The 'Hoods of San Francisco
by Karen Solomon
Less official than New York's borough delineations, San Francisco is composed of a patchwork of neighborhoods, each with its own unique flavor, feel, shops and vibe. San Franciscans are opposed to the widespread appearance of chain stores or large mall complexes (save for the ultra-tourist suction cup of Union Square), thus every neighborhood is a unique composition of its own green grocers, independently owned hardware stores, cafes and restaurants and local businesses.
Undoubtedly, the best way to see San Francisco from a local's point of view is to walk the streets of any of these quadrants and soak up the atmosphere. The farther north you are in San Francisco, the wealthier, more pristine, and cleaner it is (Pacific Heights, Nob Hill). As you trek farther southward, the more aromatic bus stops will indicate that you are approaching San Francisco's underground, offbeat communities and artistic breeding ground (The Haight, The Mission). The farthest points to the south in the city (Hunter's Point and Bayview) are not advisable to tourists, as there are nothing but warehouses and these areas can be quite dangerous.
Truly there is something for every taste enclosed within the confines of S.F.'s 47 square miles. Here's a quick breakdown of the general feeling and highlights of some of S.F.'s many neighborhoods:
Pacific Heights, Marina, Russian Hill, Nob Hill -- Wealth and lots of it. Pac Heights is definitely worth a drive-by just to see the mansions that tower over the hills. This area is the gem of S.F. real estate. The surrounding communities of Marina, Nob Hill and Russian Hill are inhabited by the younger, business professionals who aspire to one day live in the Pac Heights mansions. The main shopping district of elite boutiques is on Fillmore Street between Jackson and Greenwich.
Telegraph Hill, North Beach, Chinatown -- Positioned in the city's northeastern corner, these are popular tourist destinations and interesting neighborhoods. Telegraph Hill is a quiet, ritzy mole and home to Coit Tower and a magnificent view. North Beach is a historic community and, though no longer an Italian neighborhood, you'll find many excellent restaurants and bars and a hearty nightlife. Chinatown, conversely, still functions as home to thousands of Asian families. Chinatown is one of the most densely populated communities - its streets are lined with numerous markets selling Asian goodies, herb medicines and inexpensive knickknacks. Walk up Columbus street from Montgomery and you'll get a taste of these two areas and a view of the Tower.
Financial District and South of Market -- Home of big business, the ferry terminal, and so much more, this is a buzzing area at rush hour and lunchtime. South of Market (SoMa) is a stretch of multimedia and hi-tech computer companies, so concentrated that the area is often called Multimedia Gulch. The District gets kind of sleepy at night, but SoMa is an increasingly popular place to open a chic bar, art gallery, restaurant or club.
The Haight and The Mission -- Young hipsters, harmless homeless people, blue mohawks, classy second-hand stores, vintage record stores, and grungy clubs litter the streets of these two areas. There's also cheap food, Golden Gate Park and popular late-night haunts. The Mission is also home to the historic Mission Dolores, a larger part of S.F. history and a prominent church built by Spanish Missionaries in 1776.
This is by no means a conclusive list of what San Francisco has to offer. However, on your next visit, stop in for a taste of the regional diversity that exists amongst the myriad of residents and communities in the eclectic and wonderful City by the Bay.