So you’re planning a trip to the City by the Bay and looking for the best San Francisco neighborhoods to check out?! I’m so excited for you — and this San Francisco neighborhoods guide will surely help you figure out where to spend your time! I’ve even included a map of neighborhoods in San Francisco to help you with your planning!
From the old-school taquerias of the Mission to the brightly-lit boutiques of Hayes Valley, San Francisco’s really got something for everyone! You probably imagine SF to be all fog, cable car rides, and Full House houses. Sure, the Golden Gate Bridge sure is a beauty, but to get to know the real City by the Bay, you’ve gotta explore some of the best neighborhoods of San Francisco — beyond Fisherman’s Wharf.
SF is one of the most diverse cities I’ve been to (and I’ve been to my fair share of cool spots around the world). We loved it so much we even chose to move here after visiting only once or twice. And on that first visit we barely scratched the surface.
Now?! You’ll find us exploring these different neighborhoods of San Francisco after work and on the weekends.
Whether you’re a long time visitor or it’s your first time here, you’ll be smitten with the diversity within the different neighborhoods in San Francisco. Each neighborhood really has its own personality, and you can walk one block over and bam — it’s like you’re in a whole different world. Here you’ll find trendy neighborhoods to grungry areas and everything in between.
While San Francisco is super small and geographically compact (compared to massive cities like my beloved NYC), it sure packs a punch into it’s mere 49 square miles. But this just means you’re never too far from picturesque views, European charm, unique cultural history, and of course, countless culinary gems. And within its diverse neighborhoods, you can grab an egg tart on one block and climb 300 steps to a panoramic view of the city from another.
And honestly, after checking out these San Francisco neighborhoods, I bet you’ll wanna move to at least two or three. Or at least add a whole bunch to your SF itinerary.
My suggestion for any San Francisco itinerary? Leave some wiggle room in your plans so you’ve got time to venture around a few of my favorite neighborhoods of San Francisco (I have a lot).
A few things to note:
- Microclimates are a real thing here! It’s true — it could be super sunny and beautiful out in one neighborhood, while another area of the city is foggy and windy. ALWAYS bring along a light sweater, especially if you’re planning to spend time on the coast.
- Some neighborhoods are tiny, with some being only a few blocks long. While this is awesome because it sometimes means it’s easier to get from neighborhood to neighborhood, this also means you could walk one block too far and reach less-than-desirable spots. If you ever feel super uncomfortable, turn around and walk a different way — you’ll more than likely find something more favorable.
- SF is smaller than other metropolises, but it still takes a while to get around. It can sometimes take an hour or so to get from one end of the city to the other, so don’t underestimate time or try to cram in too much. Look at the map of neighborhoods in San Francisco below and choose 2-3 that are next to each other per day to minimize travel time.
- Prepare for unwanted sniffs and smells — if you’re not used to a large homeless population, SF may be culture shock to you. While the city has made great efforts over the years to rectify this, homelessness is still a big thing in San Francisco. You might even see some tent cities — walk and move on.
- Tourists: you probably won’t venture to the southern part of SF (the more residential areas). Most of the touristy stuff is located within the northern half of the city. Take a look at the map of neighborhoods in San Francisco to see what I mean. 😉
And just FYI, (in case you were wondering), the best way to piss off a local: calling San Francisco “San Fran” or even worse, “Frisco”. Just don’t do it – please! The only acceptable nicknames are SF (literally saying the letters) and “the city”. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I cringe anytime I hear anything else. And while we’re at it — don’t call California “Cali”. That is unless you wanna show off your tourist status! #sorrynotsorry
Visiting soon? Here’s (lots) more San Francisco content!
- The Perfect 3 Days in San Francisco (a locals itinerary)
- All My Favorite Desserts in SF (over 50 of them!)
- The Ultimate San Francisco Bucket List
- The Prettiest Mosaic Staircases in SF
- Where to Watch the Sunset in San Francisco
- 30+ San Francisco Day Trips (so many!)
- My Favorite Spots to See the Golden Gate Bridge
Let’s get to it! I’m rounding up the coolest neighborhoods of San Francisco in this (ridiculously wordy) SF neighborhood guide!
Cultural Foodie Neighborhoods of San Francisco
1. North Beach
What you’ll find here: true Italian heritage, authentic Italian food, and great views at Coit Tower
If you’ve done any research on the different neighborhoods of San Francisco, you’ve surely heard of North Beach. I mean, it’s basically the Little Italy of San Francisco (and yes, this just means it’s filled with pizza — a hot commodity over here since there’s not much decent pizza in all of California unfortunately).
So with that being said, whenever we want fresh pasta or authentic Italian food, we head on over to North Beach. Always. I’ll never say no to some cannoli cream and/or focaccia bread!
But besides all it’s culinary delights, North Beach really is worth checking out (just don’t eat beforehand) — popular Coit Tower and Washington Square Park are over here! It’s a vibrant community with a rich historical connection to Italian immigrants and hence, seeped in Italian heritage.
There’s tons of independent coffee shops to sip your morning cappuccino, checked-tablecloth trattorias for afternoon dates, and retro-flavored bars serving cocktails al fresco. Expect a lively nightlife, antique shops, lots (and lots) of cute cafes, and interesting architecture!
