The Ultimate San Francisco Neighborhood Guide

The Ultimate San Francisco Neighborhood Guide

By California.com
September 29, 2020

As California mitigates health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, some travel restrictions may remain in certain communities. Call the local and regional tourism offices to learn more about the restrictions in your intended destination. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.

Each San Francisco neighborhood has its own character and aesthetic. From districts paying homage to the Summer of Love and LGBTQ+ movements to residential areas displaying classic Victorian homes and historic mansions, San Francisco has something for everyone. Even though the city itself is only 49 square miles, it can be a bit confusing to navigate its many diverse neighborhoods. Read our ultimate San Francisco neighborhood guide to discover the district that vibes with you best.

A Guide to San Francisco Neighborhoods

1. Pacific Heights, San Francisco

Explore the attractions of Pacific Heights such as the Palace of Fine Arts, which boasts beautiful architecture and ethereal green spaces.

Median home price: $2 million

One of San Francisco’s residential districts was nothing more than a sandy space until its development began in the 1870s. As small Victorian-inspired homes popped up all over the neighborhood, Pacific Heights transformed into a picturesque area with iconic landmarks. Today, it is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in San Francisco.

While touring Pac Heights, stop by and admire the Painted Ladies—San Francisco's famous row of colorful Edwardian and Victorian houses. Everywhere you go, everywhere you look, the Full House aesthetics come into view in this neighborhood. The San Francisco neighborhood is also home to two spectacular parks: Alta Plaza and Lafayette Park. The former is an 11.5-acre recreation area offering views of Twin Peaks, Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco Bay. With two tennis courts, vast open spaces, and a children’s playground, the park is one of the densest urban gems in the city.

Another local favorite in Pac Heights is the one and only Palace of Fine Arts. This monumental Greco-Roman structure is surrounded by lush grounds. With a tranquil lagoon, an expansive exhibition center, and an impressive theater, this S.F. gem is the heart and soul of the city. 

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2. Nob Hill, San Francisco

Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill attracts visitors with its unique French Gothic architecture. The design was inspired by Notre-Dame de Paris.

Median home price: $1.5 million

Known for its luxurious hotels and historic mansions, Nob Hill is San Francisco’s oldest and most upscale neighborhood. With multiple Michelin-starred restaurants, top art galleries, and panoramic views of the city, this classic district is one of the most desirable places to live and visit in all of the U.S.

Nob Hill boasts numerous fancy hotels such as The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco and the Hotel Fairmont San Francisco, bringing a whole new meaning to elegance and extravagance. So, it’s no surprise that many visitors prefer accommodations in this neighborhood when planning a getaway to the City by the Bay

This San Francisco neighborhood’s most prominent park is Huntington Park, which features impressive statuary and two gorgeous fountains. The 1.3-acre expanse offers stunning views of the Grace Cathedral, Huntington Hotel, and Pacific-Union Club. When looking for places to eat, opt for Michelin-star recipients for the ultimate luxurious experience. Try taste bud-tingling dishes at KEIKO à Nob Hill, where Japanese cuisine is combined with French techniques, or enjoy a nine-course seasonal tasting menu at the critically acclaimed Sons & Daughters.

3. Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco

The Red Victorian hotel and community space in the Haight-Ashbury district was constructed in 1904.

Median home price: $1.7 million

Also known as the Haight or Upper Haight, this San Francisco neighborhood is where the 60s flower power was born. Lined with colorful Victorian houses and flamboyant boutiques, Haight-Ashbury was the center of the 1967 Summer of Love movement that promoted love and peace, earning the S.F. district national attention. The positive message of the cultural phenomenon is still apparent thanks to the multicolor structures and bohemian ambience. 

Haight-Ashbury's unique culture and quirky architecture make it among the best neighborhoods in the city for starting an Airbnb. The area even attracted many rock-and-roll legends in the past—Janis Joplin and members of The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane once resided in Haight-Ashbury. So, indulge in Haight-Ashbury’s 60s aura while discovering the gems of the historic area.

