I’ll let you in on a secret — some of the best San Francisco neighborhoods are the ones you’ve never heard of.
I’ve been a Bay Area local my entire life and lived in San Francisco for the past two years. After exploring every area of the city, I’ve put together the definitive guide to the best neighborhoods in San Francisco.
I’ll share insider tips on must-see areas, but also hidden gems you won’t find elsewhere. I’ll cover which streets to shop, dine, and party on – and which areas to avoid. Whether you’re a first-timer looking for the best areas to stay in SF, or you’ve been local for years, I’ll help you find the best SF neighborhood for you.
Let’s get planning!
Table of Contents
- Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco
- North Beach
- Hayes Valley
- Fisherman’s Wharf
- Nob Hill
- Russian Hill
- Pacific Heights
- The Castro
- Mission District
- Noe Valley
- Richmond District
- Sunset District
- The Marina
- Lower Haight
- Civic Center
- Fillmore District
- Union Square
- Mission Bay
- Financial District
- FAQs About San Francisco Neighborhoods
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Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco
Family-friendly Victorian homes close to parks, trendy restaurants, and iconic views.
My perfect San Francisco itinerary always includes a trip to NoPa — it’s my secret weapon when convincing friends and family to move to the city. The residential streets are lined with picturesque old homes, small cafes, and a good mix of affordable and upscale restaurants.
The micro-neighborhood NoPa is part of the larger Western Addition neighborhood. NoPa gets its name from its geographic location (North of the Panhandle). You can walk, jog, or bike through the Panhandle to get to nearby Golden Gate Park. In the other direction, head to Alamo Square to see the famous Painted Ladies and picnic in the large grassy park.
NoPa mainly draws a crowd of young professionals and families. It’s a quiet little SF neighborhood, but it’s also home to some of my favorite local bars in the city, situated along hip Divisadero Street.
Pros of NoPa Neighborhood
- Flat and walkable
- Surrounded by parks with famous sites and attractions
- Well-serviced by public transportation in most directions
- Very safe
Cons of NoPa Neighborhood
- Further away from the larger clubs and nightlife of downtown
A historic neighborhood with plentiful nightlife options and views of the Bay.
North Beach is what I think of when I think of classic San Francisco neighborhoods. Filled with hills, history, and the best Italian food you’ll find in the city, this vibrant area is a great place to live or just to visit.
Tourists enjoy climbing the many steps to Coit Tower on nearby Telegraph Hill, where you can see panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay Area. For more hilly action, take a visit to Lombard Street. End your day at the famous City Lights Bookstore to dive into the history of the impactful Beat Generation.
North Beach is a favorite amongst young people — especially those who work in downtown San Francisco. Locals spend weekends picnicking in Washington Square Park and enjoying live music and entertainment in the lively bars near Columbus Ave.
Pros of North Beach Neighborhood
- Close to downtown, waterfront, and Embarcadero
- Lots of live music in local bars
- Great Italian food
Cons of North Beach Neighborhood
- Very hilly
- Consistently hard to find parking
A lively, community-centered neighborhood with boutique shops and great restaurants.
Hayes Valley is one of the best places in San Francisco to live. I may be slightly biased, as I’ve called this neighborhood home for the past two years. But the combination of walkability, access to downtown, reliably sunny weather, and delicious dining options makes the Hayes Valley area a true San Francisco gem.
This small neighborhood encompasses just eight square blocks in the center of the city. While the area has been recently gentrified, affordable options are still available with rent-controlled apartments and housing projects. Easy access to the buses and trains along central Market Street provides lots of public transportation options.
With upscale restaurants, trendy wine bars, and gourmet ice cream shops, Hayes Valley is a foodie’s dream. Patricia’s Green — the neighborhood park — hosts year-round markets and outdoor movies in the summertime. Hayes Street is lined with boutiques and becomes a car-free zone on the weekends.
