Despite being super small geographically—it's only seven by seven square miles—San Francisco has a ton to offer. Between the picturesque views, the friendly communities, the European charm, countless culinary gems, and a unique cultural history, what's not to love about this city? Okay, maybe I'm partial since I was born and raised there, and maybe I've been missing it a little extra these days, but again, who wouldn't miss it?
That being said, it can be slightly difficult to get to know like a local if you aren't sure where to go once you've finished your tour of Ghirardelli. And while cable car rides can be fun (though I never rode one in the 19 years I lived there), the best way to get to know the city is by venturing into the various neighborhoods. To help you plan a trip, guide you through an adjustment period after a move, or even to refresh your sense of excitement for the city, we decided to compile a list of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco for every occasion, necessity, and desire.
Once you get to know each area a little better, you'll find out that it's truly one of the most livable, romantic cities in the world. Ready to hop on the virtual tour bus? Read through the profiles of the 17 best neighborhoods in San Francisco and what to do in each so you can experience it like a local.
Potrero Hill and Dogpatch
For expansive views of the San Francisco city skyline, climb the hills of Potrero Hill. This sunny residential neighborhood has a quiet, peaceful vibe, though there are plenty of reasons to venture out here even if you don't live in the area. Most notable among the eateries along 18th Street is Plow, which is definitely worth the wait. (Pro tip: Pack like you're camping out at Best Buy the night before Black Friday.) Just a neighborhood away, you'll find Dogpatch, which is an up-and-coming creative hub with lots of stylish shops, foodie destinations, and more. It has a more industrial vibe to it than Potrero Hill.
Make sure to check out MAC, an edgy clothing concept store with another location in Hayes Valley. It carries brands like Dries Van Noten, Noir Kei Ninomiya, and Minå Perhonen. Eat at Serpentine or Long Bridge Pizza, and then grab a drink and listen to some live music at Dogpatch Saloon. Just beyond Dogpatch and Potrero Hill is a little neighborhood called Portola Place. If you make it to this end of the city, check out Flora Grubb Gardens, which is a plant center that also has a cool espresso bar and some cool pottery.
The Mission and Bernal Heights
Here's where you'll find an endless array of artisan shops and internationally acclaimed restaurants every direction you turn. Though it used to have a reputation as one of the hippest neighborhoods in SF, the Mission is becoming more and more defined by the Silicon Valley bunch. That being said, it still retains much of its cultural roots. Just take a walking tour of the historic Missions and murals and you'll know what we're talking about.
For something a little less touristy, head to Dolores Park after you pick up some a sandwich from Tartine or an ice cream cone from Bi-Rite. (If you want to head to a park that's less crowded, head to Bernal Hill, a gorgeous spot to walk the dogs or go on a walk to get an unobstructed view of the city from above.) For something more formal, dine at Flour + Water or Foreign Cinema. We also can't get enough of Burma Love, the spinoff of Burma Superstar in the Richmond. For shopping, check out Basil Racuk for accessories and Unionmade for upscale menswear, accessories, and home goods. The many galleries in this area are also fun to walk through if you love scouting art.
Noe Valley and the Castro
Adjacent to the Mission District, you'll find the Castro, a historically working-class area that then became known as a destination for activism during the gay rights movement of the '60s/'70s and then later the AIDS outbreak in the early '80s. It remains an important meeting place for social justice advocates today, and the celebratory, vibrant sense of community also makes it a fun place to go out at night. The nightlife along Market Street is super lively, with people spilling into the streets (again, it has a palpable sense of community). For something just as involved but a less booze-centric, catch a late-night viewing of throwback movie, sing-along, or niche film at the gorgeous Castro Theatre.
Peel away from the bustling streets and into a charming area called Noe Valley, where there are gorgeous city views, traditional Victorian-style homes, and friendly atmosphere that attract families of all kinds. The clean-cut yet down-to-earth vibes make it quintessentially San Francisco. Eat at Little Chihuahua for a casual vibe and (not at all casual) life-changing burrito. Lovejoy's Tea Room is also a fun place to spend the afternoon. If you love cooking and stylish independent bookstores, you will fall in love with Omnivore Books.
Hayes Valley and NoPa
Located blocks away from the Civic Center (a proximity that makes jury duty a lot more enjoyable during lunch hour), you'll find one of the cities most stylish, sought-after neighborhoods: Hayes Valley. It stretches between some of the city's thoroughfares—Franklin and Webster to Market Street—so it's pretty easy to access from anywhere in SF. It's bursting with cool shops and delicious restaurants, so you could just pop into every store and be happy, but a few of our favorites are Birch for beautiful florals; Metier for jewelry; Acrimony, Azalea, and Rand + Statler for clothing, Souvla and Suppenkuche for casual eating and drinking; and Rich Table, Petit Crenn, and Jardinière for finer dining.