Top Things to do:
- Browse City Lights Booksellers — a wildly famous bookstore with an emphasis on world-lit, the arts, and progressive politics
- Have a pizza picnic on the grassy park at Washington Square facing Saints Peter and Paul’s Church, known as the “Italian Cathedral of the West”
- Gawk at the views from Coit Tower (don’t miss the free murals at the base) and listen for the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill while climbing up
- Burn those thighs on the Filbert Street Steps (they have what I call an “urban jungle” feel) and make sure to check out the pre-1900, cottage-like homes on Napier Lane
- See the cable-pulling equipment in action at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum (a super quick stop but great for those who like history)
- Go gaga over maps (and other fascinating items like prints and rare books) at Schein & Schein
- Take a food tour — indulge in freshly baked bread, olive oils, gourmet chocolates, and of course, outstanding Italian pizza. Then sip and savor some cappuccinos!
What/where To Eat:
There’s lots of good stuff over here, but these are just the faves:
- Cafes and bakeries: Mara’s Italian Pastry, Cafe Trieste, Stella Pastry & Cafe, Liguria Bakery (go super early for some fresh focaccia, they sell out fast)
- Pizza: Golden Boy Pizza (always my #1 pick), Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
- Italian: Original Joe’s (always get the ravioli as your side and make sure to leave some room for their famous butter cake), The Italian Homemade Company
- Other: Firenze by Night, Sotto Mare, Portofino Seafood Co., Mama’s on Washington Square (great brunch)
2. The Mission
What you’ll find here: old-school taquerias, colorful Latino roots, diverse hipster vibe
The Mission District, commonly known as the “The Mission” to locals, is by far one of the coolest neighborhoods in San Francisco. No matter how many times I visit, I never get tired of it. It’s eclectic, colorful, vibrant, youthful, and artistic (to name a few), and here you’ll find tons of colorful murals and street art that everyone talks about.
The Mission is actually the oldest neighborhood in San Francisco (true story!), and it has a long history rooted in Latin American heritage and traditions. Some serious gentrification has occurred, but the rich Latin heritage still shows along it’s streets.
Like Noe Valley, The Mission is one of the sunniest and warmest neighborhoods of San Francisco. You’ll see people chilling out at Dolores Park, walking along the main streets of Valencia and Mission, and stuffing their faces with a massive Mission burrito. Take part in it all — you won’t be disappointed!
Top Things to do
- Have a picnic and chill out at sunny Mission Dolores Park — bring a blanket, a frisbee, and some yummy drinky drinks and you’re good to go
- Stop by Dandelion Chocolate for some samples, a small-batch bean-to-bar chocolatier (try a giant marshmallow and the heavenly s’more, too — my favorite!)
- Stumble upon street art in Balmy Alley + Clarion Alley. You just cannot visit the Mission without stumbling upon its passionate, mural-filled alleyways. Admire the colorful Women’s Building as well!
- Drive down Vermont Street, the curviest street in SF (and nope, it’s not Lombard like everything thinks!)
- Stroll down Valencia Street (think hipster central) and Mission Street (you’ll feel like you’re in Mexico City, no joke!)
What/where to eat:
- Treat yourself to a warm morning bun and an iced coffee from Tartine (the ultimate pastry heaven)
- Brave the line at Bi-Rite, for one of my favorite homemade ice creams in all of the city – salted caramel in a cone
- Stuff yourself silly with a few too many tacos — favorites being Taqueria Cancun, El Metate (one of my faves), and El Farolito
- Devour a Mission Burrito. La Taqueria, Pancho Villa, and El Farolito all take the cake, err guacamole. You can never go wrong with some carnitas or carne asada.
- Sick of Mexican food? Check out Farmhouse Thai Kitchen, Media Noche for some bomb Cuban food, a Rebel muffin for breakfast at Craftsman and Wolves, and Foreign Cinema for an upscale dinner and a movie
What you’ll find here: deliciously authentic dim sum, pagoda-style architecture, exotic menus
Many people don’t know this, but Chinatown SF is actually the oldest and most established Chinatown in the entire country. Here you’ll find the oldest Chinese community in the United States, AND the largest enclave of Chinese residents outside of Asia. Because of that, the food is to die for, and you could honestly spend an entire day eating and still not experience it all. Making Chinatown one of the best San Francisco neighborhoods for foodies, obviously!
Surprisingly (or not!), Chinatown actually attracts more tourists yearly than the Golden Gate Bridge, which is kinda hard to believe! But when there’s authentic cuisine (hello wonton noodle soup and pineapple red bean buns), a plethora of cultural experiences, and super fun festivals, I kinda get it. I’m low-key obsessed with Chinatown myself.
Expect pagoda-style architecture, ornate lamp posts, exotic menus, and an endless supply of fresh fish and cheap produce. It’s truly a “city within a city”, and no other spot in SF feels like it. These 24 blocks are the most densely populated neighborhood west of NYC, which is crazy to imagine! If you wanna see all the action, come on a Saturday; it’s by far the busiest day!
Top Things to do:
- Enter Chinatown through its iconic Dragon Gate, adorned with guardian lions (don’t forget to snap a quick photo)
- Wander the maze of streets and alleys off of Grant Avenue (and grab some dim sum and other traditional eats), to find herbalists, bakeries, souvenir shops, dark cocktail lounges, and karaoke bars
- Check out the third floor of the ornate Tien Hau Temple, the oldest Taoist temple in Chinatown
- Learn about the community’s history at the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum, complete with more than 50,000 artifacts (whoa!)