Pros of Hayes Valley Neighborhood
- Only 15 minutes to downtown on public transportation
- Small community, easy to know neighbors
- Very close to the nightlife of larger neighborhoods around it
- Flat and walkable
Cons of Hayes Valley Neighborhood
- Housing can be competitive — it’s an affordable and desirable area
San Francisco’s most well-known tourist destination with plenty of seaside activities for kids.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a must-see area of San Francisco for first-time visitors. The tourist haven reminds sightseers of SF’s nautical past, with plenty of piers, old ships, and the smell of seafood at every turn. Fisherman’s Wharf is home to many of the top attractions in San Francisco.
Pier 39 is like a mini amusement park: there’s an aquarium, candy stores, stalls selling clam chowder in bread bowls, and plenty of bars and restaurants suitable for all ages. Kids love to see the colony of sea lions perpetually perched along the wharf, barking and sunbathing the day away.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a perfect spot for seaside views of famous sites like the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Visitors should remember that most coastal areas of the city tend to get windy and foggy — always bring a jacket with you, even in the summertime!
Pros of Fisherman’s Wharf Neighborhood
- Iconic views of the Bay
- Family-friendly attractions at Pier 39
- Cable cars regularly run from the wharf to downtown
Cons of Fisherman’s Wharf Neighborhood
- One of the busiest tourist areas in San Francisco
- Overpriced restaurants and difficult to find affordable housing
👉 Safety Tip: High-volume tourist areas like Fisherman’s Wharf tend to attract more occurrences of car break-ins and pickpocketing. Never leave valuables visible in your car.
Elegant neighborhood close to downtown with affordable living and luxury hotels.
Nob Hill is another favorite SF neighborhood amongst young professionals, due to its affordable housing prices, great views, and proximity to downtown. Nob Hill has a similar feel to North Beach but is quieter and more posh.
Nob Hill is also my favorite place to stay in San Francisco, as it’s home to a multitude of luxury hotels with sweeping rooftop views. It’s close to iconic SF landmarks (like the Ferry Building, Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Lombard Street) while still maintaining a residential and relaxed feel.
In Nob Hill, you can visit the Cable Car Museum, see the gorgeous stained glass inside the historic Grace Cathedral, and walk around picturesque Huntington Park. Nearby Polk Street, dotted with great bars and restaurants, is the neighborhood’s main commercial corridor.
Pros of Nob Hill Neighborhood
- Affordable rent
- Safer than other areas this close to downtown
- Good public transportation options
Cons of Nob Hill Neighborhood
- Not many parks or green spaces are within walking distance
- Full of hills — residents should be in good health to tackle the steep sidewalks
A charming residential area known for the famously crooked Lombard Street.
Russian Hill is notoriously hilly. Nestled between North Beach, Nob Hill, and the Marina, this oft-overlooked neighborhood seems to blend in with its surroundings. However, this is a great place to live in SF due to lots of housing options combined with a smattering of restaurants and coffee shops.
The Russian Hill neighborhood is most well-known as the home of Lombard Street, or the “crookedest street in the world.” Tourists can drive or walk down the winding switchbacks while taking in beautiful (and free) views of the city.
One of San Francisco’s most beloved activities is to ride the cable cars down Hyde Street and stop to eat at one of the restaurants along the way. Walking around this neighborhood can be exhausting yet rewarding, with views of both the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge around every turn.
Pros of Russian Hill Neighborhood
- Quiet and residential while still close to the nightlife of North Beach
- Many homes have a beautiful view
Cons of Russian Hill Neighborhood
- Not super walkable due to the hills
- Not well serviced by public transportation besides the cable cars, which can be slow
Ritzy hilltop mansions with million-dollar views.
Pacific Heights, usually abbreviated as “Pac Heights” by locals, is a neighborhood home to incredible views, famous San Franciscans, and spacious mansions with prices in the multi-millions.
The hilltop lawns of Alta Plaza and Lafayette Park offer sweeping panoramic views from the water to downtown. Nearby in the Presidio, visit the Lyon Street Steps for a good look at typical Pac Heights homes, but be prepared to do about 5 minutes of climbing.
