10 Great Neighborhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area

In the San Francisco Bay Area, home sweet home can range from an urban loft to a refuge in the hills. Discover 10 diverse Bay Area neighborhoods to find the one that's best for you.

SAN FRANCISCO

The City by the Bay has long been a destination for daring iconoclasts. Rather than a melting pot, it's a gently layered lasagna of ethnicities, cultures and lifestyles, sharing the same 49 square miles yet remaining distinct. The Castro is known as a haven for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, though families have been encroaching in the last few years. The Sunset is residential, low-key and family-oriented — not to mention foggy. Sea Cliff, with its large estates and sweeping, dramatic views of the ocean, is home to some of the city's wealthiest residents. The fun part about living in the city? Walk a few blocks and you could be in a completely different world (and climate), each with its unique collection of restaurants, bars, shops and entertainment. Here are some of the in-demand neighborhoods:

1. THE MISSION

This traditionally Latino community is also a hipster haven with a lively nightlife. Mission Street, the community's main drag, runs the gamut from chi-chi restaurants such as Foreign Cinema (where patrons can watch a film projected onto the wall as they dine) to modest family-run gems providing, say, Chinese-Peruvian fare or the greatest burrito you've had since that one on the last block. Valencia, one block parallel, features art galleries, bookstores, and quirky shopping. Its proximity to downtown and easy access to public transit make it one of the more sought-after areas. 

The Neighbors: A diverse mix of families, young professionals and blue-collar workers

Also Consider: Bernal Heights, Glen Park

Further from downtown, on the outer edge of the city, Bernal Heights feels like a little piece of country in the middle of the city. It's quiet, tree-lined and family-oriented, and its main drag, Cortland Street, has its share of pleasant restaurants, workout studios, bars, and the artisan food court at 331 Cortland. 

SAN FRANCISCO


2. THE MARINA

For better or worse, this waterfront neighborhood has a reputation as home to the city's yuppies. Cruise its retail corridor along Chestnut and Union Streets and it's sushi bars, high-end baby boutiques and one of the city's three Apple stores. In the early evening, Marina residents don their Lululemon gear and jog to Crissy Field or the Presidio to walk their pure-bred Golden Retrievers along the water.

The Neighbors: Blonde-ponytailed singles, young families, young professionals

SAN FRANCISCO


3. MISSION BAY

Mission Bay is one of the city's newest neighborhoods, with an estimated $4 billion spent to develop it. It's one of the few places in San Francisco where people can still get in on the ground floor as it is still under construction, with the building of new high-rise condominiums and lofts alongside hip restaurants, bars and stores. Its Caltrain station zooms tech workers to Silicon Valley and the Peninsula. And its latest addition, a park that includes a basketball court, volleyball court and dog run, has only added to its appeal.

The Neighbors: Singles, young professionals, techies commuting to Silicon Valley

SAN FRANCISCO


4. PACIFIC HEIGHTS

Beautiful, spacious and well-kept Victorian and Edwardian homes line this affluent, hilltop neighborhood. Most of the multi-million-dollar estates boast views of the Pacific Ocean and Golden Gate Bridge. Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison famously sued his neighbors for not trimming their trees to his liking, and romance novelist Danielle Steele was caught hogging all the parking permits - that's the kind of cutthroat street-fighting you see on the mean streets of this swanky district. 

The Neighbors: Longtime San Franciscans, socialites, executives, professionals 

SAN FRANCISCO


5. NOE VALLEY

Formerly a sleepy family neighborhood where the sidewalks were a  boulevard of strollers, lately Noe has become aggressively gentrified, approaching Russian Hill in its home prices. Still, the busting thoroughfare of 24th Street is a terrific place to brunch or shop, and watching Range Rovers vie for parking spaces at the smallest Whole Foods in town is an amusing pastime. 

The Neighbors: Young families, young professionals

Also Consider: Glen Park

Strollers and babies are also in large supply in this family-oriented neighborhood. Its small main drag, Chenery Street, has just the right number of restaurants, bars, and cafes. The neighborhood is characterized by individual homes, many with lawns and yards, with easy access to a safe and well-traveled BART stop. 

The Neighbors: Families, professionals, longtime San Franciscans

EAST BAY

Families with school-age children have been known to flee San Francisco for the suburbs of the East Bay, where they can access reputable public schools, safer neighborhoods and resources for families and children — not to mention warmer weather. Most workers commute to the city by train, casual carpool or by individually braving the traffic across the Bay Bridge.

6. ORINDA

Custom-built homes are nestled into the hills of this affluent suburb. Families target this community for its public schools, particularly Miramonte, a top-ranked high school. Orinda is located just outside the Caldecott Tunnel, which separates it from Oakland and Berkeley on the other side. 

