Seven Miles by Seven Miles, 7×7 – so small is San Francisco. In comparison, Berlin is 7.3 times as big. Well, who calculates how big Berlin is? I prefer to leave it alone. And yet San Francisco seemed huge to me. Huge because it is an incredibly exciting, moving, young and hip city. The Californian city has left an incredible vibe on me. As a matter of fact, I would get back on the plane tomorrow and go on a city trip… or explore the vicinity of San Francisco, which has also has a lot to offer.
SAN FRANCISCO Neighborhoods Guide
San Francisco can be visited very well in three to four days. But more time is always worth it. When we drove into San Francisco for the first time (of course we took the road from the north and over the Golden Gate Bridge), we were immediately enchanted by the pretty, colorful houses and the steep streets. In addition, San Francisco has the full package: the big city life, many big and small parks as retreats (Presidio, Golden Gate Park and Lake Merced are among the biggest) and a pulsating food scene. In addition to a classic city trip, San Francisco offers the opportunity to spend a few quiet hours at the booth in or outside the city, a bicycle tour through Muir Woods or to Sausalito. Along the coast of the Golden Gate Bridge you can even go for relaxed hikes.
I’ve been thinking for a long time about the best way to introduce you to the city. A San Francisco Neighborhoods Guide seemed to me to be the most suitable one. Let’s do this!
San Francisco Neighborhoods via Etsy
In the north of San Francisco you will find the districts Presidio, Marina, Cow Hollow and Pacific Heights, Russian Hill, North Waterfront along the water to Financial District and Down Town.
In the center Haight with the hip micro-neihgborhoods Haight-Ashbury, Haightfilmore, Buena Vista, west of it Sunset, Castro, Mission and Potrero Hill.
In the south you will find mostly quiet residential areas.
- Please don’t stone me if I mix neighborhoods and micro-hoods here. Allegedly arise, in SF always new subnames for the neighborhoods.
For a classic Touri-Trip you will be mainly in the San Francisco neighborhoodsaround the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean Bay. Of course, we also had a look far away from the Touri spots.
DOWN TOWN / FINANCIAL DISTRICT / CHINA
We stayed in Down Town near China Town. The Hotel Triton, a sweet boutique hotel, was the perfect starting point for us. From there we were super fast everywhere. The famous Union Square, for example, is only a 5 minute walk away. The most southerly, which you will probably explore in San Francisco, is the Mission District (10-15 minutes by car). By comparison, the most westerly point on the sightseeing list, Baker Beach, is only a 15-20 minute drive. But for my next trip I would rather stay in one of the “hip” neighborhoods like Castro. More about why.
Down Town and the Financial District is quite small, but the skyscrapers make them look huge. Here I hopped several times on and off the traditional Cable Car, saw the impressive Transamerica Pyramid from below, admired the San Francisco counterpart to the Flat Iron Building and strolled through the banker neighborhood in the evening. These San Francisco neighborhoods spray American metropolitan flair, but that’s all I think it is.
- Tip: On Saturday Union Square is always one of the most famous fruit and vegetable market, where supposedly all known chefs send their chefs to shop early in the morning.
China Town is a nice place to stroll in the evening, but here the shops close relatively early. At 19:30 it was completely extinct. Is there more going on this weekend? Certainly.
MARINA / NORTH WATERFRONT / NORTH BEACH
The north coast of the city can be explored wonderfully by bicycle, or also with a guided E-Scooter tour up to the Golden Gate Bridge. Most tours or rentals can be found at Fisherman’s Warf. If you haven’t done enough sports yet, you can drive as far as Sausalito on the other side of the road. We chose the more comfortable option and drove over by car. Pier 37 is of course also a must. After we had a snack in the Eagle Café with a classic crab roll, we visited the seals at the water. In the late afternoon we boarded a sailing ship and sailed past Alcatraz to the Golden Gate Bridge into the sunset. Marvellous!
- We booked the E-Scooter Tour via Electric Tour Company. The tour is not quite cheap and costs 85$ – 105$.
- Tip: In addition, many recommended a visit to Alcatraz. But you have to book a ticket in time (can you do here), because it is always fully booked. I would prefer the Sunset Sail to visiting Alcatraz in any case.
From Union Square you can take the famous Cable Car to the last stop at the Marina / Nort Waterfront.
$60 / person including free drinks and some snacks
Pacific Heights is the most expensive San Francisco neighborhood. The famous Fillmore Street or as locals say, The Fillmore, invites you on a little shopping tour. You will also find numerous Michelin-star restaurants such as SPQR, State Bird Provisions and The Progress.
I recommend the Lion Street Steps, where we started our walk through the Presidio Park. Once at the top of the steps, you can enjoy the view of the bay.
- Tip!! from Alta Plaza or Lafayette Park you have a great view of the city.