For more affordable living, try looking in Lower Pac Heights. The quiet residential areas are pedestrian-friendly, with limited hills and good public transportation. Both Fillmore Street and Divisadero Street offer fantastic options for dining and shopping, and nearby hospitals mean medical care is just around the corner.
Pros of Pac Heights Neighborhood
- Great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the water
- Restaurants and bars on Fillmore Street
- Very safe area
Cons of Pac Heights Neighborhood
- Very expensive housing prices
👉 Pro Tip: When looking for housing in most neighborhoods in San Francisco, you can follow this general guide: “the higher up the hill, the higher the rent”!
Chinese culture and heritage in the bustling downtown.
San Francisco Chinatown is the largest of its kind outside of Asia. With streets packed full of Chinese restaurants, cocktail lounges, colorful lights and signs, and souvenir stalls, there’s something for everyone in this lively district.
Stepping through the beautiful Dragon Gate seems to physically transport you into a different world. Pay a visit to the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum to see the vital role Chinese culture has played in San Francisco’s history. In February, catch the annual Chinese New Year parade for a dazzling display of fireworks, costumes, music, and dancing.
Chinatown has a lot of amenities geared toward its Chinese population, such as dual-language elementary schools and daycares. Small streets and alleyways mean parking is difficult in Chinatown, but luckily Montgomery BART stop is just a few blocks away.
Pros of Chinatown Neighborhood
- Incredible food, history, and culture
- Lots of amenities for Chinese immigrants
- Affordable area very close to the financial district and downtown
Cons of Chinatown Neighborhood
- Almost impossible to find street parking
- Small apartments
San Francisco’s historic LGBTQ capital, home to delicious dining and vibrant nightlife.
The Castro has long been a haven for LGBTQ residents and visitors. With its colorful rainbow crosswalks and cheerful houses, the area is a great place to live and visit regardless of your gender or sexual identity.
See a show at the independently-owned The Castro Theatre, go to a drag brunch, or learn more about the history of San Francisco’s queer population at the GLBT Historical Society Museum. If you have a car, take a drive up to one of the best viewpoints in the city, Twin Peaks.
Nightlife in the Castro is busy, and Saturday nights often see partygoers dancing the night away on a rooftop balcony. The Castro is a great place to go out, but be prepared for long lines, especially during Pride weekend in June.
Pros of the Castro Neighborhood
- Great nightlife with a number of bars and clubs all within easy walking distance
- Easy access to bus and light rail
- Lots of restaurants ranging from cheap eats to fine dining
- Very strong feel of the community, especially amongst LGBTQ residents
Cons of the Castro Neighborhood
- Loud on the weekends near the nightlife area
Colorful and artsy area known for its Latino heritage and some of the best food in San Francisco.
Ah, the Mission… I’ve spent many days basking in its warm glow, and I believe you haven’t truly lived in San Francisco until you’ve done the same.
The Mission neighborhood has a distinct Latin feel and the best Mexican and Central American food you’ll find anywhere in SF. It’s a diverse area with a growing LGBTQ population and a generally young, progressive vibe.
Valencia Street is a real highlight, with a great selection of trendy bars and clubs next to charming boutiques and vintage stores. Mission Dolores is still standing, a relic of the original California mission system. Go to Dolores Park on any weekend, and you’ll find nearly half the city is there to sunbathe, play music, read, or picnic with friends.
Certain areas of the Mission District are safer than others. Dolores, Guerrero, and Valencia streets are generally well populated and totally fine. Walk with caution in the areas east of Mission Street at night, specifically between 15th and 20th.
👉 Pro Tip: It’s important to remember that San Francisco is the past and present home of the Ramaytush Ohlone tribe. Check out The Village nonprofit, which is set to open a space for Native culture and community in the Mission District in the coming years.
Pros of the Mission Neighborhood
- Warmer weather and little fog
- Best food options in the city, from Michelin starred restaurants to small taquerias
- Affordable apartments
- Great resources for Spanish-speaking residents, including bilingual daycare programs
Cons of the Mission Neighborhood
- Higher crime around the 16th St. BART stop
A charming enclave with a small-town feel in the heart of the big city.
