San Francisco, California

Karl The Fog

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The Bay Area

The Bay Area includes everything from the northern wine country cities of Napa and Sonoma, the city of San Francisco, San Jose and the peninsula region to the south of SF, and Oakland across the Bay. The three big cities in the area include San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. San Francisco is perched on the end of a peninsula and surrounded by the Pacific to the west and the San Francisco Bay to the north and east.

The closest areas to the city include Marin north across the Golden Gate Bridge, Oakland to the east across the Bay Bridge, and the peninsula south down either the 101 freeway or the 280 freeway. There are commuter trains running around the city, into the east bay and south a bit. That’s supplemented by Caltrain which runs from SF down to San Jose. San Francisco has the largest ridership of buses in the country which help with getting around the extremely hilly city. If you live here you’ll get to know these methods of getting around.

People head north into Marin for hiking and outdoor recreation, some of the best in the world, or farther north to do some wine tasting in Napa or Sonoma, also some of the best in the world. They go east to Oakland or Berkeley for culture and different, less tech-heavy social scenes. Or they go south to the peninsula, mostly for work.

Marina District

Young Professionals

San Francisco is silly with Young Professionals and they live throughout the city but some popular places for them include the Marina district on the north side of the city (more finance types), South of Market, for the tech and health industry peeps, the Mission for the hipster/groovier types, and even out to the Outer Sunset for the surfer/beach types.

The Marina is just blocks from the Bay with plenty of walking, running, biking, dog-walking, volleyball, frisbee throwing and general play along the waterfront area. The walkability of the neighborhood is top-notch with tons of casual bars, restaurants, coffee shops and stores (including an apple store) on the main commercial strip along Chestnut street. The neighborhood is filled with apartment buildings, split level homes and single family homes. You have the added benefit of being right near the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge so you're minutes from Marin when you're up for a hike or a bike in the hills.

  • Marina
  • SOMA
  • Mission
  • Outer Sunset

Hayes Valley

DINKs/SINKs/AI'ers

When youngsters tire of living in the Marina or SOMA they often put Hayes Valley on the shortlist of neighborhoods to move. If you're read that SF is falling apart then someone forgot to tell the residents and shopkeepers of Hayes Valley. The ultra-hip boutique shopping, cafes and restaurants are as casual hip as anywhere in the city and more grown-up locals flock here even if they live elsewhere.

This area is also right at the edge of Market Street so access to public transportation is ideal for heading downtown on Muni or the rest of the Bay Area on the BART system. The housing is generally apartment/condos in split-level/divided homes with bigger buildings going up along Market St within a short walk to the center of the action. Side note: Hayes Valley is also referred to as "Cerebral Valley" because so many AI startups are in the area. So, that's kind of interesting.

  • Hayes Valley
  • Cole Valley
  • Russian Hill

The Castro / Bernal Heights

LGBTQ+

The Castro neighborhood is probably the best known LGBTQ+ area in the country (maybe the world?). It was ground-zero for the original civil rights struggle and you can feel that activism and ongoing support throughout its streets. The area is home to some of the best gay bars in the city but also a multitude of coffee shops, restaurants and markets that are popular with everyone (locals and tourists) so all should feel welcome here.

The housing is a mix of pricey single-family Victorians and sub-divided homes with single floor flats. Increasing numbers of apartment buildings are going up along Market Street on the northern border of the neighborhood and the public transport is excellent with Muni trains running right up into the heart of the area.

Bernal Heights is another interesting choice to put on your list. It attracts young families and the lesbian community who flock to the community gardens, cafes, fruit markets and cool casual restaurants lining the commercial district of this hillside neighborhood on the southern side of the city.

  • Castro
  • Bernal Heights
  • SoMa
  • The Haight

Noe Valley

Young Families

Given the price of housing it is hard to say anywhere is good for young families in SF but let’s start with the assumption that if you’re looking at the city then you’re ready for the sticker shock.
The city tends to pull young families south towards neighborhoods like Noe Valley (Stroller Valley) Glen Park, Bernal Heights, west towards the Sunset and Richmond districts, or even kind of Southwest into neighborhoods like Lakeside or Ingleside/Oceanview. The original homes in these neighborhoods tend to be smaller than the north-side “wealthy” areas but many of the good public and parochial schools are here.

Noe (as locals sometimes say) is popular both for its wonderful commercial district stretched along 24th street, and its perfect location not too far from the rest of the city to the north and the freeways to the south for the tech commuters who don't want to cross the entire city each day. It is known as both kid and dog-friendly with a couple of convenient dog-parks and kid-parks so everyone gets to play. The housing is primarily single-family with the occasional split home and small apartment building sprinkled throughout the blocks.

  • Noe Valley
  • Cole Valley
  • Bernal Heights
  • Glen Park
  • Sunset
  • Richmond
  • Lakeside
  • Ingleside/Oceanview
  • West Portal
  • Outer Mission/Excelsior

Pacific Heights

Established Families

The neighborhoods with the largest and priciest homes tend to be centered on bedrock, and they start on the north side in Pacific Heights, through Presidio Heights and Laurel Heights and then down into Ashbury Heights. Again, these neighborhoods tend to have much bigger homes, great commercial districts of their own and many private schools are in their midst.

Pacific Heights is locally famous as the most expensive, fanciest of the neighborhoods although Presidio Heights and Laurel and Ashbury Heights and others give them a run for their money. Several excellent private schools are in the neighborhood so if you want your munchkins to walk to school and can foot the bill for private this is a desirable spot. Fillmore is the primary commercial street in the neighborhood and is filled with high-end shopping boutiques, excellent restaurants and a 1/2 dozen or so cafes.

