Sonoma, CA- The Site of the Bear Flag Rebellion

The historic core of Sonoma is what I used for its evaluation. This includes the area half a block north of Spain St., 5th St to the east, Napa/Leveroni to the south, and 5th to the west.

Sonoma was founded originally as a mission in 1823. This was actually the only mission built by Mexico and not Spain. But the mission also served a secular purpose, to fortify Mexican presence north of San Francisco Bay and deter Russian encroachment into the region. Sonoma continues this role for the Mexican government until the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846, when American filibusters overthrew the local Mexican government and declared the California Republic, helping to usher in the American Conquest of California. Sonoma was originally the county seat for Sonoma County. But this did not last long as  Santa Rosa quickly took over as the county seat. Sonoma remained small and grew to only 2,000 souls by 1950. Post WW II development picked up and now the City has 11K residents.

The City’s core is still built around the original Sonoma Plaza lined with many restaurants, bars, and local shops housed in attractive historic buildings. Surrounding streets hold many attractive turn of the 20th century homes. Unfortunately due to development restrictions even central Sonoma is low density, in line with a suburb. Open fields and suburban development are located even in the Sonoma core breaking the urban fabric. Sonoma is also very expensive with limited rentals available. Fortunately there are several hundred dedicated affordable units with many of them located in the core.  However, Sonoma relaxes its very restrictive development regulations allowing the community to improve its urban fabric but also help reduce the Bay Area’s overall housing shortage.

Click here to view my Sonoma album on Flickr


* Decent diversity especially generational diversity with around 50% of households as families.
* Good array of walkable schools within or near the historic Sonoma core.
* Several 100 affordable units located in town.
* This appears by all measures to be a very safe community.
* Solid historic housing.
* Very nice historic plaza in the center of town. Several other smaller parks spread through central Sonoma but not a ton.
* Culturally Sonoma does well with many restaurants, bars, cafes, and art galleries. There are also a couple local theaters, several local museums, and a local music venue.
* Retail wise Central Sonoma has a Whole Foods, drug store, Safeway, plenty of boutiques and local stores around the square, plenty of banks antique stores, and home good stores, a couple bookstores, a post office, and a couple of dessert spots. This is also a major hospital and small department store located in town.
* Excellent tree canopy, especially SE of the square. 


* Very low density. Lots of undeveloped plots even in the historic part of Dwtn.
* Generally sidewalks in Sonoma but 1/2 the time not ADA compliment curbs.
* Poor access to Bay area Dwtns. 1 hr. drive to Dwtn San Fran & Oakland with no traffic but not transit access.
* Some bike lanes but not connected to the largest bike system.
* Rentals are pretty limited here but at least a bit more affordable than most California Cities. 1-beds start in the high $1,000s. 2-beds in the low $2,000s, and 3-beds generally in the 3Ks.
* Some “moderate” condos selling btwn 400K-700K. 2-beds sell anywhere btwn 600K-2M depending on size & finish. 3&4 bed anywhere btwn 800K-3.5M.
* Modern in-fill is a very mixed bag. Lots of auto centric commercial and suburban houses mixed in.
* Good urban massing and streetscape around the historic Sonoma Plaza but plenty of surface parking and auto centric businesses along the arterials coming out of dwtn. Lots of vacant lots within the historic core due to restrictive development laws.

Sausalito- One of the Bay Area’s best tourist towns

Only a sliver of Sausalito along the coast line is what I consider to be urban. Once you go up the famous hillside, sidewalks and walkability basically disappear. This evaluation is roughly between Napa to the North and Valley to the south.

In the 1870s, Sausalito was connected to reliable rail and ferry service connecting it to San Francisco and setting the stage for future development. By 1940 the town had 3,500 inhabited. Sausalito experienced another growth spurt during WWII as it became a major shipbuilding center. This industrial character, however, quickly gave way to a more wealthy and artistic enclave with new residents taking advantage of its hills and gorgeous location along the sea. This also lead to an increase in tourism. Yet those living on boats and those living on the hills could not live harmoniously forever. Its California! Beginning in the 1970s, an intense struggle erupted between houseboat residents and developers, dubbed the “Houseboat Wars”. Forced removals by county authorities and sabotage by some on the waterfront characterized this struggle. The result was the banishment of all boat communities to just outside the Sausalito limits. Today along three houseboat communities still exist.

From an urban perspective this is a funny mix of great urban attributes and major failures. On the positive side Sausalito has an amazing dining scene and local shops. Shops cater to much more than your typical tourist destination. There are also many art galleries here, all set along a beautiful bay and relatively comfortable commercial district. Sausalito’s biggest failure is its exclusivity. Small condos start at 600K and there are few rentals here. Racial and economic diversity is also limited. The hills quickly rise from the sea making an urban environment difficult for much of the City. Public transit access to Dwtn San Fran is also not great.