A few blocks away you'll find another bustling area called NoPa. This cool, centrally located neighborhood is right by Alamo Square, which you may recognize from the Full House opening credits. Divisadero is the main commercial street in the area, so when you're not enjoying the sun in the park, go check out the eclectic boutiques, delicious eateries (Nopa, Bar Crudo, and The Mill are our favorites), and dive bars.
Prepare for Chilly Fog, City Hikes, and Breathtaking Views:
Alamo Square sits right next to the Haight, an area with one of the richest histories city- and nationwide (I may be partial since I spent my formative years going to high school at this very intersection). Dine at Nopalito or Magnolia, and then get a taste for what life may have been like during the summer of love in 1969. While it's definitely not what it once was, you can count on seeing plenty of tie-dye, Victorians, and great vintage shops.
The best shopping and eating goes on in the surrounding areas known as the Lower Haight and Cole Valley (home to Zazie, a delicious French bistro, and Tank Hill). Cole Valley sits up against Golden Gate Park, too, which runs all the way through the Richmond and Inner Sunset to the Beach.
Presidio and Pacific Heights
If you take Masonic all the way from the Haight to Laurel Heights, you'll eventually hit Presidio Heights, a gorgeous neighborhood above the bay. Head into the wooded gem known as the Presidio, an old military base with a few attractions like a bowling alley, food truck events, and Crissy Field. Or keeping walking through Presidio Heights to see the manicured homes. For a more commercial vibe, check out Sacramento street. Design aficionados, you have to see the Future Perfect, a beautifully curated furniture shop, and Susan is great for high-end, edgy clothing that's reminiscent of Browns London.
Presidio Heights will turn into Pacific Heights if you continue walking East. While this scenic area is predominately residential, there's plenty to explore. In fact, it's worth visiting for the views alone (both of the homes, like the famous Mrs. Doubtfire house, and the bay). Find a park bench at Alta Plaza or Lafayette, or simply sit on the Lyon Street Steps to soak in the city's natural beauty. (If you enjoy looking at beautiful homes, venture west to Sea Cliff.)
The main shopping hub in this area is Fillmore Street, where there are tons of fun boutiques, the most notable ones being Elizabeth Charles, Cielo, and Curve for clothing, Nest for home goods, Jane for a hip coffee shop meets restaurant meets freelance mecca, and Out the Door, State Bird Provisions, Taco Bar, and Delfina for eats.
The Marina is a young area known for waterfront views of the Golden Gate Bridge as well as shops, restaurants, and late-night bars along Chestnut and Union Street. Just down hill from the picturesque, more grown-up neighborhoods of Pacific and Presidio Heights, the Marina is a popular destination for post-graduates, young professionals, and budding families. For dining, head to A16, Tacolicious, and Delarosa on Chestnut. Between the Marina and Pacific Heights, you'll find the pretty residential area of Cow Hollow as well as Union Street for all your household and shopping needs.
North Beach, Nob Hill, and Downtown
East of Pacific Heights is a little shopping street called Polk, which then spills into the various neighborhoods of downtown. Russian Hill looks like something you've seen in a movie and is most famous for Lombard Street, the windy brick road you've probably seen photos of. Nob Hill is like its dressed-up sibling, boasting incredibly steep hills and an opulent Old World charm.
Then comes North Beach, the Little Italy of San Francisco. Though it's a cliché tourist spot, you can't miss the romantic views from Coit Tower. City Lights bookstore is also a must-see for any bookworm, history buff, or die-hard San Franciscan. Another downtown neighborhood is Chinatown, which is incredibly busy and rich with culture, authentic dining, and photogenic side streets.
Though you'll find most of the high-end department stores in Union Square, don't miss the lesser-known, chic side streets in downtown. Check out the strip of shops and bars along Grant Ave (No.3 is great for jewelry with a hip, delicate look) and Jackson Square for a thoroughly London vibe complete with an Isabel Marant and other great shops. You should definitely check out Jay Jeffers in the Tenderloin if you love home goods. When it comes to dining, you can't miss Liholiho and Leo's Oyster Bar.
SoMa and Embarcadero
You should definitely visit the Ferry Building while you're in San Francisco. Right along the water in the Embarcadero area, it's reminiscent of an old-fashioned marketplace with high-end gourmet food stalls and restaurants. It also hosts a farmers market every Saturday, with the Bay Bridge as its backdrop. Further east and south, you'll reach SoMa, which is full of new developments and hip, high-end high-rises. You'll also find a ton of cultural spots to visit here, like the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Yerba Buena Gardens, Museum of the African Diaspora, the SFMOMA, and the ballpark stadium since this neighborhood is one of the largest in the city. Marlowe is one of our favorite restaurants in a quieter part of the area.
What are your favorite neighborhoods and haunts in San Francisco? Share them with us in the comments below.