SAN FRANCISCO CITY/COUNTY

City Offices
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco 415-554-6141
www.sfgov.org

County Clerk
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco 415-554-4950
http://sfgov.org/countyclerk

Chamber of Commerce
235 Montgomery Street
San Francisco 415-392-4520
www.sfchamber.com

 

Major Highways
Interstates 80, 280, Highway One, US Highway 101

Distinguished as the only city in California that is simultaneously classified as a county, San Francisco is often described as “one of the most beautiful places on the planet.” Known simply as “The City” by its residents, San Francisco is located on the hilly tip of a peninsula and covers a land mass about twice the size of Manhattan. Supporting a significant population in a relatively small area, the city claims only one large tract of remaining open land that lies in the Mission Bay area between the China Basin and the Central Basin. Other possibilities for significant expansion are only possible with the conversion of former military installations like the Presidio, Treasure Island, and Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard. When considering the Bay Area as a totality, potential for growth is not a problem. Land-rich counties and communities radiate from San Francisco, offering diverse residential possibilities.

Unlike many cities that emphasize growth, San Francisco seems intent upon preserving its unsurpassed quality of life and amazing power of enchantment. Few cities in the world — and certainly no other metropolis on the West Coast — rival San Francisco for sheer sophistication. Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay on the three sides as well as panoramic San Mateo County to the south, San Francisco is the smallest county in California. Now with three quarters of a million people, the city is home to a one of the densest populations in the nation. Still, a feeling of intimacy, acceptance, and “California friendliness” pervades the eclectic mix of neighborhoods and districts.

Tourism is the number one industry in San Francisco, although the city is home to a flourishing and impressive local economy anchored by scores of leading companies that include a significant number of the Fortune 500. A large majority of the employers scattered throughout the city are concentrated in the services, retail, and wholesale trade sectors. While many of these businesses are closely associated to the booming tourism industry, the city also serves as a gateway for world trade and international enterprise. Foreign consulates, trade offices, and significant activity in import, export and foreign investment combine to play a leading role in the economy.

The financial district, anchored by a Federal Reserve Bank and the Pacific Stock Exchange, not only creates tens of thousands of jobs but serves as a focal point for area corporations and businesses of all sizes. The downtown district is still the heartbeat of the retail industry, accounting for many of the city’s retail trade jobs and billions of dollars in gross revenue.

 

Services
As the epicenter of the vibrant Bay Area, San Francisco maintains a superb network of interstate freeways, major highways, impressive bridges, tunnels, and high-speed thoroughfares. The county’s comprehensive transit systems are among the most advanced in the world, providing quick and convenient alternatives to freeways and bridges that become crowded with peak-hour traffic. The Bay Area Rapid Transit or BART lines connect San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa Counties. San Francisco also owns the San Francisco International Airport, in spite of its location in adjacent San Mateo County. Throughout the city, MUNI mass transit services ensure a network of energy-efficient, environmentally friendly alternatives to private automobiles. Like Manhattan and Boston, San Francisco is one city where living without a car is not only possible — it can actually be convenient.

Newcomers to the Bay Area can look forward to a progressive attitude toward education that mirrors the East Coast’s ivy-league atmosphere. The San Francisco Bay area is renowned for its advancements and leadership in the field of education, from award-winning public schools to some of the nation’s most respected institutions of higher learning. San Francisco Unified School District garners consistent recognition for innovative teaching methods as well as multilingual, enrichment, vocational, and special education programs. The choices for higher education are abundant and exceptional, underlined by the convenient system of two-year educational centers for the City College of San Francisco. San Francisco State University has garnered a national reputation for addressing real-world issues through practical, applied research, and academic application. The independent, multi-campus Golden Gate University is based in the city, and the Academy of Art College is now recognized as the largest, fully accredited private school of art and design in the nation. The University of California-San Francisco provides internationally acclaimed educational opportunities in biomedical research and health science education.

Hospitals and clinics with an international reputation for expertise in complex diagnostics and treatment combine with healthcare institutions that offer a variety of specializations. Every imaginable resource is available at one of the city’s premier hospitals or medical centers, including cardiology specialties, Alzheimer’s treatment, cancer care, behavioral health, pediatrics, women’s health, birthing centers, neonatal care, organ and bone marrow transplants, hospice, and burn centers. Community education, health screenings, fitness programs, and family health services ensure that every individual is supported in achieving a vital and healthy lifestyle.

 

Lifestyle
Combining the ingredients of a temperate climate and scenic living environment with unsurpassed recreational and cultural opportunities, San Francisco never fails to astound and captivate newcomers and visitors. Intensely proud of its heritage, the city still employs century-old cable cars to transport employees to the gleaming skyscrapers of its internationally famous financial district. In concert with ongoing redevelopment of commercial space, the city has shown a remarkable dedication to preserving and restoring its treasure of irreplaceable, turn-of-the-century Victorian homes. Unique projects like The Cannery have successfully transformed historic factory shells into some of the most appealing retail and commercial space imaginable.

