The southern part of the city comprises some of the liveliest, most authentic parts of town – the clubs of SoMa, the gay world of the Castro, and the Latino Mission District. There are also some up-and-coming neighborhoods such as Bernal Heights and Glen Park, as the more central areas have priced creative types out toward the southern borders. Laid-back Noe Valley was the first such choice for high-rent refugees, but it, too, has gone gentrified and pushed people farther south.

A Gay City

After the free-love movement of the 1960s , homosexuals realized that they, too, had rights to stand up for, and started moving into the Castro in the 1970s. In no time the neighborhood was a non-stop – and unstoppable – party of freewheeling sexual excess. Suddenly gays were “out” in legions, which brought with it political clout. Despite the AIDS plague, the city is still one of the easiest places in the world to live out an openly gay identity.

Sights and Neighborhoods
  1. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

    San Francisco’s home for its extensive modern art collection is as impressive outside as it is adaptable and awe-inspiring inside. Don’t miss the top floors, featuring the latest digital installations, if you want to know what the cutting edge art world is honing itself on these days .

  2. Mission Dolores

    The original Spanish Misión San Francisco de Asós, from which the city takes its name, is a marvel of preservation and atmospheric charm. It was founded in 1776, just a few weeks before the Declaration of Independence .

  3. Castro District

    This hilly neighborhood around Castro Street is the center of San Francisco’s high-profile gay community. The intersection of Castro and 18th streets is the self-proclaimed “Gayest Four Corners of the World,” and this openly homosexual nexus emerged in the 1970s as the place of pilgrimage for gays and lesbians from all over the country and the world. Unlike other cities, where homosexuals once hid themselves away in dark corners of anonymous bars, the establishments here have full picture windows right on the street and are busy at all hours. Castro Street is closed off every Hallowe’en for the famous gay costume party that most agree is one of the city’s best, second only perhaps to the Gay Pride Parade .

    Castro District bar

    Castro Theater, Castro District
  4. Twin Peaks

    These two hills were first known in Spanish as El Pecho de la Chola, or “The Bosom of the Indian Girl.” At the top, there is an area of parkland with steep and grassy slopes from which you can enjoy incomparable views of the whole of San Francisco. Twin Peaks Boulevard circles both hills near their summits, and there is plenty of parking near the viewing point. If you’re up to the climb, take the footpath to the top, above the main viewing area, to get a 360-degree panorama. The residential districts on the slopes lower down have curving streets that follow the contours of the hills, rather than the formal grid pattern that predominates in most of the city .

    View from Twin Peaks
  5. Noe Valley

    Once a simple working-class neighborhood, the 1970s brought hippies, gays, artists, and other Bohemian types to its slopes and it soon became an attractive alternative to other, more established quarters. In its heyday it was known as both “Nowhere Valley” for its relative remoteness, and as “Granola Valley” for its nature-loving denizens. Lately, it has been taken over by middle-class professionals, who value the area for its orderliness, but 24th Street still hums with activity and is lined with cafés, bookstores, and the occasional oddball shop.

    Noe Valley church
  6. Mission District

    The teeming Hispanic world, with all the accompanying noise and confusion, constitutes the Mission, home to San Francisco’s many Latinos. They have brought their culture with them – bustling taquerias, salsa clubs, Santeria shops, lively murals, and Spanish everywhere you look and listen. It’s a loud, odoriferous place, with edgy crowds dodging each other along the main drags, Mission and Valencia streets and their connecting streets from Market to Cesar Chavez (Army). Its folklórico festivals are not to be missed, especially the Carnaval.

    Mural, Mission District
  7. South of Market

    The city’s erstwhile rough-and-tumble warehouse district has been on the rise for the last few decades and continues to attract arty types as well as a whole range of clubs and cool cafés. Plans are afoot for more major transformations in the wake of the building of Pacific Bell Park .

  8. Yerba Buena Center

    This area is fast becoming one of San Francisco’s leading cultural centers for the performing arts, as well as a growing number of museums representing the city’s ethnic diversity. Every year sees some new addition to the airy complex .

  9. China Basin

    This old shipping port has not been exempt from the upsurge of interest in the previously neglected industrial area. The main change has been wrought by the building of the new AT&T Park, home to the city’s major league baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, and developers have already put forth ideas of how the zone can be put to use. A number of restaurants, bars, and clubs, many with port views, have opened up here lately or have been refurbished and gentrified.

  10. Potrero Hill

    At one time this usually sunny SoMa hill was set to become the next big thing. But somehow its isolation kept that from ever happening, cut off from the rest of the city, as it is, by freeways on three sides and its own precipitous inclines. Consequently, it has remained the quiet, pleasant neighborhood it always has been, with spectacular views. To be sure, a few more upmarket concerns are located here than before, and there are more restaurants and bars, but mostly it’s thoroughly residential. One tourist sight of note here is the Anchor Brewing Company. It’s worth a visit, especially as the 45-minute walking tour and tasting session are free. There’s only one tour each afternoon so book ahead.

    Anchor Brewing Company

    SoMa Esplanade
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