More than an entrepreneur’s paradise: 10 places to explore in San Francisco
San Francisco may be synonymous with startups and entrepreneurs, but there’s a lot more that the City by the Bay is known for. Spread out over just seven miles, the city packs a punch when it comes to cultures, ethnicities, traditions, and lifestyles.
One of America’s most diverse metros, San Francisco can be what you want it to be. It has many facets, and is known for its residential districts, hippie remnants, skyscraper sites, Asian settlements, scenic locales, gay communities, culinary delights, natural hotspots and art venues, all of which, combine to create a multi-layered whole.
And while there are many must-see attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Twin Peaks, the real San Francisco can be seen in its many diverse neighbourhoods.
We give you the lowdown on the 10 neighbourhoods you must explore to discover what makes San Francisco tick:
Home to the largest Asian community in North America, San Francisco’s Chinatown is a cornucopia of interesting sights. Set against a hilly backdrop and replete with winding alleys, it offers a variety of foods, plenty of history and shopping. The neighbourhood is actually split into two – Grant Avenue is basically Chinatown for tourists; Stockton Street is for the locals. Walk through Dragon Gate and explore the many trinket stores at Grant Avenue. Visit the Chinese Cultural Centre to take in an exhibition or two and get your fortune cookies to-go at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company.
Must-do: Have a round of dimsums at Great Eastern Restaurant, one of President Obama’s picks.
One of the most popular neighborhoods, Fisherman’s Wharf gets its name from the city’s early days when Italian immigrant fishermen came to the City by the Bay to make the most of the influx after the gold rush. Start your day with an ample breakfast at Eagle Café, a 1920s longshoremen’s haunt, and order the Dungeness crab benedict. Visit the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park to view historic ships. Breathe in the salt air on a cruise around San Francisco Bay and take in the sights and spectacular skyline.
Must-do: Visit Alcatraz, once a military and later a federal prison, and walk around the eerie old cells. If you like spooky, opt for the night tour.
Also called the Haight and The Upper Haight, Haight-Ashbury is known as the birthplace of hippie subculture. Visit Alamo Square, where the famed “postcard row” – Victorian houses set against downtown skyscrapers – create a picture-postcard appeal. The corner where the Haight and Ashbury streets intersect showcases its “flower power” origins – look around for interesting vintage clothing, books, records and bric-a-brac. Take a walk in Buena Vista Park and enjoy the architectural splendor of the Masonic, Delmar and Piedmont Streets. Take a break with your favourite cup of java at Peet’s Coffee & Tea.
Must-do: Sign up for the Haight Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour and don’t forget to stop off at the Whole Foods Market.
Japantowns came into existence following the widespread immigration of Japanese to the United States between 1868 and 1912. San Francisco’s Japantown is the oldest of the only three Japantowns that now exist in the United States. Red banners with cherry blossoms and the Peace Pagoda create a Japan-like atmosphere in the middle of the bustling city. Visit the many galleries and explore events to get a taste of Japanese culture. Try Japanese cuisine including sushi, Japan’s most popular culinary export; Manju, a rice confection, Shabu-Shabu, a meat and vegetable hotpot; and matcha, a green tea beverage.
Must-do: Book an appointment at Kabuki Springs & Spas, one of the only Japan-style osentos in the United States. Enjoy Japanese bathing, followed by a Shiatsu massage.
There’s no better place to view the San Francisco Bay than from a California Street cable car going down Nob Hill, formerly home to the upper crust and beau monde. The nabobs - silver kings and railroad barons – took Nob Hill for their own and left behind many architectural legacies. Visit the Grace Cathedral, a replica of Notre Dame in Paris; Huntington Park, where art shows are now held; and Nob Hill Masonic Center, used now to host musical events.
Explore the machinery that keeps the motor-less museum pieces in motion at Cable Car Barn & Museum. Nob Hill has many beautiful structures masquerading as ritzy hotels: the 596-room Fairmont Hotel and Tower, the Renaissance Stanford Court, Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental Hotel, the Huntington Hotel and Ritz-Carlton.