San Francisco’s population can be characterized as well-educated, well-traveled, and culturally diverse. One of the keys to San Francisco’s cosmopolitan image is the multicultural mix of its residents — a fact that ensures an exotic, colorful, and inviting scene around every corner. The city harmonizes very distinct districts that reflect varied architectural styles, cultural interests, and even topography. Many of the residential neighborhoods are identified by the hills on which they perch, such as Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill, or Potrero Hill. The cultural centers of Japantown and China Town, the Latino-dominated Mission District, SoMa’s artistic community, and “Little Italy” nestled in the bohemian North Beach area are just a few of the urban jewels in the crown of the cityscape.

In addition to the Presidio, the city is divided into ten major districts that are usually subdivided into several charming neighborhoods with very distinct personalities. A sense of fashion prevails in San Francisco, where homes range from rambling Victorians and handsome row houses to high-rise condominiums, Mediterranean villas, and California-style homes with breathtaking Bay vistas. A few neighborhoods are hidden away on tree-clad hillsides, primarily shrouded in fog and accessible only by stairs. The limitation of available land and the city’s unsurpassed quality of life continually propel real estate values, making San Francisco one of the most expensive living choices within the Bay Area. Space for garages and parking lots are also at a premium, but you will seldom hear residents complain about their lifestyle. They simply wouldn’t consider living anywhere else. Apparently, the magnetism of San Francisco grows even stronger with time and familiarity.

An abundance of transportation options contribute to a manageable lifestyle in the city. Even the Bay ferries play a vital role in maintaining efficient links between San Francisco and its outlying areas. Those who live and work in San Francisco often discover that public transportation is the most economic, and certainly the most carefree mode of transportation. Many of the city’s attractions and cultural venues encourage the use of public transit by offering discounts based on verification of municipal services.

Aficionados of cultural expression will find a kaleidoscope of opera, ballet, symphony, musical concerts, and live-stage performances as well as leading visual art and historical museums. San Francisco spans the spectrum of cultural attractions, from the most sophisticated of world-renowned performances to phenomenal spectacles like Beach Blanket Babylon — a musical extravaganza like no other. Wonderful museums ingeniously display art, science, and history in dazzling venues. Undoubtedly, one of the most visually inspiring structures is the fully restored Palace of Fine Arts, built as a temporary exhibit for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition. Meticulously restored and transformed into a permanent structure, the Palace now houses a theatre and the spectacular Exploratorium, a wondrous venue filled with scientific explorations and interactive delights. The San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center sprawls over 7.5 acres in San Francisco’s Civic Center Historic District to offer elegant performance spaces for permanent companies like the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, and San Francisco Ballet.

Whether you prefer relaxation or excitement, San Francisco has the just the right place and combination of amenities to satisfy every whim and mood. If your idea of the perfect day is shopping, take your time exploring the world-class retail centers, wonderful markets, bakeries, bookstores, antique dealers, and one-of-a-kind boutiques scattered throughout the city. Looking for edge-of-the-seat spectator sports? Imagine filling every season of the year with the thrills provided by major-league teams like the San Francisco Giants, the 49’ers, the Gold State Warriors, the Oakland Raiders, or the Oakland A’s. The South Bay offers SaberCats arena football, San Jose Earthquakes soccer,  San Jose Sharks hockey, and San Jose Stealth lacrosse. Throughout the Bay Area, leading universities maintain beautiful stadiums and arenas for outstanding collegiate teams.

Enhancing every aspect of Bay Area living is the mild climate, an ideal compromise between the heat of sunny Southern California and the chilly, cloud-covered Northwest. Cool bay and ocean breezes meet warm inland air, moderating temperatures on a year-round basis. Outdoor and sports enthusiasts can indulge in most of their favorite pastimes regardless of the season. When time is at a premium, city dwellers can choose from 120 parks for hiking, jogging, horseback riding, roller-blading, bicycling, or picnicking. Certainly, the star of the extensive park system is Golden Gate Park, one of the nation’s most expansive, elaborate, panoramic, and culturally rich recreation centers. Along with sculptures, performance venues, and museums, Yerba Buena Gardens hosts the $56 million Rooftop — a wonderland devoted to the city’s youth that includes a bowling alley, skating rink, art and technology center, and hand-carved Charles Looff carousel. Angel Island State Park is one of the most popular destinations for biking and hiking, accessible only by ferry.