Click here to view my Sausalito album on Flickr


* A decent bike lane running down Bridgeway but not dedicated bike stations.
* Good generational diversity with about 40% of households as family ones.
* Very nice waterfront and several attractive smaller parks. Golden Gate View Park is only 1/2 south but only car and bike access.
* Great cultural amenities including many restaurants, bars & cafes, tons of art galleries, a couple theaters, a couple local museums and some live music and night clubs.
* Several excellent schools but located .5 miles to a mile from the walkable part of Sausalito in or near Marina City. Not terribly walkable.
* Some great retail amenities many boutiques, home goods stores, antique stores, souvenir shops, and specialty retail and a drug store, hardware store, and post office.
*  A good amount of petty thefts but limited major crimes. Overall very safe place.
* Excellent architecture both historic and new.
* Generally very good urban form but still a good amount of surface  parking lots.
* Very vibrant with all the tourists.


* Decent access to San Francisco, especially driving. One can also drive to Oakland in 45 mins but generally lot great public transit access.
* With all the hills and circular roads, not great connectivity in Sausalito.
* Very expensive place to live with medium rent at $2,600.
* Poor racial and economic diversity.
* Some 1-bedroom condos starting around 600K. But most selling in the low 1 Millions. 2-beds sell anywhere btwn the low 1 Ms and low 2Ms. 3 & 4 bedrooms sell for btwn mid 1Ms and mid 2Ms.
* Leases are very limited. Some 2-bedrooms rent btwn 3K-5K. 3-beds for even more.
* No supermarket in dwtn Sausalito.
* Generally pretty walkable but lots of hills and missing ADA curbs.

Downtown Novato, a Marin County Community in California

I only evaluated the more urban dwtn center of Novato this is roughly btwn Novato/Diablo Blvd, 7th St, Carmel/Olive Ave., and the Redwood Hwy.

The town was originally a Mexican community starting in the 1830s but remained very small. American pioneers planted orchards and vineyards in the 1850s. Is population started to grow with the construction of a railroad in 1879 connecting it to surrounding towns Sonoma County. The area around the train depot became known as New Town, and forms the edge of what today is Old Town Novato (mostly demolished). After World War II, Novato grew quickly with the construction of tract homes and a freeway. As the area was unincorporated much of the growth was unplanned and uncontrolled. Novato was finally incorporated as a city in 1960 with 17K residents.

From an urban perspective, Downtown Novato is an area of decent urban form but with lots of cultural and retail amenities. The historic Grant main street is packed with restaurants, bars, boutiques, and interesting stores. Housing prices are astronomical like the rest of California but fortunately the City had the will to construct several hundred units of affordable housing and many of them are located Dwtn. Novato does have direct rail connection to Dwtn San Fran but that trip takes at least an hour. Only 40 min drive (without traffic of course) to Dwtn San Fran and Dwtn Oakland.

The most important thing to improve from an urban perspective in Dwtn Novato is more density. For one, the communities in Marin County need to welcome more people considering the Bay Area’s severe housing shortage. 2nd many of these Marin County communities has transit access and thus could hosts very dense TOD downtowns. Increased density would also improve the overall urban quality of Downtown Novato as well. Specific areas for improvement include better park amenities, more walkable schools, and improved urban form.

Click here to view my Novato Album on Flickr


* Several dedicated bike lanes run through dwtn. Good connections to the regional network. No dedicated bike stations.
* Good overall diversity among all factors. Specifically a very high number of families live here.
* Very safe district.
* Fortunately the City has a good # of affordable housing. Around 300-500 units in the dwtn area.
* Good array of cultural amenities including many restaurants, bars, cafes, and breweries. Also plenty of art galleries, a cinema, performing arts center, and a couple local museums.
* retail amenities include several supermarkets (Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and Safeway), several drug stores, a couple book stores, lots of boutiques & creative stores, banks, Gyms, and plenty of dessert shops.
* Quality streetscaping.


* Not great density at only 7,000 per sq mile
* A couple roads on the edges of the Novato central district are without sidewalks. Most intersections have modern ADA curb cuts.
* Drives to dwtn Oakland and San Fran are around 40-45 mins so not terrible. But only transit to San Fran 1:15 is somewhat viable. Dwtn San Jose is a very long trip. No other larger employment centers in Marin County.
* No schools within Dwtn Novato but several quality options about a 1 mile that are semi-walkable.
* Housing is very expensive starting with a handful of 1-bedrooms selling around 500K. A good amount of 2-bedrooms all selling btwn 600K-900K. 3-bedrooms are a bit more expensive and 4 bedrooms are around 1M-1.5M but mostly outside the downtown area.
* Rentals are much more limited and expensive. The few 1-bedrooms lease for around 2K, 2-bedrooms 2K & 3K, and very few 3-bedrooms.
* Only the Lee Garner Park is in the Dwtn area. Some good parks a couple miles away but not walkable.
* Much of the modern in-fill is autocentric.
* Good massing in the core of dwtn on Grant Street but plenty of strip malls and autocentric development even in the dwtn area.

San Jose’s Japantown- One of only 3 in America

Japantown is a very small neighborhood mainly centered around Jackson Ave. I expanded the boundaries a bit to include the area between 1st and 10th streets and Empire and Taylor Streets.

This is the historic center for San Jose’s Japanese American and Chinese American communities.  San Jose’s Japantown is one of only three Japan towns that still exist in the United States; one in San Francisco and Los Angeles. By 1941, there were 53 businesses in Japantown. Sadly the population was forcibly removed from Japantown and unjustly incarcerated in camps due to the conflict with Japan. On their return after the war many resettled outside of the neighborhood. Yet Japanese culture and the vitality of their community remained especially with many Japanese  businesses and Japanese festivals.

