15 Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco to Explore

The Sentinel Building in San Francisco California

Looking to hit up the best neighborhoods in San Francisco during your trip but not sure where to start? We got you, boo!

You’ll be in San Francisco, so you have tons of amazing options for things to see, do, eat, and take in one of the coolest cities in the country. In fact, I truly believe San Francisco is one of those cities that truly has its own identity and characteristics that just aren’t comparable to anywhere else in the world.

Planning a trip can be overwhelming though. With so many cool things to do in San Francisco, where do you even begin? That’s why we narrowed down a few of the best quintessential San Francisco neighborhoods to visit as well as a few others that are a little less touristy and still offer plenty to do, see, eat, and drink!

Oh, we also have a great San Francisco itinerary too, if you need a little extra help or suggestions while planning.

So without further ado, check out our roundup of the fun neighborhoods in San Francisco to explore as well as what each neighborhood is known for and a few attractions and not to be missed highlights of each area.

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San Francisco Neighborhoods You’ll Want to Visit

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman's Grotto in Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco California

When looking at the best neighborhoods in San Francisco, where else is there to start than with Fisherman’s Wharf? This bustling waterfront district on the north shore holds immense significance in the city’s history and culture. This iconic area offers a taste of classic maritime charm, plus modern entertainment.

Fisherman’s Wharf stands as one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, drawing visitors with its festive atmosphere and fun attractions. If you have time to only visit one neighborhood in San Francisco, this is definitely a top contender!

The neighborhood is known for its outstanding seafood, souvenir shops, and excellent bay views. All of this and more gives you a great feel for San Francisco’s coastal past and present.

You can get an iconic Boudin sourdough bread bowl with clam chowder at their flagship location or eat at any of the little eateries here. We really liked Sabella & La Torre for seafood!

Be sure to stop by the Musee Mecanique, a free museum and vintage mechanical arcade filled with antique games, automata, and coin-operated machines! You can exchange bills for coins to play many of these century-old games too! This is one of our absolute favorite things to do in Fisherman’s Wharf!

Strolling along the scenic promenade, Pier 39 where most people start when in Fisherman’s Wharf. This is a major hub of attractions located on an old pier. You can watch street performers and explore shops, restaurants, and all kinds of tourist attractions including more places to eat.

Ghirardelli Square is another must-visit when in the neighborhood. This is where the classic chocolate company started over 125 years ago! Make sure to pick up some of the famous chocolate while you’re here or one of their gooey, rich hot fudge sundaes.

And you can learn about the history of the wharf at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. With its breathtaking views of the bay, historic ships, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, Fisherman’s Wharf offers the perfect backdrop for exploring!

Union Square

If you’re into a lot of shopping, then the San Francisco neighborhood you want to head to is Union Square! This is the bustling commercial district that has a ton of brick-and-mortar retail stores as well as restaurants, not to mention you’re surrounded by entertainment. Union Square has something for everyone. It’s a great example of the diversity of neighborhoods in San Francisco.

But, above all else, Union Square is the city’s premier shopping hub. High-end boutiques and famous department stores line the streets, with household names like Macy’s, Gucci, Zara, and more. The area boasts a thriving nightlife, with theaters, elegant restaurants, and bars. It’s also where you’ll find a variety of luxury and boutique hotels.

Architecture fans can enjoy Union Square’s remarkable buildings, each of which adds to the striking look of the neighborhood. Wander through the historic Westin St. Francis Hotel, which has graced the city since 1904. Or marvel at the elegant Flood Building, an iconic Beaux-Arts masterpiece from the same era. And you’ll want to see the historic Macy’s Union Square, another significant San Francisco landmark.

Another of the neighborhood’s unique features is its central role as a transportation hub. The famous cable car turnaround at Powell and Market Streets is a must-see! Watching the cable cars make their dramatic turns is a quintessential San Francisco experience that captures the city’s charm and history. This is also a great place to hop on (if there’s not a huge, long line of course).

And if you’re looking for a centrally located neighborhood in San Francisco to stay in, Union Square is an excellent choice. We stayed at the Beacon Grand Hotel and not only is it located in a historically beautiful building with gorgeous rooms, it’s location was so convenient for exploring all the best things to do in San Francisco.