Throughout the Bay Area, the redwood-clad hillsides, sparkling lakes, and open spaces of state and county parks combine with regional preserves for virtually endless recreational possibilities. The East Bay Regional Park District operates an outstanding system of public parks and trails in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, where more than 50 parks and 20 regional trails sprawl over 75,000 acres. The Bay and Pacific coastline waters are known for their rich abundance of marine life, including colonies of seals, sea lions and otters. Premier discovery museums, planetariums, and aquariums are available throughout the region, mixing entertainment with educational programs designed to deepen public knowledge and appreciation of the ocean and the planet’s varied ecosystems.

While San Francisco overflows with first-rate attractions, the city also offers its residents easy access to California’s most celebrated and scenic recreational areas. Lake Tahoe, the North Coast, Yosemite, California Wine Country, and the spectacular Monterey Peninsula are just a few hours drive from home. The entire State of California is truly nature’s playground, offering 15,000,000 acres of diverse landscape that has been dedicated to spectacular national parks and open-space preserves.

With its leading healthcare and educational centers, international economy, and unparalleled quality of life, San Francisco enjoys the pinnacle of desirability as a place to live, work, and play. Welcome to the beauty and spirit of San Francisco — a city forever young and yet utterly timeless.

 

NOTABLE DISTRICTS

Bayshore
Boundaries: San Mateo County, LaGrande Avenue, Burrows Street (west), Lick Freeway (east), Army Street and Islais Creek (north)

Entering San Francisco from the international airport brings you to the southeast corner of the city, an area known as the Bayshore District. A number of family-oriented neighborhoods are punctuated by clusters of warehouses and manufacturing complexes throughout the area. The district encompasses 3Com Park, Visitacion Valley, Portola, Bayview, Bret Harte, and Hunters Point. Bayview is characterized as a culturally diverse neighborhood that blends single-family houses, apartments, and fourplexes with factories. In Portola, many of the homes are more than a half-century in age, some in need of repair and others maintained impeccably. The dominant style is two-story stucco and wood-frame construction with a lower-level garage, which is also true of the Visitacion or “Vis” Valley neighborhood. Hunter’s Point was once a shipyard that employed thousands, although a scattering of artists and small businesses are the primary new tenants. In spite of the economic shift, a significant number of manufacturing and warehousing firms still remain in the area. Recreational opportunities close to home are abundant, underlined by McLaren—one of the city’s largest parks. 3Com Park, famous for its legacy of professional sports attractions, enjoys its own shoreline and claims the status of a state recreation area.

 

Buena Vista
Boundaries: Panhandle & Oak Street (north); Gough and Market Streets (east); Upper Market Street, Portola Drive and Woodside Avenue (south); Laguna Honda Boulevard, Seventh Avenue, Kirkham Street, Parnassus Avenue, U.S. Medical Center, and Stanyan Street (west)

Situated at the geographic center of San Francisco, the district is one of extremes in topography as well as sociology. Panoramic summits mix with flatlands, elegant villas blend with modest flats, and long-established, conservative neighborhoods harmonize with enclaves of rugged individualists and artistic eccentrics. Included in this eclectic environment are the neighborhoods of Ashbury Heights, Clarendon Heights, Haugh-Fillmore, Buena Vista, Twin Peaks, and Haight-Ashbury. The latter will forever be emblazoned in American memory as the epicenter of the 1960s flower-child generation with its love beads, rock icons like the Jefferson Airplane, and tie-dyed clothing. While a few of the boutiques still display colorful treasures from yesterday, a fresh wave of retail establishments, galleries, specialty shops, and popular restaurants have infused new vitality into the legendary retail scene marked by the street sign of Haight-Ashbury. Extensive revitalization has occurred in recent decades in many of the Buena Vista neighborhoods, opening the door for wonderful new shopping experiences, multicultural dining, and opportunities to restore vintage homes like old Queen Anne cottages or Victorian bungalows.

 

Downtown
Boundaries: Central Freeway and Division Street (south), Van Ness Avenue (west), and the San Francisco Bay

Often called the “heart and soul” of San Francisco, the downtown district encompasses a collection of unique neighborhoods, from Chinatown and South of Market or SoMa to the majestic hotels and opulent properties perched on Nob Hill. In this center of finance and commerce reside the principle marketplaces, most influential corporations, government offices, transportation terminals, towering skyscrapers, entertainment spots, award-winning restaurants, and a wealth of historical sites. Diversity in culture and lifestyle seems to be the only unifying element in the kaleidoscope of living environments. While most newcomers find it easy to conjure images of the exotic sights in Chinatown, few people expect to hear Italian spoken in many of the coffee houses that dot North Beach. Even the Financial Center, traditionally a commercial zone, is redefining its place in the city to include comfortable, attractive, and convenient housing for professionals and families. Residents of the modern condominiums and apartments that sprung up with the advent of the Embarcadero Center can look forward to the weekend farmers market, winter ice-skating, and summer outdoor concerts. The revitalized area of SoMa now offers spacious converted warehouse lofts, high-tech employment, and upbeat nightlife. Fisherman’s Wharf and the Tenderloin complete the list of downtown neighborhoods.

