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San Francisco Marina & Cow Hollow Neighborhoods

Discover the Top Attractions in These SF Neighborhoods

The San Francisco Marina is a beautiful neighborhood along the bay. Here you will find popular attractions such as access to the Golden Gate Bridge, Crissy Field and the Palace of Fine Arts. It's also home to the Exploratorium, some great shopping and a wide variety of restaurants.

The history of this neighborhood is fascinating. For years, this area was just marsh or swamp land. However, it was selected as the site for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. Shortly after its selection, they built up the land to create a large area for the exposition. They built several large, but temporary buildings in the neighborhood.

san francisco marina

The picture above is of the only building still standing after the exposition. It too was slated to be torn down, but decided to keep it because it was so beautiful. The expo team did some work on it to extend its life which is why it still stands today.

Because most of the San Francisco Marina is on landfill, it received quite a bit of damage during the 1989 earthquake. If you've seen the pictures of collapsed buildings from this earthquake, they were probably of buildings in this neighborhood.

After the earthquake, the neighborhood rebuilt and is as strong as ever. This is one of my favorite neighborhoods because of its beauty and proximity to the water.

Top Activities and Attractions

Crissy Field: Soak In The Views Along The Waterfront

Along the northern side of the San Francisco Marina is Crissy Field. Here you will find one of the largest beaches in San Francisco. You will also find a running/walking trail and a large grassy area that is perfect for a game of football or to throw around a frisbee with friends. This is also where you can find some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito.


Fort Mason Center: Enjoy Local Festivals & Other Events

Fort Mason is old army base in San Francisco. In 1977, they remodeled the old buildings for large events. Fort Mason now holds some of the largest festivals and events in the city of San Francisco. They host international events such as the annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. They also hold local events such as OctoberFest and the Annual Public Library Book Sale. There is something fun and interesting almost every weekend at the Fort Mason Center.

Learn More: Fort Mason Event Calendar


Fort Point: Discover This Little Known, Important Historical Site

Fort Point is another old army base along the shores of the San Francisco Bay. This one is important due to its location right under the Golden Gate Bridge. It's also one of the oldest buildings in San Francisco. This free site is a must see for history buffs -- especially those that love military history.

Learn More: Fort Point National Historic Site


Golden Gate Bridge: Stroll Along One of the Most Famous Attractions

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most visited San Francisco attractions. You can walk, bike or drive over this infamous bridge. You will find 'look out' points on both the northern and southern sides of the bridge for that picture perfect view.

Learn More: Golden Gate Bridge History & Visiting Tips

Another way to see the Golden Gate Bridge is by taking a city tour. The San Francisco Deluxe Half Day Tour gives you a chance to ride over the bridge. You will also get a photo opportunity of the bridge at Vista Point. In addition, you will ride through Golden Gate Park and get amazing views of the city from Twin Peaks.

More Details & Booking Info: SF Deluxe Half Day Tour


Octagon House: See This Uniquely Shaped Historical House

The Octagon House is another quick stop in the San Francisco Marina. This old, octagon house was built in 1861. It fell into disrepair over the years, but a local non-profit bought and restored it. You can now visit the house and it's extensive collection of Colonial and Federal decorative arts three times a month.

More: Tips to Visit the Octagon House


Palace of Fine Arts: Visit A Piece of History

One of my favorite attractions in the San Francisco Marina is the Palace of Fine Arts. This free attraction is the only building still standing from the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915. Stop by to see the detail on the outside of this building and learn more about its history.

Learn More: Panama Pacific Exposition & Palace of Fine Arts


Union Street: Shop Til You Drop

If you plan on spending some of your time shopping, then I recommend heading over to Union Street in the San Francisco Marina. Dozens of small, unique shops line up on both sides of the street. Here you will find national and international favorites such as Sephora, Z Gallerie and Nine West. You'll find most of the shops between Franklin Street and Steiner Street.

Learn More: Additional Shopping Options in SF


Union Street Festival: Mingle With the Locals

The Union Street Festival is one of the largest street festivals in San Francisco. This event is held the first weekend in June each year. Over two days, you will find hundreds of arts and crafts booths. In addition, there are over a dozen different food vendors and a couple of stages with live music. The event also has a large eco-friendly area with green exhibitors, businesses and other educational materials. It's a fun way to spend a few hours while visiting the San Francisco Marina district.

Learn More: San Francisco Festivals


Walking Tours: Explore The Neighborhood On Foot

Another great way to learn about this neighborhood is by joining one of the free walking tours. The San Francisco public library gives several guided walking tours in the neighborhood. They range from a tour of the Palace of Fine Arts to a historic tour of the Art Deco buildings in the neighborhood.

Tours & Schedules: San Francisco Marina Walking Tours

Best Restaurants

The majority of the restaurants in the San Francisco Marina are on or near Union and Chestnut Streets. You will find everything from grab and go options to higher end, sit down restaurants. Here are just some of my favorites.

