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Your guide to San Francisco / Top 5 neighborhoods to explore

Top 5 San Francisco neighborhoods to explore

San Francisco is home to numerous districts that offer unique vibes to experience, attractions to explore and flavors to sample. While you won't have time to visit every corner of the city during a typical weekend getaway, you should put these five San Francisco neighborhoods at the top of your to-do list.

Mission District

Mission District
Image via Flickr by emilio59

Find it on Google Maps.

One of San Francisco's most colorful neighborhoods, the Mission District boasts countless murals and bold street art in every direction. The Mission has long been a lively Latin American enclave, and as you admire the dynamic artwork, you'll discover the vibrant culture that permeates the district. This is the perfect spot to sample the best Salvadoran pupusas, Mexican tacos and Latin American street food in the city. Like many San Francisco neighborhoods, the Mission has evolved since the Bay Area's tech boom. Beside decades-old taquerias, you'll find hip coffee shops such as Four Barrel, French bakeries such as Tartine and upscale restaurants such as Californios, making the Mission one of San Francisco's most fascinating districts.

The Castro

The Castro

Find it on Google Maps.

Just west of the Mission, the Castro District is known for its vibrant LGBT culture, its colorful nightlife scene and its many green spaces. Though the Castro was once considered suburban San Francisco, today, the F-line streetcars make this neighborhood easy to access from tourist hot spots like Fisherman's Wharf.

As a first-time visitor, consider touring the GLBT History Museum to explore how the district came to be, and both new and repeat visitors should take the opportunity to catch a show at the historic Castro Theatre, which shows both new blockbusters and cult films. During the day, take a stroll through Mission Dolores Park or Corona Heights Park, and in the evening, dance the night away at one of the Castro's many nightclubs.

Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury
Image via Flickr by hans-jürgen2013

Find it on Google Maps.

Haight-Ashbury is famous for sparking the counterculture movement in the 1960s, and today, it still maintains an offbeat, open-minded vibe. If you want to step back in time to the late 1960s, make a pilgrimage to the Grateful Dead House, which the five founding members once called home. Stop by Amoeba Music to browse for retro vinyl and new recordings, and do some shopping in the many vintage stores that line Haight Street.

Kick back and relax in beautiful Buena Vista Park or in Golden Gate Park, which is on the western edge of the neighborhood. Then settle into one of the Haight's many jazz bars for a laid-back evening.

Chinatown

Chinatown

Find it on Google Maps.

One of the largest Chinatowns in the United States, San Francisco's Chinatown has long been a hub for the city's Chinese population. Today, Chinatown is one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city, and you'll find no shortage of things to do, see and eat. Set your sights on the impressive Dragon Gate, which marks the southern entrance to the neighborhood. Then follow the street vendors as you make your way north on Grant Avenue.

Visit the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum to learn more about this neighborhood's fascinating history, tour the striking Tin How Temple and then wander through the maze of alleyways. Throughout Chinatown, you'll find countless markets to discover, shops to explore and restaurants to try. Don't miss your chance to try your luck at the iconic Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory or to sample the spicy Sichuan noodles at classic restaurants like the Far East Cafe.

North Beach

North Beach
Image via Flickr by Mobilus In Mobili

Find it on Google Maps.

Sandwiched between Fisherman's Wharf and Embarcadero, North Beach offers easy access to some of San Francisco's most popular sights yet still retains plenty of charm. One of the city's first neighborhoods and home to San Francisco's oldest street, North Beach has served as the Bay Area's Little Italy for over 100 years. Countless Italian restaurants and bakeries continue to thrive today, and North Beach is your go-to spot for sipping a cappuccino, enjoying a plate of pasta or indulging in delicious cannoli.

In the mid-20th century, North Beach became a hot spot for members of the Beat movement. Today, the iconic City Lights bookstore still welcomes poets, writers and readers of all ages. North Beach is also home to Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, which offer panoramic views of the city. It's a must for first-time visitors to San Francisco.

Whether you're looking for amazing street art, seaside fun or delicious food, the Golden City has it all. Which San Francisco neighborhood is your favorite?

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