Cities / San Francisco / San Francisco's Neighborhood Guide

San Francisco's Neighborhood Guide

By San Francisco Bucket List

From the mellow, nature-centric Sunset to the sleek and clubby FiDi, we’ll take you through the in’s and out’s of SF’s diverse districts. 🌁


Micro-climates, ethnic diversity, and vastly different origin stories all create neighborhoods with fiercely independent personalities across our beloved San Francisco. For those unfamiliar with the area, we’ve created your ultimate resource for what to expect, eat, drink and do in each district. 

Marina 

 
 
 
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The waterfront, young and vibrant Marina neighborhood basks in the city’s northern shore, and gets along well with its similar Cow Hollow and Pacific Heights neighbors. The area is bordered by the once military-based Presidio Park and Fort Mason Center, which now hosts food trucks and events. It’s best known, however, for its Golden Gate bridge proximity, boutique fitness options and upbeat and trendy bar sceneas well as sometimes teased as the socialite district. 

Palm House

 
 
 
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Aesthetically pleasing bars and restaurant thus dominate the Union and Chestnut streets of the Marina. Enter: airy upscale-Caribbean Palm House, serving tropical sandwiches, fajitas and tacos, but beloved more so for their rum-soaked punch bowls that can slay groups of 4-6 (and that contain souvenir rubber ducks). 

Where: 2032 Union St 

For more information.

Since this is bar-hopping district, keep the party going with the nearby White Rabbit, a pretty cocktail bar that feels like a mid-sized club at night, or the spacious western bar WestWood.  

 

A16

 
 
 
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Want to slow things down with a delicious meal? Whether you come for the Neapolitan pizza, the wine, or just to gorge on the addictive sausage, egg and mushroom Bruschetta, the dripping-with-class A16 has you covered. Reservations are a good idea, unless you’re just grabbing a glass at the counter. 

Where: 2355 Chestnut

For more information.

Palace of Fine Arts

 
 
 
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The Marina’s no slouch on the natural or richly artistic features either. Nearby you can enjoy a run or picnic in the bay-adjacent Marina Green Park (complete with views of the GG Bridge and Alcatraz), or visit this gorgeous architectural marvel. 

Originally created for the 1915 Panama-Pacific exhibition, the Palace of Fine Arts structure looks like it was plucked straight from ancient Rome. It’s so beautiful you’ll likely find yourself dodging out of random people’s wedding photos while you oggle.  

Where: 3601 Lyon St

For more information.

North Beach

 
 
 
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Another bay-side neighborhood boasting one of SF’s main nightlife districts, North Beach is slightly more romantic and broody than its upbeat Marina counterpart – as well as deliciously steeped in italian heritage. Warmly lit trattorias line the streets, adorned with string lights and flanked by antique shops and cafes to convince you further you’re walking the streets of old-world Rome. The Telegraph Hill Filbert steps also offer a scenic hike to the iconic Coit Tower, which is home to WPA-era murals and panoramic views. 

Calzone’s Restaurant

 
 
 
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Here you will unsurprisingly find the best italian food SF has to offer. We recommend you try the inventive italian potstickers under the dreamy red overhang of Calzone’s – you’ll enjoy unbeatable people watching as much as the flavor. 

Where: 430 Columbus Ave

For more information.

Don’t stop there though. Also try Italian Homemade, local-legend counter spot serving housemade tagliatelle pasta with love, and Mara’s Italian Pastry for a treat to go. 

 

Saints Peter & Paul Church

 
 
 
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Not to be left out in the park and architecture offerings, North Beach visitors can enjoy lounging in Washington Square Park, with a view of the opulent, architecturally stunning Saints Peter & Paul Church. Peek inside for a tour of the ornate and magnificently painted infrastructure. 
Pro tip: Close by you’ll find one of the most famous second hand bookshops in the U.S: City Lights Bookstore, specializing in world literature and progressive politics. 

Where: 666 Filbert St

For more information. 

