Guide To Our Favorite San Francisco Neighborhoods

Why do we all love San Francisco? It could because it's a human-scale city (at a mere 7 miles by 7 miles) where every quarter is packed with a spectacular variety of diverse neighborhoods. With hills, bridges, green spaces and spectacular vistas, each neighborhood of San Francisco contributes to making it one of the greatest cities in the world.

Come with us ona virtual tour of the best of the city's vibrant neighborhoods — from North Beach, Chinatown, Japantown, Nob Hill, the Castro, and the Mission, to the Marina, Cow Hollow, and the Civic Centre. We'll tell you where to go and what to do, and about the secret alleys, small museums, historic parks and churches. Open up that Golden Gate, San Francisco, here we come!

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Chinatown

Chinatown

Enter into a magical world of of dragons, crouching stone lions, dolphins, and jade-green tiles.

It's the oldest Chinatown in the US, home to Buddha's Universal Church, Old St. Mary's Church (built in 1800s), Portsmouth Square (brimming with Asian produce and fish markets), Waverly Place (filled with tiny shops selling mysterious ingredients), the Tin Hou Temple, and the Kong Chow Temple (the oldest Chinese temple in San Francisco).

Discover the top spots and activities — from recommended walking tours that combine dim sum with a peek behind the scenes, to a mystery walking tour that uncovers ancient Chinese myths and folktales. It's all in the guide.

North Beach

North Beach

North Beach is where you find Little Italy, Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower, and Washington Square Park — so there's a lot going on in this neighborhood.

From its highest point at Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill catch panoramic views of the glistening blue bay beneath you and the island of Alcatraz in the distance. North Beach is one of San Francisco's greatest neighborhoods to explore on foot.

Take time to explore the hidden alleys and small streets, you'll be rewarded with fascinating discoveries — City Lights Bookstore, the Beat Museum, North Beach Museum, historic bars & cafés, and the wild parakeets that live there. Our article is jam-packed with ideas and reviews.

The Castro

The Castro

From downtown the Castro in San Francisco is a straight shot southwest along Market Street. Despite those directions, the Castro is often referred to as the gay capital of the world and is the center of the city's alternative communities. It was the first overtly gay community in the country. Perhaps that's why it's a wonderful neighbourhood to visit, with a liveliness, an elan, that's noticeably different from much of the rest of San Francisco.

Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury

The very name invokes the 1960s and the Summer of Love. It's still a haven for hippies, children of hippies, the curious, and vintage lovers

Haight-Ashbury's bright buildings, eclectic shops, and earthy cafes create an atmosphere that takes you back to the counterculture that created it. The neighborhood borders on Alamo Square, Lower Haight, Cole Valley, Hayes Valley, The Castro, and Twin Peaks.

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The Mission District

The Mission District

The Mission District in San Francisco is all about Latino culture, colorful murals, and a diverse range of ethnic foods. It's also home to a great park as well as the Mission Dolores, the oldes building in San Francisco. There's a lot to see, do & eat! Find out more in our guide.

Japantown

Japantown

Referred to as J-Town by the locals, Japantown's roots go back to the 1800's as the gateway entry for thousands of Japanese immigrants. Just one mile west of Union Square, it's easy to explore by foot. At its core is Japan Center, an enormous complex of stores, theaters, sushi bars and restaurants punctuated by a 100-foot-high Peace Pagoda.

In our guide we reveal the top reasons to visit Japantown — including the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival and culinary walking tours.

Nob Hill

Nob Hill

This tiny hill is home to San Francisco's most exclusive neighborhood dominated by Grace Cathedral and Huntington Park. From the top of Nob Hill you can see practically every neighborhood of the city.

Reasons to visit? How about the free Cable Car Museum! Other must-sees are the Grace Cathedral, built to resemble Notre Dame Cathedral, the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel for a cocktail at the famous Top of Mark Lounge and the grandaddy of them all, the Fairmont Hotel where Tony Bennett first belted out his trademark hit, I Left My Heart In San Francisco.

Pacific Heights

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        Pacific Heights

Sure, Pacific Heights is home to Billionaire's Row (former Millionaire's Row!), but there's lots of interest to us mere mortals. We love the parks and the view, but we're also fond of the bookstores and two really good places to eat.

And, since you're in the neighborhood, why not stop in for tea with Danielle Steele in her 55-room mansion!

Civic Centre

Civic Centre

Soak up some culture in the Civic Centre, home to San Francisco's City Hall, the opera house, a library, a museum and two plazas. It's bordered by the Tenderloin, Hayes Valley, and SOMA (south of Market).

Some of the most beautiful buildings of San Francisco are found nearby — the War Memorial Opera House, the Beaux-Arts-style Asian Art Museum, and the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall.

The Financial District

The Financial District

This is where the money is made! In fact, all of San Francisco's Fortune 500 companies are found in the triangular area bordered by Kearny Street, Washington Street, and Market Street (called the Wall Street of the West).

