Where to Explore: Best SF Neighborhoods

Experience SF like a Local

San Francisco Skyline on a Clear Day
Marco Simoni/Getty Images

You can't really go wrong in any neighborhood within the 7 by 7 miles that is San Francisco. Each one is overflowing with its own distinct culture, brimming with shops and restaurants, and offers its own kind of workout (hello, hills!). Here are 10 of our favorites:  

01 of 10

Nob Hill

For the absolute classic San Francisco experience, Nob Hill is your neighborhood. Not only are you just a cable car ride away from the city’s top sites, but you’re also perched on top of one of the bigger hills, which yields phenomenal views in all directions. The Cable Car Museum is just down the hill from Nob's perch and both Chinatown and Union Square are within walking distance (just be ready to feel the burn on the way back up). But we understand that living like a local is still somewhat of a priority. Fear not—even the tourist destinations in this city are full of local secrets. Just stroll over to Grace Cathedral for their Tuesday evening yoga sessions, which are free—including the mat rental—and open to all denominations. For those looking for a more upbeat excursion, check out the lineup at The Masonic, the 59-year-old building is a mid-century architectural icon and hosts popular acts like rocker Hozier and comedian Patton Oswald. 

02 of 10

North Beach

For the perfect intersection of true locals and easy access, North Beach is the place to go. Known as Little Italy, the area is still full of Italian families who’ve seen generations grow up on these streets. Lucky for you, that also means a ton of great Italian food around every corner (we're partial to Ideale, which makes a great date spot!). Play tourist and climb to the top of Telegraph Hill to check out Coit Tower, then do like the locals and lounge in Washington Square Park. At night, Grant Street lights up with plenty of bars, live music, and a few art galleries open late. Whatever you do, don’t miss City Lights Bookstore for endless reading material.

03 of 10

The Mission

Anyone who wants to be in the heart of the action should visit the Mission. This neighborhood is brimming over with amazing food options, from beautifully plated, Michelin-starred restaurants to no-fuss tacos and burritos. Our favorites are La Taqueria for its burrito (named the best in the nation) and Tartine Manufactory for more special occasions. Dolores Park is best when the sun is shining and it’s absolutely packed, which make for great people watching. The nightlife here is just as varied, from funky and beloved dives like The 500 Club and Zeitgeist to quirky bars slinging the best drinks in the city, like Trick Dog. There are also cozy local spots where the cocktails hit the spot (Homestead). It’s an incredibly walkable neighborhood (so flat!) and the Bart stations at 16th and 24th Streets will take you straight downtown for more adventures.

04 of 10

The Marina

 

smkstoll/Getty Images

This neighborhood is perfect for visitors in so many ways. First of all, it’s relatively flat (compared to most of the city). You’re also right along the bay’s edge where views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz are an everyday occurrence. And finally, there are plenty of budget hotels and motels so you can bargain shop for the best rates. But aside from all of that, it’s also a neighborhood full of great shopping (both name brands and local boutiques), great dining (coffee, lunch, dinner—you name it!) and a youthful nightlife. Go for a stroll along Crissy Field during the day to soak in those famous bay views or rent a bike and cross the Golden Gate into Marin. In the evening, Chestnut and Union Streets both offer endless options for dinner and drinks.

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

The Haight-Ashbury

 

Westend61/Getty Images  

Hippiedom lives on in San Francisco's hub of counterculture, where smoke shops and tie-dye are just as at home as hip clothing boutiques and independent bookstores. The neighborhood is known for its colorful Victorian homes and mix of relatively affordable eateries, like Magnolia's gastropub and the always buzzing Cha Cha Cha's, serving up fried plantains and endless pitchers of sangria in a colorful, plant-strewn space. Murals of musical legends like Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia adorn the exterior walls of buildings along Haight Street, and nearby Buena Vista Park offers a bit of hillside urban reprieve. Swing by Amoeba Music, housed in a former bowling alley, for the best selection of LPs in the Bay Area, and don't miss Club Deluxe for martinis and live jazz.  