- Take yourself on a DIY food tour of Chinatown, or sign up for a Chinatown Culinary Walking (and Food!) Tour
- Check out some iconic buildings, like the Sing Chong Building, Bank of Canton, and Waverly Place
- Hang with the locals on Stockton Street — this is where they do their shopping and bartering
What/where to eat:
- Stand on line (if they’re open!) at Golden Gate Bakery for one (or a few) of their famous egg tarts
- Sip some (deliciously-sweet) Chinese Mai Tai’s at Li Po Cocktail Lounge; we LOVE taking visitors here
- Dine where Obama dined — at Great Eastern, a quintessential dim sum restaurant with lots on their menu
- Watch fortune cookies being made at Fortune Cookie Factory, and pick up a few bags for later
- Slurp some spicy tan tan noodles at Chong Qing Xiao Mian
- Get dim sum to-go at Good Mong Kok Bakery — always opt for the har gow/shrimp dumplings and the char siu bao (bbq pork buns)
- Order some Sichuan at Z & Y, another favorite of Obama, with great chilled beef tenderloin and explosive chili pepper chicken wings
What you’ll find here: Japanese sweets, anime and manga, the best ramen ever
Sushi! Shabu-shabu! Kitschy gift shops! Asian-style day spas! We visit Japantown whenever we’re desperately missing Japan (it’s one of our favorite countries)! There’s delicious ramen and takoyaki, Japanese sweets (like dango and mochi), anime and manga, kimonos, Japanese street fashion, kawaii cuteness, and of course karaoke bars.
Being one of only three Japantowns left in America, you can’t miss this neighborhood in SF. Unlike Chinatown, Japantown is a lot more peaceful, much more quiet, and feels pretty secluded.
Japantown is technically only 6 blocks long, so you can really see a lot in a short amount of time. It’s like a neighborhood within a neighborhood, and it’s actually in the Western Addition. And right outside the Japan Center, you’ll find the striking 5-tiered Peace Pagoda in the courtyard!
It’s especially beautiful in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom — don’t miss the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in April.
Top Things to do:
- Hang at in the Japantown Peace Plaza and admire the 5-tiered Peace Pagoda
- Shop-til-you-drop at the Japan Center, a cluster of two malls with tons of fun shops, restaurants, pika pika photo booths, and even a Daiso (Japanese dollar store)
- Feast on ramen and all the Japanese snacks you can find (my top recs below!)
- Spend an afternoon soaking at Kabuki Springs and Spa, a traditional bathhouse in the heart of Japantown
- Local? Stock up on seafood and veggies from Nijiya Market, an Asian market with lots of prepared foods and unique overseas products
What/where to eat:
- The Best Ramen: Marufuku Ramen (expect a long line – well worth it though!), Hinodeya Ramen Bar, Waraku
- Desserts/snacks: Mochill Mochidonut, Belly Good Cafe & Crepes, Uji Time Dessert, Benkyodo for mochi, Takoyaki Yama-chan, and Matcha Cafe Maiko. Some of my favorite desserts in SF are over here in Japantown!
Touristy Neighborhoods of San Francisco
5. Fisherman’s Wharf and Embarcadero
What you’ll find here: kitschy tourist shops, those famous barking sea lions, sourdough clam chowder bread bowls, old-school carnival vibes
Tourists always wanna go to Fisherman’s Wharf, so I’m including it, but just know it’s by far my least favorite neighborhood in San Francisco. Not only is it incredibly crowded and touristy (especially on the weekends), but there’s honestly not much charm around these parts.
It’s still pretty fun if you’ve never been, just make sure you don’t spend all your time here. I’d compare it to an old-school carnival mixed with a few more sea lions and sourdough.
Fisherman’s Wharf is kiiiiinda like the Times Square of San Francisco, and you’ll never find locals hanging out here. But this is where Pier 39 and the famous sea lions are, there’s dozens of restaurants (including delicious sourdough clam chowder bread bowls at Boudin), tons of kitschy attractions, and even an aquarium. Don’t miss the kinda-new Umbrella Alley for some fun street art and color!
Right over here is the Embarcadero, another of these neighborhoods of SF, which is where the famous Ferry Building is. Here you’ll find lots of gourmet shops and restaurants, and it’s fun to take a stroll grabbing samples of cheeses, olive oils, artisanal ice cream, and craft beer.
Top Things to do:
- Look out for the sea lions basking in the sun at Pier 39
- Get lost in Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze; it’s super psychedelic and kinda belongs in the Haight
- Stand underneath the shark tunnel of the Aquarium of the Bay, or just admire the many jellyfish and (super-cute) sea otters
- Take some colorful photos at Umbrella Alley; it’s where you’ll find the “Welcome to San Francisco” mural! (just check on opening hours — they close randomly)
- Grab some samples at the Ferry Building, a sprawling marketplace with gourmet shops lining the interior of the building (think locally made cheeses, olive oil, fresh oysters, artisanal ice cream, craft beer, and much more)
- Peruse SF’s best farmer’s market right outside the Ferry Building (only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, before 2pm)
- Go for a stroll in Rincon Park and check out Cupid’s Span
- Head to Pier 7 for that perfect shot of the Transamerica Pyramid (just look behind you)
What/where to eat:
The Original Ghirardelli Ice Cream Factory, Boudin Bakery & Cafe (for some of the best sourdough bread bowls), Trish’s Mini Donuts, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Fog City Diner, Humphry Slocombe, Hog Island Oyster Co., Acme Bread Company
Trendy, Clean-Cut Neighborhoods in San Francisco
6. Noe Valley
What you’ll find here: a strong community feeling, clean-cut sunny small-town feel
Close your eyes and think of tidy rows of Victorian and Eduardian homes. A quaint main street with artisanal goods and tons of cute outdoor cafes. Lots of laid-back clean-cut families pushing strollers and walking dogs. That’s Noe Valley in a nutshell. And it’s downright glorious.