Chinatown 

 
 
 
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The oldest, and largest Chinatown in North America is not to be missedtrust us. Enter the fray through the ornate and famed Dragon’s Gate to explore the historically vibrant streets under swaying red lanterns. A walking tour may best showcase all the bustling neighborhood has to offer, with authentic tea shops, herbalists, restaurants, and icons of Asian American heritage all crammed into the 24 blocks.

Tin How Temple

 
 
 
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Top of the list: a stop into Tin How Temple. Dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu, who is known as Tin How in Cantonese, Tin How is one of the oldest still-operating Chinese temples in the United Statesand it’s placed at the top of a 4 floor walkup. 

This is a real, devout temple, so be respectful, but tourists are still invited to enter to light incense at the gilded shrine of Tien Hua, Protector of Travelers. Pictures aren’t allowed inside, so you gotta see its beauty for yourself. 

Where: 125 Waverly Pl.

For more information.

Lai Hong Lounge

 
 
 
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Delicious dim sum is delightfully abundant in Chinatown, but Lai Hong Lounge’s relaxed family-style banquet is a rock-solid choice. Enter the no-frills street entrance and ascend to a red lounge where you’ll be treated to deeply authentic dim sum, including taro dumplings and chicken feet. 

Despite an unassuming presence, Lai Hong Lounge inspires a devout cult-following, so watch out for long weekend lines. 

Where: 1416 Powell St

For more information.

For two fancier spots, Mister Jiu’s is one of the best and most beautiful restaurants in SF, while China Live is the new rage, sporting a silky speakeasy bar perfect for a nice nightcap – or to keep the night going.

 

Moongate


(Photo Courtesy of Patricia Chang)

Funny we should mention Mister Jiu’s (Did we plan this? Maybe.), because its upstairs lounge Moongate is the perfect, mystical cocktail and small-plates spot to end your evening. The arching bar and half-moon booths speak to the lunar theme, making patrons feel like they’re in a swanky space loungeand the drinks have the style to match (the scotchy Titan has toasted brown rice on the glass). 

Where: 28 Waverly Pl.

For more information.

Hayes Valley 

 
 
 
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Ironically rising from a much seedier past, Hayes Valley is beginning to resemble what a child might dream up as what a schmoozy-fancy neighborhood would be like. An easy walk to the Opera House and Ballet? Check. A restaurant serving preposterous carnival-inspired sweets you can barely hold with both hands? Double-check. A strictly champagne bar? Triple-checkcheers

But seriously, it’s a really cool district with elevated, stylish spots in spades. The kind of district you could take home to your parents. Here’s how to enjoy.

Cary Lane

 
 
 
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If you love a trendy art purchase or a designer snag, Hayes Valley is arguably the best shopping district in SF. Want to sidestep the designer price tag though? Try Cary Lane for deep discounts without sacrificing quality—up to 80% off. It specializes in samples, overstock, and past season apparel from brands from all over the world.

Where: 1615 Haight St.

For more information.

Rich Table

 
 
 
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Rich Table isn’t just one of the best spots in Hayes Valley, it’s one of the best in the city. So good in fact, that we say go out on a splurge-limb and consider the $99 Chef Picks tasting menu. You’ll get a little bit of every one of their delicious items, with an appetizer, pasta, fish, and meat dish, plus dessert (the full table must participate though). 

Where: 199 Gough Street

For more information. 

For a sweeter, smaller stop, try the local darling Salt & Straw Ice Cream shop, with rotating monthly flavors of handmade scoops. Or a carnival-whacky creation at Straw

 

Absinthe Brasserie & Bar

 
 
 
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Hayes Valley may be more of an airy day drinking district (see the patio-perfect ANINA for reference) but Absinthe Brasserie & Bar is still a très chic parisian-style bar that feels sexy to go late into the night in—or okay, late until it closes at 12:00 AM. 

Explore the absinthe section of the cocktail menu if you’re feeling adventurous. We recommend the excellent Sazerac, with Rye whiskey, peychaud’s bitters, sugar and lemon along with the green super-ingredient. 

Where: 398 Hayes St.

For more information.