Today about 17% of the population of Asian but this is a mixture of Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese. There is now a large Mexican presence in the neighborhood. From an urban perspective Japantown is a comfortable relatively walkable district with solid density, good public transit, great bike infrastructure, and convenient access to Downtown. Amenity wise there is a large concentration of Asian restaurants and businesses here, plenty of cafes, boutiques, and gift shops along with some other retail amenities. Areas to improve upon include walking access to more and better schools, the need for a  supermarket and drug store, more walkable parks, and more affordable for sale housing. There is actually a high concentration of affordable senior housing here, but for sale one-bedroom condos start at 700K.

Click here to view my Japantown Album on Flickr


* Great public transit and access to Dwtn (only 1.5 miles away).
* Excellent bike access with many dedicated bike lanes and dedicated bike stations.
* Only  17% of the pop. remains Asia great diversity with large numbers of Hispanics and Mixed Races.
* Pretty wealthy district but only a bit more than the City average of 115K.
* Excellent streetscaping in Japantown.
* Good amount of dedicated amount of affordable housing esp. senior housing.
* Urban in-fill is generally very good.
* The neighborhood generally seems very safe.
* Great tree canopy especially along the residential streets.
* Cultural amenities including a great array of Asian restaurants, a decent # of bars, cafes, a couple breweries, the Japanese American Museum, a couple art galleries, and the Contemporary Asian Theater.
* Retail amenities include plenty of Japanese grocerias, plenty of gift stores, a public library,  lots of boutiques, a toy store, an art store, and a good number of churches.


* A couple parking lots and autocentric spots but overall the urban form in the commercial district is very good.
* Medium rent is very high at $2,300.
* Really only 2 walkable schools with ok ratings. A public grade and middle school. Several schools 1.5-2 miles away.
* Rentals are a bit limited and certainly expensive. 1-bedrooms lease in the $2,000s, 2-bedroosm in the 2K & 3Ks. Very few 3 bedrooms.
* A handful of condos for sale. 1-bedrooms sale around 700/800K, 2-bedrooms vary btwn 700K and the low Millions. 3 & 4 -bedrooms in the low Millions.
* No parks within Japantown but several nearby including the expansive Guadalupe River Park a mile away.
* No supermarket nor drug store walkable to the district, no post office, 

Downtown San Jose

San Jose was settled originally by the Spanish as a mission town in 1777 called  Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe. The area that now makes up downtown was settled twenty years later, when Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe was moved somewhat inland from its original location on the banks of the Guadalupe River. In 1850, San Jose incorporated to become California’s first city and the location of the state capitol (this lasted only a couple years). Before WWII the downtown area was typical of a small, agriculture-based city of under 100,000 residents until city manager A. P. Hamann organized aggressive expansion during the 1950s and ’60s. As the city rapidly expanded into outlying areas, the downtown area unfortunately entered a period of decline.

But this did not last long as Downtown San Jose is the cultural and political center of one of the largest tech clusters in world, Silicon Valley. By the 1980s investment poured back into Downtown with the construction of many office tours, new residential housing, a renewed focus on the arts, and the construction of the San Jose State Event Center. Downtown is now home to Adobe’s World Headquarters, BEA Systems HQ, and numerous facilities and offices of major tech companies, including Amazon Lab126 and Google. Google is planning a 67 Million expansion and develop and will break ground in 2022.

At first glance Downtown San Jose can feel rather sterile and cold. But when one dives into it deeper one discovers that it upholds urban design principles quite well. Downtown has a solid population with just over 12K per square mile, effective public transit and  excellent bike lane system that expends out to most of the City, comfortable street scape, generally good urban design with few surface parking lots, quality parks, and excellent cultural amenities. There are certainly areas for improvement including the need for much better neighborhood retail amenities, more bike rental stations, more interesting high rise buildings, and a larger concentration of the region’s share of jobs. While dedicated affordable housing is highly concentrated dwtn, market prices are very expensive, similar to prices in San Franciso. Fortunately there are many development plans in the works, including the 67 M Google development, which will bring many more residents and jobs to Downtown. I believe this will help tremendously in creating a more bustling and interesting Downtown San Jose.

