San Francisco In Depth
Officially named the City and County of San Francisco, San Francisco is the only consolidated city-county (a city and county that have been merged into one unified jurisdiction) in California. The city-county of San Francisco encompasses a land area of about 46.9 square miles on the northern end of the San Francisco Peninsula. Although San Francisco itself has a population of 812,826, the entire San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont Metropolitan Statistical Area has a population of about 4,455,560. In terms of the most densely populated large cities, San Francisco tops the list in California and sits second in the entire United States only behind New York City. In terms of population, San Francisco is the fourth most populous city in California and 14th in the United States.
Demographics (2011 U.S. Census Data)
- Population Growth (2010–11)...............0.9%
- Persons Per Square Mile......................17,179.1
- School District: San Francisco
- Total Public School Enrollment (2011–12): 55,000
- Educational Attainment (adult population)
- High school diploma..........................85.7%
- College degrees..................................51.4%
San Francisco’s neighborhoods display an eclectic range of histories, cultures and demographics; no neighborhood is quite like the next. With so much diversity available, interested residents don’t need to settle for second best since they have a lot of choice when it comes to finding a community that fits their particular needs and wants. Whether a new resident is a single business professional, a married graduate student or the breadwinner of a family household, San Francisco has a neighborhood that exemplifies their lifestyle. Plus, change is the pinnacle of personal growth, so if your initial San Francisco neighborhood doesn’t sustain your interests and lifestyle for long, there’s always a perfect fit nearby for you to call home in the Bay Area. Visit the City and County of San Francisco’s website at www.ci.sf.ca.us
for a complete listing of the areas, but following are descriptions of the most popular neighborhoods.
Alamo Square encompasses the four blocks that surround Alamo Square Park, most famous for its row of six colorful Victorian-style “Painted Ladies.” Attractions in the neighborhood include the Imperial Russian Consulate of the czarist days, the Archbishop’s Mansion (now a bed and breakfast) and the French-American School. The adjacent Fillmore Street is undergoing a renaissance with a spectacular mix of restaurants, galleries and restored jazz clubs that will be designated at a Jazz Preservation District.
Up the hill from the Haight Ashbury neighborhood is the quaint Ashbury Heights, which was developed as part of a tract called Ashbury Park in 1911. A great feature of this neighborhood is a small park called Mt. Olympus, which is great for picnicking and dog walking atop the hill’s summit.
A working-class neighborhood on the southeast side of the city, Bayview/Hunters Point is near the formal naval shipyard and Candlestick Park, the home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. Here you’ll find a mix of single-family homes, apartments and factories. The main commercial strip in the area is Third Street. The Hunters Point section was the site for the first permanent dry dock on the entire Pacific Coast. An industrial area in the past, the Third Street light rail system is starting to create new housing and business opportunities.
To the south of the Mission District is Bernal Heights, a residential neighborhood identified by open parkland and a microwave tower on top of Bernal Heights Summit. Precita Park and Holly Park provide green areas for children to play, and the local branch of the San Francisco Public Library has a regular schedule of child-friendly activities, making the area an ideal location for young middle-class families. The northern slope of the area’s terrain is home to a thriving ecosystem that includes a variety of local plants and wildlife. In recent years, the area has seen a slow trend of young business professionals replacing the resident working-class population.
Buena Vista Hill
Adjacent to Ashbury Heights, Buena Vista Hill is home to the most heavily forested area of San Francisco, Buena Vista Park. The steep slopes in the neighborhood are lined with baroque-style mansions, restored Victorians, single-family homes and apartments.
The Castro is an enclave of Eureka Valley that has a distinct cultural history. Considered the world’s largest residential gay neighborhood, it was the site of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) political activism of the 1960s and ’70s. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office, began his activism work from his camera shop in The Castro. The neighborhood is enjoyable and always draws visitors, but it comes into its own at nightfall with a roster of bars and dance clubs that creates a one-of-a-kind nightlife enjoyed by bar hoppers of all persuasions. Compared to other entertainment districts around the country, The Castro remains a safe neighborhood after dark.
