazz Festival also occurs here every August.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is home to a whopping 1,017 acres of gardens, trails, lakes, and picnic areas. One of San Francisco’s most beloved landmarks, the park is bordered by many SF neighborhoods including Inner Sunset, Cole Valley, Haight-Ashbury, Richmond, and more – meaning there are so many entry points for your Golden Gate Park exploration. Between the people watching, seasonal activities, museums, conservatories, and more, you’ll want to set aside plenty of time to journey through the park!