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Best SF chowhound neighborhood?

We would greatly appreciate help from you experts!

My wife, baby (1 yr) and I are going to SF for the first time. We will be on foot and want to stay in a safe area, with great walking range site-seeing, and most important, great cheap-eats area.

To give some of you a better idea of what atmosphere we love, our favorite trip is the Denman Street / Stanley Park neighborhood in Vancouver Canada for all these same reasons!

We are considering staying in 3 different neighborhoods but don't know which is best for this type of trip:

1) Union Square neighborhood (around were Powell and Stockton cross Sutter and Bush). Seems very central but maybe too much of a business/financial area??

2) North of Chinatown (were Columbus and Broadway cross). It doesn't seem too dense for a mainly foot trip???

3) Fisherman's Wharf (were Powell and Beach cross). I understand it may be too touristy???

Thanks!

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  1. The best cheap-eats areas in San Francisco are arguably the Mission (esp the stretches of Valencia and Mission between 16th & 24th and again around 29th & 30th streets) and the Inner Sunset along Irving. Of the two, the Mission is more transit-accessible. Though the Mission lacks hotels, one option between the Mission and the Castro is the Parker Guest House, which puts you in easy range of Tartine bakery, Delfina, Bi-Rite Creamery, everything near 16th & Valencia (Ti Couz, Sunflower, Truly Mediterranean). As for the Inner Sunset, it's much less central, and I'm not aware of hotels there.

    Among the 3 areas you mentioned, I'd vote for Union Square. Chinatown is close, as is the Tenderloin, and Union Sq itself has good cheap eats. It's also near lots of movies, some museums, and of course shopping. The Mission is an easy BART ride from Union Square where you can take advantage of everything there.

    1. The Mission's by far the best. Not much in the way of hotels or B&Bs there, but there are some vrbo.com listings for nearby Noe Valley. (Note that Mission Bay is nowhere near the Mission.)

      http://www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/...

      Here's a "where should a chowhound live" topic that might be useful:

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

      Fisherman's Wharf is about the worst place for a food lover to stay.

      Union Square's okay, though most of the great chowish places near by are in the Tenderloin, which is relatively unsafe.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        The Mission is great for cheap eats, but fails the "site-seeing" requirement.

      2. Definitely Union Square, especially if you go around the holidays (awesome decorations and good cheer everywhere). You've got superb food and neighborhood sight-seeing in a few blocks of this central hub, with every other part of the city easily reachable via high concentrations of transit scheduling no more than a few blocks away. Basically, it's the closest thing to a central transportation hub the city offers.

        Easily accessible are:

        -Richmond District (plenty of great Asian food) and Golden Gate Park
        -North Beach (great food and views)
        -Chinatown (lots of fun, some darn good food here and there)
        -Financial District (great food, shopping and sightseeing)
        -Ferry Building (awesome food-lovers experience, great views)

        I could go on. The Mission has some great food, but it ain't high on scenery and views. You should visit it, though. Be sure to consider taking the kids across the Bay on a ferry ride to Sausalito. That would be a lasting memory for them.

        Avoid Fisherman's Warf. Tacky tacky tacky.

        11 Replies
        1. re: uptown jimmy

          The view from the top of Dolores park is pretty spectacular.

          1. re: misti

            Not a whole lotta food on Dolores, though. And there is an infant involved....

            1. re: uptown jimmy

              Not on Dolores true true, but it's a nice walk. my sis has two babies and we walked up that hill, but she is a bit of a health nut. But on 18th there's lots of food. Tartine, Delfina pizzaria--more appropriate for the lil' ones....I just think its worth the trip

              1. re: misti

                Oh definitely worth the trip. Get some tamales in the deep Mission for sure. And the view from the top of Dolores park is very nice.
                There's some great food in the Mission. I miss it.

                BTW, I recall a nice Shawarma shop on 16th; I wonder if it's still there...

                1. re: uptown jimmy

                  That's the previously mentioned Truly Mediterranean.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Riiiight. I used to work at Muddy Waters coffee house, and they appeared right before I left town. I think they were Jordanian friends of my Jordanian bosses at MW. Great folks, great food, great (strong!) coffee. Loved that shawarma. The eggplant was great. One of the many bargain bites in that area, and so tasty. I'm glad they're still humming along.

                    Oh, the memories.

                  2. re: uptown jimmy

                    I rarely recommend Mexican food in this town unless I know where the OP is from - if Boston, then yes, SF Mexican is an improvement, if from the LA, the Southwest, Texas, then don't bother.

