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.

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.

San Fran’s Chinatown

 Chinatown is the oldest and largest of San Francisco’s 4 Chinese enclaves. There is a lot of history documenting the neighborhood’s ups and downs combating racism, gangs, sex trafficking, disinvestment and revitalization. I’ll just cover some of the highlights. After the 1906 earthquake and fire, Chinese merchants were able to successfully rebrand Chinatown with Chinese-motif “Oriental” style in order to promote tourism in the rebuilt Chinatown. This helped quell efforts by City planners to relocated Chinatown somewhere else in the City. In the 1960s another huge wave of immigrants came with the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion act. Most came from  Hong Kong. Currently the majority of residents and immigrant are elderly, and opt to live in Chinatown because of its affordable housing and cultural ties.  As of 2015, two thirds of the Chinatown residents lived in one of its 105 single room occupancy hotels (SRO). This explains why the district’s medium rent is $760 and medium income around 55K.  Many Chinese immigrants who managed to accumulate wealth while living in Chinatown have moved to more spacious Chinatowns in the City (i.e. Richmond District, Sunset District, or Visitation Valley).

Most tourist visit Grant Street (filled with indistinguishable souvenir shops) but nearby is the more authentic Stockton Street, home to fish markets, stores, restaurants, and mixed use bldgs more akin to what one would find in Hong Kong. Chinatown also has great urban qualities including superb transit and proximity to Dwtn, affordable housing, mixed use development, great services and walkability to department stores along Union Square, vibrancy, and quality schools. Areas for improvement include better ADA infrastructure and bike lanes, more park space, better tree canopy, more for-sale condos, and a full service grocery store would be nice.

Click here to view my Chinatown Album on Flickr


* One of San Franc’s densest districts. 
* Excellent economic diversity. Prob the best in the City.
* About 75% of the units are rent controlled. Medium rents are half the City average at around $760. A significant amount of the units are run by the housing authority.
* Cultural amenities are not surprisingly mostly Chinese and restaurants, but there are a lot of them! Also a good number of cafes & tea places, art galleries, several local museums, some bars & night clubs, the Clarion Performing Arts Center, and the Great Start Theater. Very convenient access to all the theaters, museums and cinema plexs located around Union Square at Yerba Buena.
* Retail amenities include an endless amount of souvenir shops, boutiques, small Asian grocerias, bakeries & dessert shops. Target and a plethora of department stores and retail are located with 1/2 a mile away. Also plenty of drug stores, & churches, several book stores, a post office, public library, a local Chinese Hospital.
* Several excellent schools within and near Chinatown. But limited # of high schools.
* Very vibrant district.
* Great urban massing and a very imageable district with its Chinese distinction.


* Generally very good ADA infrastructure but several intersections missing modern ADA ramps and some steep hills along the western edge.
* Limited dedicated bike lanes but pretty good bike station coverage.
* About 70% of the population is Asian but very old.
* Rents are a bit high but certainly much more affordable than other parts of San Fran. Studios & 1-bedrooms lease in the mid-high $1,000s, 2-bedrooms in the mid $2,000s, 3-bedrooms lease in the $3,000s. Overall market rate product is pretty limited especially 3-bedrooms
* For sale products are even more limited but similar priced to surrounding areas.
* Chinatown is generally pretty safe. A bit sketchy at night in certain pockets.
* Several nice squares (e.g. Portsmonth, St. Mary’s, Wong Playground, and Woi Hei Yuen),  but much less greenspace than most San Fran districts. Good access to other Park Spaces in adjacent districts too.
* No supermarkets located within Chinatown nor nearby.
* Tree canopy is only so . Not much space for them in this dense district.

Nob Hill- San Fran’s Historic Wealthy Enclave

Nob Hill  has always been knowns as a home for the wealthy due to its central position and outstanding views. Before the fire of 1906 it was lined with numerous mansions. After the fire these mansions where replaced with high end hotels and flats. Nob Hill is among the highest-income neighborhoods in the United States. Surprisingly Nob Hill (especially when one includes Lower Nob Hill) is one of the City’s most diverse economic districts with a poverty rate that hovers around 10%. This is largely due to the fact that 78% of all housing units are rent controlled.

Other areas of strength for Nob Hill include its high density and mixed-use development, great cultural amenities, host of San Fran’s best concentration of department stores (surrounding Union Square), quality public transit, and great access to Downtown and many other great districts. Areas for Nob Hill to improve include more dedicated bike lanes, more family households, better tree canopy, and cleaning up some sketchy spots bordering the Tenderloin District.