Mission District

 
 
 
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Rooted in Latino American culture, the electric Mission District is home to a neon, lively nightlife, unrivaled Mexican eateries, and the sunniest weather in the city. Artisanal tattoo parlors and some of the best street art in the city—looking at you, Clarion Alley—line the blocks, and we recommend you take it all in over a Mission-burrito (which were, *ahem,* invented here). 

First things first, you’ll definitely want to start at the park that attracts over 10,000 visitors a weekend.

Dolores Park

 
 
 
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Being one of the warmest spots in the city—with shade-baring palm trees and sloping green hills to take in the magnificent downtown skyline—it's easy to see why Dolores Park is such a popular hub. Many come with friends to picnic and drink the day away here–the wild surroundings are an added bonus. It’s not unusual to find a man selling rum in fresh coconuts, a costumed robot mascot, or people bringing all types of pets–seriously, nothing is off-limits.  

Where: Dolores St & 19th

For more information.

La Taqueria

 
 
 
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There’s something about a low-frills, OG counter for the best grub. You can debate where to get your wraps in the Mission forever, but the La Taqueria burritos have earned their national acclaim. Here you’ll find the signature Mission-burrito, carnitas slow-cooked for hours with orange and garlic to be the pork of your dreams, and a delicious “dorado-style” option, as in: crisped on the grill till golden. 

Where: 2889 Mission St 

For more information.

But, we know it’s not all about the casual street-food. El Techo boasts one of the sparse rooftop restaurants in SF, and the sophisticated Bon Voyage serves an intriguing combo of Chinese food and African-themed cocktails.

 

Blondie’s Bar

 
 
 
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If you’ve enjoyed your day to the fullest, it’s time to level up to the edgy, cluby-yet-broody-nightlife the Mission has to offer. And no spot is more signature of all that, than Blondie’s. 

By day, you can get a martini with the generous stiffness of a biker bar. By night, DJ’s spin a pulsing popular soundtrack to their young bustling crowd as they mingle between the sidewalk patio and glowy purple and red lounge. 

Where: Dolores St &, 19th

For more information.

Not into the suped up dive bar? For a surlier, heavy metal beer garden, check out Zeitgeist, where the bloody mary’s are legendary and the back patio is one of the city’s best. (Or on the flipside, if you want to stay posh, move on next to the recently-renovated Valencia Room).

 

Tenderloin

 
 
 
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Though a historically gritty neighborhood, some of our favorite unique (albeit bonkers) spots happen to be tucked inside at affordable prices. 

Underground art spaces, a gorgeous japanese bathhouse (pictured above), classical concert venues and world-class speakeasies are all at your fingertips in the sunny Tenderloin district. Here are some top picks:  

Great American Music Hall

 
 
 
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There are plenty of historically great music staples in the Tenderloin (we’re also big Phoenix Hotel fans at Bucket Listers), but the Great American Music Hall takes the cake by being SF’s oldest music venueover 110 years old to be exact. The infrastructure holds up, with a decorative ceiling, luxurious wrap around balcony, and spacious dance floor guaranteed to make any act you see here a thrilling experience. 

Where: 859 O'Farrell St

For more information.

Brenda’s French Soul Food

 
 
 
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Rustic-chic Brenda’s French Soul Food is like having a mini New Orleans right inside the foggy city. Delicious, hearty southern meals (albeit with fresh takes) make their star appearance here, combining with fluffy beignets and traditional po’ boys to draw crowds from all over San Francisco for brunch. 

Where: 652 Polk St

For more information.

Want something more low-key for dinner, maybe before a night out? A super casual and friendly restaurant called Lahore Karahi serves affordable Indian-Pakistani food, and is *drumroll, please* BYOB.
 

White Chapel

 
 
 
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From the people behind rum-focused Smuggler’s Cove, we bring you: gin-centric White Chapel. Boasting the largest gin selection in North America, the bar’s excellent cocktails are served in an ornate, massive Victorian space modeled after an abandoned London underground station. Our favorite is the surprisingly light Gin Fizz, made with egg whites, but the expansive options could keep us entertained for days. 

Where: 600 Polk St.