Click here to view my Downtown San Jose album on Flickr


* High quality ADA infrastructure in Dwtn San Jose.
* Good density level for a Dwtn at around 12K per square mile.
* Solid public transit within the City of San Jose and good connections to its suburbs. So  public transit connection to the San Jose Airport.
* Likely one of the best dedicated bike lane coverages in the Country is here in San Jose Better than Oakland and San Fran. Network is well connected to surrounding suburbs too.
* Highly level of grid network and streets are generally not too wide and lanes are carved away for dedicated bike lanes. Sometimes feels a bit too easy to drive.
* Very good racial and economic diversity downtown. About 25% of residents are below the poverty line but the medium income is around 75K. Surprisingly around 35% of dwtn households are family ones. Also a Children’s Museum Dwtn.
* Medium rent is around $1,500 helped by the fake that Signiant portion of San Jose’s Total Affordable Housing is Dwtn.
* A decent # of grade schools (both public & private) dwtn and a large Catholic High School.
* Generally a safe dwtn helped with having a BID. Still a fair amount of homeless and panhandling, esp. on the north end of Downtown around St. James Park.
* The office towers are pretty bland but some decent residential in-fill with good urban form.
* Some very nice park spaces especially along the Guadalupe River. Pretty good civic plaza at Caesar Chavez Park
* Culturally Downtown has a great array of theaters, performing arts centers and cineplexes. The symphony, opera, & ballet are all here. Solid array of restaurants, bars, & cafes, live music venues, and clubs. Dwtn also hosts a large Convention Center, and Sharks arena, a good array of museums & art galleries, a major dwtn post office & library, and a great government complex.
* Retail amenities include a bargain supermarket, some nice local stores & boutiques (esp. along San Pedro), plenty of banks & dessert joins, a couple gyms & book stores, and plenty of churches.
* Great college presence with over 30K students attending San Jose State.
* While a bit sterile, Dwtn has a very good streetscape.


* Dedicated bike coverage is a bit limited only covering Dwtn and some inner city neighborhoods to the north and west.
* Not many elderly residents residing Dwtn. Its mostly students, young professional, and middle aged adults.
* Market rate housing is very expensive overall. Studios start at 2K, 1-bedrooms, 1-bedrooms in the 2Ks, 2-bedrooms in the 2ks & 3Ks, and few 3 bedrooms but those run in the 3K & 4Ks.
* Some studios listed around 500K. 1-bed condos sell btwn 600K-900K. A lot more 2-bedroom condos and townhomes selling btwn 700K and the low Millions. Some 3-beds townhomes and SF homes selling btwn 1M-1.5M
* Other than a 15 story historic tower the skyline is mostly bland, boxing mid rises.
* Only about 45K jobs currently in Dwtn. This is even less than San Jose, but several office towers are afoot to bring many more jobs in.
* Retail amenities are a bit lacking. No full service grocery store, nor drug store, and not a ton of local retail.
* Some surface parking remain but not too bad. Generally quality urban form Dwtn.
* Vibrancy is kinda lacking.

Downtown San Francisco- One of America’s Best Downtowns

Under Spanish and Mexican rule, what is now the Financial District and Yerba Buena Gardens, was the site of a harbor named Yerba Buena Cove with a small civilian outpost to support the military population of the Presidio and the Mission Dolores. Due to its sandy and marshy soil  the Spanish/Mexican government decided to focus their pueblo settlement at San José and the current Mission District in San Francisco. It was not until 1835 that the first settlers established themselves at Yerba Buena Cove. The Cove’s potential as a seaport made it the eventual center for European and American settlement which really accelerated after the California Gold Rush. The Downtown district became the financial capital of the west coast and only location of West Coast Skyscrapers along Market Street. After the great fire of 1906 Downtown was largely rebuilt with low-rise, masonry-clad buildings ranging from six to twelve stories. During the late 1920s, several Neo-Gothic high rises, were constructed. The Financial district then boomed with many Highrise towers in the 60s-80s. Yet many in San Fran saw this as a threat to the character of San Francisco descripting it as the Manhattanization of the City. This caused widespread opposition citywide and height restrictions were placed on new high-rise construction leading downtown to shift more to neighborhoods South of Market where high rise construction was still allowed. While I lament the anti-density sentiment this “skyscraper revolt” lead too, I’m happy that it led to an expansion of the City’s high-rise districts, creating a more dynamic and interesting skyline in San Fran.

Somewhat of a surprise to me, Downtown San Fran is my highest scoring Downtown district, beating out the likes of Midtown, Lower Manhattan, Chicago’s Loop District, Center City Philly, and Dwtn Boston. I attribute this mainly to Dwtn San Fran density (around 25K per square mile), which fosters great neighborhood amenities, high affordability levels (with 65% of all units as dedicated affordable housing), great cultural and park amenities, and an excellent bike and transit system connecting well to its neighborhoods and the entire Bay Area. Even so there are certainly aspects to improve. #1 on my list is improving the homeless situation. This causes some legitimate safety concerns but it is why many are distasteful of Dwtn. There are also very few universities Dwtn and schools could be improved. I also think Dwtn should be allowed to densify more. This could easily be a Dwtn with over 75K per square mile, something that makes a lot of sense with decreased office demand.