Just north of Union Square, Chinatown stands out as a cultural gem among the San Francisco neighborhoods. It holds the title of the oldest and one of the largest Chinatowns outside of Asia and it really is one of the most beautiful and aesthetically charming neighborhoods in San Francisco too!

Dragon’s Gate is the magnificent entrance that marks the beginning of San Francisco’s Chinatown. This impressive gateway welcomes visitors to an immersive cultural experience. Flanked by two imposing lion statues, Dragon’s Gate is a symbol of Chinatown’s heritage.

Step into Chinatown and enter a world of vibrant colors, intricate traditional architecture, and an atmosphere brimming with energy. You can venture through the bustling markets to find all sorts of exotic goods and herbal remedies. A patchwork of storefronts features both modern boutiques and old-school gift shops.

One of the main draws of Chinatown is its authentic cuisine. This is the place to come for authentic dim sum at bustling teahouses or Peking duck at renowned restaurants. And don’t forget to explore the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory– yes, the fortune cookie was born right here in San Francisco!

And one of the best ways to experience Chinatown is of course eating your way around the neighborhood. Consider joining a cultural walking and culinary tour that includes an intimate history of the neighborhood and a traditional Chinese lunch. Or this wonderful history and cultural tour through Chinatown.

North Beach

North Beach, often dubbed “Little Italy,” is a vibrant neighborhood that represents the Italian heritage of San Francisco. Strolling through its charming streets, you’ll enjoy a unique blend of history, culture, and my favorite part – the flavors and food.

Unsurprisingly, the food scene is a highlight of North Beach. The smell of freshly brewed espresso wafts into the streets from the many sidewalk cafes. And Italian restaurants serve up classic pasta dishes and iconic pizzas.

We recommend checking out Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. It’s famous for its award-winning pies baked in a variety of ovens, and they even hold a Guinness Book of World Records title! There are some places that have a lot of hype and don’t live up to it, but Tony’s does. The worst part is it can be hard to get a table, but the good news is you can order takeout and walk across the street and enjoy it in Washington Park!

There are plenty of popular and great restaurants here! Check out The Stinking Rose for their famous garlic-focused menu, Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe (don’t be fooled by the name) is a great spot for lunch, and if you have a sweet tooth head to Stella Pastry!

But North Beach is more than just food. Another reason it’s considered one of the most popular neighborhoods in San Francisco is the historic City Lights Bookstore. This renowned literary landmark from the Beat Generation boasts a legacy that continues to inspire writers and intellectuals from around the world. You can also visit the Beat Museum, which pays homage to the iconic Beatniks that once thrived in North Beach.

Nestled in the heart of North Beach, Washington Square is a historic gem. It dates back to the 19th century when it became San Francisco’s first public park! Today, it’s a popular urban park with views of Saints Peter and Paul Church. Visitors and guests alike enjoy picnics on the grass or people-watching after a long walk. Just off Washington Square, you can visit different cafes, bakeries, and restaurants.

You could also just take a stroll down North Beach’s stretch of Columbus Avenue and enjoy the sights! Colorful murals decorate the streets, and European-style architecture gives old-world charm.

Also, make sure to step into Al’s Attire on Columbus! This is the cutest vintage shop where you can get hand-made, one-of-a-kind clothes. 


Step into the vibrant world of Haight-Ashbury, a San Francisco neighborhood steeped in history and renowned for its pivotal role in the 1960s counterculture movement. Come here for top-notch vintage shops, funky boutiques, and colorful Victorian houses. To this day, Haight-Ashbury maintains a bohemian spirit that makes it one of the best San Francisco neighborhoods to check out!

In fact, one of the top things to do in Haight-Ashbury is simply walk its streets! You’ll feel the vibe of the era as you glimpse the businesses and artwork. And make note of the stunning pastel houses that date back to the early 1900s. It’s like you can sense the neighborhood’s layered past. Whether you’re hunting for vintage items or just soaking up the atmosphere, strolling Haight-Ashbury will reveal authentic San Francisco.

And definitely add Amoeba Records to your San Francisco bucket list! This music warehouse is a treasure trove of vintage music and memorabilia. Come peruse the stacks and bins full of records, 45s, CDs, VHS tapes, and more that spans genres and eras. There’s often live music in the store, too.

Music lovers, you’ll also want to check out The Grateful Dead House! This historic house on Ashbury Street was the former residence of the iconic band during the 1960s. And only a block away is the house Janis Joplin lived in during the same decade! Both are private homes today, but if you’re a fan, it’s fun to see the exteriors.

