San Francisco Neighborhoods: Top Things to Do & See in SF's Top Districts

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Each of the San Francisco neighborhoods offers a unique vibe with plenty of fun things to do. Top picks for those visiting include Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, and Union Square. 

A few other places you might want to explore include Haight-Ashbury, North Beach, and Alamo Square. You will find a different experience in each one! 

Discover tips for visiting each SF district including top attractions, museums, and activities. You will also find some tips on where to stay, what to eat and what's happening at night.

San Francisco Neighborhoods

Disclaimer: I receive a small commission from some of the links on this page.

Alamo Square

Though Alamo Square is one of the relatively quiet residential San Francisco neighborhoods, it gets many visitors each day precisely for its beautiful homes.

It's from the park on the hill in this district that you can view the "Seven Sisters," the famous row of Painted Lady Victorians perched in front of the stunning SF skyline in the background.

You'll find Alamo Square just west of Hayes Valley, about halfway between Civic Center and Golden Gate Park. The main attraction, the park, is flanked by Fulton, Steiner, Hayes, and Scott Streets. 

>> Learn more about visiting Alamo Square

Bernal Heights

Bernal Heights is a quiet, residential San Francisco neighborhood, perfect for a little escape from the bustling city life. People come here for the nice selection of local shops and restaurants, and to hike up to the grassland on top of Bernal Heights Hill for great views and a taste of nature.

Bernal Heights is located on the south side of San Francisco, just south of the Mission District. It's easily accessible from Highway 101 or 280. 

>> More about visiting

San Francisco Neighborhoods: The Castro

The Castro is known for being SF's colorful gay district. It has a strong LGBT community, and was the home of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official who was tragically assassinated in 1978.

Highlights include the historic Castro Theater, the GLBT Museum, and fantastic restaurants, bars, and clubs.

The Castro district is located at the southwest end of Market Street. It sits west of the Mission District and north of Noe Valley. It's part of the larger Eureka Valley area.

>> Visit the Castro


San Francisco Chinatown, home to the oldest and largest Chinese population in the US, is known as a 'city within a city' because it's packed with Chinese stores, markets, restaurants, temples, and everything this community needs to thrive.

Tourist highlights include visiting the fortune cookie factory, eating traditional dim sum, and bargain hunting.

Chinatown is one of the easiest San Francisco neighborhoods to get to, as it's just north of the popular Union Square shopping area, and just south of North Beach (SF's Little Italy). You can walk, bus, or take a cable car here. 

>> What to see & do in Chinatown

Fun Chinatown Tours

Civic Center 

Statue Outside City Hall

San Francisco's Civic Center district is not only centrally located, but also the center of lots of activity. Here, you'll find the beautiful gold-domed City Hall, the renowned Asian Art Museum, and the best venues to watch a theater, ballet, symphony, or opera performance.

Civic Center is bordered by Hayes Valley to the west and downtown/Union Square to the east. Sandwiched between Market Street and Van Ness Avenue, you can easily get here by BART, light rail, or bus from any direction. 

>> More on what to see and do in the Civic Center district

Cow Hollow

Cow Hollow is a small neighborhood right next to the Marina and Pacific Heights. It's a great place to do some shopping at boutique stores and grab a bite to eat.

It's also a fun nightlife destination for the younger crowds. You can stop at some old school SF bars and spend some time with the locals. 

Cow Hollow is also home to the only octagon house in SF that you can visit.

>> Learn more about visiting Cow Hollow

Dogpatch District

The Dogpatch District is a new, hip district to visit. This old warehouse district offers some great local art, tasty craft brews, and some wonderful places to eat. It's just to the south of Mission Bay.

Some of my favorites here in the Minnesota Street Project, Harmonic Brewing, and the Museum of Craft and Design. If you are looking for a place that is away from some of the crowds, then check out the Dogpatch.

>> More about what there is to see and do here

Downtown San Francisco

The downtown area is a combination of districts including the Financial District, Union Square and parts of both Chinatown and South of Market. This is where you will find the heart of the city and it's a wonderful place to stay and spend time on your visit.

Top things to do here include shopping, museums, tours, and so much more. The Union Square and Financial Districts together offer a large concentration of hotels from smaller boutiques to larger, well known brands such as Marriott, Hilton and Four Seasons. 