 

Lake Merced
Boundaries: San Mateo County, Pacific Ocean, Sloat Boulevard, Junipero Serra Boulevard

As one of the most recent areas to be developed in the city, Lake Merced preserved its rural atmosphere and agricultural flavor well into the 20th century. The shimmering lake, lush golf courses, and natural-habitat zoo make this one of the most scenic living choices within the city. Because so much of the neighborhood reflects more modern construction, the environment is visibly clean, neat, and appealing. The close proximity of the Pacific Ocean provides cooling breezes, water sports, and recreational possibilities close to home. Included in the district is the beautiful and sprawling campus of San Francisco State University with its library, cultural events, and athletic competition. Neighboring the University is one of the largest planned communities in San Francisco, Park Merced. Many good schools dot this attractive and family-oriented enclave, complete with handsome high-rise developments that overlook the ocean and city lights. For shopping, the stores along Ocean Avenue and Sloat Boulevard combine with major facilities like the upscale Stonestown Galleria.

 

The Mission District
Boundaries: San Mateo County (south); Market Street & Central Freeway (north); the Lick Freeway, Interstate 280, Madison and Burrows Streets, LaGrande Avenue, McLaren Park and Carter Street (east)

One of the most vibrant sections of the city, this district claims a rich history that dates back to settlement by the Spanish missionaries who established Mission Dolores. Many of the city’s influential leaders hailed from this area, once a residential haven for the working class. Today, a significant number of young people and students call this area home — a fact that may contribute to the undeniable sense of vitality and excitement. A prevailing attitude of acceptance and tolerance has created a social mix of youthful idealism, reverence for the past, and respect for artistic expression. The temperatures are somewhat warmer than those experienced in other areas, although a favorable climate is the least of the attractions. Numerous shopping and dining areas combine with a lively social atmosphere where events and activities seem to be constantly in constant motion. Among the neighborhoods within the district are Eureka Valley, Noe Valley, Dolores Heights, Inner Mission, Outer Mission, Glen Park, Diamond Heights, Excelsior, and Crocker-Amazon.

 

The Potrero
Boundaries: Division Street (north), the Bay (east), Islais Creek and Interstate 280 (south), Lick Freeway and Potrero Avenue (west)

One of the classic enclaves, Potrero Hill is characterized as compact, secluded, and graced with some of the finest skyline vistas in the Bay Area. With the appealing mix of Victorians and single-family homes in varied architectural styles, the neighborhood is favored by artists and professionals. Mission Bay, the site of the new ballpark and extensive residential and commercial growth, is located just northeast of Potrero Hills. The Potrero District also encompasses the neighborhoods of Old Town and Apparel City, known for the ingenious renovation of industrial and warehouse space. A number of loft-style developments are already available. Warmer temperatures with less fog combine with hilly areas that add to the topographical allure. The major shopping area of 18th Street features eclectic shops and friendly restaurants that cater primarily to the locals. Other commercial developments include upscale wholesale furnishings as well as industrial activity and warehousing.

 

The Presidio
Boundaries: 25th Avenue and the Golden Gate (west and north), Lyon Street (east), West Pacific Avenue and the Presidio Wall (south)

One of the most famous citadels in American history, the Presidio was first established by the Spanish in 1776 on the banks of the San Francisco Bay in what would become one of the city’s most choice locations. Undoubtedly one of  the “oldest” of the city neighborhoods, the Presidio remained the property of the U.S. Army until the Cold War dissolved. When the Pentagon relinquished this vast complex, all land and buildings fell under the jurisdiction of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. With its beaches, lush surroundings, and public golf course, the beauty and magnificence of the complex is captured in this parting comment from a commanding officer, “An officer has three wishes: To be a general, to go to the Presidio, and to go to heaven.”

 

Richmond, Seacliff
Boundaries: Presidio Avenue, Masonic Avenue, Anza Street, Parker Avenue, Turk Boulevard, Stanyan Street, Golden Gate Park, The Presidio, Golden Gate Recreation Area, the Pacific Ocean

Sometimes referred to as the Park-Presidio, this northwestern corner of the city is bounded on three sides by some of the richest open space and recreational resources available to any metropolitan community. Elegant neighborhoods mix with a wonderful shopping district along Clement Street, where Chinese, Russian, and artistic elements harmonize. Long-established and stable, the first residents were primarily Russians escaping the revolution. To the north is Lincoln Park, crowned by the elegant Palace of the Legion of Honor and the sweeping greens of the golf course. Richmond encompasses the University of San Francisco, creating the excitement and intellectual stimulation of a college-town atmosphere. Well-kept older homes from 1900 to 1940 predominate, many with living rooms over the garage. A wide mix of architectural styles can be found along tree-lined streets, while Mediterranean mansions dot the bluffs overlooking the ocean in Seacliff.