Click here to view my Nob Hill Flick Album


* One of San Franc’s densest districts. Lower Nob Hill is the most dense part of the neighborhood.
* Very convenient to Dwtn San Fran complemented with excellent public transit access.
* Excellent Racial and economic diversity.
* Medium rent is around $1,600 below the City average. 78% of all units are rent controlled.
* Nice mix of private and public schools all rated above average.
* Cultural amenities include several great theaters around Union Square, a movie theater, tons of art galleries, restaurants, bars & cafes, several night clubs & live music venues, a handful of local museums but only about 1 mile to all the cultural amenities in Dwtn.  
* Neighborhood amenities include a Trader Joe’s, tons of small grocerias, several drug stores, a plethora of department stores & brand name retail surrounding Union Square, a hardware store, home goods stores, plenty of boutique stores & gyms, several book stores, dessert shops, a local post office, St. Francis Hospital, and plenty of churches.
* Great mixed use development throughout.


*Bike infrastructure a bit underwhelming. Only one dedicated north-side route along Polk with bike station concentrated along the arterials.
* Generational diversity is fair. Roughly 22% of all households are families.
* For sale housing is certainly expensive but unlike most San Fran districts some studios & 1-bedrooms sell around 500K/700K. Most 1-bedrooms sell btwn 700K and the low 1 Ms, 2-bedrooms generally 1-2 M, 3-bedrooms Low 1 Ms to low 3 Ms but plenty sell for more. 4 beds generally sell in the 2 & 3 Ms.
* Studios start in the high $1,000s, 1-bedroom rentals lease generally in the$2,000s, 2-bedrooms 3-5K. 3 bedrooms in the high 2ks to 4K. Some rents above 4K for larger units.
* Several nice squares (e.g. Union Square), playgrounds and a rec center, but much less greenspace than most San Fran districts.
* Generally Nob Hill is pretty safe but gets a bit sketchy in Lower Nob Hill which borders the Tenderloin District.
* For such a dense area the Tree canopy is good but much less than most San Fran districts.

Russian Hill- Home to Lombard Street but so much more!

The neighborhood’s name goes back to the Gold Rush era, when settlers discovered a small Russian cemetery at the top of the hill. Russian naval and merchant ships frequently visited San Francisco throughout the 19th century. Like Nob Hill, Russian Hill was almost completed leveled during the 1906 fire. But rebuilding came swiftly and its replacement was attractive (although less ornate than the Victorian era) flats and apartments. Russian is most famous for Lombard Street, where the roadway switches back 8 times down a steep road. This is interesting but extremely touristy. I much prefer the views at Ina Coolbirth Park, which leads down to Telegraph Hill. Very few tourist come here. One can see San Francisco in several directions from here. Other attractive pedestrian only lanes/stairs include Macondray Lane and Fallon Place.

Russian Hill from an urban perspective has great access to several exciting urban districts (Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and Telegraph Hill), and itself hosts three quality biz districts (Polk St, Hyde St, and Columbus Ave). It also has great schools, is safe, provides quality transit access, and due to its hills and high rises is a very imaginable district. Areas to improve include more modern ADA curbs in many intersections and more bikes lanes. There is also a strong need for more affordable 3 & 4 bedrooms spaces to attract family households.

Click here to view my Russian Hill Flickr Album


* Excellent urban density.
* High quality urban transit and very convenient access to Downtown and other central districts.
* Very few auto centric spots in the district. Great urban form along the commercial districts.
* Good racial diversity.
* 70% of all units are rent controlled in the district.
* Several quality parks within or on the edges of Russian Hill. But not walkable to any blockbuster parks. The Ina Coolbirth Park is one of my favorites for views of the City. Its very much off the beaten path.
* With biz districts along Broadway, Polk St, and Columbus Ave there are excellent retail amenities including plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafes, several bookstores, plenty of small to medium ethnic grocers and healthy grocery stores, a couple hardware stores & pharmacies, lots of boutiques and unique retail, gyms, dessert places, and local library. Russian Hill is also adjacent to Chinatown, Little Italy, Fisherman’s wharf and only 1.5 miles to Union Square in Dwtn.
* Cultural amenities include a plethora of art galleries and local performing arts theaters, a couple live music venues, a handful of local museums. Walkable to the many cultural amenities of Chinatown, Little Italy, Fisherman’s Wharf and Downtown.
* a very safe district.
* Excellent public schools both within and just outside of the district’s borders. Russian Hill hosts the highly rated Galileo High and a couple Catholic schools.
* Very nice historic architecture and very good modern in-fill, albeit not a ton of it.
* Great imageability with several distinctive biz districts, strong borders, and lots of elevation change creating some interesting landmarks.