>> Find out more about what there is to see and do in downtown San Francisco


This area runs along Embarcadero Street on the eastern end of San Francisco. This area is a flat street between Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf and Oracle Park. 

You will find plenty of things to see and do here including cruises, restaurants, and museums. Some of my top picks include the Exploratorium, Pier 24 and watching the SF Giants play at Oracle Park.

>> Find a list of all of the best things to see and do along the Embarcadero

Financial District

The Financial District is the heart of downtown SF, home to several Fortune 500 companies and recognizable skyscrapers like the Transamerica Pyramid. This area offers tourists the Wells Fargo Museum, excellent restaurants, convenient hotels, and the exhilarating feeling of being in a big city.

The Financial District is conveniently located just east of the Union Square shopping and dining district. To the north are Chinatown and North Beach, and to the east is the Embarcadero waterfront. 

>> Learn more about this district and what there is to see and do

Hop On Hop Off: One of the best ways to visit several San Francisco neighborhoods is on the Hop On Hop Off bus. These tours allow you to jump off and explore each district on your own. You then get back on to explore attractions on its other stops. Find tour availability here.

Fisherman's Wharf & Pier 39

Crab at the Entrance to Pier 39

Fisherman's Wharf is a hub of activities and attractions on the waterfront. From here you can catch the ferry to Alcatraz or Angel Island, eat world-famous clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, shop at Ghirardelli Square and Pier 39, and visit various small museums.

Fisherman's Wharf is located along the waterfront on the northwest side of the city, right between North Beach and the Aquatic Park. It's a great area to stay in, and easy to reach by cable car or the F streetcar

>> List of things to do in Fisherman's Wharf

Best Cruises from Fisherman's Wharf

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is not one of the San Francisco neighborhoods, but it's certainly as big as one! With over 1,000 acres of green meadows, trails, a lake, and gardens, this park really allows you to immerse yourself in nature in the middle of the city.

It's also home to world-class museums like the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Fine Arts Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the Conservatory of Flowers.

You'll find Golden Gate Park on the west end of SF, stretching 50 city blocks all the way from Ocean Beach to Stanyan Street. It is bordered by the Richmond District to the north and the Sunset District to the south, where the residential streets are named Avenues 2 through 48.

>> Get skip the line tickets for the California Academy of Sciences

>> Ideas on what to see in Golden Gate Park


During the 1950s and 60s, the Haight-Ashbury became the famous hippie neighborhood of SF, and was home to bands like the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane. Today you'll find that psychedelic vibe very much alive as you walk the district's streets lined with Victorians of all different colors, funky shops, and great restaurants. 

The Haight-Ashbury is located in the geographic center of the city. It's bordered by Golden Gate Park to the west, the "Panhandle" (a small strip of park extending from GG Park) to the north, the Lower Haight district to the east, and Cole Valley to the south.

>> The Haight District

Hayes Valley

Hayes Valley is one of the new hot districts in San Francisco. It's the perfect spot for dinner or to do a little boutique shopping. It's also home to the SF Jazz Center with jazz most nights of the week. 

The Civic Center is its neighbor to the east with lots of performing arts options. Just a few blocks to the west is the Alamo Square District. You will find most of the action in this district along Hayes near Gough.

>> More things to do in this SF district

Top 10 Districts: Discover a list of my 10 favorites! Click here to learn more.


Though not as big as Chinatown, San Francisco's Japantown, the oldest in the country, is just as wonderful of a cultural experience. Here you can eat authentic Japanese food, catch a movie at the Kabuki Theater, relax in the Peace Pagoda, and enjoy the traditional Cherry Blossom Festival during the spring.

Japantown is a relatively small neighborhood tucked away near Lower Pacific Heights and the Fillmore District. You will need to drive or take a bus here. 

>> More on what to do in Japantown

The Marina

The Marina is a trendy district that has a lot of history. Its most famous attraction, the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts, is a relic of the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition, which transformed this neighborhood from the marsh land it was before. Now you'll find lots of boutique shops and excellent restaurants and bars, as well as the Fort Mason Center, which hosts large events and festivals.