Click here to view my San Francisco Downtown Album on Flickr


* Great downtown density at around 25K per square mile.
* Public transit is excellent within the City and good in the overall region. Because development is hemmed in by the mountains and at least a medium density, most suburbs even have decent transit access. But the BART seems is very expensive to travel across the region and timely. To travel from Dwtn San Fran to Dwtn San Jose takes almost 2 hrs. Good connections to San Fran Airport and Dwtn Oakland.
* Excellent dedicated bike system across the Bay Area feeding in well to Dwtn San Fran. Probably the best system of any US region.
* Street Connectivity is generally at a high level in San Fran due to the grid network, good dedicated bike lane system, and lots of narrow cut through streets. Some wider one way streets but not too bad.
* Excellent bike infrastructure with a very high concentration of rentable pedal & electric bikes Dwtn. Great dedicated lane coverage connecting well with most San Fran neighborhoods. Some of the hilly districts don’t have a ton of bike lanes.
* High levels of racial and economic diversity residing in the Dwtn area.
* Around 28% of households are family households, quite high for an American Dwtn. Good age distribution as well with a large number of elderly living in the Financial district and more young and middle aged people residing in other districts. Some Children friendly activities Dwtn like the Children Activity Center and Yerba Buena Gardens.
* 60-65% of all housing units are permanent afford housing units. This probably cuts the number of rental control units down (only around 33%). Median rent is ~$1,300, quite low for San Fran.
* The elevated Sales Force Park is a high quality park space. The rest are community sized small & medium parks spread throughout. Also good water front parks too. Dwtn hosts FOUR active civic centers (Civic Plaza, Yerba, Union & Sales) each acting as civic centers for their section of Dwtn.
* Def a top-tier American Dwtn with retail and cultural amenities. A very livable Dwtn.
* Great ADA infrastructure overall.
* One of the most iconic skylines in America.


* Only about 35% of all units downtown are rental controlled.
* Plenty of schools dwtn but many of them are smaller private schools. Good # of public grade schools.
* Market rents are pricey but lots of options. Some efficiency units rent in the $1,000s but most studios & 1 beds lease in the 2Ks and low 3Ks. Some 2-beds lease in the 2Ks but most go for 3K-5K. Lot a ton of 3-bed product. This can range anywhere from 3K-8K.
* For sale is also very expensive. But some moderately priced housing with studios selling for anywhere btwn 300K-800K. Plenty of 1-bedrooms in this range too but many of them all sell around 1 M. A handful of “moderately priced” 2-bedrooms but most sell btwn 1-2M. Plenty of 3-bedroom product but only a handful of it sells around 1 M. Most is 2M+
* Dwtn only hosts one major sports arena. Also no major dwtn post office remains.
* Dwtn San Francisco was certainly a strong job center pre-pandemic with around 300K employees. But even before the pandemic there were signs of changes with increasing vacancies and rents sky high. Given its great neighborhood amenities, Dwtn San Fran should emerge as an even better mixed-use district, even if office wanes.
* Safety is a mixed bag in Downtown. The Financial District and South Beach are safety by most measures. SoMa and areas around Union Square & Civic Square can be a bit rough. Lots of homeless in these pockets.
* Only several small satellite colleges in Dwtn. Nearest large university is 3.5 miles away.
* Some image problems dwtn with its large homeless presence.

Inner Richmond- An ethnically diverse community. The Historic Russian San Fran Community.

I included the Lone Mountain subdistrict from this Inner Richmond evaluation. Some maps listed it as a separate neighborhood but others include it within Inner Richmond.

The Inner Richmond District was originally an expanse of rolling sand dunes. Development initially began in the 19th century. The neighborhood was named after a suburb of Melbourne as Richmond’s developer hailed from Australia. After the 1906 earthquake, development increased responding to the  City’s overall need for new housing. All remaining sand dunes were covered over at this time. The first influx of immigrants to Richmond actually came from Russian. Brought by the Russia Revolution of 1917 many  anti-Communist White and Orthodox Russians settled here. Irish immigrants were also among the earlier settlers to the neighborhood. The end of the Chinese Exclusion Act brought many Chinese to the district in the 1960s and this is one of four main Chinatowns in San Francisco. Clement Street especially has a high concentration of Chinese establishments and hosts great urban commercial district. Balboa Street is also a nice commercial district but more mixed-use than Clement Street. Geary Blvd is unfortunately a pretty autocentric arterial.  Other Asian immigrants have also settled in Inner Richmond including Cambodians, Koreans, and Burmese.

As one of San Francisco’s second tier urban neighborhoods developed mainly after the 1906 Earthquake, the overall urban intensity is lower here than districts closer to Downtown. But for most American metros, this would be a top-tier urban district due to its density (almost 30K per square mile), great transit access, easy commute to Dwtn, and overall walkability. Other positive attributes include access to the cultural amenities of Golden Gate Park, great retail amenities, good tree canopy, safety, and quality schools. Given San Fran’s housing shortage, I’d like to see the district’s density double. It certainly has the infrastructure to support it. The district could also use more dedicated bike lanes, increased affordability, and better urban development along Geary Blvd.

Click here to view my Inner Richmond Album on Flickr


* Great connectivity, quality public transit, and good access to dwtn.
* Wonderful racial diversity here.
* 71% of units are rent controlled.
* Inner Richmond is located in-between Golden Gate Park and the Presidio of San Franco, some of the best and more extensive parks in the City. Only handful of playgrounds, plazas, and medium parks filling out this large neighborhood.
* Cultural amenities include a nice array of ethnic restaurants, plenty of bars & cafes, several night clubs, a historic music theater, a couple live music venues, several art galleries, the arts from the University of San Francisco, and several great museums located in Golden Gate Park.
* Retail amenities are good as well including a Safeway & Trader Joes, and plenty of Grocerias (esp. Chinese ones),  several drug stores, an Office Depot,  Target, a good array of boutiques and creative retail concentrated at Clement St., a couple hardware stores, several home good stores, plenty of banks, a couple bookstores, dessert shops/bakeries, several gyms, public library branch, several post offices, lots of churches, and hospital located just outside of the district.
* Excellent walkable schools located in Inner Richmond but only grades K-8.
* Great tree canopy.