While you’re in Haight-Ashbury, you’ll want to visit its neighboring landmark, Golden Gate Park. Take time to explore this sprawling green space, where you can hike, check out ball fields, or picnic. The park is also home to prominent museums and remarkable gardens including the San Francisco Botanical Gardens.

Mission District

Named after the nearby 17th-century Mission Dolores, the Mission District represents a neighborhood with Latino roots and a hipster spirit. One of the top neighborhoods in San Francisco to visit, every street oozes a creative vibe. You’ll want to come here for the thriving food scene, street art, quirky boutiques, vintage shops, and hopping nightlife!

Whenever we’re here, I have to stop at Nooworks. This woman-owned brand features stunning prints that you won’t be able to get enough of! And Jenny Lemons is another favorite. Here, you can find all kinds of darling fruit-themed one-of-a-kind items or even take DIY classes.

If you’re hungry, you can feel good about supporting Shuggie’s Trash Pie, a funky pizza parlor built around a passion for reducing food waste. And no mention of the Mission District is complete without eating iconic Mission-style burritos! You can find them at any of the neighborhood’s taquerias and other eateries.

And a huge part of the Mission District is its street art. Though it’s everywhere, the main spots are Balmy Alley and Clarion Alley. These alleys showcase an array of colorful murals that tell stories of culture, history, and social issues. Balmy Alley’s art is deeply rooted in Latino heritage, while Clarion Alley’s works embrace a variety of themes. Both alleys offer a visual journey celebrating the diverse spirit of the Mission District.

Oh, and don’t miss Dolores Park if you need a bit of respite from all the walking you’ll be doing!

Castro District


Within Eureka Valley is a special neighborhood called the Castro. In San Francisco, think of gay culture and the Castro District comes to mind! Renowned as the city’s LGBTQ+ neighborhood, its welcoming spirit and rich history make it one of the best San Francisco neighborhoods to explore.

A local guide on a tour told us this is where you find the best Victorian homes, and we agree! For classic multi-level structures, for sure take a walk down Hartford Street, but you’ll find them everywhere. It’s an eclectic collection of colorful Victorian homes, radiating a unique charm in the neighborhood.

For iconic LBGTQ+ history, just look up and down Castro Avenue. At the northern end, Harvey Milk Plaza commemorates the LGBTQ+ trailblazer.

Nearby, Pink Triangle Memorial Park honors victims of the Nazi regime during World War II. Down Castro Avenue, there’s the Rainbow Walk that honors prominent LGBTQ+ figures. And you can check out the museum exhibits at the GLBT Historical Society nearby.

At night, the district comes alive with a myriad of bars and clubs, and you can take your pick when it comes to entertainment options. A notable historic spot is the Twin Peaks Tavern.

Alamo Square

The Painted Ladies of San Francisco seen from Alamo Square Park

Nestled among the array of San Francisco neighborhoods, there’s Alamo Square. Even if you’re unfamiliar with San Francisco, you probably recognize this cherished neighborhood! Alamo Square’s fame rests upon its iconic feature: the world-renowned Painted Ladies.

These beautifully restored Victorian houses make Alamo Square one of the most visited neighborhoods in San Francisco. Visitors from around the world come to Alamo Square’s hilltop park to witness the timeless beauty of the Painted Ladies. And if your a child of the 90s, you’ll probably have flashbacks to Full House’s opening credit scene here where the entire Tanner family is picnicking in front of the Painted Ladies and SF skyline in the backdrop!

Yep, this is a great spot for skyline views too, you actually get great panoramic views of the city, complete with the iconic Transamerica Pyramid in the background!

History enthusiasts will appreciate another beautiful home in the neighborhood, the William Westerfield House. Nicknamed “The Russian Embassy,” this historic Victorian beauty is striking to see. Built in 1889, it’s had quite a few lives during its storied history! Like the rest, this is a private residence, so you can’t go inside. But it makes quite the impression when seeing the structure in person.

Lower Haight

South of Alamo Square is Lower Haight, a small, laid-back neighborhood among the best neighborhoods in San Francisco if you’re looking for less touristy areas to explore but still be nearby all the big attractions. It’s known for its cool bars. Among them, Woods Lowside stands out as a favorite. Come here for craft brews, curated wine, Detroit-style pizza, and a warm ambiance.

