The real heart of San Francisco lies in its neighborhoods, and one of the best ways to enjoy the city is to skip the tourist areas and hang out where the locals do. No neighborhood is more famous than Haight-Ashbury, the psychedelic hub of the counterculture of the 1960s on the edge of Golden Gate Park. These days, the die-hard hippies and head shops are joined by boutiques and restaurants and equally fashionable customers. Survey the scene from The Grind Café, a local favorite.
The Mission District is another edgy neighborhood, where working-class Hispanic families, artists, and cool youth create a vibrant atmosphere. Stroll along 24th Street to see some of the area’s fantastic street murals – pick up a map at Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitor Center – then have lunch or dinner in one of the many Latino restaurants or hip eateries.
The adjoining neighborhoods of Castro and Noe Valley are great for walking, thanks to the “golden fire hydrant” opposite Dolores Park that saved the beautiful homes here from the fires of the 1906 earthquake. Castro is home to San Francisco’s large gay and lesbian community. The flamboyant Castro Theatre is a suitable landmark and a great place to catch a movie.
Richmond is a bustling residential district between the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, home to Russian descendants and Chinese immigrants who have formed a second Chinatown here. Next to the Civic Center, Hayes Valley has gentrified into a trendy neighborhood of great bars, restaurants, galleries, and boutiques. Try the popular Absinthe Brasserie and Bar to enjoy cuisine of top quality.
Absinthe Brasserie and Bar 398 Hayes St at Gough, Hayes Valley;
The Castro Theatre Market St, 429 Castro St, Castro;
The Grind Café 783 Haight St, Haight-Ashbury;
Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitor Center 2981 24th St, Mission District;