* Good but not great bike infrastructure. 2 dedicated bike lanes and good bike station coverage.
* Mediocre economic and generational diversity.
* Only a couple dedicated affordable hsg bldgs in the district.
* Medium rent is a around $1950, a tad over the City average.
* Leases are expensive. 1-bedroom lease in the $2,000s. 2-bedrooms btwn the high $2,000s and mid $4000s, 3- bedrooms 3.5K-5K.
* Some “more affordable” 1-bedroom condos selling btwn 700K-1M. Many more 2-bedrooms units ranging anywhere btwn 900K-2 M. Just as many 3-bedroom units selling for anywhere btwn the low Millions and 3M. Quite a few 4 & 5 bedroom units selling btwn 1.5M-4M.
* Limited modern in-fill and what does is exist is often pretty auto centric.
* Great urban form along Clement St. but mixed along Gearby Blvd.

Inner Sunset- Another Chinatown located south of Golden Gate Park

Before construction of the Twin Peaks Tunnel in 1917, the Sunset was a vast, sparsely inhabited area of large sand dunes and coastal scrub land known as the “Outside Lands.” Development was initiated in the 1870s and 1880s with the creation of Golden Gate Park, but it took the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to accelerate development. By the 1930s the districts was mostly built out as a solid street car suburb.  Initially Inner Sunset hosted large Irish and Italian ethnic enclaves. But beginning in the late 1960s the neighborhood saw a steady influx of Asian (mostly Chinese) spurred by the lifting of the Chinese Exclusion Act. An additional influx of Chinese arrived in 1999 as Hong Kong began its reunification with China.

From an urban perspective this is a solid urban neighborhood by what I would consider a “second tier” urban neighborhood in San Francisco built mostly after the 1906 Earthquake. The district has a very attractive urban commercial district along Irwin St. and 9th Ave, great public transit access, and overall solid walkability. Inner Richmond also hosts several quality schools, great tree canopy, and excellent park access being adjacent to Golden Gate Park and hosting several other hilltop parks.

The southern half of the district, away from Golden Gate Park, is hilly and less urban and dense. Generally still pretty walkable but at least a 15 minute walk to the commercial districts. Considering the high demand for housing in San Fran medium density neighborhoods like these should be allowed to densify. Inner Sunset could easily be a district of at least 40K per square mile instead of 20K, which would also help foster a better urban environment. More dedicated bike lanes and some additional sidewalk infrastructure are also needed. 

Click here to view my Inner Sunset Album on Flickr


* Great public transit service and solid access to Dwtn.
* Excellent racial diversity and some of the best generational diversity in the City with about 38% of family household.
* Other than a few surface parking lots and autocentric businesses on 19th Avenue excellent urban form.
* Excellent tree canopy in Inner Sunset.
* This is a very safe district.
* Several generally well-rate schools with a nice mix of public and private. All are walkable.
* About 55% of all housing units are rent controlled in Inner Sunset.
* Park Amenities are pretty great considering the northern border of Inner Sunset is Golden Gate Park. The district also hosts the extensive hilltop park of Forest Knolls and the more modest Grandview Park & Golden Gate Heights Park. A handful of other smaller parks spread throughout.
* Cultural amenities include great access to the world class museums located in Golden Gate Park, plenty of ethnic restaurants, bars, & cafes concentrated along 9th Ave & Irving St. Good node of restaurants also on Noriega just west of Inner Sunset. Also several art galleries, a couple small community theaters, and a couple live music bars.
* No supermarkets within Inner Sunset but plenty of ethnic groceries, esp. Asian ones. Other retail amenities include plenty of drug stores & banks, great array of local boutiques & unique stores, a couple book stores, a hardware store,  plenty of dessert joints and several churches. Also a local post office & library, and the several hospitals at UCSF.


* Generally good sidewalk infrastructure but plenty of intersections without modern ADA curbs and sidewalks often missing from one side of the street in the hilly parts of the district.
* Decent bike lane infrastructure bike  retails are only available in and around the biz district.
* Median rent is around $2,300 about $500 more than the City Average.  Also no dedicated affordable housing located here.
* Housing is certainly expensive here. 1-bedroom product leases in the 2,000s and is concentrated in the older parts of the district near the park. 2-bedrooms anywhere btwn the mid $2000s and low 4Ks. 3-bedrooms lease for anywhere in the mid-3Ks to 5K.
* 1-bedroom condos sell for anywhere btwn 700K-and the low 1Ms but not a ton of them. 2-bedrroms homes condos generally sell around 1.5M but vary by price and condition. 3-bedroom range btwn mid 1 Ms to high 2 Ms. Some 4 bedroom product that max out around 4 M. 