Must-do: Take a walk down Lombard Street, said to be “the crookedest street in the world.”
If San Francisco is the gay capital of the world, the Castro is its heart. One of the first gay neighbourhoods in the United States, the Castro is one of the hotspots of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activism. Rainbow flags can be spotted in numerous apartment windows and at bar/restaurant entrances.
This is the neighbourhood where half a million people party in the street on the last Sunday in June as part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Parade. Walk around the Castro using the Rainbow Walk map. Don’t miss the historic Rainbow Honor walk, 20 golden plaques cemented along the main Castro as a tribute to key influencers in the movement for liberation and equality.
Must-do: Sign up for a unique local-led walking tour to discover the Castro’s secrets. Try Cruisin’ The Castro or Explore San Francisco.
This diverse neighborhood, home to the decommissioned Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, is essentially a residential settlement. But The Point – said to be “America’s largest artist colony” – has put Bayview in the spotlight. Visit the Bayview Opera House for an initiation into the world of opera and take in scenic views of the city at Bayview Park.
If you would like to learn to kayak or windsurf, head to Candlestick Point State Recreation Area. Meander along the many trails and try your hand at pier fishing at India Basin Shoreline Park. Don’t miss the Quesada Garden, a landmark community open space where a community project turned one of the most dangerous corridors in San Francisco into a safe route. Enjoy a meal at Old Skool Café, a nonprofit 1940s-themed youth-run supper club where previously jailed young people learn job and life skills.
Must-do: Shop at SCRAP (Scroungers Center For Reusable Art Parts), a store set up 36 years ago to provide art resources for teachers. You’ll go berserk over the art and craft supplies.
San Francisco’s oldest neighborhood is home to some of the hottest and hippest new restaurants and galleries. Visit Mission Dolores, the eponymous former mission that now functions as a museum. Walk past and enjoy the many murals that embellish the Mission walls and fences. These murals, initiated by the Chicano Art Mural Movement of the 1970s, are inspired by traditional Mexican paintings.
Explore Potrero Hill’s Dogpatch neighborhood, one of 11 historic districts in the city and home to the second crookedest street in San Francisco. Don’t miss stopping at one of the many taquerías that offer localized Mexican food; you can’t go home without tasting a Mission burrito!
Must-do: Chocoholic or not, set off on the self-guided walking San Francisco Mission District chocolate tour. The 3-hour tour takes you over 2km and to seven San Francisco chocolate shops, factories, restaurants and cafes.
Also called The Fillmore, The Fill, The Moe or Fillmoe, Fillmore was the centre for jazz during the 1940s and 1950s. Then called "Harlem of the West", it attracted numerous jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Charlie "Bird" Parker. Explore the Jazz Heritage Center, a complex that delves into the history of jazz in the city. Visit some of San Francisco’s most historic churches such as Bethel A.M.E. Church, St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church and Third Baptist Church. On Saturdays, make time for the Fillmore Farmers Market to stock up on local produce and enjoy fresh treats.
Must-do: Jazz aficionados must plan their trip for the Fourth of July. The Fillmore Jazz Festival is a treat for the more than 100,000 revelers.
The central shopping, hotel, and theatre district of San Francisco is a shopaholic’s delight. Nearly every label you can think of is available and you could spend hours in the plaza. If you aren’t in the mood to shop, spend time at the landmark park in the heart of the district.
The square is the ceremonial “heart” of San Francisco – this is where public concerts, events, art shows, private parties, protests, and the annual Christmas tree and Menorah lighting happens. Apart from the shopping, the many hotels, inns and repertory, off-Broadway and single-act theaters have ensured that this neighborhood has a 24-hour character.
Must-do: Take home souvenirs and gifts from Gump’s, founded more than 150 years ago and said to be the best repository of fine jade, tableware and furniture.