How to Pick Your Perfect San Francisco Neighborhood
Geographically, San Francisco is only 49 miles, would you believe it? Only 49 miles wedged onto the end of a peninsula. But to San Franciscans, it feels big, as the city contains a multitude of different personalities. In cultural terms, a single block at times suddenly changes a neighborhood character, history, aesthetic, and a different set of price bracket. The feel shifted and suddenly you’re in a different world.
One Trulia survey says that 42 percent of San Franciscans wish they had moved into a different neighborhood than the one they currently call home. So how do we avoid the same fate? Here are some things to look into:
- First things first, consider your bottom line. Living in San Francisco is more expensive than ever. These days nearly 40 percent of San Franciscans end up rent burdened, and the figure is only that low because many of those who can’t afford the city anymore have moved away. So the first and last variable we can consider is how much we can afford to spend. They reflect on which areas you can afford to live in the city.
- Get to know your neighborhood’s reputation. This is tricky, because San Franciscans are in constant disagreement about exactly how many neighborhoods the city has, where the hoods begin and end, what their reputations are, and who has the right to decide such things in the first place. New developments have also changed once seedy neighborhoods into one of the priciest, like Mission Bay and SOMA. Some parts of Van Ness, Mid-Market area, Polk Street, and Bayview are also now being re-developed. So do your diligent research and visit the areas in person if possible. Also check out Curbed SF’s guide to San Francisco neighborhoods to get a feel for the flavor of each area, but remember that there’s more to a neighborhood than just the surface, and that reputations are complex things.
Consider your transit needs. The good news is that, as a quick glance at a Muni map will tell you, there’s hardly a square yard of San Francisco that’s not within hopping distance of a bus stop. In 2018, the San Francisco Planning Department determined that 96 percent of parcels in the city are within half a mile of a major transit line: BART, Muni Metro light rail, Muni buses, streetcars, Caltrain.
The bad news is that Muni has sometimes a lousy reputation for coming on time. Check out nextbus.com and other online tools operated by the city to see how well serviced your would-be neighborhood is in practice.
Be it your job or a popular park, consider where you want to live near. If you want to live near a park, you’re in luck – San Francisco is the only major city in America where every home is within at least half a mile of a public park, according to the Trust For Public Land. The city is also teeming with museums, restaurants, historical markers, privately-owned public parks, public art, oddities, and, of course, some of the most famous landmarks and tourist sights recognizable the world over.
Consider whether you like the idea of being at the center of the action, or in a neighborhood with a number of cul-de-sacs, trees, staircases, and manicured lawns.
How do you like your waterfront views? San Francisco is a strange case study in that, being at the business end of a peninsula, the city is surrounded by waterfront views and oceanic access. Yet proximity to our city’s shore is rarely prized. Most of the entire west side of the city is one long stretch of beach. Though popular with surfers and dog walkers, Ocean Beach is almost perpetually gray and foggy, and the neighborhoods it borders have historically been considered far-flung and branded with names like Outer Sunset and Outer Richmond. Of course, this is all good news for those who do want to live near waterways, as these spots are, ironically, some of the few remaining affordable (by SF standard) options.
- Consider places off the beaten path.
Going west or south brings you to places that, by and large, are more residential and considered remote (despite San Francisco’s small geographical area meaning that nothing is ever really that far away from anything else). This means this is where lower rents and home prices cluster in neighborhoods like Ingleside and Lakeside. One of the city’s southernmost neighborhoods, the Excelsior, is even noted specifically for being more affordable than similar residential neighborhoods. Even high-end home hunters should look around a bit. Take, for example, a neighborhood like Monterey Heights, considered obscure but also the site of some of the city’s largest homes with the least San Francisco-like proportions. Or India Basin, hands down one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the entire city, but also one of the least developed.
- Can you climb every mountain? San Francisco’s hills should be taken seriously, particularly for those with accessibility concerns or health issues about exertion. While a lot of apps and online tools rank SF neighborhoods for walkability, few of them take the topography into consideration.
- Consider the weather. While the city is small, it does come with many microclimates. The further west you go, the chillier and foggier it will be. The Mission and SoMa seem to stay the sunniest.
Take a look at what’s to eat. In 2012, San Francisco became the single most restaurant-dense city in America, with more than 39 dining establishments per 10,000 residents. Generally speaking, the more well-known a neighborhood is, the closer you probably are to a hub of foodie options—but also the higher the cost of living in that particular borough. But do due diligence on searching for your perfect neighborhood to hang your hat. From posh, reservations-only, to hole-in-the-wall restaurants, you’ll find them.
Water Bar San Francisco