 

Sunset
Boundaries: Golden Gate Park, Sloat Boulevard, Pacific Ocean, Stanyan Street, Parnassus Avenue, Seventh Avenue, Quintara Street, Funston Avenue, Vicente Street, 19th Avenue

Considered by many as the heart of middle-class life within the city, Sunset is one of the most ideal districts for raising a family. The area steadfastly preserves the intimacy of single-home neighborhoods, and is best known for pastel-colored rows of houses that reflect a similar style and size. While most homes were built with two bedrooms and a single bath, many renovated models now offer a third bedroom and second bath. Sunset residents enjoy a quick commute to downtown, either in a private car or municipal transportation. Significant among local employers is the University of California Medical Center. Several retail districts are available locally. In spite of the throngs of tourists drawn to nearby attractions like the San Francisco Zoo or Golden Gate Park, this tranquil, family-oriented enclave accommodates very little non-residential traffic. As you might expect from the name, this area is ideally positioned for glorious sunsets.

 

Twin Peaks West
Boundaries: Interstate 280, Junipero Serra Boulevard, Vicente Street, Funston Avenue, Quintara Street, Seventh Avenue, Parnassus Avenue, Stanyan Street, 17th Street, Upper Market Street, Diamond Heights Boulevard, Congo Street

Near the middle of San Francisco, several hills rise to nearly 900 feet to offer outstanding vistas and forested hillsides that make up one of the city’s most scenic districts. The west side of this area faces the Pacific Ocean, inheriting the majority of fog that rolls in toward the hills on its journey inland. The care of the homes in these engaging neighborhoods is immediately evident in the fresh appearance of the dwellings, bright window boxes, floral accents, and well-manicured lawns. Many tracts were developed around the World War II era, creating a more modern atmosphere than neighborhoods filled with rows of ornate Victorians. Single-home architectural styles are diverse, including some lovely Tudors, Spanish styles with terra-cotta roofs, and even townhouses. Convenience is one of the many advantages to this highly centralized location. The attractions and recreational riches of Golden Gate Park are minutes away, and Market Street traverses the base of the eastern slopes for a quick trip downtown.

 

Western Addition
Boundaries: Fell Street, Stanyan Street, Turk Boulevard, Parker Avenue, Anza Street, Masonic Avenue, Presidio Avenue, the Presidio, the Bay, and Van Ness

Those who thrive on cultural attractions and diversity are likely to find the ideal neighborhood in this area located just west of City Hall. Sometimes referred to simply as “The Fillmore,” the district harmonizes its varied elements at every turn. Here, you’ll find the five-acre Japanese Cultural and Trade Center as well as Cathedral Hill and St. Mary’s — the last of the city’s grand churches. Rows of single-family homes and restored Victorians contrast with large developments of multi-family housing for a variety of lifestyle options. The Fillmore Center apartments cover five blocks, eventually gliding into Pacific Heights, one of the city’s most prestigious and coveted of San Francisco addresses. Most residents can walk to downtown, Davies Symphony Hall, and San Francisco’s largest library. Conveniently located on Laguna Street is the University of California extension. Also within this expansive district are the neighborhoods of Presidio Heights, the Marina, Cow Hollow, Ashbury Heights, Haight-Fillmore, Hayes Valley, Cathedral Hill, and Japantown.

 

NOTABLE NEIGHBORHOODS

Bernal Heights
Nestled at the southern edge of Mission valley, the unique neighborhood of Bernal Heights offers an urban village perched on a steep incline that seems relatively untouched by time. The hill itself is primarily bordered by Bayshore Boulevard, Cesar Chavez Drive, and Mission Street. Cortland Avenue serves as the retail corridor, lined with small markets, cafés, fruit stands, and services. Homes tend to be small bungalows, and community gardens are common. For all its homespun charm, Bernal Heights intersperses the sophistication of trendy boutiques and innovative restaurants between simpler storefronts. The northern side of the hill is particularly progressive, home to a bastion of artists and bohemians who are joined by a significant number of young families who appreciate the first-home opportunities and the quiet streets. Dog lovers are particular drawn to this neighborhood for the unusual amenity of Bernal Park, a canine paradise that allows off-leash play.