For more information.

Financial District (FiDi) 

 
 
 
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Perhaps best-known by the signature Transamerica Pyramid, the FiDi hosts a wealth of after work happy-hour hot spots and elegant date-night destinations. 

The area is mostly dominated by many, many officeswhich is why a plethora of CEO-certified lunch spots have sprung up to feed the working. But the area also has a few tricks up its sleeve for nightlife. 

Barrel Room

 
 
 
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The Barrel Room is a warm, inviting, yet spacious wine bar and restaurant that you can’t go wrong with. It’s also “quarterly-changing,” meaning their menus are reimagined every four months to host different dishes, wines and cocktails from new regions of the world—making each time you go a uniquely personal experience.

Where: 415 Sansome St.

For more information.  

Wayfare Tavern

 
 
 
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The British-inspired Wayfare Tavern is a classy go-to for client or  boss dinners –meaning it has solid taste and style for visitors looking for an elegant meal. Maybe that comes from doing comfort food just right. Or maybe it comes from having the best bread basket in the city. 

Where: 558 Sacramento St

For your information.

For a little more international flair, try Verjus, the Fresh-Spanish fusion restaurant and wine bar.

 

Love + Propaganda

 
 
 
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After work drinks and bites may come to mind as supreme in the FiDi, but that ignores its sleek nightclub scene. Love + Propaganda is audio-visual heaven, thanks to its gorgeous neo-classical design, walls of mirrors and art, and thin, decorative neon cursive signs. Besides its decor strength, it’s also always hosting a crowd-pleasing DJ and really fun dance floor.

Where: 85 Campton Pl

For your information.

Also worth a visit is 10.15 Folsom, the multilevel dance club with diverse room design, where you may catch your favorite DJs and performers in their impressive lineup. 

 

Castro

 
 
 
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There’re no bad days in the bright and lively Castro neighborhood, one of the oldest (and currently largest) gay neighborhoods in the country. Immortalized by the historical landmark Castro Theater and GLBT Historic Museum, as well as recognized by the painted streets and rainbow flagsthis district blends new and old features without sacrificing its vibrant pride for a second. 

Beyond being a civil rights icon, the district is a hub for dancey clubs and on-trend brunch spots. 

Kitchen Story

 
 
 
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Kitchen Story is a cozy spot, with warm wooden tables slated against large bay windows. Overflowing with excited patrons each weekend morning (for good reason), this spot is self-described as serving “California-cuisinery” with Asian influences—and famous for its juicy, candied “millionaire's bacon” servings. You can even purchase a bacon flight for the table to sample Original Millionaire's Bacon, Citron Bacon, Cinnamon Bacon, and Rosemary Bacon all at once. *drool*

Where: 3499 16th St

For more information.

Forgot to call ahead? Starbelly offers a similar crowd pleasing, farm-to-table California cuisine, with a spacious back patio that creates easier group seating.

 

Castro Theater

 
 
 
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The Castro Theater was built in 1922, but was rejuvenated with continuous special touches by each new owner. The interior is a gorgeous and huge auditorium with over 14,000 plush theater seats, screening foreign films, special first run presentations and repertory cinema. 

Check their website for an updated list of movies and events to experience an evening in a historical landmark 20’s theater. 

Where: 429 Castro St. 

For more information. 

Twin Peaks Tavern

 
 
 
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This vintage gay bar was revolutionary for its time—but not entirely for the reason you might think. It was one of the first of its kind to have floor-to-ceiling glass windows, still in place today. It also retains its comfortable sofas and classic cocktail list, creating a cozy feel for customers. 

This pillar of the Castro affectionately refers to itself as the “Gateway to the Castro,” offering a relaxed, more mature crowd, and: “regulars the comforts of home, and visitors a warm welcome to the neighborhood.”

Where: 401 Castro St

For more information. 

If you’re ready for a wilder bar, The Lookout is always going strong, to the point its second floor, outdoor wrap-around balcony is usually filled with dancing patrons.  