While plenty of the housing is single family homes there are also mid and high rise-ish apartment/condo buildings in the area so you get a mix of families and young finance types hanging on Fillmore.

  • Pacific Heights
  • Presidio Heights
  • Laurel Heights
  • Jordan Park
  • Ashbury Heights

Inner Richmond

Families/DINKs/Young Professionals

Parks, Parks, Parks

Inner Richmond is a beautiful neighborhood between Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. Seriously, it’s so easy to walk to both of these parks, so you’ll never be short of things to do on the weekend. Golden Gate Park has the de Young Museum and Cal Academy, and the Presidio is home to the Walt Disney Family Museum, making this area especially family-friendly. Its proximity to USF and UCSF means that the dive bars on Geary Boulevard get overrun with students occasionally, though most weeknights this is a fairly quiet neighborhood. Sure, you can find your classic Victorian homes here, but there are also quite a few Edwardian-style buildings, giving Richmond its own architectural look. Clement St has the best restaurants in this neighborhood, and it even has a farmer’s market every Sunday. There are a few different MUNI buses that will take you downtown, though the 5 and the 38 are the most reliable. This neighborhood has a charming little public library branch, so many diverse restaurant options, and none of the crazy-steep hills that make walking in other parts of the city so strenuous. The BART doesn’t come this far west, and the parking here can be a little annoying if you don’t have a driveway, but getting around is still fairly easy with the buses. While the west side of San Francisco gets more weather than downtown and the Mission, the fog in Inner Richmond usually doesn’t stick around for too long, and there are plenty of sunny days where this neighborhood really shines.

  • Clement St
  • Uncle Boy’s
  • The Bitter End

Outer Richmond

Families/

Foggy Beaches

Outer Richmond has the honor of being right next to Ocean Beach, making it a little colder and windier than other parts of the city, but also a great place to go to see beautiful sunsets and surf. This is where you can find the Sutro Baths and the (unfortunately shuttered) iconic Cliff House. This neighborhood is also right next to Golden Gate Park and Lands End, making it a perfect spot for dog walking and outdoor activities. Outer Richmond continues the theme of putting museums in parks, with the Legion of Honor Museum being a great place to see Rodin sculptures in Lands End. Outer Richmond also has some not-so-hidden gems when it comes to restaurants, including Aziza and the world-famous Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant. Little Russia is nearby, meaning there are some great Russian bakeries in this area, as well as the beautiful Russian Orthodox Holy Virgin Cathedral. This neighborhood offers a relatively quiet, family-friendly vibe. The housing paradoxically gets more affordable the closer you get to the beach. Being further from downtown, this area is great for those who want a more relaxed vibe.

  • Fiorella’s
  • Outside Lands Music Festival
  • Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden

Potrero Hill

Families/Young Professionals

What a View

On the eastern side of San Francisco, you can find the Potrero Hill neighborhood. It borders the Mission and SOMA, with the 101 and 280 running along either side of it, making it commuter friendly. This area has great food and above-average public schools (though good luck navigating the lottery system). The further up the hill you go, the more neighborly and family-oriented Potrero Hill becomes. This neighborhood doesn’t see as many tourists as other parts of the city, so it generally has a much calmer vibe. Although the hills are steep, the view of downtown and the Bay from the top is worth the hike. Public transit may leave something to be desired, with the main bus routes being the 10 and 19, but the Caltrain makes traveling south much easier. The southern part of this neighborhood has decent parking, at least. The median age for this area is around 36 years old, so you can expect to see plenty of working professionals.

  • Alimentari Aurora market
  • Third Rail
  • Provender

SOMA

Young Professionals

Bus, Club, another Club

SOMA, aka South of Market, is a neighborhood with a high concentration of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. It's home to a historic LGBTQ and Leather district, and it has the feeling of being in the center of the city when it comes to public transportation and commuting to work. SOMA also has a plethora of museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Museum of the African Diaspora, the American Bookbinders Museum, and the California Historical Society. The downside to living in SOMA is that the housing crisis is evident here. Some areas have “sketchier” vibes than others (6th St and 9th St), so living in a luxury development or between 4th St and the water in Rincon Hill may be your best bet. The commute is unbeatable, though proximity to the Tenderloin scares some people off.

  • Cat Club
  • Folsom St
  • Oasis

Haight-Ashbury

Young Professionals/DINKs/Families

Did you know that you can actually tie-dye anything?

Haight-Ashbury is a centrally located neighborhood in San Francisco with a history of being home to the hippie movement in the 1960s. The effects of this are still visible, especially on Haight St, where there are still plenty of funky vintage stores, crystal shops, tattoo parlors, and tie-dye splattered cafes and restaurants. Of course, now there’s also a Whole Foods on the corner of Haight and Stanyan. Haight-Ashbury doesn’t offer a lot in the way of parking, but it is a great biking area, with most of the city being only a 30-minute bike ride away. This neighborhood has decent public transportation, including the Caltrain, so it might be easier to forgo having a car altogether. Haight-Ashbury sees some of the effects of the housing crisis, so car break-ins can happen if you aren’t careful, and it can be louder if your bedroom faces the street. On the positive side, this neighborhood has some beautiful areas, with Oak St bordering the panhandle, and Stanyan bordering Golden Gate Park. The areas toward Lower Haight tend to be more upscale. The beautifully detailed and colorful homes of this neighborhood make it easy to see how this neighborhood has inspired so much creativity.

  • Janis Joplin’s House
  • Grateful Dead House