The fact that it’s one of the sunniest neighborhoods in San Francisco just adds to its appeal. It’s got the surrounding hills to thank for that! One of my favorite SF neighborhoods for sure!
In all honesty, you don’t really come to Noe Valley for the big tourist sites of SF, but to relax and take in the sunny weather and people watch. It feels like an intimate, small town despite being pretty central in SF. And in spring, it’s bursting with blooms — my favorite time of year to visit!
Top Things to do:
- Be on the lookout for some funky houses; there’s a Rainbow House, Jungle House, Bunny House, and more
- Take a leisurely stroll down 24th street, full of bakeries, wine and cheese shops, artisanal goods stores, yoga places, and even a Whole Foods
- Stop by the Saturday Farmer’s Market, featuring live music, food carts, local produce, and lots of childrens activities
- Peruse Omnivore Books — a little bookstore dedicated solely to cookbooks and other food-related reading
- Hang out with the locals at Billy Goat Hill Park, a little gem with amazing views of the cityscape (with a rope swing — only sometimes, though!)
- Climb the 22nd Street Stairs; you’ll be rewarded with great views from the top!
- Get your workout on by climbing the Harry Street Stairs — a local favorite and one of the longest staircases in SF
- Hike through Glen Canyon Park for sweeping views of the city, or just find a nice grassy spot for a picnic
What/where to eat:
Noe Valley Bakery (by far the most popular on 24th Street – get the cupcakes and some fresh bread), Viva la Tarte, The Little Chihuahua, Firefly Restaurant, Philz Coffee
7. Hayes Valley
What you’ll find here: brightly-lit boutiques, packed-for-a-reason restaurants, hip urban vibe
Wanna do some boutique shopping and eat at some of the best restaurants in the city? Head on over to Hayes Valley! It’s perfect for dinner dates with your significant other or a group of girlfriends — my husband and I just love coming here!
Just beware — the restaurants here are always packed, so you’ll wanna arrive way before hunger strikes. You can always hang at the park (in the central area) and people watch until your name gets called.
Not many people know this, but Hayes Valley has really changed a lot over the years. What was once a seedy area with crack houses, crime, and prostitution has turned into an area with trendy fashion boutiques, top-notch restaurants, and brightly-lit boutiques.
You’ll find locals and tourists sipping craft beer, hunting down designer tops, and stuffing their faces at plenty of on-trend dessert shops. Making it one of the coolest (and revitalized) neighborhoods in San Francisco.
Top Things to do:
- Hang out in Patricia’s Green, a small urban park with rotating public art installations
- Walk along Hayes Street, the main commercial stretch of Hayes Valley, and pop into the boutique shops and find a spot to eat
- Sip a few cocktails at Smuggler’s Cove, a famous tiki-bar (always fun with its wacky interior and extensive rum menu)
- Take a few pics with the Painted Ladies, just a few blocks away from Hayes Valley in Alamo Square
What/where to eat:
Don’t miss fresh pasta at a Mano (my favorite’s the pesto), artisanal ice cream at Salt & Straw, schnitzel and a beer stein at Suppenküche and Biergarten, super fancy macarons at Chantal Guillon, a fluffy pita gyro at Souvla (don’t forget the fro-yo), and some elevated Mexican at Cala.
Need some caffeine? Grab a cuppa coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee Company and/or Urban Ritual Cafe.
8. Russian Hill
What you’ll find here: hordes of tourists at Lombard Street, an upscale European flair, and charming Victorian architecture
Russian Hill, named after one of SF’s original seven hills (there’s 44 in total!), is next up on this list of best neighborhoods in San Francisco. Most of the neighborhood is actually pretty quaint and upscale and residential, but head on over to Lombard Street, and you’ll find hordes of tourists, cameras in hand! Yup, the famously crooked Lombard Street (one of the most famous tourist attractions in the entire city) is right over here.
But once you take in Lombard Street, don’t leave so fast! Watch the iconic San Francisco cable cars on the neighborhood hills, walk around the scenic streets, and admire all the charming Victorian architecture.
If you look close enough, you’ll realize that Russian Hill kinda has a hip European flair to it — especially the boutiques and restaurants on the main streets of Union, Hyde, and Jackson. But beware for all the steep streets — Russian hill is one of the hilliest San Francisco neighborhoods.
Top Things to do:
- Drive down (or walk along the sidewalk next to) Lombard Street, the super-famous crooked street in SF (people live here, so please be respectful)
- Have a romantic evening and take your partner to watch the sunset from Ina Coolbrith Park; it kinda feels like an oasis in a big city
- Stroll along cobblestoned Macondray Lane, a small pedestrian street with flower gardens, fruit trees, and even a little zen fountain
What/where to eat: We don’t typically come to Russian Hill for meals, but Berber SF, Fiorella Park, and Swensen’s Ice Cream Shop are good.