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown outside of Asia as well as the oldest in North America. Begun when the first Chinese immigrants came to the area in 1848, San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco where residents and visitors enjoy fantastic restaurants and beautiful Asian-inspired architecture on every corner. Festivals are held throughout the year to celebrate and promote the Chinese culture.
Cow Hollow is an affluent neighborhood located between Russian Hill and The Presidio that borders the Marina District on one side and Pacific Heights on the other. Originally the land was used for cow grazing (as its name implies) and was a settlement for fishermen when the coastline was much closer to this area than it is now. The main shopping thoroughfare in this neighborhood is Union Street, which is known for its restaurants, boutique shopping, health spas and wellness centers.
Once belonging to the Crocker Estate, the middle-class neighborhood of Crocker Amazon is well maintained with beautifully landscaped and manicured front lawns. Its boundaries include Amazon and Crocker Avenues, Mission Street and McLaren Park. Here, single-family homes still can be bought for a reasonable value compared to other areas of San Francisco.
Downtown San Francisco
Downtown San Francisco is eclectic with various architectural styles and eras, which results in one of the most aesthetically pleasing central districts in the country. Here the world-famous Union Square has some of the city’s top hotels as well as a world-class Theater District, which is anchored by the American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) and the Curran Theatre.
Duboce Triangle is characterized by beautifully restored Victorian house. The nearby neighborhood of Noe Valley provides Duboce Triangle residents with public transportation and a lively street full of restaurants, coffee houses, pubs and boutiques.
In San Francisco’s Eureka Valley, just south of Market Street and west of The Castro, are a few twisty blocks full of surprises. Here in an area enclosed by Seward, 19th, Corwin and Yukon Streets, is a miniature park consisting of huge concrete slides enjoyed by both children and adults alike, a lovingly tended community garden of native plants and Kite Hill—one of the city’s premier spots for breathtaking views.
Bordered by McLaren Park on the east and the Portola district on the north, Excelsior features stucco and wood-frame homes that are predominantly single-family, but apartments and duplexes are also available. Conveniently located near Highways 101 and 280, Excelsior is also just a short bus ride to downtown and close to a BART station.
The Financial District marks the center of San Francisco’s dynamic business sector. The skyline here includes the Transamerica Pyramid and 555 California Street, the city’s two tallest buildings. Notably, the district also is home to the corporate headquarters of the Charles Schwab Corporation, McKesson Corporation, Salesforce.com, VISA Global and Wells Fargo Bank. The area’s most famous tourist attraction is its large concentration of high-end shopping centers, including the Crocker Galleria and the Embarcadero Center where Levi Strauss & Co. is headquartered.
What is today an exclusive area of curving lanes and hills and common areas beautifully landscaped by the Forest Hill Association, Forest Hill was once part of a 4,000-acre ranch owned by Jose Noe, the last Mexican mayor of San Francisco. Divided into single-family-home lots in 1912, the area began to see a surge of visitors and residents with the completion of the Twin Peaks Tunnel in 1918. Architectural gems include the Forest Hill Clubhouse by architect Bernard Maybeck and the elegant Grand Pacheco Stairway that connects Castenada Avenue to Magellan Drive. Shopping, dining and entertainment options about on nearby West Portal Avenue, and several Muni lines bring people to and from the area.
Just south of Noe Valley on the lower slopes of Diamond Heights is the charming and quiet Glen Park. Its mix of Victorian and modern homes are complemented by an assortment of coffee shops, bookstores, pizza parlors and boutiques that line Chenery and Diamond streets. Although it has a feeling of being removed from the heart of the city, it conveniently is only a 20-minute trip on the BART system. Once a dairy capital in the 1850s, the rural history of the area is preserved in Glen Canyon Park, perfect for dogs and family picnics.
Golden Gate Heights
Golden Gate Heights sits on a 725-foot-high bluff at the top of Funston Avenue and offers stunning panoramic ocean views. Sometimes called Larsen Peak or Sunset Heights Park, its steep streets curve around new, upscale homes and quaint dwellings that face Forest Hill.