The Marina is located in the north of San Francisco, right along the bay next to the Presidio. It's a quick walk west from Fisherman's Wharf, or you can drive or bus here from the rest of the city. From here you can walk east along a trail to access the Golden Gate Bridge.

>> More activities and visiting details

The Mission

Mural in the Mission District

The Mission is one of the liveliest San Francisco neighborhoods, with its colorful murals, ethnic diversity, and hot bars and restaurants. It is known for its Mexican and Latin American food and culture, and historically it is an important site from the Spanish rule of this area (hence the Mission San Francisco de Asis).

The Mission District is located in the southern part of the city, a few blocks south of the Civic Center, and bordered by the Castro and Noe Valley to the west. It's known for being one of the warmer, sunnier parts of SF, making its Dolores Park (part of its sub-district Mission Dolores) the perfect place to catch some rays and enjoy views of downtown.

>> What to see and do in The Mission

Nob Hill

At the turn of the century, Nob Hill began as a wealthy neighborhood with prominent mansions that overlooked the city. Today it is home to several high-end hotels, including the historic Fairmont and the Mark Hopkins, which are fun to visit.

You can also step into the beautiful Gothic and stained-glass Grace Cathedral, the largest church in SF. 

Nob Hill is bordered by Chinatown to the east and Russian Hill to the north. You can take the cable car here from either Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf.

>> Top options in Nob Hill

Noe Valley

Noe Valley, sometimes nicknamed "Stroller Valley," is one of the quieter, quainter San Francisco neighborhoods, home to many young professionals and families. People come here to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and to enjoy upscale shopping and dining.

Noe Valley sits just west of the Mission District and south of the Castro. Like the Mission, it is also one of the sunnier and warmer parts of the city. You can drive or take the bus to get here.

>> Learn more about what there is to see and do here

North Beach

SF's North Beach is also known as Little Italy, and as you can guess, it's brimming with Italian culinary delights. In addition, it's also home to comedy clubs, great bars and cafes, and beautiful street art.

Take a stroll to admire Saints Peter and Paul Church at Washington Square Park or do a little shopping.

North Beach is located between Columbus Avenue and the waterfront in the northeast corner of the city. If you follow the Embarcadero along the bay from the Ferry Building, you'll hit North Beach right before the Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood. To the west is Russian Hill, and to the south is Chinatown. 

>> Find even more to do in North Beach

Best Hotel Deals Around San Francisco

Are you looking for some deals at hotels in the best San Francisco neighborhoods? Check out the options below to read recent guest reviews and select the best hotel at the best price.

BookingFind great deals all around San Francisco for your upcoming stay

TripAdvisorWhat's the #1 hotel in San Francisco? Read reviews & find hotel deals on TripAdvisor!

VRBO: In addition to hotels, you'll also find some great places to stay locally through VRBO. Book an apartment or a room and feel more like a local. Find some great places to stay on VRBO here

Pacific Heights

Pacific Heights is one of the less visited San Francisco neighborhoods, but offers some of the quintessential SF scenes you see in movies. All up and down the hilly streets of this district, you'll find gorgeous Victorian homes from the 1800s with stunning views of the bay.

Check out the huge mansions on Billionaire's Row, which is where many famous people own houses.

Pac Heights is located just east of the Presidio and south of the Marina. It can easily be reached by car, or by taking a bus to Fillmore Street.

>> Top options around Pacific Heights

Potrero Hill

Potrero Hill is another quiet residential neighborhood known for its hills, sunny weather, and views of the SF skyline from the south. It was once a working-class neighborhood, but with the gentrification of the Bay Area tech boom, it has become a popular area to live for commuters, as it has a Caltrain station and is close to the highways going out of SF.

Potrero Hill is on the southeast side of San Francisco. To the west is the Mission District, to the north is SoMa, and to the east is the bay. 

>> Learn more about this district


The Presidio is a great area to visit for those who love nature and military history. The whole district is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and contains miles of hiking and biking trails, two beaches with views of the bridge, a high-end golf course, and one of the largest military cemeteries on the west coast.

Here you will also find the Walt Disney Museum. 

The Presidio is the northern district from which the Golden Gate Bridge crosses over to Sausalito. To its east lies the Marina District, to the south the residential Richmond District, and to the north and west, the bay.