9. The Marina (+ Cow Hollow)
What you’ll find here: the romantic Palace of Fine Arts, boozy/bougie brunches, and trendy coffee shops
The Marina is just like it sounds — right on the water (on the city’s northern shore) with overwhelmingly gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
And the stereotypes are true — wealthy, attractive, and young post-fraternity/sorority members live (and frequent) here. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make The Marina a top contender on your list of neighborhoods in SF to check out.
Quite the opposite. There’s buzzy brunch spots, boutique shopping districts, trendy coffee shops, and stunning waterfront views. And plus, it’s one of the friendliest places around.
We love wandering around the Marina checking out the (gorgeous) yachts at the harbor, going for a stroll around the romantic Palace of Fine Arts, and chilling at Marina Green with a cup of Philz in hand. With some girlfriends? Go for a boozy, bougie brunch! They do them best in the Marina!
Top Things to do:
- Run, bike, or fly a kite at Marina Green, a grassy park with expansive views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and yachts on the water.
- Marvel at the architecture of the Palace of Fine Arts, a beautiful neoclassical landmark with lots of grassy spots for picnics!
- Listen to the acoustic sounds of the The Wave Organ (the notes match the restless movements of the tide – super cool!)
- Stroll along the Marina Yacht Harbor, and pick out your next boat purchase while you’re at it (we love to do this, haha)
- Grab your girlfriends and go for a boozy brunch – it’s kinda what the Marina is known for!
- Take a photo with the famous bougainvillea house in Cow Hollow (the flowers bloom in spring)
And if all else fails — Go Shopping! You’ll find lots of shopping on Chestnut Street, while neighboring Cow Hollow’s got Union Street. There’s lots of independent boutiques with clothing, gifts, homewares, beauty, and accessories, all in beautiful Victorian buildings.
What/where to eat:
Brunch is especially fun in The Marina, and we love Le Marais, Blackwood, and The Dorian (it’s extra bougie). Del Mar is a bar/lounge with swings and great drinks, Wildseed’s got great vegan food, and go to Delarosa if you want some pizza. In the mood for some dessert? Don’t miss Loving Cup and/or U:Dessert Story.
10. Pacific Heights
What you’ll find here: sprawling mansions, grassy hilltop parks, sweeping views of the bay
I used to think Pac Heights was all sprawling mansions and manicured lawns, but it’s so much more than that. Although you definitely will find plenty of multi-million dollar homes over here (there’s even a section called “Billionaire’s Row”).
With that being said, it’s NOT a cheap place to live, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go for a visit (it is one of the most high-end neighborhoods of San Francisco, afterall!). Especially if you wanna check out the collection of French Chateau and Spanish-style mansions over here.
Go shopping on Fillmore Street, gawk at the opulent Spreckels Mansion, tour the only Queen Anne Victorian open to the public, and hang out on a grassy hilltop park. There’s sweeping views extending all the way across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin, and psst — it’s absolutely gorgeous on a beautiful sunny day!
Top Things to do:
- Admire the view from the top of the Lyon Street Stairs, and don’t miss the heart statue (on your way up the steps) and Billionaire’s Row (on Lyon Street)
- Window shop on Fillmore Street, the main shopping hub of Pac Heights, with high-end stores like Prada, Ralph Lauren and Marc by Marc Jacobs
- Relax at Lafayette and Alta Plaza, two grassy hilltop parks with city views → great for picnics!
- Take in the views, because it’s almost like everywhere you look, there’s a view over here
- Visit some famous filming locales, like the Tanners Full House home (1709 Broderick), Grove High School from The Princess Diaries, and the towering Victorian from Party of Five
- Step foot in the Haas-Lilienthal House museum, San Francisco’s only Victorian home open regularly to visitors (check out the opulent Spreckels Mansion, too!)
What/where to eat:
Grab some Parisian and Viennese pastries at b. patisserie (you can never go wrong with a banana chocolate almond croissant), go for brunch at Sweet Maple, pick out a cupcake at Sift Dessert Bar and unique ice cream flavor at Salt & Straw, modern California comfort food at The Snug, and pitas at Noosh.
Go bar hopping at Santino’s Vino (for the wine lovers), Harry’s Bar (great whisky over here), The Snug (for cocktails and craft beer), and Flores (for when you want some tacos with your tequila).
Eclectic Neighborhoods of San Francisco
11. The Castro
What you’ll find here: an openly gay community, a vibrant nightlife scene, risque and quirky adult shops, rich history
Ohhhh — the Castro! Commonly referred to as the “Gay Mecca” of San Francisco, the Castro is the beating heart of gay culture and LGBTQ Pride Week. It was one of the first established gay neighborhoods in the United States, and has been (and continues to be) a prominent location for LGBTQIA+ around the world.
It’s super fun and eclectic, with rainbow colored crosswalks, rainbow flags blowing in the wind, and unique shops and cafes. And the people are just as vibrant (although you may see a few nude people casually walking down the street — it’s common here).