                    In my experience, 99% of the tamales in this town suck or are so bland and boring they're not worth the calories.

                    1. re: larochelle

                      For great Mexican food, the best thing is to jump on BART and go to Oakland's Fruitvale district. A sunny weekend afternoon's the best, hundreds of Mexican families shopping and strolling.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I volunteer for a nonprofit near Fruitvale so I am familar with the area. Most of the places I've had been have been better than what I can find in SF but not "great". If you have any specific recommendations for places and signature dishes, I'm all ears.

                      2. re: larochelle

                        I agree, but I did have some pretty good tamales when we return-visited a few years back. We found them in a little Mexican grocery pretty deep in the Mission, at least around 20th or 24th on Mission. It's been a while, so forgive me. Very low-key place, very little English.

            2. Interesting query. When I first read your post I was thinking how the touristy places are generally the worst for good chow, so it would be very difficult to fit all of your criteria. But then I saw your North Beach option (Columbus at Broadway) and I think that fits your bill pretty good. It is a fantastic neighborhood to walk around (my favorite), lot’s of restaurants (many are touristy, but Chowhound should be able to steer you away from those) and things to do.

              I agree with the others that Mission has some great cheap food (as well as the Richmond District and the inner Sunset), but there really isn’t much to see on foot. At least at North Beach you would feel like you are in the middle of it all.

              1. Another vote for the North Beach option (Columbus at Broadway), with Union Square as #2. Lots of good resturants, close to Chinatown, and the most picturesque of the options. Are there tourist there? Yes. But you're on vacation! And it's not exclusively tourists as it would be at Fiserman's Warf.

                1. This is terrific information! I should add that our trip will be July 2007. North Beach is starting to sound more and more like what we're looking for.

                  Is it mainly only Italian fare or is Asian easily found as well? We love dim sum, pho soups, viet subs, red and green lao/thai curry.

                  Any middle eastern foods like shawarma and falafel???

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Roberto7

                    North Beach is a fairly small area, and right next to Chinatown, so I think you will have a hard time NOT running into Asian food! :)

                    1. re: coolbean98

                      All true, but be sure to do your research as the quality in Chinatown is highly variable, especially for Thai, Viet, and Malay.

                    2. re: Roberto7

                      There was a place but it closed down. I say try to come to the mission you can take a bus down from North Beach and it's really worth the trip food-wise. Plus there are lots of great little shops to poke around in and both Truly Med and Ali Baba's have good shawarma and falafel.....

                      1. re: Roberto7

                        ...and North Beach has Persian, (Maykedeh) and Afghan.(Helmand).....both excellent..Helmand does an excellent buffet lunch...!

                      2. I vote for Union Square. The cross streets you identify are on the north side of the square and close enough to Chinatown. Since you like pho and vietnamese sandwiches, the Tenderloin is a few blocks over from Union Square, although you'll probably want to go to the Larkin Street/Polk Street area by way of the Geary bus.

                        You did mention safety, however. The immediate Union Square area and North Beach are relatively safe. Many parts of the Mission and the Tenderloin are not as safe, particularly in the evening.

                        1. I would chose North Beach (north of Chinatown) -- safe and good, inexpensive food. Close enough to Fisherman's wharf to walk.

                          1. If you stay in North Beach, House would fit the bill for your Asian crave. Fusion twist but one of my favorites none the less. Might wanna see about reservations.

                            kim @ apizza

                            1. Where are they going to stay in North Beach? By the limited number of hotels around Gary Danko's and Fisherman's Wharf? Union Square is a much better bet. It's central, has transportation options, and also is near some really nice restaurants. They're tourists, not locals who live in SF.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: FoodGroupie

                                Our trip will be 1 week in July.

                                If we stay in Union, we would stay at either: Chancellor Hotel, Inn at Union Square, Donatello, Grovsenor Suites, Cartwright Hotel).

                                If we stay in North Beach, we would stay at Hotel Boheme.

                                If we stay in Fish Wharf, we would stay at Best Western Tuscan.

                                1. re: Zoe19

                                  There is also the Washington Square Inn http://www.wsisf.com/

                                  right across from Washington Sq. park and Mamas-- You have to go to Mama's while you are in town. It has great breakfasts well worth the wait. Also, right on that block is Cafe Divine which is a really lovely little place with good food, great coffee, big windows and a really beautiful old wood bar and Mario's Cigar Shop which is a tiny little place to have sandwiches and coffee and a drink. Both places are fine for kids and I've heard great things about the Inn.