Haight Ashbury was the epicenter of America’s counterculture revolution where the hippie movement began. The bohemian spirit of the 1960s still thrives in several prominent subcultures, including the neo-punk and Goth groups. This the best place in San Francisco for alternative nightlife venues, but the neighborhood’s less flamboyant citizens still enjoy the laidback and easygoing attitude that defines the area. Recent gentrification of Haight Ashbury has led to the restoration of many of the neighborhood’s Victorian “Painted Ladies,” some of which have been turned into popular bed and breakfasts.
What was once a rundown urban area is now one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods called Hayes Valley. The area features Queen Anne–style Victorian homes on every corner, with trendy restaurants and boutique stores mixed in for pleasure. The neighborhood has a distinctly Soho feel to it because of the area’s many art galleries and al fresco dining opportunities. It’s great for the fashionable and trendy set because boutiques are only a short walk away from most living spaces.
In the southwestern corner of the city, Ingleside Terrace enjoys more sun that the rest of San Francisco, referenced by the 28-foot-high sundial that sits at the neighborhoods entrance. Close to the Pacific Ocean and built on sloping and steep hills, Ingleside Terrace has great views of San Bruno Mountain and Mt. Davidson, and on a clear day, one can see the Golden Gate Bridge and Oakland and Alameda to the east. The nearby San Francisco State University, Stonestown Galleria and Lake Merced offer diverse opportunities for residents who will find mostly singe-family homes built between 1900 and 1940.
San Francisco’s Japantown is the largest cultural enclave of its kind in the nation. It constitutes six city blocks and is the site of the city’s two annual Japanese festivals: Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and the Nihonmachi Street Fair. The area’s Japan Center is a mixed-use compound with Japanese-oriented shopping, dining and entertainment. Also of note is the Japan Center Peace Pagoda, a five-tiered concrete monument presented to San Francisco from the people of Osaka, Japan, to honor their relationship as sister cities.
Bounded by Geary Boulevard, California Street and Parker Avenue, Jordan Park is adjacent to the Children’s Hospital and thus offers residence for many of the local doctors. Handsome stately homes that are well designed and feature nice landscaping dominate the area.
On the Pacific Ocean at the southern border of San Francisco is Lakeshore, distinguished as the last neighborhood in the city to be developed. Lakeshore includes San Francisco State University, Lake Merced, golf courses and Stonestown Galleria, the only suburban-like shopping plaza in the city. Although most of the area’s residences are apartments, you also can find small tract homes, condos and single-family homes.
Laurel Heights centers on the Laurel Village shopping area, which offers a great place residents and elite clientele from Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights to shop at a specialty butcher shop, bistro-style restaurants and gourmet coffee shops.
The Marina is the neighborhood of choice for those who have an affinity for nature and outdoor recreational activities. Marina Green, a 74-acre park, serves as the area’s focal point. Across from it sits the St. Francis Yacht Club and the Golden Gate Yacht Club. The Marina is on the site of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, from which the Palace of Fine Arts and the Exploratorium are the only two buildings that remain. The Marina also is known for its energetic singles’ scene and a reputation as the weekend hotspot for young business professionals.
Also known as Mission Rock, Mission Creek and China Basin, this rapidly evolving area owes much of its popularity to the presence of the San Francisco Giants’ ballpark and the new medical research campus of the University of California, San Francisco. An eclectic neighborhood, it features a houseboat enclave, the Lefty O’Doul drawbridge and 49 acres of parks. Currently, the area is being transformed from former rail yards and warehouses into apartments, office buildings, shops and a collegiate center. The rejuvenated area offers convenient access to downtown via Muni’s Third Street rail line expansion and its proximity to Highways 80 and 101.
The Mission District is the cultural epicenter of San Francisco’s Latino population and takes its name from the Mission Dolores, the city’s oldest surviving structure and now a museum classified as a California Historical Landmark. While walking the streets of the district, it’s not uncommon to see painted murals that celebrate Latino culture in the United States. The neighborhood also hosts live music performances and offers first-rate salsa lessons. Despite the recent gentrification, the Mission District is still home to a significant creative arts community, hosting artists such as Ricardo Gouveia, Margaret Kilgallen, Dori Seda, Xiani Yngojo-Wang and Scott Williams.