If you’re looking for a chill dive bar, go with Tornado! They’re a neighborhood staple and have a diverse selection of beer! Just make sure you have cash because they don’t take cards.

Or for a unique experience, check out Noc Noc. This quirky bar features a mash-up of neon lights, alien paraphernalia, and aboriginal décor. There’s a welcoming vibe at Noc Noc, and you’ll probably see the friendly owner tending the bar!

Most of the restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops are along Haight Street, especially between Scott Street and Webster Street. But throughout the neighborhood, you’ll find some more hidden gems. Go roller skating at the Church of 8 Wheels. At The Center SF, you can retreat into a good book and a cup of tea or join a Thai Chi class!

Pacific Heights

Among the San Francisco neighborhoods, Pacific Heights reigns as a posh residential haven. It’s known for its upscale mansions, breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and picturesque Fillmore Street.

Pacific Heights sits on a geographic ridge that rises dramatically from the Marina District, almost 400 feet above sea level. This offers unparalleled views everywhere you go of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the sweeping San Francisco Bay beyond!

A big draw for visitors to the neighborhood is a collection of upscale mansions that are celebrated for their unique and distinctive architecture. Want to hunt some down? Here are just a few stunning examples:

  • Spreckels Mansion (2080 Washington Street)
  • Flood Mansion (2222 Broadway Street)
  • Haas-Lilienthal House (2007 Franklin Street)
  • Spreckels Mansion II (2083 Washington Street)

If you want to see the inside, the Spreckels Mansion offers tours on the weekends!

Fans of Full House visiting Pacific Heights can see the house used for exterior shots at 1709 Broderick Street. You might recognize 2640 Steiner Street as the house from Mrs. Doubtfire! And you can see where the Salinger family lived in Party of 5 by visiting 2311 Broadway.

However, the biggest draw of Pacific Heights is the enchanting Fillmore Street. Between Jackson Street and California Street, it’s lined with boutiques, cafes, and salons. It’s also a popular street for street fairs and festivals throughout the year.



Ranked among the must-see neighborhoods in San Francisco, Embarcadero offers a fascinating history, scenic views, and compelling attractions. Set along the eastern shore, the main feature of Embarcadero is a picturesque promenade that traces the Bay’s edge.

The Embarcadero Promenade is the perfect spot for a tranquil walk. You’ll enjoy amazing views of the iconic San Francisco Bay Bridge as the boats come in and out of the harbor. Along the way, you’ll see various public art installations along the waterfront! The promenade also connects you to all the main attractions along the bay.

A focal point of Embarcadero and the promenade is the renowned Ferry Building Marketplace. This historic landmark once served as the city’s primary transit terminal. Built in 1898, it’s simply a beautiful building with a long history that’s worth seeing. Today, it’s a busy hub filled with eateries, artisanal shops, and a bustling farmers market! Grand Creperie was a great breakfast stop that we enjoyed on our most recent trip!

Beyond the Ferry Building Marketplace, you can take a ferry ride to explore other parts of the Bay Area, like Sausalito or Angel Island. Or head to Pier 33 to take a bay cruise to iconic landmarks like Alcatraz Island. A boat ride would offer a different view of the Golden Gate Bridge and a way to experience the city from a different perspective!

Nob Hill

Nestled atop one of San Francisco’s iconic hills, Nob Hill exudes elegance and refinement as the former site of California’s Big Four mansions. The area’s past evokes the grandeur of a bygone era and makes it one of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco to visit.

Nob Hill’s allure extends to its luxury hotels, each a masterpiece unto itself. Head down Powell Street to find the grand architecture of the Fairmont Hotel, the Stanford Court, and the Ritz-Carlton. Be sure to walk through the grand lobby of the Fairmont, especially around the holidays!

For an iconic San Francisco experience, take a ride on the famous cable cars! Enjoy breathtaking views of the city from spots like Huntington Park. As you ascend, be prepared for breathtaking panoramic views of the city from above!

While you’re here, don’t miss the opportunity to explore Huntington Park. It’s a stunning hilltop urban park with all the extravagance of Nob Hill! Relax and enjoy the fountain or relax on green lawns. You can also enjoy the impressive architectural wonders that frame the park, including the Grace Cathedral and the James C. Flood Mansion.