 

Chinatown
Drawing more visitors each year than the Golden Gate Bridge, the internationally famous community of Chinatown mingles the cozy home of the locals with the famous tourist destination. Certainly, these two themes overlap to create a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of images, aromas, and colors. Visitors expect to be stunned, enchanted, dazzled, and showered with great Chinese food — and they most assuredly are. Grant Avenue is an excellent corridor for newcomers, although off-streets offer more a glimpse of the heritage of Chinatown in quiet corners and secluded shops. The many produce and live markets that Stockton Street between Columbus and Broadway are unusual to Western eyes, who find the sight of live turtles, chickens, and other animals as rather odd.

 

Cole Valley
In spite of the neighborhood’s close proximity to the bustling commerce of the Haight, this distinctive enclave claims its own character and flavor. The narrow community is bordered on the west by Stanyan Street and the Sutro Forest, on the south by Tank Hill, and on the east by Clayton Street. Most residents are families and young professionals who seem more warm and earthy than those in many city neighborhoods. Commercial activity reflects the same attitude, and many stores are family owned rather than chains or franchises. Charming food and coffee specialty shops nestled in the three-block commercial strip along Cole Street and Carl Street tend to attract citywide and even Bay Area visitors. Historic sites are many, and views are dramatic — especially from the 600-foot-high Tank Hill with eucalyptus trees that were planted after Pearl Harbor to hide the water tank from Japanese bombers.

 

Fisherman’s Warf
City residents grumble about the tourist attraction of Fisherman’s Warf, although they never fail to “force themselves to go” when out-of-towners want to see the sights. Fantastic views of the city and the bay combine with great food like fresh Dungeness crab and old-fashioned fun. The sunning sea lions are always ready to entertain with their playful antics and sleepy reverie. Fisherman’s Warf is the number one San Francisco visitor’s site, ahead of Chinatown and the Golden Gate Bridge. Most of its dazzling attractions like The Cannery, Ghirardelli Square, and Pier 39 were built in the late 1960s. The historic site that keeps tourists lining up day after day is the ferry ride to Alcatraz, the former federal prison that was once the home of infamous characters like Al Capone and Charles Manson.

 

Golden Gate Park
Covered with more than one million trees and larger than Manhattan’s Central Park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is the ultimate playground for residents and visitors alike. This peaceful retreat from urban noise and traffic offers an amazing variety of environments and attractions, yet it manages to accommodate as many as 75,000 people on a single weekend without seeming crowded. Today, the vast acreage offers exactly what it was intended to give: A haven in the heart of the city where residents can play, relax, and grow culturally. Sublime resources that include world-famous museums, enchanting gardens, a spectacular arboretum, and the Conservatory of Flowers mingle easily with whimsical attractions like French lawn bowling or riding an 87-year-old carousel.

 

The Haight
The days of flower power, burning incense, and peace symbols in the heat of the Vietnam-war era can now be found immortalized in t-shirts, trinkets, and memorabilia in this unique neighborhood. Exotic Eastern-influenced outlets bearing names like Dreams of Kathmandu and The Love of Ganesha join a new crop of exclusive boutiques, high-end vintage-clothing shops, second-hand stores, Internet cafés, and trendy restaurants. The sheer number of colorful shops, eateries, and businesses that lines the streets has transformed The Haight into one of the city’s bustling commercial districts. The Upper Haight that stretches from Stanyan to Masonic is lined with more upscale shops that wind down toward the entrance of Golden Gate Park. Lower Haight, roughly bounded by Divisidero to Webster, is home to a number of dance-music record shops and nightclubs.

 

Hayes Valley
Less than 15 years ago, Hayes Valley could be described in many ways but never an ultra-chic corridor in the heart of the city. This neighborhood bordered by the Van Ness performing-arts district and the Western Addition around Laguna Street has transformed into a haven for haute couture. Lined with trendy fashion boutiques, wonderful restaurants, SoHo-style art galleries, high-end interior decorating shops, and popular night spots, this neighborhood has become a favorite with locals and visitors. Ironically, it was tragedy that spurred the Hayes Valley renaissance. The phenomenal success of the Hayes Valley’s current commercial district was boosted by destruction caused by the 1989 earthquake to the Central Freeway, which had entrance ramps on Franklin and Gough streets. When the freeway came down, new commerce flooded in and the community began its amazing revitalization. Some jewels from yesterday survive, like the Hayes Street Grill that is now twice its former size.

 

Inner Richmond
Offering easy access to the Presidio and some of San Francisco’s most panoramic and attractive sites, Inner Richmond offers a diverse neighborhood of charming stucco houses, grand mansions, a myriad of eateries, and a wonderful variety of specialty shops. Less well known than The Mission for its colorful atmosphere, this community features a Clement Street corridor that is brimming over with popular Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean restaurants. Chinese bakeries with amazing specials combine with produce markets, a French bistro, an amazing bookstore, and other unique attractions in this comfortable and practical neighborhood. Modest in character and yet claiming a reputation for some of the city’s most delightful restaurants, Inner Richmond is often called the “New Chinatown.”