And what's that tall building point up in the sky? It's the Transamerica Pyramid on California Street, the tallest skyscraper in the city. Underneath the imposing towers executives walk alongside shoppers and tourists. In this core neighbourhood, you'll find the bustling Embarcadero's Ferry Building, and the mammoth Hilton Hotel.

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Twin Peaks San Francisco

Twin Peaks San Francisco

Twin Peaks is just about the highest point in San Francisco and has the best views of the city.

3,000 feet is a long way up, so before you go you're going to want to know how to get there (we've found a couple of guided tours for you) and what to expect when you arrive. (Hint: if it's cold and foggy, don't go that day!) You may also want to learn about the rare Mission Blue butterfly, found only in Twin Peaks Park.

Sunset San Francisco

Sunset San Francisco

A trip to southwest San Francisco is like a trip back in time. The Sunset district is defined by the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Park and it's something like a neighborhood of the 1950s, before chain stores, before massive residential construction.

There you will find locally-owned stores, funky cafes, and ethnic restaurants. It's also home to the lovely San Francisco Zoo, miles of ocean beaches, and the Stern Grove Music Festival. You're going to love it!

Victorian San Francisco

Victorian San Francisco

San Francisco is filled with thousands of Victorian Era houses, most notably at Alamo Square. That's because Alamo Square is where you'll find the most famous of these houses, a row of restored Victories known as the "Painted Ladies". However, it wasn't until the 1970s that these houses were called that, following the publication of the book of the same name.

Learn about the history of Victorian San Francisco and of Alamo Square and hear the story of Dr Color, the man responsible for so much of the colorful painting of San Francisco Victorian landmarks.

SOMA San Francisco

SOMA San Francisco

SOMA, or South of Market, has had a turbulent history. It first attracted industry, including foundries, and immigrant workers. In the mid-19th century it enjoyed a brief period as a desirable neighbourhood, but soon sunk into a collection of rooming houses and machine shops.

These days, though, SOMA has undergone a revitalization and is home to trendy restaurants, the convention center, gardens, and even the AT&T park where baseball is played.

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Ghirardelli Square

Ghirardelli Square San Francisco

It started out as the site of a woolens mill in the 1860s, but later became famous as the chocolate square. Todays it's a waterford boutique shopping square, with lots to do, great views of the bay, and a luxury apartment-hotel.

Here's what you need to know to visit and enjoy Ghirardelli Square.

Berkeley & Oakland

Berkeley and Oakland

Both these cities, located across the Bay Bridge, run at a slower pace than San Francisco yet still offer plenty to see and do.

It's where you'll find University Botanical Gardens, Chabot Space & Science Center, Chez Panisse, Jack London Square , and the Claremont Resort Hotel, which, like SF's Palace of Fine Arts was finished just before the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. Best of all, you're likely to leave San Francisco in fog and arrive across the Bay Bridge in the sun!

San Francisco Neighborhood Map

San Francisco Neighborhood Map

The neighborhoods are diverse here, but the boundaries between them are not always solid. There's an ebb and flow, a spillover, between many of them. So, neighborhood maps will vary, depending on who's doing the mapping. We'll show you some very interesting maps including the best one to carry around with you.

More City Neighborhoods

The Marina

The Marina

Bordered by Fisherman's Wharf, Cow Hollow, Russian Hill, Pacific Heights, and the Presidio, The Marina sits prettily on the edge of the bay with dreamy views of Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts and green spaces like the Marina Green, Crissy Field, and Fort Mason.

But it's not all about parkland and cycling paths, it's also a popular destination for young, beautiful professionals seeking libation at trendy restaurants and high-end bars along Chestnut Street. You know, people like you!

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Russian Hill

Russian Hill

A melting pot of all things San Francisco, Russian Hill also commands great views of the bay. We'll tell you about the things you want to see — like Lombard Street & Macondray Lane — and things you want to eat, like the best ice cream in the city, the best sushi, the best pizza, and even a complete gourmet tour.

Downtown

Downtown

Considered the heart of the city, San Francisco's Downtown is a fast-paced area filled with high end shopping like Hermes, Macy's, Sak's Fifth Avenue, Tiffany's, and Bloomingdale's. You'll also find the theater district, a bevy of fashionable boutique hotels, and the iconic Union Square.

Once an imposing sand dune, the square was made into a park in 1850. It's named for the pro-Union rallies held there just before the Civil War. The only hotel actually located on Union Square is the majestic Westin St. Francis. Two cable car lines serve downtown — Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason.

Cow Hollow

Cow Hollow

Abutting Russian Hill, the Marina, Pacific Heights, and Presidio, Cow Hollow is one of the cutest neighborhoods in San Francisco.

Come for the designer boutiques, cutting edge restaurants, outdoor cafes, trendy bars filled with hipsters and hippies along its busy commercial strip, Union Street.

Must-sees in Cow Hollow include the Octagon House, which is shaped how you might have guessed and is an historical landmark house. Then there's the Vedanta Temple, the first Hindu temple built in the West (in 1905).

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