                                  Also a couple of blocks away--towards Fisherman's wharf is Hotel San Remo, which my mom stayed at when she was in town and liked it. Its really rustic--not as hip as Boheme or Washington Square Inn. It has shared baths--its that kind of place. Although te Penthouse is cheap (for a penthouse, anbiet a very SF pent house) $175/ night. It has a roof deck a private bathroom with clawfoot tub etc. etc.

                                  http://www.sanremohotel.com

                              2. Oh, definately Hotel Boheme
                                http://www.northbeachshop.com/images/...

                                That would be the safest neighborhood, IMO, with the largest selection of nearby cheap eats. There are so many nice coffee shops nearby ... Greco, Trieste, Caffe Roma (my favorite). You are two blocks from Chinatown and really near Golden Gate Bakery where you can pick up some great pork buns and egg tarts. Uh, skip Calzones which is next door. They are ok, but there is so much better nearby.

                                The thing with Union Square is that the nearby cheap eats are on dicy streets, there's just not as much food available. It would not be as charming as North Beach.

                                Fisherman's Wharf is just walking distance to Fisherman's Wharf. The hotel would have no water view and you are stuck in a place with high-priced tourist joints where the food is average at best.

                                Don't forget foccacia at Linquira Bakery in North Beach or the truffles at XOX chocolates (a tiny shop with local charm ... not really a coffee shop, but they have graffeo coffee and you get a free chocolate). A little pricy and a wait, but Mama's in Washington Square has a nice breakfast. Stop by Imperial Tea for atmosphere.

                                Depends on how much you like to walk, but IMO, Fisherman's Wharf is walkable, you are next to Chinatown, near enough to walk to Union Square, If you walk down Broadway it puts you on the Embarcadero near the Ferry Building ... go to the Saturday morning farmers market.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: rworange

                                  Fantastic suggestions! Sounds amazing!

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    In July, definitely North Beach when you can soak in the sidewalk caffe culture and have an easy walk to the wharf, Chinatown, and Union Square as Krys says. It seems to be the most popular part of the City with European visitors. Last summer I plopped myself at a sidewalk table at the gelato stand, and while the gelato wasn't so good, it was great to soak in the street scene on Columbus.

                                    Naia in North Beach -
                                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                  2. Just a couple notes.

                                    Riding the 30 and 45 qualify as completely hellish experiences in my book.....and that's without a small child.

                                    Also...to designate Tartine and Bi-Rite as yuppy is simply....misguided. Sorry. As an unemployed 22 year old Tartine's pastries were still enough to keep me in line for the upside of 10 - 15 minutes.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: fistalee

                                      I think the prices at Tartine and Bi-Rite invite the yuppie label, especially with dirt-cheap ethnic alternatives a block or two away. They're still great places.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Ethnic but not organic. It's just a different experience. I work at Bi-rite and yeah there are plenty of yuppies but also most of my friends who are definitely not yuppies shop there. Lots of farm fresh produce and it's expensive but you are supporting local farmers and artisans.

                                        Same goes for Tartine. 5 bucks for a hot loaf of olive bread with thyme and lemon zest and it's about the size of a small child. not bad. There's not really an alternative to that. Or is there?

                                        1. re: misti

                                          What kind of work do you do at Bi-Rite and how long have you been there? Excuse my forwardness - but I'd like to pick someone's brain about how organic their deli/prepared foods are and other little geeky things that go on there - but I totally understand if it's not cool...

                                          1. re: scarmoza

                                            the deli/prepared foods are just as organic as the other stuff in the store they have some organic ingredients and some not. Like I don't think the capers in the salmon salad are organic nor the pasta but the salmon is usually wild if wild is available and the mayo is store made with free range eggs. the salads are made with the salad greens we sell which are always organic. oh. I'm a floor manager.

                                          2. re: misti

                                            I think Tartine's bread is worth $5, and I'll happily swing by Bi-Rite and spend another $5 on a little container of brandade to spread on it, but that pretty much proves that I'm a yuppie.

                                          3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            A few weeks ago I went to Tartine for the first time. I expected to find a hip/trendy little bakery and due to this misconception I almost walked right past it! I was really impressed how down to earth the whole establishment was and the prices were not that high given the portion and quality. It reminded me of places I liked to visit when I was in college.