Noe Valley is my #1 recommendation for families or young couples looking to move to a safe, quiet residential area that’s still easily accessible from downtown. Most people don’t even know it exists until they move to San Francisco — it flies mostly under the radar, eclipsed by the more well-known neighborhoods of the Castro and the Mission that surround it.
What the Noe Valley area lacks in nightlife it makes up for in great weather, locally owned boutiques, and quaint coffee shops. It has a tight-knit community, with a town square that hosts weekly farmers’ markets and actually has a community bulletin board.
Take a stroll down 24th street and pop into the eclectic shops along the way. Or, hop on the J line light rail to take a scenic ride to nearby Dolores Park. You’ll likely need to walk 15-20 minutes to the nearest BART stop, but from there, it’s only a 10-minute ride into downtown.
Pros of Noe Valley Neighborhood
- Lots of cafes and restaurants
- Small community feel
- Quiet and good for families
Cons of Noe Valley Neighborhood
- Not many options for bars or nightlife
- Not a ton of young people
A diverse, family-friendly neighborhood featuring colorful houses and funky bars.
The Richmond is one of my favorite areas of San Francisco, but it’s often vastly underappreciated.
The Richmond is separated into three main neighborhoods: Inner, Central, and Outer Richmond. Inner Richmond is the closest to central San Francisco, while its Central and Outer counterparts get progressively closer to the Pacific coast.
The Richmond is surrounded on all sides by natural beauty: two beautiful parks, two beaches, and the hiking trails of Lands End. It’s also one of the foggiest areas, with Outer Richmond usually blanketed in a cool gray mist.
The Richmond is an area populated by families, college students at nearby University of San Francisco, and young professionals seeking a more relaxed vibe.
While far from downtown, the area has its own quirky establishments: dive bars, famed local bakeries, and small cafes. Clement Street is fondly known as a second Chinatown, with lots of family-owned Asian restaurants.
Pros of the Richmond District
- Close to beautiful parks and beaches
- Affordable housing prices, often with backyard space
- Lots of playgrounds, tennis courts, schools, and community centers
- Very walkable, bikeable, and close to bus lines
Cons of the Richmond District
- Far from downtown and tourist sites
- Not much nightlife
Laid-back coastal living is ideal for families and surfers.
The Sunset is situated on the south side of Golden Gate Park. It’s also one of the largest neighborhoods in San Francisco. Inner Sunset has more restaurants and activity, while Outer Sunset is mostly residential.
Mt. Sutro, near Inner Sunset, is one of the best places for hiking in SF, with views over downtown. In the other direction, watching a sunset on Ocean Beach while surfers catch some evening waves will make you feel like you’ve escaped the city entirely.
Similar to the Richmond, the Outer Sunset is often foggy. On a sunny day, however, there are some beautiful spots for views of the neighborhood. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps feature a colorful mosaic staircase leading to a series of hilltop parks known as Golden Gate Heights.
Pros of the Sunset District
- Affordable housing
- Close to the beach and park
- Restaurants along Irving Street and 9th Avenue
- Easy public transportation: N line on Judah runs from Outer Sunset to downtown
Cons of the Sunset District
- Very few bars or nightlife
- Far away from downtown and very residential, can feel like you’re not really in the city anymore
Chic waterfront neighborhood favored by wealthy homeowners and young people.
The Marina feels a little like some wealthy enclave of Los Angeles. A walk down Chestnut Street will take you past yoga studios, acai bowl shops, and upscale restaurants with sunny outdoor patios.
Visit the Palace of Fine Arts, a unique architectural beauty originally constructed in 1915. Next, explore the Presidio, a large park owned by the National Park Service chock full of hiking trails and small beaches. Take a sunset stroll down Marina Green for views of boats in the harbor and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
The Marina is stereotyped as the favorite destination for recently graduated college students who want to party. There’s a plethora of bars, boozy brunch spots, and dance clubs all within a 5-10-minute walk. However, it can be isolating — neither BART nor the light rail goes to this area, and buses are infrequent.