Yes, the area is a little run down and it’s been a bit gentrified, but it’s definitely still worth a visit to soak up the history of the area and check out the risque and quirky shops (all part of the neighborhood charm)
Top Things to do:
- Catch a film at the iconic single-screen Castro Theatre, first opened in 1922
- Pop into shops on Castro Street to find interesting books and crannies (my favorite’s Local Take — a boutique showcasing local artists)
- Celebrate Queer History at the Harvey Milk Museum (otherwise known as the GLBT Historical Society Museum)
- Take a stroll on the brightly-colored rainbow crosswalks
- Stroll down the Rainbow Walk of Honor, which features bronze sidewalk plagues honoring lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender personalities
- Walk down the Vulcan Street Stairs, a set of 219 stairs that kinda feel like a little secret garden
- Slide down the Seward Street Slides, a set of concrete slides hidden in a neighborhood park (bring your own cardboard to avoid ripping your pants) :p
What/where to eat/drink:
Hi-Tops (San Francisco’s first gay sports bar), Zumi’s, Fable, Hot Cookie, Kitchen Story and U: Dessert Story (get the mango sticky rice), Starbelly, Beaux and/or Lookout for drinks, and Double Rainbow Ice Cream.
And whatever you do, experience the vibrant nightlife: a few suggestions — Twin Peaks Tavern (an iconic gay bar and Castro landmark), 440 Castro (notoriously known for beards and booze), Badlands (one of San Francisco’s most popular gay bars), Toad Hall (well known for it’s drag and karaoke nights).
12. Haight Ashbury
What you’ll find here: psychedelic hippy vibes, rock stars’ Victorian homes, and tons of funky smoke shops, boutiques, and street art
The second you step into Haight Ashbury’s borders (simply known as “The Haight” to locals), get ready for some groovy hippy dippy vibes. There’s funky tie-dye shops, vintage clothing stores, psychedelic murals and posters, and tons of quirky oddities. You’ll never get bored over here!
The Haight is where the Summer of Love in 1967 occurred — when over 100k young people flooded out west looking for love, drugs, and rock and roll! What a time to be alive!
Because of this, it’s where a whole bunch of famous 60’s rock stars lived (including the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, etc), as well as the original Haight hippies. You can even go find their houses today!
The Haight also has one of the best collections of Victorians in the city. Since it wasn’t hit hard by the 1906 earthquake and fire, most of the beautiful Victorian houses remain today!
Top Things to do:
- Explore the funky shops of the Haight, like:
- Amoeba Music (famous for decades)
- Love on Haight (it’s absolute tie-dye heaven)
- vintage shops (don’t miss Decades of Fashion and Distractions)
- Piedmont Boutique (where the famous dangling legs are)
- smoke shops (pot is legal now, so there’s lots of those shops popping up)
- Map out a DIY tour of the famous 60’s rock stars homes, including The Grateful Dead (710 Ashbury Street), Janis Joplin (635 Ashbury), and Jefferson Airplane House (2400 Fulton)
- Take a guided walking tour of the Haight, and you’ll get loads of interesting info about the past and the guide will bring you to the exact locations of the rock stars’ homes
- Climb the 30 minutes or so to the top of Buena Vista Park for spectacular views of the city
- Stand at the corner of Haight and Ashbury; it’s the ultimate center of hippedom (take a picture!)
- Admire the beautiful Victorians on Waller Street; one of the best collections of Victorians in the city
- Check out the colorful murals of your favorite rock stars on Haight Street
What/where to eat:
Magnolia Brewery, Cha Cha Cha, Parada 22 (for some Puerto Rican comfort food), The Alembic (great cocktails over here!), Street Taco (tacos and draft beer), Hippie Thai Street Food, and VeganBurg
Outdoorsy Neighborhoods in San Francisco
13. The Presidio
What you’ll find here: expansive views of the Golden Gate Bridge, golden sand beaches, a lush eucalyptus forest
Looking to get outside?! Don’t miss this neighborhood in San Francisco! I mean, get this — the Presidio is actually a 1,500-acre park on a former military post! And the park couldn’t be any more varied — there’s forested areas, miles of trails, scenic overlooks, and even a golf course!
Some of SF’s best beaches are located right here in the Presidio as well! To say The Presidio is a major outdoor rec hub of the people of SF would be a massive understatement!
And tourists love it just as much — over five million people visit each year! I don’t blame them; this National Historic Landmark District is located right next to the Golden Gate Bridge — meaning, picture perfect views of the crimson cutie!
Top Things to do:
- Set up the umbrella and bring the fam to Baker Beach, take a stroll, and feel the cold Pacific ocean on your toes
- Feel your legs burn on the Batteries to Bluffs Trail (just be prepared for all the steps and bridge views)
- Trek down to Marshall’s Beach for more great views of the bridge, although expect to see some nudes (it’s kinda clothing optional over here)
- Get great views of the bridge from both the Golden Gate Overlook and Golden Gate Postcard Viewpoint
- Snag views of the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point (you can basically stand under the bridge here) and/or the Torpedo Wharf (great views of the city, too!)
- Have a picnic (or fly a kite) at Crissy Field, a beach and picnic area where both locals and tourists hang out
- Unleash your inner child at the Walt Disney Museum (there’s even a film screen that continuously plays Disney classics)
- Pass by the Yoda Fountain outside the Lucasfilm HQ, an iconic stop for any Star Wars fan
- Stroll down Lover’s Lane, Andy Goldsworthy’s art installation “Wood Line”, which is hidden away within a lush eucalyptus forest
What/where to eat: We don’t eat much in the Presidio, but I’ve heard Presidio Social Club, Sessions at the Presidio, and Arguello are good.