The Neighbors: Families, executives, professionals, seniors

Also Consider: Lafayette and Moraga

Orinda, Lafayette and Moraga are known collectively as Lamorinda, a trio of similar suburbs with well-regarded public schools, ranch-style homes and plenty of swimming pools.

The Neighbors: Families, executives, professionals, seniors

Also Consider: Danville

Though all the new construction has given Danville — and the surrounding suburbs of San Ramon and Alamo — a reputation for McMansions, this suburb has become popular for families and professionals for many of the same reasons as neighboring Orinda, Lafayette and Moraga: good schools, large homes, open space, warm weather and plenty of activities for children. Its wealthiest residents live in the gated country club community of Blackhawk.

The Neighbors: Families, executives, professionals, seniors 

EAST BAY


7. ROCKRIDGE

Just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco and next door to the University of California, Berkeley, Rockridge and its homey bungalows have become an increasingly coveted neighborhood. College Avenue features gourmet ethnic restaurants and chic boutiques. The Rockridge BART station allows commuters to hop into San Francisco easily.

The Neighbors: Professionals, university faculty, staff and students, families, seniors

Also Consider: Berkeley

Berkeley may be famous for its liberal politics — it has loudly protested the war in Iraq — but it also has a lot more than that to offer: Gourmet Ghetto, along Shattuck Avenue, is home to Chez Panisse, Alice Waters' famed restaurant, and other popular eateries such as the Cheese Board, which serves a different kind of pizza each day and a multitude of cheeses. Fourth Street draws shoppers with both retail chains and boutiques. Telegraph Avenue still retains some of its 1960s hippie roots. Berkeley Repertory Theatre is also one of the Bay Area's most notable theater companies; its play, Passing Strange, went on to Broadway and took home a Tony Award in 2008.

The Neighbors: Professionals, university faculty, staff and students, families, seniors

EAST BAY


8. WALNUT CREEK

Once a sleepy bedroom community, Walnut Creek has become a surprisingly hip suburb in recent years. Its downtown has attracted trendy eateries and restaurants, several of them with San Francisco roots. It has one of the region's most popular outdoor shopping malls, Broadway Plaza. The Regional Center for the Arts, with three theaters seating 1,200, produces 900 shows a year, many of them high-quality professional performances. Its location in central Contra Costa County, at the junction of Interstate 680, is convenient, and its affordable condominiums and ranch-style houses give young families the opportunity to purchase their first homes. It also has an active senior community called Rossmore. 

The Neighbors: Blue-collar and white-collar workers, families, singles, seniors

SOUTH BAY AND PENINSULA

Just south of San Francisco, the Peninsula’s residents don’t have to cross a bridge to get into the city, although they do face congested freeways. They are also located conveniently in between Silicon Valley and San Francisco, allowing them to work in Silicon Valley, but go into the city for entertainment and dining.

Silicon Valley's growing number of techies — in recent years, Google employees exercising their stock options — have helped drive up home prices in towns such as Palo Alto, Woodside, Sunnyvale and Mountain View, where Google is headquartered.

9. Palo Alto

Home to Stanford University, Palo Alto is both a college town and a launching point for high-tech startups such as Facebook, giving the city a hip, youthful vibe. Students, techies and executives gather downtown at University Avenue's coffee and frozen yogurt shops, bars and restaurants. Palo Alto is also next door to Menlo Park's Sandhill Road, where the offices of Silicon Valley's venture capitalists, who fund the new companies, reside. 

The Neighbors: University students, faculty and staff, venture capitalists, techies, families, professionals

Also Consider: San Carlos

Once overlooked, San Carlos has become more and more attractive for homebuyers in recent years. Houses and condominiums here are affordable by Silicon Valley's standards, allowing the high-tech industry's youngest employees to purchase their first homes. It is also a relatively short drive to Silicon Valley’s major employers through Interstate 280 and U.S. 101. San Carlos' downtown hosts a Thursday Night Farmers' Market, which draws crowds. 

The Neighbors: Techies, young professionals, families

NORTH BAY

Across the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County offers an idyllic, woodsy retreat from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. Families looking to leave the city often turn to Marin County. Many workers commute into the city by ferry.

10. Mill Valley

Tucked in nearby Mt. Tamalpais, and surrounded by redwood trees, Mill Valley appeals to families looking for a place that combines a quaint downtown, plenty of open space and good public schools for the children. Though increasingly expensive, Mill Valley remains less swanky than neighboring Tiburon and Ross. 

The Neighbors: Families, professionals

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