South of Market- San Fran’s most mixed-use community

I included only part of what is traditionally considered SoMa in this evaluation excluding South Beach, Rincon Hill, Mission Bay, and the Design District. I feel those neighborhoods are unique enough to stand and their own and should be evaluated separately. I thus used these boundaries for the District: Highway 101, Market Street, Townsend, and 3rd St.

During the mid-19th century, SOMA became a burgeoning pioneer community and was centered around a business district along 2nd & 3rd Streets (now Yerba Buena Gardens). The 1906 earthquake and fire completely destroyed the area but was replaced with wide streets helping to foster light to heavy industry. Still much residential mixed in creating a very mixed use area.  With the construction of the Bay Bridge and U.S. Route 101 during the 30s large swaths of the neighborhood were demolished.  The 40s & 50s saw many transients, seaman, other working class men settle in the district in its many smaller side streets and alleyways. The area quicky got a reputation for being a seedy place. This helped set the ground work for the gay leather community to take hold in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. Sadly the Aims epidemic made life challenging for the community and most of the bath houses and hang out spots were shut down by the City.

The 80s and 90s brought the city’s budding underground rave, punk, and independent music scene to the district taking over many of the neighborhoods underutilized warehouse buildings. More permanent reuses of these bldgs occurred in the mid 90s with SoMa’s resurgence as a dot-com high rent district. This trend has certainly continued into the present day and SoMa is now one of San Fran’s most mixed-use areas combining significant amounts of light manufacturing, alleyway historic housing, retail, tec offices, and new in-fill apartment buildings. SoMa also has many different urban flavors. Its northern border along Market is mostly historic office buildings and department stores. The east border is the Yerba Buena Gardens cultural and entertainment complex. The western border is filled with lots of light industrial and big box stores. The southern border blends into the newer South Park, Design District, and Mission Bay neighborhoods. Fortunately over half of SoMa housing units are restricted for affordability helping it retain a very diverse racial and economic community. There are very large Mexican and Filipino communities here. Market rents are very expensive here but there are lots of small condos selling between 300K-700K, relatively affordable for San Francisco.

Areas for SoMa to improve include better park spaces, more tree canopy, in-filling its remaining surface parking lots, redeveloping auto centric uses, and solving its lingering safety issue and large homeless population. I also believe SoMa could be a lot denser and help relieve the City’s housing shortage. Currently there are about 25K per living there per square mile. This number could easily get pushed up to 70K, a similar density of adjacent districts like Chinatown and the Tenderloin District.

Click here to view my SoMa album on Flickr


* Overall great connectivity with a very gridded street network with lots of smaller cut through streets, excellent public transit and access to Dwtn, and probably the best dedicated bike lane infrastructure in the City. Tons of tec offices located right in SoMa.
* While only around 20-25% of all units are rent controlled but around 75% of them are reserved as affordable housing units. This helps explain why the median rent is roughly $1,600.
* Excellent ADA infrastructure in this very flat district.
* SoMa hosts some of San Fran’s best and most extensive modern in-fill. Historic architecture is also pretty good… a mix of historic warehouses and traditional homes.
* Good array of restaurants, bars, and cafes but pretty spreadout throughout the district. Great array of night clubs, and live music venues. The Theaters, Cinemas, Museums, and performing arts spaces are concentrated along Market Street and Yerba Buena along the edges of SoMa.
* SoMa hosts lots of big box stores including 2 targets, a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, a couple food halls, Costco, & Bed Bath & Beyond. Also several more big boxes stores just over the boarder in the Mission District (e.g.  Best Buy, office max, Food Co). Great array of department stores and Shopping Malls in the Northeast corner of SoMa near Union Square; several home goods and Hardware stores in the western half, and a sprinkling of other retail through out. A couple post offices located here and the Main Library is nearby in Civic Square.
* Decent array of schools but not walkable high schools.
* One of the most mixed used district in San Fran combining live-work space,  residential, retail, office, and light manufacturing throughout most of the district.


* For sale product is certainly expensive but lots of options. Some of the most affordable studios in the Cit are here ranging from 300K-700K. 1-bedrooms btwn 500K-1M. 2-bedrooms btwn 750K-1.35M and some 3 & 4 bedroom product selling btwn 850K-3M
* Market rentals are more expensive. Some studios rent in the $1,000s similar to the Tenderloin district but most list in the $2,000s. 1-bedrooms 2K-4K, 2 bedrooms 3K-5K. Very limited 3-bedroom product for rent.
* There are still so safety concerns in SoMa especially with its large homeless population concentrated just south of Market Street. Some crime but doesn’t appear to be a major issue like Tenderloin.
* Several very attractive parks and plazas in SoMa including Yerba Buena Gardens, Jessie Square, a Rec Center, Victoria Manalo Park and Civic Square is nearby. But little to no parks in the western half of SoMa.
* Local boutiques and unique stores are a bit limited in SoMa.
* Tree canopy is really hit or miss. Pretty good on residential streets but more limited where manufacturing is concentrated.
* Urban massing is generally good but still some surface parking lots and autocentric uses remain. 