Mt. Davidson Manor
The conservative, well-maintained Mt. Davidson Manor is home to freestanding, middle-income family homes built before World War II. Named after a geographer and surveyor for the U.S. Coast and Geodesic Survey, Mt. Davidson Manor sits atop the tallest hill in San Francisco and offers wonderful views from its mix of Mediterranean-style homes build in the 1920s.
To the west of Chinatown is Nob Hill, an upper-class neighborhood at the intersection of Powell and California Streets. The intersection is the location of the area’s four major hotels: The Fairmont San Francisco Hotel, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco, the Stanford Court Renaissance and The Huntington Hotel. At the top of the hill rests Grace Cathedral, which is the principal place of worship for the Episcopal Diocese of California. The cathedral is famous for its replica of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, its stained glass and an assortment of medieval and contemporary furnishings.
Noe Valley is one of the more bourgeois neighborhoods in San Francisco. Largely inhabited by middle-class families, as evidenced by the plethora of parents with strollers along its sidewalks, area residents have access to a wide range of coffee shops, clothing stores, restaurants and bookstores. Noe Valley is nestled amidst a group of hills that gives it the impression of being secluded away from the rest of the city, and its Victorian houses and other classic residential buildings lend the area a quaint charm that attracts family-oriented households.
Known as San Francisco’s “Little Italy,” North Beach is filled with Italian restaurants, cafés and bakeries. First settled by Italian immigrants in the 1870s, today its population features a range of nationalities, including a large Asian community. On the northern side of Washington Square sits the grand Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. The neighborhood’s other attractions include its restaurants, ranging from fine dining to Italian delis, and Grant Avenue, the oldest street in San Francisco, where residents can find Barbary Coast saloons, secondhand shops and clothing boutiques.
Pacific Heights is an affluent neighborhood inside Bush Street, Presidio Avenue, Union Street and Van Ness Avenue where luxury is the name of the game as exemplified by the upscale shops on Fillmore Street the fashionable restaurants. This area is also the best place to see San Francisco’s renowned “painted ladies,” the Victorian- and Edwardian-era homes that have been restored in a variety of colorful pastels. The Fillmore Auditorium is a historic music venue now run and operated by Live Nation to host regional and national acts throughout the year.
The community feel of Parkside comes from its playgrounds, including a meadow-like field at McCopping Square and several elementary schools’ properties. Situated parallel to Pine Lake Park and Stern Grove, the neighborhood is filled with single-family residences that appeal to families. The Sunset Neighborhood Coalition, the neighborly Sunset Beach newspaper, the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center and a number of other educational institutions offer a great community atmosphere close to an array of prime shopping conveniences.
South of 16th Street and framed by Potrero Avenue, Cesar Chavez Street and Highway 280, Potrero Hill offers pleasant window-shopping and café dining. The Potrero Hill Neighborhood House has been used residents for countless occasions for more than a century, and complements the rich history of the area, which was populated originally by Scottish, Irish and Italian farmers. Residences here include freestanding houses with Victorian architecture, townhouses and condominiums, lofts and multifamily buildings, many with outstanding views.
Also known as University Mound because of street names, including Oxford, Cambridge, Yale and Harvard, Portola Heights is a neighborhood with a civic purpose. Landmarks here include a home for the elderly, the Convent of good Shepherd Home for Girls and McLaren Park.
Just west of Pacific Heights and adjacent to the historic Presidio, Presidio Heights is known as a small enclave of elegant homes just a short walk to the fashionable shops of Union and Chestnut streets. The neighborhood is notably home to some of San Francisco’s elite families and dignitaries, and its access to the woodsy Presidio makes it a great destination for joggers and cyclists.
Home to many 1920s duplexes as well as a few spacious Edwardian homes with eccentric architecture, Richmond houses many of the city’s landmarks. Here, you will find the dome of the Reform synagogue Temple Emanu-El and the Russian Holy Virgin Cathedral. Equally diverse are its residents, who are reflected in the neighborhood’s rich selection of Chinese and Russian restaurants.
Russian Hill is a warm, charming and picturesque residential neighborhood interspersed with boutique shops, antique furnishing stores and low-key restaurants as well as lovely gardens that create dazzling bursts of color. The hydrangeas in this area are a sight to behold on Lombard Street, which is one of the world’s most crooked streets with a series of hairpin turns that is a one-of-a-kind driving experience. Alice Marble Park and Ina Coolbrith Park are great places to enjoy the scenery.