 

Inner Sunset
Although this neighborhood is just three miles from the Pacific Ocean and tends to endure more year-round fog than nearly any other area, many city residents consider it their favorite enclave. Situated between Golden Gate Park to the north and Vicente Street to the south, from Stanyan Boulevard to the east and 19th Avenue to the west, Inner Sunset preserves a more relaxed, small-town feeling with a “global village” flavor. Unlike many corners of the city, residents tend to know and greet each other. More affordable housing drew immigrants in the 1800s, who were soon joined by students when the University of California built the cornerstone for its medical campus on the slopes of Mount Sutro. Decades of lower real-estate prices attracted new waves of immigrants from Asia, China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, and the Pacific islands. When San Francisco real-estate values soared, the neighborhood gentrified but at a slower rate than in other areas. Even today, an abundance of mom-and-pop diners, shops, and services preserve a sense of warmth.

 

The Marina
Developed after the “great quake,” the Marina was the site was chosen as the location of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a breathtaking exhibit of architectural beauty. The exposition and its iconic surviving building, the Palace of Fine Arts, drove the commercial and residential development possibilities in this recently formed waterfront area. Apartment buildings, homes, and businesses sprouted up rapidly to make the Marina one of the city’s most desirable addresses. When the Loma Prieta earthquake devastated the area in the 1980s, reconstruction was complete with in a decade — redesigned for stability and sporting a bright new facade. Attracting a young population to popular apartments, shops, and restaurants, the area features the Union Street corridor as one of the city’s top shopping areas. Sophisticated and upscale, this area claims only Fort Mason and its host of cultural attractions as the most visible connections to the past.

 

Nob Hill
Famous as one of San Francisco’s signature neighborhoods, Nob Hill is renowned for its city landmarks and the opulent hotels that border Huntington Park. At the same time, this area is influenced by the diverse personalities of the downtown neighborhoods that surround it, creating a more surprising and intriguing neighborhood. Venture from Huntington Square and the scenery changes into Chinese temples and ethnic shops that spill over from Chinatown or the upscale boutiques leading to Union Square. The Polk Street boundary is lined with nightclubs and popular bars. Luxury hotels stand in the place of the area’s original palaces, the glory of which is evident in historic buildings like the Fairmont Hotel and the Flood Mansion. The hill is dotted with vintage businesses and coffee shops, while lush cascades of bougainvillea grace stately apartment buildings that feature elaborate embellishments and wedding-cake trim.

 

Noe Valley
Known primarily as a neighborhood of contrasts and contradictions, Noe Valley melds conservatives with liberals and working-class families with overnight “dot.com” millionaires. Overall, the area offers a tidy image and commercial corridors brimming over with upscale restaurants, home-decor boutiques, and chic clothing shops. While housing prices have dropped slightly in recent years, the neighborhood retains a lively and pleasing atmosphere of thriving bistros, coffee shops, and bookstores. The hills that surround Noe Valley create a feeling of seclusion within the city, enhanced by long-standing Victorian homes that attract families and add warmth and charm. The bustling foot traffic along 24th Street that includes a proliferation of strollers reflects the youthful, active nature of Noe Valley residents who obviously enjoy their neighborhood.

 

North Beach
As popular with San Francisco residents as it is with visitors, North Beach is best known as San Francisco’s Little Italy. This delightful area offers charming streets lined with check-clothed ristorantes and old-world delicatessens as well as the vintage haunts of Kerouac and Ginsberg — popular pilgrimage sites for fans of the Beat movement. Some of the most popular and lively nightspots in the city are in North Beach, where boutiques offer handmade clothing and imported goods along the Upper Grant Avenue corridor. Japanese, French, and contemporary fusion cuisine can also be found in the many neighborhood restaurants. From historic landmarks to house-roasted espressos, shopping, clubbing, or enjoying great food, North Beach holds some of the city’s finest treasures.

 

Outer Richmond
In contrast to the restaurant heaven of Inner Richmond, Outer Richmond has managed to offer a warm neighborhood feeling along its main shopping streets. The many waves of immigrants who have settled this area are recognizable at every turn. Russian and Cantonese can still be heard on entire blocks along Geary Boulevard, and the plethora of restaurants creates a “United Nations” atmosphere. Mexican, Russian, French, and Italian cuisine blends with food from every corner of Asia. Eccentric, small shops and grocery markets abound, and the long-standing local neighborhood theatres have managed to remain well-attended. Very few recognizable chain stores or franchises can be found along the more commercial Geary blocks, which is “center of it all.”