And for a deeper dive into the history of San Francisco’s cable cars, visit the Cable Car Museum in Nob Hill. You’ll learn about the history of these iconic vehicles, how they work, and even get to explore vintage cable cars.

Russian Hill

cars driving down the hairpin turns of Lombard Street in San Francisco

Another one of the most famous San Francisco neighborhoods, Russian Hill has a unique charm that captivates all who visit! It’s best known for its picturesque Lombard Street, aptly named “the crookedest street in the world!” But this neighborhood offers more than meets the eye.

The famous Hyde Powell cable car line traverses through Russian Hill, working as both a commuter rail for locals and a sightseeing opportunity for visitors. It’s truly the best way to soak in breathtaking views of the city’s stunning skyline.

Russian Hill is also a fun place to find hidden gems! Stroll along tucked-away staircases that wind through charming residential streets. Visit small green spaces that feel like secret gardens. Or explore quaint storefronts, local cafes, and enjoy a leisurely afternoon in this idyllic residential neighborhood.

Telegraph Hill


Telegraph Hill is just one neighborhood over from Embarcadero. It’s one of the most captivating neighborhoods in San Francisco, with its unique attractions and great views of the bay.

Its most iconic landmark, Coit Tower, stands at the neighborhood’s tallest point inside Pioneer Park. For a small fee, you can go up inside the tower of the Art Deco building for breathtaking views of the city. Plus, you’ll also get to see the wild parrots who live there!

Another enchanting feature of Telegraph Hill is the Filbert Steps. From the waterfront up to Pioneer Park, they climb through lush gardens and past charming cottages. Along the way, you might see more wild parrots and get a glimpse of surrounding Art Deco-style buildings.

Marina District

Situated along San Francisco’s northern shore, the Marina District is a coastal retreat among the San Francisco neighborhoods. This pretty area offers an array of attractions that perfectly capture the city at its finest.

One of the Marina District’s crowning jewels is Crissy Beach, with its sweeping shoreline and unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Whether you’re simply enjoying the view or going kitesurfing, Crissy Beach offers an escape from the urban bustle!

For more architectural splendor, head to the Palace of Fine Arts. This unique monument was built in 1915 for a world exhibition and is today an event center and performing arts theater. It’s free to visit the grounds and wander the towering structure. Take your time marveling at the Greco-Roman elegance and tranquil lagoon.

Beyond its landmarks, the Marina District is considered one of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco because of the lovely Chestnut Street. This commercial street boasts retail stores, cafes, and restaurants in a lovely mix of buildings from different eras.

And for old theater lovers on Chestnut Street, take your pick! There’s the historic Marina Theater that dates back to the 1920s. Or there’s the larger Art Deco-style Presidio Theater from the 1930s!

Cool Neighborhoods in San Francisco (Post Summary):

  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Union Square
  • Chinatown
  • North Beach
  • Haight-Ashbury
  • Mission District
  • Castro District
  • Alamo Square
  • Lower Haight
  • Pacific Heights
  • Embarcadero
  • Nob Hill
  • Russian Hill
  • Telegraph Hill
  • Marina District

What neighborhoods are worth visiting in San Francisco?

Fun San Francisco neighborhoods such as historic North Beach for Italian culture, the vibrant Mission District for art and food, picturesque Pacific Heights for stunning views, and trendy Haight-Ashbury for a taste of the 1960s. Each offers unique experiences and a glimpse of the city’s charm.

What neighborhood to stay in when visiting San Francisco?

When visiting San Francisco, choose Union Square for central location and shopping, Fisherman’s Wharf for waterfront attractions, or Nob Hill for upscale experiences. The choice depends on your preferences, as each neighborhood offers its own character and convenience for exploring the city.

What is the nicest area of San Francisco?

Nob Hill is often considered one of the nicest areas of San Francisco. With its elegant architecture, upscale hotels, and stunning views, it offers a luxurious and charming atmosphere.

What is the most walkable area of San Francisco?

San Francisco’s most walkable area is Union Square. It’s a bustling hub for shopping, dining, and cultural attractions. With its central location, pedestrian-friendly streets, and access to public transportation, Union Square is ideal for exploring the city on foot.

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And if you’re doing a larger road trip, be sure to check out all our favorite stops on the San Francisco to San Diego drive too!