The neighborhood is home to The Red Victorian hotel, a popular attraction that is now a community-run nonprofit collective. Music lovers are instantly drawn to the local favorite Amoeba Music, which offers endless supplies of timeless vinyl records, audio cassettes, and movie collections. Buena Vista Park, one of the oldest in San Francisco, is also located in the iconic neighborhood. 

4. North Beach, San Francisco

Taking in 360-degree views of San Francisco from North Beach's Coit Tower is one of the most quintessential experiences to have in the City.

Median home price: $1.4 million

San Francisco has its very own “Little Italy” where red, white, and green flags decorate the district’s lamp posts. With countless Italian restaurants and cafés dominating the neighborhood, North Beach was once the historic center of the beatnik subculture in the U.S. Now, its most famed attraction is Coit Tower. The base of the tower features murals and historic displays of city life during the Great Depression-era. But the main draw here is the tower, so take the elevator up to the top to soak in 360-degree views of San Francisco. 

Another must-visit in North Beach is City Lights Booksellers and Publishers—one of the most beloved bookstores in the country. It’s also the ideal place to shop for souvenirs and learn about the significance of the beat generation. Make sure to stop by Washington Square Park for an afternoon picnic, where the imposing Saints Peter and Paul Church stands tall right next to you. 

5. Noe Valley & The Castro, San Francisco

One of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States, the Castro remains a symbol of LGBTQ+ activism.

Median home price: $2.2 million

The Castro and Noe Valley sit adjacent to one another and are can't-miss locales in S.F., especially when one is the most famous LGBTQ+ neighborhood in all of America. The Castro is a vibrant and colorful district that serves as a safe space for every gender and anyone who identifies as queer. With well-maintained Victorian homes dotting the streets, the area is abundant with awesome local stores and top-notch restaurants. Enjoy a classic S.F. brunch at Chloe’s Cafe, where mouthwatering options await, or devour delicious gourmet burgers at the local favorite Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers

Stroll along the rainbow flag-lined streets until you arrive at the Castro Theatre—it’s impossible to miss its California Churrigueresque façade. When exploring the impressive San Francisco neighborhood, don’t forget to stop by the Rainbow Honor Walk, an installation that commemorates notable LGBTQ+ individuals who have impacted society and made significant contributions in their respective fields. The bronze plaques commemorate well-known figures such as Josephine Baker, Harvey Milk, Frida Kahlo, and the one and only Freddie Mercury. 

Just south of the Castro, Noe Valley is slightly more upscale but still reflects the same flair and mix of hipsters and families. Admire the Victorian and Edwardian homes and explore the various eateries, relaxed cafés, and old-time shops along Church and 24th Streets.

6. Mission District, San Francisco

Breathtaking views of the city, lush lawns, and a dog play area make Mission Dolores Park one of the top Sunday destinations among S.F. locals.

Median home price: $1.5 million

One of the best San Francisco neighborhoods is the Mission District. Named after Mission Dolores, this is the sixth religious settlement founded in California's chain of missions and is the oldest surviving structure in the city. The neighborhood is home to the first professional baseball stadium in the Golden State, and the area is covered with vivid street art. A favorite pastime activity among locals is packing a picnic lunch and sunbathing at Mission Dolores Park. With tennis courts, soccer fields, a children’s playground, and a designated spot for pets, the park is the ideal place for relaxing and taking in the stunning skyline views. 

Spend a day in the Mission and embark on adventures in this culturally diverse San Francisco neighborhood. Explore the colorful murals of the neighborhood as you make your way to Taqueria La Cumbre, the birthplace of Mission-style burritos. Another must-visit here is Galería de la Raza, a nonprofit that supports local Latinx artists; the gallery frequently hosts poetry readings, sells artworks, and sponsors youth and artist-in-residence programs.

If you have time, take a tour of the Dandelion Chocolate Factory and grab some treats to take home before picking up a loaf of sourdough from nearby the Tartine Bakery. With so much to see and do in the Mission, it's no wonder it's one of the best San Francisco neighborhoods. 

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