06 of 10

NOPA

 Claude-Olivier Marti/Getty Images 

Old school San Franciscans know this popular micro-hood as part of the larger Western Addition, though Nopa (its name means “north of the Panhandle”) has come into its own over the last couple decades. Many of Nopa's locally owned boutique shops and buzzy restaurants exist along Divisadero Street, a once simple thoroughfare connecting SF's Castro District with Pacific Heights, from Haight Street to Golden Gate Avenue. It's also where you'll find The Independent, a bare-bones live performance venue that has attracted the likes of Beck and comedian Dave Chappelle. The Metro Hotel offers some of the city's most affordable overnight stays, and Alamo Square Park—overlooking the famous “Painted Ladies” seen in the opening credits of Full House, are just one block east of “Divis.”

07 of 10

Hayes Valley

ncheng93/Creative Commons  

San Francisco's Central Freeway sustained substantial damage during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, causing the eventual teardown of its Hayes Valley on and off ramps and completely transforming the neighborhood. Today Hayes Valley is one of the city's most upscale locales, a centrally located space known for its boutiques showcasing haute couture and cutting-edge wares, and bars and restaurants ranging from the landmark seafood eatery Hayes Street Grill to the Bavarian-style outdoor Biergarten. Surface-level Octavia Boulevard, which replaced the Central Freeway, is home to Patricia's Green—a small park hosting events like the artisan Urban Air Market and a bi-annually changing artwork. The SF Jazz Center is a prime spot for catching top live jazz ensembles, while the Sydney Goldstein Theater (formerly the Nourse) has hosted everyone from David Lynch to Bruce Springsteen.  

08 of 10

SOMA

APlights/Getty Images 

The city's museum hub by day and a center of nightlife by night, San Francisco's aptly named South of Market is a large stretch of industrial lofts and warehouses with an unquestionably urban feel. Easily accessible from Union Square and a bevy SF transit lines, SOMA boasts some of the city's most exciting restaurants and clubs, places like Marlowe—where the burger reigns supreme—and drag bar SF Oasis. The neighborhood's Moscone Center is the city's conference center, drawing loads of out-of-town visitors, who are within easy proximity to popular attractions like SFMOMA, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Museum of the African Diaspora. Catch performing arts and album release shows at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and 111 Minna, or make a full day of it with some of the city's most talked-about events, like September's annual Folsom Street Fair or the How Weird Street Faire in May.  

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

The Castro

 

Marco Simoni/Getty Images  

It's colorful, quirky, and brimming with life: San Francisco's Castro neighborhood is the center of the city's LGBTQ community, a place overflowing with dance clubs, delicious restaurants, and foot-traffic. A sidewalk plaque marks the Castro Street spot where gay rights activist and slain politician Harvey Milk once had his camera shop, and opened in 1972, the corner Twin Peaks tavern was the country's first gay bar to feature huge plate-glass windows, daring the whole world to look inside. The original Rainbow Flag flew over the city's annual Gay Freedom Parade in 1978, and these symbols of LQBTQ pride today fly freely neighborhood-wide. Swing by Dog Eared Books for lesbian love stories and new and used novels, or visit long-running Cliff's Variety to peruse multicolored wigs and fun gag gifts. The stunning Castro Theatre hosts art house movies and special events, like sign-a-longs and Sketchfest performances. A bit removed from the bustle, Cafe Flore is the perfect people-watching spot.  

10 of 10

Chinatown

 Karina Vera / EyeEm/Getty Images 

A series of striking architecture and strewn paper lanterns greet visitors to San Francisco's 24-block Chinatown, one of North America's oldest Chinatown's and SF's most iconic neighborhoods. Although the city's more authentic “Chinatown” is actually found along Clement Street in the Inner Richmond, a trip through this legendary place remains worthwhile for both locals and visitors alike. Between all the dim sum eateries (for a range of dining options, China Live is a must) and souvenir shops are hidden gems like Grant Avenue's Chinatown Kite Shop, and the family-owned Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory along Ross Alley, where you can purchase bags of freshly made fortune cookies to go. Chinatown's Tin How Temple is one of the country's oldest still operating Chinese temples. To learn more about this and other Chinatown's landmarks, embark on an All About Chinatown walking tour. 

Was this page helpful?