The Infamous Tenderloin District- Known for its homeless and crime, but still a great urban neighborhood

Development came to the Tenderloin district shortly after the California Gold Rush in 1849. This was the district where those without wealth (i.e. prospectors and immigrants) first came because it was flat. The wealth of the City settled up the hill in Nob and Russian Hill. The neighborhood quickly became known as an entertainment district — both legal and illegal. Almost all of the buildings in the neighborhood were destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire but were quickly rebuilt like the rest of the City. After the fire until the 50s the Tenderloin District was one of San Fran’s hottest places for entertainment. But this quickly changed in the 60s with the collapse of the movie industry and a rise in crime and drug dealing and general City neglect as a pass-through neighborhood between Union Square and Civic Square.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the Tenderloin was a haven for gay and lesbian San Franciscan. There was also an intense desire to avoid the wholesale urban renewal of adjacent Western Addition and Yerba Buena neighborhoods. This led to highly organized community groups in the 80s creating a historic district designation, passing zoning to prevent high rise construction and office buildings, and doubling down affordable housing preservation (25% of the district is restricted affordable housing and there are 100 bldgs of SROs). While these efforts helped maintained the district’s affordable and diverse character it has also enabled an intense concentration of homeless and poverty. I hope that some of these regulations could loosen up to encourage more retail, office, and market rate housing to completement Tenderloin’s preserved affordable units.

The Tenderloin district certainly lives up to much of its hype as a drug infested/crime and homeless written area. But not necessarily as the common observer may expect. Most of the crime is drug, prostitution, and assault among people living on the street. There are also many urban positives to Tenderloin. It is has incredible convenience located in between Civic Square, Hayes Valley, Japantown, Chinatown, Union Square, Theater Square, and Yerba, great transit access and overall great walkability. The district also boast of many cultural amenities (especially night life), great access  to shopping at Union Square and Market Street and is one of them densest and economically/racially diverse neighborhoods in San Fran. The Tenderloin District continues to be ground zero for many immigrants arriving to the Bay area especially Hispanics and Vietnamese.  Other than improving safety, Tenderloin needs more retail within its borders. Much of its current retail is convenience and liquor stores. Tree canopy could also be improved along with more green and park spaces. Even with all its issues the Tenderloin District would be a top urban district in most American metros. If it cleaned up its act it could be one of the best in San Francisco.

Click here to view my Tenderloin album on Flickr


* One of San Fran’s most dense neighborhoods at nearly 70K per square mile.
* Excellent ADA infrastructure minus a handful of intersections missing modern curb cuts
* Wonderful architecture esp. historic.
* Great urban connectivity with a location next to Dwtn, quality public transit, great bike infrastructure, and straight forward grid system.
* The most racially and economically diversity districts in the City and likely one of the most racially in the country. The district really functions as the Ellis Island for the City.
* Surprisingly only 56% of units of rent controlled. This is lower than surrounding districts.  But lots of affordable housing here  (about 25%)) due to aggressive non-profit acquisitions and about 100 SRO buildings in mostly repurposed historic hotels. Medium rent is about $250 less than the City average. This one of San Fran most affordable districts surrounded by high priced neighbors.
* While not always well maintained, lovely historic architecture. Great modern infill along the edges (Market and Van Ness Streets).
* Near perfect urban form with only a couple of auto centric mid century hotels. This feels like a slice of lower Manhattan.
* While not always agreeable characters, this is a very vibrant district.
* Surprisingly a good amount of cultural amenities within Tenderloin or nearby. The district hosts a good amount of restaurants (lots of mom & pop ethnic restaurants and dinners), plenty of cafes, and lots of bars of all types. Several theaters, performing arts venues, cinemas, museums and live music venues within and just outside the district; and good # of art galleries.
* When factoring in retail amenities along the edges of the district, Tenderloin performs rather well. Trader Joes, Whole Food, Target, San Fran public library, hospitals, and the plethora departments stores & retail chains all sit on the edges of the neighborhood. With Tenderloin retail amenities are more limited but still include,  several ethnic grocerias, drug stores, vintage clothing stores, a post office, a good # of churches, and a couple of gyms and dessert places.


* Safety and sense of safety is the #1 concern in the Tenderloin. So much so that tourist generally steer clear of the district. Tenderloin has more violent crime than almost any other neighborhood but as locals report this is generally among those living on the margins in the district. Drug usage & prostitution are still major issues but the odds of a visitor getting assaulted here are actually not that high.
* Not a ton of for sale market product. What does exist is pricey but relatively affordable to surrounding areas. For sale studios & 1-bedrooms sell anywhere between 350K-750K. 2-bedrooms btwn 800K & 1.3 M.
* Lots of market rentals available. Studios are plentiful leasing in the mid to high $1,000s. 1-bedrooms range btwn the high $1,000s to high $2,000s.2-bedroom mid 2Ks to low 3Ks.
* Schools options within the district are pretty limited and mediocre but lots of good options in walkable adjacent neighborhoods.
* Thanks to its high density, tree canopy is kinda of sparse but not bad.
* While not completely justified from an urban perspective, the persecution of this district is not great. That hasn’t stopped attractive housing and restaurants from moving in however.
* Parks within the Tenderloin are limited several nice playgrounds and plazas but several very nice parks sit on the border of the neighborhood (i.e. Civic Center, Union Square, and Yerba Buena).
* Lots of seedy liquor and convenience stores still here.