San Francisco is a small city, but each neighborhood is unique in its own way. As a tourist you might visit the Union Square and the Golden Gate Bridge, but SF is so much more than that! If you are moving to SF and trying to figure out where to live, this is for you.
FIGURING OUT THE BEST SF NEIGHBORHOOD FOR YOU
Breaking down the main areas of San Francisco, the map above groups together neighborhoods by vibe into sixteen main sections.
If you’re new to the city, you can’t go wrong by living in the neighborhoods located in section 10. You would have the best access to parks, food and drink, and public transportation. If someone asks you to hangout, chances are it is never beyond fifteen minute Uber/Lyft, bus ride, or walk. Personally, I think the best neighborhoods in SF are in this area, simply because they get the best of everything. Location, location, location!
If you are moving here with a young family and can afford it, I would highly suggest section 4. These neighborhoods in SF lean towards a family-friendly atmosphere, but also allows access to all the great things of SF. As a more affordable option, consider section 6 or section 7 if you love Asian food and don’t mind being out further.
If you want to live amongst diverse neighbors and nightlife, choose section 5.
SECTION 1: TENDERLOIN, SOMA (SOUTH OF MARKET), MISSION BAY
Vibe: A mix of homeless encampments, high-rise buildings, and commercial offices. If you don’t mind dirty streets and walking past crazy people, you can stay close to your office.
SOMA refers to the area just south of Market Street, that runs along the BART line. SoMa is generally very busy during commute hours given that it is home to many major tech headquarters. Typically, a person living here values close proximity to their office and does not mind being farther out from SF parks. Not a great place for families nor the safest to walk around at night. Most of the restaurants, cafes, and bars here cater to the people who work in the area during the week — they aren’t really hotspots during the weekend. However, SoMa contains several popular SF nightclubs. I recommend this area for young professionals that like to live within the hustle and bustle of a city, but don’t recommend if you want a more authentic SF experience beyond large commercial buildings.
TENDERLOIN is a rough area in the middle of the city, bordering Union Square. Although well known for its large homeless population, there are a few music venues and ethnic restaurants sprinkled in the area. Don’t make the mistake of signing a lease on a cheap studio apartment you found on Craigslist before checking if it’s located within the Tenderloin.
MISSION BAY is home of the Caltrain station that commuters take to the South Bay. Also home to a UCSF campus. It has more of a contemporary feel, but not much of a neighborhood for living.
SECTION 2: FINANCIAL DISTRICT, UNION SQUARE, EMBARCADERO, NOB HILL, CHINATOWN
Vibe: Crowds of tourists, shopping bags, and happy hour spots. Close to public transit and major tech offices.
FINANCIAL DISTRICT is exactly what it sounds like: blocks of skyscrapers as the business center of the city.
UNION SQUARE and EMBARCADERO are main attractions for tourists, containing central points in the city where the BART stops. Usually bustling with shopping and crowds of busy people commuting by foot to their next destination. Union Square can also be grouped as a part of Lower Nob Hill.
NOB HILL is also an area you can live in that’s still in close proximity to everything downtown. With cable cars on hills, hotels, and the iconic Grace Cathedral, Nob Hill has an old charm that meets the city vibe and many young urban professionals call this area home.
CHINATOWN is bustling with asian grocers, shops, and delightful dim sum.
SECTION 3: DOGPATCH, POTRERO HILL
Vibe: Industrial and hip at the same time. A mix of breweries, warehouses, and lofts.
POTRERO HILL is exactly what it sounds like. Hilly! Not a top neighborhood choice for many, but there are a couple blocks of cute restaurants and cafes. Other than that, it is a sunny area that borders the Mission, where many people like to hangout.
DOGPATCH is known as one of those “up and coming” areas. When I visit, there are always new apartment buildings under construction. Dogpatch’s history gives it an industrial warehouse-y vibe, but it contains fantastic wine bars and the biggest bouldering gym in the U.S. (if you’re into rock climbing).
SECTION 4: NOE VALLEY, BERNAL HEIGHTS,DOLORES HEIGHTS, EUREKA VALLEY
Overall vibe: Cute and clean communities that are family friendly.
NOE VALLEY is a super cute, family-friendly neighborhood. You’ll be surprised when you see kids in the streets, unlike most of SF. I’ve lived here and loved it — amazingly sunny and clean. Still hilly, but within close proximity to the Mission and to public transportation to access SF downtown. If you don’t want to be living right above the action, but you want to be close enough and have your own peace and quiet on tidy streets — Noe Valley is right for you. The main focal points of this neighborhood are Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck), a dog park, and a great farmer’s market. Unfortunate news for foodies — this area only has a select few decent restaurants and lacks decent ethnic food (and ethnic diversity, unfortunately).
DOLORES HEIGHTS is the area just north of Noe Valley, bordering the Castro and is mainly residential and hilly. Mostly quiet streets lined with desirable homes. EUREKA VALLEY is very similar quiet residential area just bordering the Castro on its west side.
- BERNAL HEIGHTS just borders the Mission to the south. Known for one of the largest parks with sweeping 360 degree views of the city. Made up of windy and narrow streets on hills, with a few blocks of cute restaurants and coffee shops. Slightly more affordable homes that attract many techies in their mid-thirties.
IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY AND NEIGHBORHOODS OF SF, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THE COOL GRAY CITY OF LOVE BY GARY KAMIYA