Being the largest of its kind in the United States, San Francisco’s Chinatown is always on the list of things to do when visiting the city. The neighborhood is located in the heart of the city bordered by many other tourist areas like North Beach and Union Square. While a few hours is enough to get a sense of the culture, it takes at least a day to get the most out of the various art galleries, temples, shops, bars, bakeries, nightlife and restaurants that Chinatown has to offer.
San Franciscans call this neighborhood by two names. One is North Beach, which fits this neighborhood’s current status as a trendy place to live, eat and shop. The other is Little Italy, which fits the neighborhood’s ethnic past and still-current identity. Book lovers call this San Francisco neighborhood by both names. However, to them, the name matters little; it’s the incredible new and used bookstores that have made this a Mecca for bibliophiles for many decades. You see, North Beach is home to our fair city’s most famous bookstore, City Lights. City Lights continues to draw readers from all over the world who yearn to sit, read and relax in the very same rooms where Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Kerouac and other literary giants wrote, read and hung out in days past.
If the name Pacific Heights evokes mental images in your head of an upscale, privileged San Francisco neighborhood with grand old homes, incredible views and old money, your assumptions are absolutely right. The first generation or two of Pacific Heights residents were captains of industry, successful retailers, politicians and other moneyed, well-to-do types at the top of the social order. Suffice it to say that Pacific Heights was the place to live in San Francisco if you had the means. This neighborhood provides some of the city’s best views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay, and it is a must-visit destination for most of our city’s millions of visitors each year. This neighborhood was one of the first to have service from our city’s famous cable cars, and they continue to transport San Franciscans to this day.
San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood isn’t mentioned in many travel guides and doesn’t present the incredible photo opportunities that other city neighborhoods do. However, if you’re looking for a unique, authentic San Francisco experience, it’s worthy of your consideration. Noe Valley is a favorite location for film and TV crews. The neighborhood’s lovely Victorian homes, steep hills and views of the city have been featured in the movie “Sister Act,” the television show Nash Bridges and many other movies and TV shows.
When most visitors to San Francisco think about The Marina, sometimes called the Marina District, they think of the Presidio, which borders this neighborhood to the west. However, when Bay Area residents think about The Marina, they think of the neighborhood’s incredible dining options, the day spas that pamper and please, the spectacular sightlines on the city’s waterfront, the trendy and chic shops and the easy rhythm of life here.
San Francisco’s Inner Richmond neighborhood is another of our city’s overlooked jewels. While tourists flock to Fisherman’s Wharf, The Haight and other touristy areas of our fair city, San Franciscans and other Bay Area residents are perfectly happy to have Inner Richmond to themselves. However, that may not last as this unique neighborhood is quickly gaining the reputation of a foodie’s paradise with some of the city’s best restaurants gaining a national and international reputation for excellence.
If you’re traveling to the area and are looking for a truly unique San Francisco experience, it’s hard to top the city’s Inner Sunset neighborhood. Inner Sunset is not the place for sun worshipers; it is smack-dab in the middle of our fair city’s fog zone, and the fog shrouds this unique neighborhood day and night every month of the year. Bordered by Golden Gate Park on the north side and Vicente Street to the south, Inner Sunset is regarded by many San Franciscans as their favorite neighborhood in the city. They love its eclectic ethnic mix of shops and restaurants, its unique vibe and its unusual small-town feel in one of the world’s great cities.
Twenty or 30 years ago, few San Franciscans or visitors could have imagined that the Hayes Valley neighborhood would become one of the city’s best districts for shopping, dining and nightlife. Back then, the neighborhood’s nightlife was far less fun (and safe) than today’s, and it involved commercial pursuits that are traditionally non-taxable. Drugs, prostitution, tenement housing and all the predictable misery that comes with these problems defined Hayes Valley, and the neighborhood struggled for years.
If the name “Deco Ghetto” seems more off-putting than enticing, then this funky, weird and eclectic San Francisco neighborhood may surprise you. Deco Ghetto, also called the Hub and Mid-Market depending on your demographic and how long you’ve lived in San Francisco, is a part of the city very much in transition. What were once empty storefronts are now trendy cafes, bars, coffee shops and trendy shops selling all sorts of things. The neighborhood derives its name from the profusion of furniture stores in the area selling, you guessed it, Art Deco furniture. Drawn to the area by cheap rents and a new crop of homeowners seeking nouveau home furnishings without the nouveau sticker shock, furniture retailers here have thrived, and the new name evolved with the neighborhood.
There’s an inside joke among San Franciscans concerning Fisherman’s Wharf: the only time they visit this unapologetic tourist district with its kitschy shops, restaurants and attractions is when they are entertaining guests from out of town. There’s no doubt that Fisherman’s Wharf is a major tourist destination. The rows of motor coaches parked nearby are a dead giveaway. However, many San Franciscans’ love/hate relationship with this one-of-a-kind San Francisco neighborhood has a lot more love than they’d ever admit. For people-watching and a fantastic variety of high-quality street food, you can’t beat the Wharf. Beyond the obvious tourist traps, Fisherman’s Wharf does have some fun and redeeming features.