You can take the free PresidiGo shuttle to more than 20 different stops within the district.

>> My favorite things to do in the Presidio


The Richmond District is a residential neighborhood with an ethnically diverse population. It is sometimes referred to as the "second Chinatown" or "new Chinatown" with its plentiful supply of highly praised Chinese restaurants, but it also has Irish and Russian roots, with many Catholic and Orthodox churches. 

The Richmond is located in the northwest corner of SF, sandwiched between Golden Gate Park to the south, the Presidio to the north, and the Pacific coast to the west. Its two main strips of shopping and dining are on Clement Street and on Geary Boulevard. 

The Richmond is made up of a few sub-districts including the Inner Richmond, the Outer Richmond, Lake Street, Little Russia, and Vista del Mar.

>> More tips to visit the Richmond District

Russian Hill 

Russian Hill and Lombard Street

Russian Hill is one of the highest San Francisco neighborhoods, giving it great views of the city and the bay. A result of the steep hills, this is where you'll find the famously crooked Lombard Street. You'll also find a great selection of restaurants and the Cable Car Museum.

Russian Hill neighbors North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf, two of the most popular tourist areas. It's easy and fun to get to, as the Powell/Hyde cable car runs right through it, offering spectacular views from up high. 

>> More to see and do in this SF district

Sunset District

The Sunset District is the largest and most populous district in San Francisco. It is known for its superb restaurants and proximity to Golden Gate Park.

The Sunset is often referred to as "The Avenues" because its north-south streets are named Avenue 1 through 48, ascending in number as you approach Ocean Beach at its west end. Bordering the Sunset to the north is Golden Gate Park.

It's also often split into to sub-districts: the Inner Sunset and the Outer Sunset.

>> Learn more about what you will find here

South of Market (SoMa)

Once an area of mostly warehouses and night clubs, the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood has been gentrifying since the dot-com boom and now contains loft-style condominiums, restaurants and bars, several tech companies, and Oracle Park.

In this neighborhood, you can visit the SF Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of African Diaspora, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Children's Creativity Museum.

South Beach and China Basin are two sub-districts within the SoMa area. 

As the name suggests, this triangular neighborhood is bordered to the northwest by Market Street, to the east by the SF Bay, and to the south by the Mission District and Potrero Hill. The Caltrain terminal is located in this district near Oracle Park.

>> Details on what to see and do here

Telegraph Hill

This neighborhood is the residential area surrounding Telegraph Hill, upon which Coit Tower sits as a lookout. Tourists come here to hike up the Filbert stairs lining the garden-covered hill, admire the flock of wild parrots that have made their home here, and enjoy the views of the bay and city.

Telegraph Hill sits near the bay between North Beach and the Embarcadero. Chinatown is to the southwest. You can drive or take Muni up the hill to the entrance of Coit Tower.

>> More about visiting Telegraph Hill

Theater District

Though not one of the official San Francisco neighborhoods, the SF Theater District is where you go to see a Broadway musical, a new drama or comedy, or an opera. This area is home to more than two dozen theaters and drama companies, ranging from large and historic to small and independent.

The Theater District encompasses the area between Union Square, the Tenderloin, and the Civic Center. It is very centrally located and a great place for catching public transit, dining, and lodging. 

>> More details about this district

Union Square

Union Square Hearts

The Union Square District lies at the heart of the urban center and is packed full of brand name stores, restaurants, bars, and hotels. The plaza itself is a large gathering place that offers music festivals during the summer months and ice skating during the holidays as an outdoor reprieve from all the commercial buzz. 

Union Square sits north of Market Street between the Financial District and the Civic Center. This is where you can watch the cable cars turn around, hop on, and head north to other San Francisco neighborhoods such as Chinatown or Fisherman's Wharf.

You also have lots more public transit options from here.

>> More details about visiting Union Square

Other San Francisco Neighborhoods

Ashbury Heights | Corona Heights | Divisadero Street

Duboce Triangle | Glen Park | Golden Gate Heights

Mid-Market | Lower Nob Hill | Sunnyside

Neighborhoods in San Francisco: Tips to Visit and Things to Do in Each One

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