 

Outer Sunset, West Portal
The southwestern corner of the city has a well-deserved reputation for heavy fog but many residents have found a comfortable home in neighborhoods like Outer Sunset, Parkside and West Portal. One of the unique features in hilly West Portal is the cluster of vintage businesses with a time warp of 1950s in decor that mingle with modern stock brokerages and boutiques. Primarily middle-class residents support and enjoy these colorful reminders of yesterday, shunning chain stores and franchises. Commercial West Portal Avenue is surrounded by densely residential mini-neighborhoods tucked into surrounding hills. Outer Sunset and neighboring Parkside offer commercial corridors along Irving Street and Taraval Street respectively. Residents enjoy walks on the beach, concerts and opera at Stern Grove in the summer, visiting the San Francisco Zoo, or watching hang gliders launch from the cliffs at Fort Funston. West Portal remains more true to its Irish and Italian roots, while Parkside and Outside Sunset offer more cultural diversity.

 

Pacific Heights
Privileged, elegant, and affluent, the Pacific Heights neighborhood embodies the Hollywood vision of San Francisco. Blocks of magnificent Victorian mansions, breathtaking bay and bridge views, and upscale shopping make this a truly prestigious address. The neighborhood is loosely bordered by Van Ness and Presidio avenues and Pine and Vallejo streets, originally developed in the late 1800s when a new cable-car line made the area accessible. The extravagant homes that characterize this district today reflect the prevailing attitude of impressing those “Nob Hill” neighbors, an attitude of exclusivity that prevails today. Quiet and residential, most of the Pacific Heights activity is focused along Fillmore Street. While this popular area has always been a bastion of time-honored and beloved shops and boutiques, landmark businesses may eventually give way to well-known chains and franchises.

 

Portrero Hill
Even when fog engulfs the rest of the city, residents of Potrero Hill can usually enjoy a day of sunshine. Bordered roughly by 16th, Third and Cesar Chavez streets, and Potrero Avenue, this neighborhood is also relatively isolated by freeways and large tracts of industrial landscape. The result is an enclave that sets its own pace and offers a somewhat secluded feeling at a distance from the city. Once largely industrial, the area went through a transformation in the last decade of the 20th century when the Internet boom drove conversion of factories and warehouses into homes and offices. New office construction continues on the north side, while condominiums rise on the eastern and southern sections of the hill. The commercial corridor lies on 18th Street between Connecticut and Texas streets. Residential streets are unusually tidy, graced by a small garden, flower boxes, or a lovely tree.

 

Russian Hill
The residential neighborhood of Russian Hill offers delightful pockets of restaurants and shops, offering a friendlier feeling than its formal neighbor, Nob Hill. However, the views can be equally breathtaking. Charming restaurants and small businesses cluster on lush and leafy Hyde Street between Jackson and Union Streets; while Polk Street is crowded with unusual boutiques, antique shops, trendy restaurants and night spots. A mini French quarter has sprung up around Polk and Green that includes a popular bistro, a traditional café-boulangerie, a French antiques dealer, and several French-influenced gift and home décor shops. Residents of this area enjoy lovely, well-kept homes and excellent transit options that include the Hyde-Powell cable car and two MUNI buses.

SoMa
This sprawling area “South of Market” stretches from the Embarcadero to Eleventh Street between Market and Townsend. Renovated warehouses, posh nightspots, residential hotels, art spaces, loft apartments, furniture showrooms, and Internet companies that survived the tech-market collapse are all at home in SoMa. The San Francisco Giants ballpark, the Museum of Modern Art, and the spectacular Yerba Buena gardens with its performing arts complex are key attractions. SoMa seems to mimic Manhattan’s SoHo, especially with its strong “downtown feeling.” Actually, the name comes from the old nickname of “South of the Slot,” referring to the old industrial district’s position on the “wrong side” of the Market Street cable car track. The western end of SoHo preserves an industrial presence, mingling with huge wholesale marts and superstores. The Market and Third Street area is more upscale and influenced by the nearby Financial District and conventions at the Moscone Center.

 

Union Square 
One of the city’s leading commercial and cultural centers, Union Square was named for a recently renovated park. The square underwent a much needed $25 million facelift, transforming one of San Francisco’s oldest patches of greenery into more open space. Altering a 1941 design, the park features more entrances and a peripheral walkway. Additional seating includes three tiers of grass with benches and concrete ledges for weary shoppers or those just relaxing. Steps, benches, and ledges in the center of Union Square are already popular for views of the Canary Island date palms fringing the park. The 245-foot-long granite central plaza invites street performers and hosts staged events, art exhibitions, and concerts. Surrounding the square are grand vintage hotels and towering department stores or boutiques that feature exclusive couture and the highest quality fashions. Sutter, Post, and Geary streets are filled with fine art galleries. Sidewalks around the square are lined with flower stands, and charming cable cars run up and down Powell Streets. Union Square also serves as San Francisco’s main theater district along Geary, hosting Broadway and off-Broadway shows.

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