Ah, San Francisco. A relatively small city (only 7 square miles!), but with a huge personality.
It’s one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country.
If you’ve seen any pictures of San Francisco, you probably have seen one of the iconic top of Golden Gate Bridge peeking over the fog. Fog is a staple in San Francisco, especially during the summer.
San Francisco is made up of about 11 neighborhoods.
Each neighborhood has unique food, culture, and vibe, and you will most likely notice the second you step into a new neighborhood.
Ready to visit SF but don’t want to be clueless about San Francisco’s various neighborhoods. Come on, let’s learn!
Tip: If you’re from out of town, you should know: You can call San Francisco “The City”. But never (ever!) call it “Frisco”. <insert cringe emoji>
Starting in the northeast corner of the city we have North Beach. Home to Little Italy, the Embarcadero, and Coit Tower, North Beach is culinary heaven if you’re looking for high-end Italian food or pizza by the slice.
If you’re looking for all things San Francisco tourism, head over to Fisherman’s Wharf at the northern edge of North Beach. Here you will find all the seafood you could desire and can also hop on a ferry to zip around the bay or explore Alcatraz.
Tip: There is nowhere better to grab pizza than Tony’s Pizza. Want to prove me wrong? Bring me a pizza from somewhere else. It’s ok. I’ll try it. I’m open to being wrong.
Buena Vista Cafe
A local favorite.
It’s right on the bustling corner of Beach and Hyde in Fisherman’s Wharf.
The drink to try here? Definitely the Irish coffee. Even if you don’t like Irish Coffee. The Buena Vista is known for introducing the creamy, caffeine and alcohol-filled drink here in the United States.
Oh, also, do you remember the opening scene in “When A Man Loves A Woman” where Any Garcia’s character meets up with Meg Ryan at a bar and “tries” to pick up on her in front of the man who is actually trying to pick up on her? That’s at Buena Vista.
Tip: The Buena Vista is right on the Powell-Hyde Cable Car line – it’s the last stop in Fisherman’s Wharf.
Moving south along Columbus Avenue, you will make your way into Chinatown. From beautiful and unique murals to amazing family-owned restaurants and shops, you could spend an entire day exploring and eating through Chinatown. Make sure you walk down Stockton Street for your classic San Francisco Chinatown experience with hanging lanterns and the Clay Bridge.
Check out my ultimate guide to eating in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Once you’ve passed The Ritz, you are in the Financial District. Here you will find the major shopping center of the city, as well as some of the more high-end restaurants in San Francisco. You will mainly see tourists and locals going to and from work in this neighborhood in SF.
If you’re spending an afternoon in the Financial District, make sure you head back towards the Embarcadero to explore the Ferry Building. Not only does it have a great view of the Bay Bridge, it has some incredible food as well.
As you continue further south you enter San Francisco’s Latinx neighborhood. Some of the best Latino and Hispanic food in San Francisco can be found in The Mission district. Whether you’re looking for rooftop bars, underground clubs, or family-owned restaurants, The Mission has it all.
Make sure you check out The Alamo in The Mission. Opened in 1907, it is the oldest movie theater in San Francisco and has been preserved with its original decorations and furniture and truly is a special experience. Then head over to Dolores Park, one of the most famous parks in San Francisco bridging The Mission and Castro districts.
Head west on 18th Street until you run into Castro St, and you will find yourself in The Castro. One of the more famous neighborhoods in San Francisco, you probably already know that you will find rainbow-colored sidewalks and pride flags all over this neighborhood.
The Castro is the neighborhood where you should first settle into a classic diner and step back in time before hitting up a gay bar or club. Any spot you choose will be filled with amazing people, good food, and even better drinks so it’s hard to go wrong.
If you’re looking for a laid-back and trendy atmosphere, head over to Haight-Ashbury or NOPA (North of the Pan Handle). Both of these neighborhoods are on the edge of Golden Gate Park and have become an extension of the Castro’s safe space for the queer community.
Some of the best thrift shops, hookah lounges, and happy hour deals can be found in the Haight. While NOPA is known for its nightlife scene along Divisadero St with equally great happy hours and amazing cuisine. Make sure you check out Alamo Square with the Painted Ladies and The Emporium to see and old movie theater that’s been transformed into an Arcade.
Tip: Aub Zam Zam has been open since the 1940s, and is popular with the locals. Go. And order a martini.
If you continue north on Divisadero, you will find yourself in Pacific Heights. One of the most expensive neighborhoods in San Francisco, you will find high-end shops, cafes, and bars as well as several Michelin-star restaurants in Pac Heights.
Fillmore Street provides a beautiful stroll on a sunny San Francisco afternoon filled with window shopping and people-watching. Make sure you check out the local coffee shops and ice cream shops in Pac Heights, they may seem expensive, but they are worth it!
As you travel further east into Pacific Heights, you will eventually land in Japantown, where you will find some of the city’s best ramen, sushi, and dim sum. If you’re interested in seeing any shows while in San Francisco, you’ll find that Japantown also has most of the city’s small venues. Though keep in mind that one of the best things about San Francisco’s Japantown is the karaoke!
Moving further east along Geary Ave, you will find yourself in Lower Nob Hill or the Tenderloin (TL). Many people will tell you just to avoid the TL during your trip to San Francisco and, while it isn’t for everyone, it does have some of the best soul food and bars in the city. Just make sure you stay aware of your surroundings while in this neighborhood.
Make your way north on Polk Street to Nob Hill. Polk Street itself has some of the best nightlife in San Francisco with small clubs and great food. Whether you’re looking for a quiet coffee shop or an amazing wine bar, Nob Hill has it all.
Tip: The Tenderloin’s White Chapel is one of SF’s best cocktail bars, and a gin-lover’s dream.
Further north still is one of the most popular neighborhoods in San Francisco: The Marina. You can find a little bit of all of San Francisco’s neighborhoods in the Marina, though it will be bit more expensive. From Latino and Italian food, to sushi and ramen, you will have endless options as you walk down Chestnut Street. You will also find some of the best cocktail bars in the Marina so make sure you stop by for happy hour!
The Marina is also a great stop during sunset. Try to make your way down to the Palace of Fine Arts as well as the Marina Greens where you will find one of the best views of the bay in all of San Francisco.
The Richmond and The Sunset
Crossing through the Presidio, we now make our way to The Richmond. Clement St, from Inner to Outer Richmond, is filled with some of the best restaurants in the city and has a wide variety of cultures throughout the neighborhood.
Inner Richmond has a heavily Indian and Vietnamese population which greatly influences the restaurants and shops in the area. You can find some of the only restaurants with $1 Oysters in San Francisco in Inner Richmond.
Simultaneously, Outer Richmond is actually known as Little Russia and has some of the best bakeries in San Francisco. There is also a concentration of impressive Italian Restaurants in Outer Richmond that are absolutely worth the trip. Though the Richmond seems to be far removed from the rest of the city, it actually has some of the best and most diverse restaurants in San Francisco.
Just across the famous Golden Gate Park is the Sunset District which is known for its Korean and Chinese food as well as outstanding coffee shops and bakeries. Make sure you grab a coffee and head to Ocean Beach and try to see the horizon through the fog!
San Francisco has something for everyone.