(Ferry Building @ Embarcadero)
When I first moved to San Francisco, I really had no idea where and what all the neighborhoods were. So as a tourist, it’s really helpful to have a sense of the different types of neighborhoods so you can customize your visit.
1. Fisherman’s Wharf: This is obviously where the famous Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square and Boudin’s Bakery is. With that said, this is a huge tourist trap! The parking is atrocious and expensive (i once paid $25 for 3 hours in a lot!). Is it worth visiting? If you’re a first time visitor, always. Jump on the SF’s Muni F line and sit back on one of their historic street cars. Walkable.
2. Financial District: This busy neighborhood houses a lot of big financial companies on the west coast. It’s fun to get caught up in the hustle and bustle on the week day, but it’ll be a ghost town on the weekends. Walkable.
3. Union Square: Another popular tourist and shopper’s destination. Hands down, this area is the best shopping area. If you can think of a store you like, there’s probably a 3 leveled one here in the neighborhood. After a tough day of shopping, head over to the Westfield food court and get some fresh cream puffs from Beard Papa. Walkable.
3. SOMA: An acronym for SOuth of MArtket, SOMA is a youngish area filled with lofts, furniture stores, art spaces, tech companies, and warehouses. The Museum of Modern Art housed here near the Yerba Buena Gardens. Personally, I don’t think there’s much to see after 4th street, unless you’re going to the famous Folsom Street Fair… which… well… you’ll probably see more than you want to see.
4. Civic Center/Tenderloin: As Dave Chappelle puts it: “There’s nothing tender about the Tenderloin”. There are a few bars, art galleries, and Vietnamese restaurants that are worth going to, but it’s definitely a tough neighborhood. The Civic Center also houses city hall, the SF opera, and the Asian Art Museum. Is it the best area to walk around in? Probably not.
5. Nob Hill: Be prepared with your good walking shoes! Nob Hill is one of the hilliest neighborhoods in San Francisco, but it houses a lot of SF landmarks. You can still see a lot of the old buildings from SF’s early gold rush history.
6. The Mission: Personally, this is my absolute favorite neighborhood in SF. A slightly down and out neighborhood, this quickly gentrifying area has a lot of great (and cheap!) dive bars and restaurants. Grab an ice cream cone from Bi-Rite Creamery and head over to Dolores Park and people watch. If the day is nice, you’ll be able to catch a great view of SF from the top of the hill. Walkable.
7. Chinatown: Aside from NYC’s Chinatown, SF’s Chinatown is actually really interesting and full of Chinese people (I’m looking at you DC Chinatown. Where are all the Chinese people there?)! I personally don’t think that the Chinese food is very good here, but Golden Gate Bakery (nob hill?) makes the best egg tarts in the city. It’s shockingly good. Walkable.
8. The Castro: Surprisingly, this neighborhood isn’t very big, but it’s definitely a lot of fun and great people watching. This vibrant area is SF’s LGBT neighborhood. It is also the place that Harvey Milk got his start and where the historic Castro Theater is housed. The restaurants are good and the bars are plentiful. Walkable
9. North Beach: Adjacent to Chinatown, this area is the little Italy of San Francisco. A very cute neighborhood has lots of cute restaurants and bars. After a long brunch at Mama’s On Washington Square, head over to City Lights Bookstore and soak up all of it’s literary goodness. Walkable
10. Embarcadero: On a sunny day, this waterfront area has a gorgeous view of the Bay Bridge and the water. Locals and tourists alike head to the Ferry Building every Sat morning for the best farmer’s market EVER. Things might be a little expensive, but you can graze from stall to stall for free samples. After, head over to Hog Island for fresh oysters and a grill cheese. Walkable
11. Haight-Ashbury: The famous Haight is what people always think about when they think about SF in the 60s. Today, it’s still fun walking from boutique to boutique (although a little more touristy). Walkable
12. Japantown: A small Japanese neighborhood, Japantown is a good place to get some mochi, ramen, and little Japanese knicknacks. Tired from a long day? Head to Kubuki bathhouse and soak in their same-sex communal bathhouse for the rest of the day. There are also free walking tours starting at Japantown’s pagoda. Walkable.
11. Sunset/Richmond: Both Sunset and Richmond district has a lot to offer, but it is mainly a residential area. I’ve combined these two neighborhoods because the beautiful Golden Gate Park separates the two districts. GG Park is a great place to walk through and is even home to buffaloes (seriously!). After visiting the DeYoung Museum and the California Science Museum, head over to either of these two neighborhoods and grab a bite to eat.
12. Hayes Valley: This neighborhood is ridiculously cute. It has lots of great brunch places and small boutiques.Walkable
So many more neighborhoods! (Marina, Noe Valley, Pacific Heights, Potero Hill, Alamo Square, etc etc) There’s tons of other neighborhoods I didn’t cover, but if I did this post would be huge! Have fun and explore SF’s many many diverse neighborhoods.
(all photos courtesy of Kevin W: thanks!!)