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Top 8 Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco

Famous for its hippie movement in the 1960s, steep streets, antique cable cars and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco has long been a top destination in California for both tourists and people looking to relocate here. It’s a city of many hills — and by many we mean more than 40 — ranging in elevation from 100 to 938 feet and offering incredible views.

Nestled on the northern tip of a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, the city is rather small compared to other top cities in the U.S., covering just under 50 square miles — but perhaps its compact layout is what makes it so unique. San Francisco comprises a fascinating mix of charming neighborhoods accommodating anyone and their lifestyle, from billionaires to less privileged residents and from top execs to quirky bohemian hipsters.

So, if you’re looking to rent an apartment in San Francisco or just want to spend a few days visiting this incredible city, here’s a list of the best neighborhoods to help you decide where to stay.

Haight & Ashbury

This iconic San Francisco neighborhood made history as the birthplace of the counterculture movement in the 1960s. In fact, the 25-block area named for the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets was the epicenter of the Summer of Love in 1967, when tens of thousands of hippies traveled here from all over the country to join the local community of musicians — such as Janis Joplin or the Grateful Dead — as well as poets and activists seeking liberation in all its forms. Psychedelic stores, coffee shops, head shops and performance venues were scattered all over the neighborhood. As the area became overcrowded and drug-ridden, it began to fall into disrepair but underwent a resurgence in the 1980s. Today, Haight & Ashbury is a thriving, colorful neighborhood that yet again attracts creative-minded people of all ages. Plus, the neighborhood features a real treat for architecture aficionados: The Painted Ladies, a row of seven beautiful Victorian houses located next to each other on Steiner Street, in Alamo Square.

SoMa

What was once a bland warehouse district is now San Francisco’s coolest neighborhood and a high-tech hub. SoMa, short for South of Market Area, stretches from Market Street to Townsend Street and from the Embarcadero to Eleventh Street. This neighborhood features an array of top restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, bars, nightclubs and museums including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Railway Museum and the Museum of the African Diaspora. Over the past 10 to 15 years, SoMa has been steadily attracting tech entrepreneurs and artists alike, making the neighborhood one of the most popular places to live and work in San Francisco.

 

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Chinatown

Dating back to the 1850s, this is the oldest Chinatown in the U.S. and one of the largest outside of Asia. It spans 24 blocks in downtown San Francisco and it’s one of the city’s most walkable and most visited neighborhoods, bustling with culture, dim sum restaurants, gift shops, hotels, tea houses and art galleries. There’s plenty to do and see for everyone here, from admiring the pagoda-style architecture and touring the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory on Ross Alley (a notorious attraction in itself) to watching the Chinese New Year parade and looking for antiques and trinkets at the Far East Flea Market. One of the top attractions in Chinatown is the Dragon Gate, which sits at the intersection of Bush Street and Grant Avenue on the neighborhood’s south end. This dense neighborhood is mainly populated by Chinese residents who have been here for generations, but it also attracts people from other cultures and ethnicities.

 

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North Beach

Not far from Chinatown lies North Beach, a very walkable neighborhood that has long been home to a large community of Italians. One of them is legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio, who grew up in this neighborhood and even lived here with his equally famous wife Marilyn Monroe. North Beach is also known as a hub for Beat artists mesmerized by the neighborhood’s bohemian atmosphere during the 1950s and 1960s. Some of San Francisco’s best eateries — most of them Italian, certo! — are located in North Beach, but new restaurants, bars and coffee shops are popping up so foodies will be in for a treat here. With its European vibes and amazing architecture, North Beach is a primarily residential neighborhood that’s home to many young professionals and families with children.

 

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Russian Hill

If you want to get a feel of upscale San Francisco, check out Russian Hill, situated west of North Beach. Boasting spectacular views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge, Russian Hill is famous for its steep, zigzagging streets — especially the cinematic Lombard Street, also known as “the most crooked street in the world”. Trust us, getting around this neighborhood by car can be challenging, so the best way to explore the area is by foot. To make the experience even more enjoyable, you can hop on the cable car that runs along Hyde Street or catch your breath in one of the beautifully landscaped green spaces dotting the neighborhood. Despite the restaurants, cafes, boutique shops and bars located at the south end, Russian Hill is safe and family-friendly, offering a mix of Edwardian and Victorian single family homes and more modern condominium buildings.

The Mission District

Commonly known as “The Mission”, this is one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Francisco, named after a Spanish Californian mission built here in the 18th century. But what really makes The Mission stand out is its Latino roots that can be seen all over the area: from colorful murals (check out the one dedicated to Carlos Santana at the corner of 19th and  Mission Streets!) and beautifully crafted buildings to inviting taquerias and vibrant art scene. In the eighties, The Mission’s streets were packed with lowriders, which can still be seen cruising around the neighborhood. There’s a strong sense of community in this area, which is one of the most popular places to live in San Francisco. The quieter area bounded by Guerrero and Bryant Streets has seen a steady influx of families and young couples in recent years.

 

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Noe Valley

Named after José de Jesús Noé, the city’s last Mexican mayor, Noe Valley is a family-oriented neighborhood dotted with Victorian and Edwardian homes right in the heart of San Francisco. Nestled between The Mission and the towering Twin Peaks, which partly blocks the cold winds and coastal fog from the Pacific, Noe Valley’s weather is warmer and sunnier than the surrounding neighborhoods, making it one of the most desirable areas to live in the city. What makes it even more attractive for residents — mainly young professionals, entrepreneurs and families with children — is the fact that it has great access to downtown both by car and public transit. Despite having gained the candid nickname of “Stoller Valley” in recent years due to the many strollers on the streets, the neighborhood has two lively commercial strips: one along 24th Street, brimming with restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, cafes and shops; and another less dense one along Church Street.

Twin Peaks

This is the most centrally located neighborhood of San Francisco, comprising two high-elevation hills that protect the eastern neighborhoods from the summer coastal fog and icy winds coming from the Pacific Ocean. A 2.3-mile light rail/streetcar tunnel runs under Twin Peaks, connecting the neighborhood directly to downtown San Francisco. Because it’s a strictly residential area, with a blend of single-family homes, townhomes and condominiums, Twin Peaks doesn’t feature any hip restaurants or shops. Still, residents have plenty of dining and shopping options in the nearby Noe Valley to the east or Diamond Heights to the south.

 

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Veronica Grecu
Veronica Grecu
Veronica Grecu is a senior creative writer and researcher for RentCafe. With more than ten years of experience in the real estate industry, she covers a variety of topics in the residential and commercial real estate, including trends and industry news. Previously, she was involved in producing content for Multi-Housing News, Commercial Property Executive and Yardi Matrix. Veronica’s academic background includes a B.A. in Applied Modern Languages and an M.A. in Advertising and PR.

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