 

Sunset District & Richmond District

 
 
 
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We leave some of the active nightlife behind in the scenic, coastal Richmond and Inner and Outer Sunset Districts. But, we exchange it for several stunning, expansive nature features to enjoy. In fact, the area is occasionally dubbed “little Santa Cruz,” in reference to the nearby beach city. 

Included in the coastline space are: Ocean Beach, Lands End, the Sutro Baths, and of course: the incredible 1,000-acre Golden Gate Park. Here’s a deeper dive: 

Golden Gate Park

 
 
 
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Truly one of San Francisco’s greatest treasures, the giant Golden Gate park hosts over 13 million visitors a year.The 1,017 acres of green contain various gardens, a dutch windmill, lakes, museums, and hikes galore, so you’ll have to spend some time on their website to take in all the attractions to choose from. You might stroll through the Japanese Tea Garden and koi pond area, spend the day at The Conservatory of Flowers, explore The California Academy of Science, or rent paddle-boats for a Stow Lake cruise. 

Where: 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr (starting at Japanese Tea Garden)

For more information.

Land’s End & Sutro Baths

 
 
 
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The lesser known natural-wonder, Land’s End and Sutro Bath area, isn’t far. Originally intended to be an eccentric millionaire’s large, saltwater pool—the bath was abandoned long ago and crumbled and mixed with its surroundings to create an extremely unique spot. The seaside out-and-back Land’s End trail starts at the Sutro Baths, weaving its takers through tree groves and cliffside paths with stunning views of the bridge. 

Where: 680 Point Lobos Ave.

For more information.

Hook Fish Co.

 
 
 
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Tiny, wooden Hook Fish Co. will steer you right with fresh and delicious seafood for cheap. It does offer some fancier fixings, like poke and crab cakes, but their grilled fish tacos are so perfect they give diners little reason to stray. If you can grab a seat on a wooden peg in the small space to eat, even better. Something about the mellowness of the spot, with an open kitchen where you can see how carefully your food is prepared, can just turn any day around. 

Where: 4542 Irving St

For more information.

For a more sit-down place, but that’s just as affordable, check out the cleverly-named Outerlands.

 

Haight-Ashbury

 
 
 
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The birthplace of the 60’s counterculture movement, Haight-Ashbury draws a deeply urban hippie crowd. 

Upper Haight Street is covered in psychedelic murals and filled with bohemian thrift stores, smoke shops, dive bars and pubs. The neighborhood also features many well-preserved Victorian homes, among them the storied Grateful Dead house, and the oldest park in the city: the shady and charmingly overgrown Buena Vista. Here are some spots to hit: 

Buffalo Exchange

 
 
 
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Thrift store shopping has become so popular on the colorful Haight Street that it’s actually gotten a little pricey—but it’s still a fun experience to walk through the massive eclectic shops of second hand gems and see what you can find. Buffalo Exchange, a quirkily designed mid-sized warehouse to search through, is also open to buying your items 7 days a week from open to close—no appointment necessary. 

Where: 1555 Haight St

For more information.

Painted Ladies at Alamo Square Park

 
 
 
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One of the most photographed spots in San Francisco (even nicknamed “postcard row”), the Painted Ladies on Hayes and Stainer street are a set of colorful, matching Victorians, visible from the comfort of Alamo Square Park. The grassy square is an ideal place to relax with a coffee or hot chocolate (a truck is parked at the crest) and enjoy your views of the lovely ladies against the downtown skyline.

Where: Steiner St & Hayes St

For more information.

The Kezar Pub

 
 
 
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A rowdy sports bar with color to match its hippie-surroundings, Kezar is an excellent place for lunch (once voted “Best Wings in San Francisco” by the SF Chronicle). Head over when you want to scream for your favorite teams, and enjoy their wide selection of beer as you do. The always packed pub screens every sporting event it can, from Irish rugby to international tennis, so you’ll always be in good–or at least exciting–company. 

Where: 770 Stanyan St.

For more information.

For a trippier bar on the actual Haight Street, offering DJs, bands, and even comedians, check out Milk Bar

 

(Cover Photo Courtesy of Conservatiory of Flowers)

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