The New Arrivals’ Guide to San Francisco Neighborhoods

As it has happened for many before me, I have left San Francisco to go forth, write guides, and talk about wines. Perhaps, you’re just entering “Baghdad by the Bay” (I don’t expect you have a clue what that means). Perhaps you’re coming from Ohio or Indiana, whose biggest exports seem to be 20-somethings to San Francisco. If this is the case, then for some reason I feel like I should point out a couple of things about the complexities of SF neighborhoods. Both Alex Payne and Mat Honan have pointed out other things that you should read about as well. But, let’s get started on places you might find yourself living.

The Mission

You will either try to live here or have somewhat regular sex with someone who does. There’s great shit in the Mission, but there are also great, joy-swallowing lines for coffee, ice cream, bars, groceries, parks, burritos, and just about everything else you can imagine. Also, despite the fact that the transportation to the Mission is downright squalid, everyone will want to meet you there. Quickly learn all the shops that comprise the eight blocks of Valencia that everyone thinks are cool. It will save you a lot of time otherwise wasted on Yelp.

North Beach

You might live here when you first get to San Francisco, perched on the third floor of a place that butts up against the exhaust pipe of a cheesy, Italian restaurant on Columbus. You will not spend time here unless your asshole cousin shows up and wants to go to strip clubs or you feel like making fun of tourists and possibly BTP (Bridge/Tunnel/Peninsula) out for a classy night in a white stretch Hummer.


If you are a white guy and end up with an Asian girl, the two of you will most likely end up here, especially if you think you can’t live without a car. With it’s long, large streets and warehouse spaces, SOMA is fucking terrifying. It’s one of those places to go at night to feel truly in danger because there is absolutely no one walking around except maybe on 10th Street which is all party party on Fridays and Saturdays.

Hayes Valley

This neighborhood was a rank pile of turd when I first moved to San Francisco. Now, its three blocks or whatever are all the rage. You might very well find yourself here if you have yuppie-esque leanings or want that blend of the younger Mission set mixed with the younger Marina set. Lines, lines, everywhere and not slow day to be found. Even Patxi’s has a minimum 30 minute wait–it’s only pizza! But in a rare glimpse of solid civic planning, what SF did to Octavia is pretty awesome, at least for pedestrians and cyclists. Car owners curse it, but I curse them.


Kinda San Francisco’s Oakland exclave. It’s a decent spot with some lower key restaurants (minus Serpentine which enjoys being upper key and hard on the wallet) and damn if it’s quiet. You know that Sunset & Richmond District you’ll hear about? It’s kinda like those except that the T takes less time to get to downtown than the N or the 38. Also, you can bicycle to downtown in like nothing and it’s all flat to get there.


If you’re a pasty dough ball from Madison this neighborhood will shit down your throat and tell you that you want some more. If you’re from Los Angeles, NYC, Detroit, Chicago, and maybe a handful of other places, you will love the bejesus out of this hood. I’m not from any of those places. I’m a Californian born to Californians and loved living in it for 10 years so much, that I made a website for it.

The sirens are intense, the Art Academy intenser, and the amount of shit on the sidewalks even intenserer. But, it’s super close to what is the actual downtown of San Francisco, just about every transit line passes through it, and holy hell if the food and bar offer isn’t awesome as all hell and affordable. Think of the Tenderloin as the Mission in the Closet. Everyone will often go to it, but no one will want to admit to doing so.


You will live here if you are under the misguided assumption that this is where hippies and all those who are 420 friendly live. You will need to learn that this is not specific to one neighborhood and is actually all of San Francisco. The Haight is where you live if you like gutter punks and tourists who decide that they needed an overpriced novelty bong and tie-dyed apparel to take back to Omaha. There’s awesome access to Golden Gate and other parks while being able to live in a slightly more sunny spot than the ironically named Sunset.


Here be gay and if you are a fellow who likes the fellows, here be your home when coming out West. Also, if you’re a hetero girl who has dating issues, here be your home as well. Lesbians? I don’t know what to tell you other than to move to Oakland and get a couple of dogs. Of course, to call the Castro a neighborhood is kinda weird because if you take one step too far one way or another, you’ll be in a completely different neighborhood. And really, much like thinking Haight = 420, it’s true that SF = gay and you so you don’t need to go to this fishbowl of daily dude ass parades to get yourself some gay.

And that’s sorta it for newcomers in this town (no, despite what everyone says, 800,000 residents is not “the city”). Sure, there are a slew of other neighborhoods, but people seem to land in these the most. Of course, nowhere is cheap. You need to be ready to plunk down the cash for a decent apartment in a choice neighborhood, so just in case that $100k a year job from Twitter seems amazing, you’ll probably be coughing up a huge chunk of that to the likes of CitiApartments, Hawthorne-Stone, Hill, or one of the other property owners who fix the rents citywide.

4 Replies to “The New Arrivals’ Guide to San Francisco Neighborhoods”

  1. I was on the fence about putting it in, but I’ve found that generally it isn’t one of those neighborhoods that people first land in, it’s kinda secondary once they’re been in SF for six months or a year.

  2. Awesome post, I like the “places you’re most likely to first land in” approach, because I’m moving to SF in a few days and most posts are *too* comprehensive in their coverage. I’m planning to drop into a 1-month sublet somewhere whilst I get a feel for the place and then commit to something longer term. Thanks again, you’ve really helped me narrow it down.

  3. This is so spot on from all I’ve learned after moving here 8 months ago! Another neighborhood, and the one I chose to live in, is NoPa. I just finished a photoblog of the NoPa for those of you who want to get a better idea of what it looks like!

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