* Quite a few missing ADA curbs and steep hills make the ADA infrastructure less than other San Fran districts but still good overall.
* Only one bike lane running down Polk St but a good # of bike shares concentrated along the thoroughfares.
* Poor generational diversity and only fair economic diversity.
* Medium rent is 2,300, higher than the City’s average.
* For sale housing is certainly expense but unlike most San Fran districts some studios & 1-bedrooms sell around 500K/700K. Most 1-bedrooms sell in the low 1 Ms, 2-bedrooms generally 1-2 M, 3-bedrooms 2-3.5 M but plenty sell for more. Good amount of 4 & 5 bedroom units for 3-9M.
* Studios lease for around 2K, 1-bedroom rentals lease from 2.5-3.5K, 2-bedrooms 3-5K. There are very few 3 -bedroom rentals available.
* The district lacks a full service grocery store, department stores, and local post office.

Telegraph Hill- Home to San Fran’s Little Italy

In the early to mid 1800s Telegraph Hill was known as “Goat Hill” and was the neighborhood of choice for many Irish immigrants. But this changed in 1849 with the construction of a marine telegraph in the mid 1800s used to signal to ships entering the Golden gate. Eventually the tower became obsolete and Coit Tower was built in its place in the 30s, which provides a wonderful observation deck for the City. Telegraph Hill is also an extension of the historic Italian neighborhood extending south from North Beach. Little Italy is still alive here with its heart located at Grant and Green.  Telegraph Hill also became a destination for poets and bohemian intellectuals in the 1920s creating a very West Village esh vibe.

Telegraph Hill excels at great transit access and proximity to Downtown and other thriving districts, excellent walkable schools, great retail & cultural amenities, and high % of rent control units helping create a more economically diverse neighborhood than most in San Fran. Main areas I’d like to see the district improve is offering more affordable 3 & 4 bedrooms conducive to family households, better tree canopy, and additional dedicated bike lanes. 

Click here to view my Telegraph Hill album on Flickr


* Excellent public transit access and proximity to Downtown (especially the financial district).
* This is one of the most economically diverse parts of the City where the medium household income is just shy of 70K. Also great racial diversity as well.
* Medium rents are about the City’s average and 70% of units are rent controlled.
* Some quality recreational spaces, but not as spectacular as most San Fran districts.
* Culturally plenty of great restaurants, bars, and cafes (especially Italian ones), a couple of local theaters & several live music venues &  night clubs, several local museums and the Science Center. Telegraph Hill also has great access to the cultural amenities of the Financial District, Chinatown, and Fisherman’s Wharf.
* Neighborhood assets include many ethnic grocerias, a Safeway Grocery Store, several drug stores, a couple libraries, a local post office, plenty of boutiques and creative retail (esp. along Grant Ave), a couple bookstores, gyms, and plenty of dessert shops.
* By all measures this is a very safe district.
* Several well rated schools within the district but not as many as surrounding neighborhoods.
* Great vibrancy along Broadway and Grant but much less so on the hilly part of the district.
* Several landmarks and vertical hills that help the district with imageability.
* Excellent urban massing. Only a handful of surface parking lots along the Embarcadero.


* A very hilly district, even for San Fran, standards makes walkability a bit more challenging. A good amount of modern ADA curb ramps missing.
* Because the neighborhood was mostly in the 1906 fire, buildings are a bit newer and plainer. Because of its proximity to the Financial District many plain modern 1970s & 1980s building were built, but generally with good urban form.
* Bike infrastructure are concentrated along the edges of the district.
* Only about a quarter of all households are families.
* For sale housing is certainly expense but unlike most San Fran districts some studios & 1-bedrooms sell around 500K/600K. Most 1-bedrooms sell around 1 M, 2-bedrooms generally 1-2 M, 3-bedrooms around 3 M.
* 1-bedroom rentals lease from 2-3K, 2-bedrooms 2-4.5K. There are very few 3 -bedroom rentals available.
* Only a handful of churches.
* Good but not great tree canopy.