Pros of the Marina Neighborhood
- Lots of popular bars, restaurants, and shops
- Beautiful homes and apartments with stunning views of San Francisco Bay
- Great running and walking trails nearby
Cons of the Marina Neighborhood
- Expensive housing
- Lack of public transportation
Historic home to hippies, now filled with vintage thrift shops and record stores.
If you’re going to San Francisco, you can still wear flowers in your hair in the iconic neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury.
Haight-Ashbury is the home of the 1967 Summer of Love, where thousands flocked to SF to partake in the counterculture movement. Nowadays, this SF neighborhood is filled with vintage shops, record stores, cheap food, and live music.
The neighborhood has changed a bit, but its storied history is still on display. Music fans can visit the Grateful Dead house to see where the band members actually lived during their tenure in the city. A number of tourist shops sell psychedelic art and tie-dyed clothing.
Living directly on Haight Street can be noisy and overwhelming at times, as there is a near-constant presence of street performers and light drug use. The nearby side streets of Cole Valley are much calmer, with Golden Gate Park and the Panhandle only a stone’s throw away.
Pros of Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood
- Lots of affordable food options
- Close to parks
- Quirky nightlife, mostly live music and small bars
- Fairly safe area — although drug use is common, it’s usually more tame. People tripping on magic mushrooms aren’t exactly in the mood to incite violence.
Cons of Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood
- Haight Street itself is very noisy
- Only public transportation option is the bus
Local cafes and art collectives in a quieter part of Haight Street with a bohemian vibe.
Lower Haight is my personal favorite neighborhood in the city. Lower Haight is often overshadowed by its more famous counterpart up the street — Haight-Ashbury. By comparison, Lower Haight has a relaxed vibe and local feel. It’s a hidden gem most people don’t realize is even there.
Haight Street is home to four blocks of charming restaurants, local pubs and sports bars, and artsy shops. Nearby Divisadero Street offers options for more rowdy entertainment within walking distance. The area is mostly flat and has designated “bike boulevards” where cars are not permitted.
The neighborhood is surrounded by four beautiful parks with outdoor activities. It’s also one of the best places for remote workers — Lower Haight is home to a plethora of cozy cafes, all with wifi, outlets, and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating.
Pros of the Lower Haight Neighborhood
- Affordable neighborhood
- Plenty of parking and multiple options for public transportation
- Diverse, safe, and family-friendly
Cons of the Lower Haight Neighborhood
- Not a lot of tourist sites
Magnificent government and performing arts buildings with a bounty of hidden gems.
Many people who have never been to San Francisco have a very different impression of Civic Center than the neighborhood I know and love. While Civic Center is home to many folks living on the street, it also includes some of my favorite San Francisco establishments and is not a neighborhood to be overlooked.
In Civic Center, there are more options for world-class entertainment than any other area of the city. Catch a ballet show at the stunning SF Opera House, or buy tickets to a concert at Bill Graham. Before the show, eat at one of the many incredible restaurants or speakeasies tucked away on nearby streets.
This area is the headquarters of SF’s government institutions, and the magnificent architecture of City Hall inspires awe in those who visit. On Sundays, the plaza is home to 40+ food and flower vendors at the weekly Heart of the City Farmers Market.
Pros of Civic Center Neighborhood
- Entertainment galore!
- Trains, buses, and light rail all stop here
- In the center of the city — very easy to access all other neighborhoods from here
Cons of Civic Center Neighborhood
- Some areas near here have high crime rates. Exercise caution if heading south of Market Street between 10th and 5th, or north of Market Street into the Tenderloin.
Famous Jazz musicians once nicknamed this neighborhood the “Harlem of the West.”
The Fillmore is a hodgepodge of old Victorian homes and housing projects. It’s also one of the most diverse neighborhoods in San Francisco, with most influences coming from the area’s African-American and Japanese populations.
This area is a fantastic place to see live music. The neighborhood comes alive in July when the Fillmore Jazz Festival brings musicians from around the country to perform. Check out the Boom Boom Room for year-round live jazz, funk, and blues.