Preisdio was an active base of the U.S. Army until the mid-90s. The 790 buildings that once served as accommodation are now an interesting example of military architecture in combination with the changing times.
95% of the quartier (correct me if I’m wrong) consists of the beautiful Presidio Park. For a few hours recreation and sports it’s the perfect place. The flora and fauna reminds me strongly of the Mediterranean of Sardinia. The Presidio Park also offers interesting art installations “Art in the Park” by Andy Goldsworthy. If you get hungry, there are delicious, not quite cheap sandwiches or burgers in the Presidio Social Club.
- In summer you can relax at the Crissy Field at the Barbecue Pits grill.
Spots not to miss: the Yoda-Fountain, Sunset at the Baker Beach, cosy by the fireplace in Inn at the Presidio for a few minutes or visit the Palace of Fine Arts.
- Good to know: there is a free shuttle bus “Presidio Go” from Downtown.
- You can combine a visit to Presidio with a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge.
We only drove through the Mission by car for a short time. The lively quarter is characterised by numerous graffiti, art galleries, old theatres and much more. Furthermore, it is probably the best neighborhood for food & drinks. You can’t leave California without a classic taco. The best Taquerias are said to be found in Mission, for example Taqueria Cancun or El Farlito.
- Tip: In the Galeria de la Raza you can see free exhibitions.
Sunset was once one of the boring, sleepy neighborhoods in the west of San Francisco. The boredom is already visible on the map – it is the largest grid of the city, with the most inhabitants.
In the meantime it has been enlivened by the many students of San Francisco State University and City College San Francisco. And what would a student district be without (affordable) cool bars and restaurants? In Sunset, San Tung’s Chicken is said to have the best Chicken Wings in town, the best Pho in town at Quan Ngnon or the best burritos outside Mission at Gordos. Another food highlight is Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club for his famous Cinnamon Toast. But enough food spoiled, otherwise you won’t read my restaurant guide anymore.
Painted ladies you’ll see all over San Francisco. The colorful Victorian Houses were built towards the end of the 19th century. Did you know that a house is called Painted Lady when its facade contains more than three wall colors? Now you know.
The most popular Painted Ladies or also Seven Sisters called, are those from Full House known. They are located at Alamo Square in the west of Hayes Valley. From Alamo Square you also have a fantastic view of Down Town in the background. Otherwise the neighborhood is quite nice to stroll around.
- Here you can find a Guide for Hayes Valley!
Castro is probably the most colorful San Francisco neighborhoods, and not without reason. It is also called the “Gayberhood” of San Francisco. The LGBTQ neighbourhood was also the home of the gay-right activist Harvey Milk. Here well-known parades take place throughout the year. Indeed, Castro was one of my highlights. We took part in an Urban Hike and explored the lively neighborhood with our local Kevin showing us its beautiful houses and stories. From the Castro Theater you can walk up Tank Hill to Twin Peaks. Don’t take the short cut up – it’s way too step and exhausting! And the hike definitely pays off – the view from up there is magnificent.
- Shopping tip!! Community Thrift at 623 Valencia St. Here you can find great Second Hand articles.
SAN FRANCISCO Travel Time
I flew to San Francisco in mid-October, which I can highly recommend. My otherwise “holy” autumn month, which I love to spend in Europe, turned out to be the perfect travel time. In San Francisco we met pleasant temperatures and at the end of our trip it was even 30° (which is very unusual for this time). If you think about going to Yosemite or Napa Valley afterwards, you will encounter an incredible autumn landscape. But let’s talk about Yosemite another time.
Good to know: Compared to Los Angeles, the public transport network is super developed. You can relax in the bus, tram, cable car or in the BART (regional train). However, for many routes it is worthwhile to order a Lyft or Uber (especially during the “Prime Times” Lyft is cheaper than Uber. Overall both are cheaper than a taxi).
Car parking in San Francisco
Combining San Francisco with a West Coast or longer road trip is definitely an option and highly recommended. We have conveniently parked our rental car in a (safe) underground car park (never leave anything in your car in SF!). We had booked this in advance via Bestparking.
- Note! Most parking garages charge additional fees for SUVs and In-Out’s. But there are also many free parking spaces in the residential areas.
- My absolute highlight of San Francisco was the first time to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. It is definitely worthwhile to drive in from the north. The view of the bridge and the city in the background is super impressive. (Small note you only pay toll if you drive into the city. This will be debited directly and you get the bill directly from the car rental. Here is a short article about it)
- One more highlight was our Urban Hike with the Urban Hikers. This one I can very much recommend to you. The walk through the hilly neighborhood of Castro was super interesting and offers the concentrated number of house inspiration.
- Furthermore, I wouldn’t miss the Sunset Sail with Adventure Cat Sailing.
I hope I was able to give you a good San Francisco neighborhoods guide. Of course, A restaurant and café guide will follow as well.