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Getting Oriented in San Francisco

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San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has its own microclimate and local culture. There are so many neighborhoods that it would be more disorienting than orienting to list them all. Here are a few highlights, in alpha order:

The Castro
Castro Street, the center of the Castro district, is noted on the map above. It's a lively area, noted for its GLBT scene. The Castro Theater is probably the city's best movie theater. Get there via the K, L, or M MUNI. [top of page]

San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest in the U.S. The city was the nation's origninal gateway to Asia. Chinatown remains a vital commercial area, although the Clement Street area in the Richmond district has the city's largest Asian community today. Chinatown Residents congregate at Portsmouth Square to play cards of Chinese chess. [top of page]

Civic Center
The area around City Hall is one of the best beaux arts districts in the country. It is also a cultural center, boasting the Symphony, Opera, and Asian Art Museum. It also has a large homeless population, and often one must step over piles of trash on the way to the upscale cultural venues. There is a Bart and MUNI station at UN Plaza. Visit the Asian Art Museum. [top of page]

Not exactly a neighborhood, but a landmark nonethless. By "Embarcadero" San Franciscan's usually mean the area along the piers from around Ferry Building, perhaps extending down to the ballpark, and continuing up to Pier 39 and North Beach. [top of page]

Financial District
Many residents decry the "Manhattanization" of San Francisco, by which they refer to the high-rise office buildings clustered between the Embarcadero and Union Square. During the day there is a lot of bustle in the district, and there are places to shop and eat. But the office workers tend to commute in from outside the city, contributing to the Bay Area's terrible traffic congestion, and in the evening, after they've gone back home, the area is usually as dead as a ghost town. [top of page]

The Haight runs parallel to the Panhandle, extending approximately from Fillmore Street to Golden Gate Park. There are restaurants and places to shop — Amoeba Records is the city's best record shop — but parking is a problem. Best to get there on the N Judah streetcar line if you can. [top of page]

Marina/Cow Hollow
The Marina district runs from the Union/Green Street area to Fort Mason. It's at the north end of the city. Fisherman's Wharf and Aquatic Park are to the east, the Presidio to the West, and Pacific Height to the south. It offers good views and access to the bay and the Golden Gate. Fort Mason is a quintessential San Francisco destination; the Zen Center restaurant, Greens, is an excellent lunch destination. Union Street is a sort of swinging strip for yuppies. The the west of the district is the Palace of Fine Arts, left over from the 1915 world's fair. The Marina Green, a pleasant grassy strip full of dogs and kites, stretch from there to Fort Mason. Cow Hollow is the part of the Marina centered around the Octogon House by Union along Union Street. This whole area is built on landfill and suffered some of the worst damage in the Loma
Prieto earthquake. [top of page]

The Mission
The heart of the Mission district is Mission Dolores, the city's oldest building, at 16th Street and Dolores Avenue. The Mission is a largely latino region, with ethic markets, good cafes and restaurants, and the city's best weather, where one goes for sunshine during the city's long foggy chills. [top of page]

North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf
North Beach, between Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf, was once actually on the beach, but with the in-filling of the bay, it's a good hike from the water now. Dotted with Italian cafes, restaurants, and delis, it retains its traditional Italian flavor, despite intrusions from Chinatown. Columbus Avenue is the main thoroughfare, served by the number 30 bus. City Lights bookstore is a landmark.

Fisherman's Wharf lies to the north of North Beach. Residents sneer at it, but, face it, you're going to go there. And why not? It's really not so bad, and with the right attitude you will have a good time. [top of page]

Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights
Hoity-toity and hilly, this is a good place to check out how the upper crust lives. [top of page]

Potrero Hill
Bordering the Mission and SoMa, this is a mostly unspoiled residential district with some nice neighbor shopping areas and good views of downtown. [top of page]

The Richmond
The Richmond district lies between the Presidio and Golden Gate Park. You can get to the park on the 5 Fulton bus, where runs through some neighbors with good examples of Victorian houses. At the west end of the Richmond is Cliff House, with a restaurant and a good view of the Pacific. [top of page]

The last decade or two has seen a lot of development south of Market Street. SFMOMA and the Convention Center are in this area. Most of the city's club scene is in SoMa, centered on Folsom and Harrison Streets. [top of page]

The Sunset
The often-foggy Sunset district lies south of Golden Gate Park. There is a lively commercial district centering on Ninth Avenue and Irving. This is a good approach to the park: take the N Judah to Ninth and walk north from there. [top of page]

The Tenderloin
The Tenderloin is bounded by Geary, Polk, Taylor and Market Streets. The theater district is on Geary Street in this area. The district has a bad reputation, largely earned, but it is reasonably safe until late at night. [top of page]

Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks are the large hills west of the Castro that separate the downtown from the western parts of the city. They offer the best city vista. Not especially well served by public transit, they are best reached by car or taxi. (Or, for urban hikers not afraid of a long healthy climb, by foot.) [top of page]

Union Square
Union Square is the heart of the downtown shopping district. The square itself was redone in 2002. The result is a bit underwhelming as urban landscaping, and yet it has surprisingly successful at creating a more relaxed environment for people to hand out. (For a time the square had been a black market hang-out, since was planted with large shrubs that were convenient for ducking into to conduct deals.) [top of page]


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Civic Center
Cow Hollow
Financial District
Fisherman's Wharf
Haight Ashbury
North Beach
Pacific Heights
Presidio Heights
Potrero Hill
Twin Peaks
Union Square

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