While the Fillmore has lots of housing, the lack of a main commercial corridor means that restaurants or bars are few and far between. Nearby Japantown has more entertainment options, with karaoke bars, a movie theater, and great restaurants.
Pros of the Fillmore Neighborhood
- Affordable housing options
- Diverse population, with lots of amenities geared towards Black residents
- Great music scene and iconic history
Cons of the Fillmore Neighborhood
- No real hub of restaurants or bars within the neighborhood itself
A commercial hub with plenty of hotels, department stores, and a central plaza.
Union Square is San Francisco’s shopping headquarters, situated right off of Powell Street BART Station. Most tourists coming to the city will stay at one of the many hotels in this area. Union Square is a good base for a first-time visit, since it’s close to several iconic neighborhoods and has a variety of public transportation options.
Recently, many retailers have been leaving Union Square, citing a decrease in foot traffic post-pandemic. While the future here is uncertain, this is still the best place in the city if you’re looking to engage in some serious retail therapy. Visit in the winter to go for a skate in the plaza ice rink!
After you’ve done your high-end shopping, be sure to never leave your bags visible in your car. Car break-ins can be unfortunately common in high-traffic areas. Avoid attracting any trouble — take the jewelry or designer bags back to your hotel room.
Pros of Union Square Neighborhood
- Centrally located
- Close to Embarcadero and Ferry Building
- Tons of hotels ranging from budget to luxury accommodation
Cons of Union Square Neighborhood
- Good place to visit but not to live
- No real neighborhood feel
- Car break-ins are common
Newly gentrified neighborhood close to the Bay and downtown.
Mission Bay is a small, dense area close to downtown that is home to two of San Francisco’s sports teams: the Giants and the Warriors. Those seeking luxury waterfront living will find a number of high-rise apartment complexes with rooftop pools and private gyms.
The piers along South Beach offer views of the Bay Bridge and Oakland, and visitors can even rent kayaks to paddle around nearby McCovey Cove, next to the baseball park. Going to a Giants game is a must, which is why it made our list of the best things to do in San Francisco.
UCSF Medical Center takes up a large portion of the neighborhood, and there aren’t many residential options besides large apartment buildings. For a more laid-back vibe, travel further south to the Dogpatch area. This neighborhood boasts a number of artsy, warehouse-style lofts with pottery studios, climbing gyms, and breweries.
Pros of Mission Bay Neighborhood
- Close to sports stadiums
- Beautiful views of the Bay Bridge
- Very close to downtown and great for professionals
Cons of Mission Bay Neighborhood
- Not a lot of community events or local markets
- Can feel isolated, surrounded by water and the freeway
Tech companies and financial offices are housed in towering skyscrapers.
The Financial District is the main business area of San Francisco. Most companies have offices here, and the gigantic Salesforce Tower can be seen for miles. You may end up unknowingly sitting next to a group of CEOs at one of the area’s many high-end bars or restaurants.
Most buildings in the Financial District are office spaces. But a good number of them also have rooftop bars offering views over San Francisco. Apartments are some of the most expensive in the city, with one-bedrooms pushing $4,000 a month.
There’s still plenty to do in the Financial District without spending tons of money. Visit the famous Ferry Building to take a boat ride on the bay with some incredible views of the skyline. Walk down the Embarcadero, a long waterfront road that begins downtown and goes all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Pros of Financial District Neighborhood
- Apartments are mostly new construction and very luxurious
- Great restaurants and a weekend farmers market
Cons of Financial District Neighborhood
- Extremely expensive cost of living
- Not really any kind of community feel
👉 Read Next: San Francisco Budget Guide
FAQs About San Francisco Neighborhoods
What are some affordable neighborhoods to live in San Francisco?
👉 Read Next: Best Cities in California
San Francisco’s neighborhoods are each vibrant and culturally unique — it’s what makes this city special. I hope this guide has helped you find the best San Francisco neighborhoods for your situation.
Next up, check out our guide to the best places to live in California.
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