14. Golden Gate Park
What you’ll find here: blooming gardens, tons of grassy green spaces for picnics, popular science and art museums
Okay, so Golden Gate Park isn’t actually one of the true neighborhoods of San Francisco, but there’s just so much to do here I couldn’t leave it off this list! And since it’s one of my favorite places to visit in the city, I couldn’t not include it!
Not many know this, but Golden Gate Park is actually larger than Central Park in NYC (roughly 20% bigger)! You could spend an entire day in the park and still not see everything! There’s plenty of cultural museums, spaced-out gardens, tons of grassy green spaces for lounging, and even a secret waterfall! Like The Presidio, it’s one of the best San Francisco neighborhoods for outdoor lovers!
Even though it’s the third most visited park in the USA (true story), it’ll never feel especially crowded. Must be because there’s miles and miles of green lawns, walking and hiking paths around lakes, and over 7,000 plants to admire and explore.
We’ve even taken a segway tour of the park once; it’s that big! It really is the emerald heart of San Francisco, being an ultimate haven away from the urban chaos that is the city.
Some of SF’s largest festivals and events are held here every year, including Outside Lands, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Opera in the Park, and Bay to Breakers.
* Do note that while the park is free to visit, a bunch of attractions do charge admission, such as the deYoung Museum, CalAcademy, Botanical Gardens, and the Japanese Tea Gardens. All well-worth the price tag!
Top Things to do:
- See the magnolias in full bloom in February/March at the San Francisco Botanical Garden (don’t miss the Redwood Grove Garden and Succulent Garden as well)
- Frolic in the flowers at the Dutch Windmill (the tulip garden is beautiful in spring!)
- Say hello to the Bison Paddock; yes, we’ve got bison here in the park!
- Take a stroll around Stow Lake (and/or go paddle boating!), and don’t miss Huntington Falls and the Golden Gate Pavilion
- Sip some tea at the Japanese Tea Garden surrounded by cherry blossoms (during spring) or gorgeous fall foliage (in fall!)
- Admire the art at the De Young Museum (don’t miss the FREE Hamon Observation Tower and Three Gems exhibit by James Turrell)
- Have a romantic picnic at Shakespeare Garden (come in the spring when the flowers are in full bloom)
- Spend an afternoon getting your science on at the California Academy of Sciences (complete with a planetarium, four-story living rain forest, an aquarium with a delicate coral reef, and a fascinating natural history museum)
- Check out the impressive array of flowers in and around the Conservatory of Flowers, a Victorian-era glass greenhouse (I love the Dahlia Garden and aquatic plants the best)
What/where to eat:
There’s not too many places to eat within the park, but you’ll find the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant, Twirl & Dip Soft Serve (the BEST on a hot day), and Sam’s Chowder Mobile for lobster rolls and you guessed it – clam chowder (follow on Twitter for location updates).
Super Diverse Neighborhoods in San Francisco
15. The Sunset
What you’ll find here: beautiful mosaic steps, delicious dumplings on Taraval, and plenty of visits from Karl the fog
A neighborhood in San Francisco that used to be all sand dunes? That’s the Sunset for ya! There’s actually two parts (making it one of the largest neighborhoods in SF) — the Inner Sunset and the Outer Sunset, divided by 19th Street. The entire district borders Golden Gate Park (super close proximity!), so it’s super easy to pop on over there once you’ve gotten your fix of the Sunset.
Beware — It’s one of the foggiest neighborhoods in SF (yup, we’ve got microclimates over here), but don’t fret — there’s still plenty of epic sunsets over the Pacific at Ocean Beach (where the name Sunset actually came from!).
Besides that, it’s got some of my favorite mosaic steps in San Francisco, the world’s best chicken wings (you can be the judge), and a whole mix of happy SF locals (think college students, surfer bros, young families, and old retired couples).
Top Things to do
- Hang by the water at Ocean Beach; you’ll see people flying kites, going windsurfing, and sometimes having bonfires
- Admire the tile work of the 16th Ave Mosaic Stairs, then continue up to Grandview Park, one of the best sunset spots in San Francisco
- Walk a few extra blocks to the Hidden Garden Steps, another gorgeous mosaic stairway (and not as well-known as the ones on 16th Ave)
- If you’re in the city with kids, a visit to the San Francisco Zoo is a must!
- Walk along the redwoods at Stern Grove, and don’t miss the grassy dog park and yearly Stern Grove Music Concerts on Summer Sundays
- Relax at Golden Gate Heights Park, walking along the paved paths and the mini forest (and then watch the dogs play around in the dog park!)