  • A16: An Italian restaurant with amazing food and a great wine list - dinner only, $$$, 2355 Chestnut Street

  • Betelnut: Trendy Asian Fusion restaurant - lunch & dinner, $$, 2030 Union Street

  • Causwells: Casual American restaurant and bar with great shareable items on their menu, $$, 2346 Chestnut Street

  • Mamacita: Mexican restaurant with some of the best tacos and enchiladas in town, they also have some great cocktails to compliment their dishes, $$, 2317 Chestnut Street

  • Pacific Catch: Casual seafood restaurant with a Pacific Rim twist, perfect for lunch or dinner - $$, 2027 Chestnut Street

Best Bars

You will also find a high concentration of bars along both Union Street (between Franklin and Steiner Streets) and Chestnut Street (between Fillmore and Divisadero Streets). Most of the bars in the San Francisco Marina draw a young crowd that likes to live it up on the weekends.

  • Balboa Cafe: Young crowd, usually packed on weekend nights, great drink specials - 3199 Fillmore Street

  • Bus Stop: Young crowd and a fun place to grab a drink - 1901 Union Street

  • Final Final: An old sports pub, the perfect place to catch a game - 2990 Baker Street

  • Horseshoe Tavern: A small dive bar in the heart of the Marina - 2024 Chestnut Street

  • Nectar Wine Lounge: One of the best wine bars in the neighborhood - 3330 Steiner Street

  • The Blue Light: Great drinks and a lively atmosphere - 1979 Union Street

Hotels & Motels

Many of the hotels in this neighborhood are two star hotels or motels. Although most people opt to stay in either Fishermans Wharf or Union Square, here you will find many hotels where your parking is included. Although the hotels here don't have a lot of amenities, they are worth a look if you are on a tight budget and/or have a car.

hotel del solHotel Del Sol
3100 Webster Street, San Francisco
two star hotel

The Hotel Del Sol is one of the best hotel/motels in this neighborhood. It is bright and cheery both on the inside and out. The decor is vibrant and colorful -- almost beachy.

You will find some very basic amenities at this family oriented hotel including a heated outdoor pool and a simple breakfast. It's a great value because the parking is included.

High Season Average: $210 | Low Season Average: $190

Find the best deal on this hotel on Booking.com: Hotel Del Sol


travel lodge san franciscoTravelodge at the Presidio San Francisco
2755 Lombard Street, San Francisco
two star hotel

Another great value in this neighborhood is the Travelodge at the Presidio. This two star hotel/motel is on the western side of the San Francisco Marina district - just a few blocks from the Presidio.

Their amenities include a simple breakfast and a business center with printing and internet access. They allow pets with a small deposit and parking is free.

High Season Average: $190 | Low Season Average: $130

Find the best deals on this hotel on Booking.com: Travelodge

More Recommendations: San Francisco Motels | Other Budget Friendly Hotels

How to Get Here

From Fishermans Wharf: Fishermans Wharf is about a mile away from the eastern side of the San Francisco Marina. There are quite a few options for getting between these two neighborhoods.

  • Bus: The 30 Stockton takes you directly to the San Francisco Marina. Pick it up at North Point and Hyde Streets in Fishermans Wharf. This bus drives along Chestnut Street, so you can exit at or any stop after the Fillmore Street stop. This will take you about 10 minutes.

  • Car: If you are driving, it's an easy five to 10 minute drive from Fishermans Wharf. Find parking garages in Fishermans Wharf.

  • Taxi: A taxi will cost around $10 and take about 5 to 10 minutes.

  • Walk: My favorite option is to walk along the water from Fishermans Wharf to the San Francisco Marina. It isn't the most direct route, but is the most beautiful. There is a sidewalk the entire way, with a small, but steep uphill section right before you get to the Fort Mason Center. For fewer hills, take Bay Street to Fillmore Street -- from there you can turn right and head to the waterfront or turn left to head deeper into the neighborhood.

From Union Square: It takes a little longer to get from the Union Square neighborhood over to the San Francisco Marina. However, you will find several options.

  • Bus: You can take either the 45 Union or the 30 Stockton. Both pick up at a stop on Stockton Street between Bush and Sutter Streets. Both will take you just under 30 minutes. The 45 drops all along Union Street (the northern end of the neighborhood), while the 30 Stockton drops all along Chestnut Street (the southern end of the neighborhood).

  • Car: This is another option and parking here is hit or miss. There are a few garages that are free or you can look for a spot on the street. It should only take about 20 minutes to get to the Marina from Union Square.

  • Taxi: A taxi will also take about 15 minutes and will cost anywhere from $15 to $25 -- depending on your pick up and drop off point. This is an easy option, but not the most cost effective.

Hop On/Hop Off: You will also find a pick up/drop off point in the San Francisco Marina for the Hop On/Hop Off bus. You can purchase either the one day or two day pass (although at times you can get the two day pass for the price of the one day pass). There are twenty stops around San Francisco and its a great way to get to know the city on one of your first days here. Stop 2 is the best stops to use to explore this neighborhood. Learn more about how to book the Hop On/Hop Off Tour.

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