Sea Cliff is located in northwestern San Francisco and is known for its large houses and oceanfront properties. Many houses in the Sea Cliff neighborhood offer impressive views of the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. The small but popular public beaches named China Beach and Baker Beach are located here as well.
Located on the southwestern slope of Mt. Davidson, Sherwood Forest features elaborate ranch-style homes amid groves of eucalyptus, cypress and pine trees. Although densely populated, Sherwood Forest offers a feeling of spaciousness and is one of the quietest neighborhoods in San Francisco. Most homes offer incredible views and convenient access to the nearby Miraloma and West Portal shopping districts.
South of Market (SoMa)
South of Market (locally referred to as SoMa) describes the area that’s bordered by Market Street, South Van Ness Avenue and Cesar Chavez Street. SoMa is home to the headquarters of several software and technology companies and also features the Moscone Center, San Francisco’s largest convention and exhibition center. Also in SoMa is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, just one of the city’s large number of renowned museums.
The South Beach neighborhood encompasses the moderately affluent, medium-density mixed-use blocks that border the Embarcadero and King Street from south of the Bay Bridge down to Third Street. The most notable feature in southeastern corner of South Beach is AT&T Park, which is the home of the NFL’s San Francisco Giants.
St. Francis Wood
Located on the southwestern side of San Francisco, St. Francis Wood consists of an elite tract of grand-scale homes with beautiful landscaping and curving lanes. Both the gates at the St. Francis Boulevard-Portola Drive entry and the fountain in the circular plaza were designed by noted Beaux Arts–era architect John Galen Howard.
Ironically the foggiest spot in San Francisco, Sunset was home to only sand dunes that extended west to Ocean Beach until after World War II when they were paved over and replaced with pastel stucco houses on wide streets. Located just south of Golden Gate Park, it features several commercial areas where many ethnic specialty stores, coffee shops and Irish pubs line the streets. Sunset is also home to San Francisco’s Conservatory of Music. Inner Sunset is home to many students while Outer Sunset is populated mostly by surfers, seniors and Asian families.
Telegraph Hill is a residential neighborhood with a reputation as a respite for bohemian and intellectual crowds. One of the most beautiful views of the San Francisco skyline can be found atop the Coit Tower, a 210-foot monument built in 1933 for beautification purposes. The gardens of Filbert Street are a noteworthy attraction of Telegraph Hill, which is home to a flock of feral red-masked parakeets that were in a book and award-winning documentary, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.
Named for two hills that reach higher than 900 feet, Twin Peaks offers some of the most panoramic views of the city and the bay. Some homes here resemble Spanish villas while others are simply apartment houses. The southern slopes that face San Bruno Mountain and the ocean have seen recent development of single-family homes.
Located on the western side of the lengthy Twin Peaks Tunnel, West Portal sits at the foot of Mt. Davison, Forest Hills and Edgehill Heights. Thought of as a “city within the city,” the neighborhood has several small businesses and a variety of restaurants. Notably it has become one of the hottest locations in San Francisco because of reasonable prices in a residential setting with easy access to Muni Metro and the 280/101 freeway.
What would happen if you picked a handful of the previous neighborhoods, put them in a blender and spit them out? You would have Western Addition, an area that is an amalgamation of San Francisco’s best attributes. The city’s most diverse neighborhood in terms of economic and ethnic demographics, it borders Alamo Square Park, one of San Francisco’s most recognizable spots because of its stunning views of the city and the six iconic Victorian houses that stand side-by-side. Fillmore Farmers’ Market is also of interest to potential residents who love fresh produce and bread.
Situated South of Market, Yerba Buena revolves around the Yerba Buena Center and Gardens, which is becoming a sophisticated art and business center. The Yerba Buena Garden Project is a five-acre green space that complements the young atmosphere of the area that features many clubs, museums and restaurants. Today, high-rise condominiums, warehouses and lofts dominate its residential offerings.
With so much diversity within one city, it’s no wonder San Francisco is a destination for people from all over the world.