- Search for treasures at the Inner Sunset Flea Market (there’s antique jewelry, vintage coats, local crafts, you name it)
What/where to eat:
- My 3 favorites in the sunset:
- Dumplings on Taraval → our two favorites are Dumpling Kitchen and Kingdom of Dumpling
- Chalos — get the churros (with dulce de leche dip) and made-to-order empanadas
- Focaccia (or anything!) at Arizmendi Bakery; it’s all out of this world (expect a line, it moves fast)
- Others (still all good!): Irish Coffee at The Little Shamrock, Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream, Home Cafe (for instagram-worthy rainbow lattes), coffee at Hollow (a super charming little coffee shop), delicious ice cream at Honey Creme, the world’s best chicken wings at San Tung, and breakfast sandwiches at Devil’s Teeth Bakery Company
16. Richmond District
What you’ll find here: the best Chinese food (and croissant) in the city, Lands End and the Sutro Baths, international ethnic eateries
Sandwiched between Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, you’ll find the Richmond District; a neighborhood of San Francisco known for both it’s diversity and beautiful beach views! The Richmond District encompasses both the Inner Richmond (found more inland) and Outer Richmond (closer to the Pacific).
It’s located in the northwest corner of the city, and is a pretty quiet, mostly residential area. But don’t miss it — there’s lots going on if you know where to look! And ohhhh — so many great sunset spots in San Francisco over here!
Not many tourists know this, but the Inner Richmond (especially Clement Street) is known as “New Chinatown”. Not only is there the best Chinese food in the city over here (move over, Chinatown!), but there’s shops with tai chi sandals, potted orchids, and even Chinese herbal treatments.
Keep on walking and you’ll find international ethnic eateries, with foods like peking duck, pho, Korean BBQ, and more. There’s also Burmese, Japanese, French, Middle Eastern, Russian — you name it! It really is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in San Francisco!
Top Things to do:
- See the remnants of the Sutro Baths, a historic salt-water swimming pool complex that you can now explore
- Go for a scenic hike at Lands End (don’t miss the secret labyrinth and views of the Golden Gate Bridge!)
- Track Down the Camera Obscura & Holograph, a giant pinhole camera that actually works!
- Check out the colorful tiles of the Lincoln Park Steps, the largest of all the tiled staircases in San Francisco
- Pop into Green Apple Books and pick up a pre-loved novel
- Wander around the colorful mansions of Sea Cliff (technically a different neighborhood of San Francisco but it’s right there)
- Check out 4,000 years of ancient & European art at the Legion of Honor
- Catch a film at the Balboa Theatre, a historical two-screen movie palace
- Stroll down Clement Street and feast on BBQ pork buns, mouth-watering Swedish Princess Cake, and delicious crepes
What/where to eat:
- The best chocolate almond croissant in all of San Francisco at Arsicault Bakery
- Traditional Moroccan food and belly dancing (so fun!) at El Mansour
- PPQ Dungeness Island
- Fiorella Clement
- Na Ya Dessert Cafe
- The best Peking Duck in all of SF at Chili House SF
- Bread Belly (try the Kaya toast, brown butter mochi, chicken karaage, and watermelon lychee)
- House of Bagels
- Traditional Russian pastries and meat pies at Cinderella Bakery (try the pelmeni dumplings and piroshky)
Other San Francisco neighborhoods to explore if you’ve got more time:
17. Financial District (FiDi): This is where you’ll find the city’s high-rise office buildings. Honestly, it’s totally dead on the weekends (AKA not much is open), AND it’s a little more generic than other neighborhoods in San Francisco.
There’s mostly office buildings over here, so it’ll be a bit more popping during the week (granted people aren’t working from home or a coffee shop). It’s still worth a quick visit if you wanna check out the Transamerica Pyramid (and Redwood Park) as well as the Diego Rivera Mural in the City Club (on the 10th floor).
In terms of where to eat, Leo’s Oyster Bar, Wayfare Tavern, and Barbacco (for Italian small plates) are popular. Head on over to Coffee Cultures and/or Cafe Terminus for drinks.
18. Tenderloin: Honestly, I just come to the Tenderloin to eat, haha. It’s not really a place you wanna be wandering around. But if you’re nearby and want some good food — don’t discount the Tenderloin!
We love Brenda’s French Soul Food (the crawfish beignets are to die for), Bandit (breakfast sandwiches, anyone?!, Jane on Larkin (technically in Polk Gulch but I consider it the Tenderloin), and Mr. Holmes Bakehouse (always go for a cruffin) for breakfast/brunch.
Charmaine’s Rooftop Bar is super fun, and Saigon Sandwich has some of the best (and super cheap) banh mi sandwiches in the city. It really is one of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco to eat!
19. SoMa: The SoMa, technically called South of Market, is where you’ll find Oracle Park (where the Giants play) and Yerba Buena Gardens (a great spot for some yoga or frisbee-throwing). While it’s definitely not the prettiest place to wander around SF, you’ll find some of San Francisco’s top museums like the SF MOMA over here.
There’s tons of events at the Moscone Center, a sleek convention center complex, as well as the new Salesforce Park atop the Salesforce Transit Center. It’s also where the Folsom Street Fair (a risky event celebrating the leather subculture) happens every September.
20. Nob Hill: If you’re interested in some old San Francisco vibes, look no further than Nob Hill. I really think it’s one of the most underrated neighborhoods in San Francisco, and most visitors don’t think of going! It’s got most of the city’s swankiest hotels, including the Top of the Mark lounge with great views!
Don’t miss the largest donut you’ve ever seen at Bob’s Donuts and Pastries, yoga at the ornate, Gothic-style Grace Cathedral (hang at Huntington Park, too!), the kissing trees on Sacramento Street, and prime rib and martinis at House of Prime Rib.
Phew — that was a long one! Which of these San Francisco neighborhoods will you be visiting on your next trip?!