A Visitor’s Guide to San Francisco Neighborhoods

Downtown/Financial District – the “Wall Street of the West” is here, for what it’s worth, including the iconic Transamerica Pyramid. SF’s theatre district is here, as well as some very nice hotels. Union Square has fabulous upscale shopping in name-brand department stores and speciality boutiques surrounding the Square itself. The beautiful and popular Ferry Building Marketplace is located on the Embacadero along the waterfront and offers dining options and a weekly farmers market.

Chinatown – the largest Chinese community in North America draws more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge. Enter at “Dragon’s Gate” at Grant Avenue and Bush Street to see the gallimaufry of Chinese restaurants, fish markets, produce stands, souvenir shops, fortune tellers, and temples.

North Beach/Fisherman’s Wharf – it gained fame in the 1950’s as the home of the Beat Generation, but City Lights Bookstore remains. North Beach is also home to restaurants – many of them Italian, Coit Tower, and strip clubs. Fisherman’s Wharf is super-touristy, but there’s a reason for that. Maybe it’s the ferries to Alcatraz Island, or Ghirardelli Square, or Pier 39, or the lovable sea lions, or the cornucopia of seafood restaurants and souvenir stores.

Nob Hill and Russian Hill – these historically wealthy neighborhoods just north of Union Square and west of Chinatown are home to the city’s finest hotels, steep streets, beautiful Victorian homes, lush gardens, and great views of the city.

The Marina District – this area between Fisherman’s Wharf and The Presidio offers excellent views and great outdoor activities in the Marina Green greenspace along the waterfront. It’s becoming a fashionable area, and Chestnut Street offers shopping and dining options.

Pacific Heights – this is the San Francisco often depicted by Hollywood, with historic Victorian mansions and panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. Good walking and great restaurants.

Tenderloin – it’s up-and-coming, but it’s also seedy and grimy. Go for dive bars, live music, and great Pakistani food. Art galleries and experimental theaters are slowly moving in.

SoMa – the area South of Market is large and transitioning. The abandoned warehouses and run-down Victorian houses brought in hipsters and internet companies in the 1990’s and the area become more fashionable. Twitter is here, as is AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants, and a diverse mix of nightlife options.

Mission District – historically Hispanic, but currently hipster central. Lots of great Mexican restaurants, plus lots of cafes, coffeeshops, bakeries, and bars that have lines of people waiting to enter. There’s 84 Zagat-rated restaurants here.

The Castro – the headquarters of SF’s gay community has arguably the best nightlife in town, as well as great boutique shops, bakeries, and restaurants.

Haight-Ashbury – the Haight-Ashbury of hippie lore is also known as Upper Haight and is located to the west of Divisadero Street. There’s still hippies hanging around, and some incense and tie-dye for sale, but there’s also people asking for money and high end boutiques and chain stores. Hippie Hill is worth a visit for a glimpse of history, and there are walking tours of the area available. Lower Haight, to the east of Divisadero Street, attracts a young crowd and is currently the more trendy area.

Hayes Valley – Martha Stewart would live here. It’s hip, chic, and trendy, near the opera, symphony and theatre district, and it’s got hot restaurants, posh boutiques and quirky home furnishing stores.

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