                                            1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                              I know isn't it great? I love it. It's trendy without being pretentious or inaccessible.

                                        2. It sounds like you have done your homework and you have also received some great pointers. As a frequent tourist to SF I used the neighborhood guide from the Chronicle to get some good ideas for sightseeing and shopping (the food picks aren't as good as CH).

                                          http://www.sfgate.com/traveler/guide/...

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                            I also recommend cross-referncing any Chronicle favorites here on Chowhound. Their food reviewer heartily endorses several unimpressive restaurants.

                                          2. I just returned from a trip to SF; ate well with the help of SF Chowhounds. I've stayed this time at a hotel at the Wharf (Courtyard), and I have to say in terms of neighborhoods the Wharf seems safer than Union Square (stayed there twice previously). With a small child I think Pier 39 may be a little more interesting than Union Square, which is more geared towards the shoppers.

                                            In terms of foodie location I agree that the North Beach will be good. Another place to consider is the Embarcadero. Both Wharf and Embarcadero have the F line and the trolley which will take you to most touristy areas in the city. Actually from the Wharf it's about 25 minutes walk to Chinatown, along Columbus. I think it's a nice walk during the summer. We walked everywhere this time except when it rained.

                                            The cheapest meals I had are at Chinatown, but the most impressive food place is the Ferry Market.

                                            Last thought - with a week in SF you may want to rent a car and drive up to Napa/Sonoma. I wished I stayed there at least 1 night this trip. Also check out www.tripadvisor.com for hotel opinions.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: notmartha

                                              Pier 39 is of zero interest as regards the sort of things we talk about on Chowhound. It's a shopping mall with expensive bad restaurants and fast food.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                True, that's why I separated out the comments on food (North Beach, Chinatown, Embarcadero) versus what to do with a small child (carousel, performers, seals at Wharf area).

                                                Lodging choices aren't strictly chowhound relevant either.

                                                Honestly I think a 25 minute walk to a good restaurant isn't that bad, but that's just me. I like to build up an appetite before I eat, and walk it off after I do.

                                                1. re: notmartha

                                                  The Wharf is definitely a great place to stay if you enjoy a 25-minute walk to a good restaurant. Nothing notable in the immediate area except Gary Danko and Albona.

                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Indeed. Please avoid Fisherman's Wharf. It is a nasty tourist trap. Very bad.

                                                3. re: notmartha

                                                  One thing is for sure, don't stay in North Beach if you have a car!

                                                4. This all depends on how long you're staying and whether or not you're renting a car.

                                                  We traveled with 2 little ones (2 & 5)sans car, and the culinary highlights included Tartine in the Mission, the Ferry Building for a market walk-through, and Burma Superstar in Inner Richmond for dinner. Union Square seemed most central in terms of tranist access & lodging options. Avoid F-Wharf like the plague unless you just shoot through on the way to your Alcatraz tour. To walk off those extra calories & to take in spectacular city views, try walking from Haight or Castro up to Buena Vista Park, or from the Embarcadero or North Beach up to Coit Tower.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: g rote

                                                    My next trip to SF I think I'll stay at the Embarcadero, as my favorite food places were at the Ferry Building and my regret was I don't have time to try enough of the food there during a brief trip.

                                                    Yup - the wharf is touristy, but for me the hotel worked out better than any of the previous ones I stayed at (Hotel Drisco at Pacific Heights, Hyatt at Union, Hotel Carlton at Union). Basically the hotel was just a place to sleep. I don't hang out there, I don't go to restaurants there. The hotels located off Beach St were like a different world from the chaos at the Wharf area, and there were a lot less street noises than at Union Square (I heard sirens at night while staying at Union Square). Also, if you have kids, it's less scary for them because there are a lot less homeless people there (at least during winter). Union Square at night seems to resemble a homelss shanty town with people sleeping at store fronts. During daylight we encountered a mentally disturbed person around the Leland Tea harassing and cussing at pedestrians. We couldn't run away fast enough. The North End, Embarcadero and Wharf seems relatively safe in comparion.

                                                    Briefly thought about Japantown, but it's really quite far from any tourist sightseeing spots, and not that many hotels. Attended a convention there last March. The food at Ino Sushi was extremely memorable, however.

                                                    1. re: notmartha

                                                      Just a note that having lived in the Embarcadero area for over a decade, while I enjoyed it, it is an area that for most part you need $$$$$ ... $$$$ ... $ ... etc.

                                                      If you had a hotel with a water view that would be nice, but as you said, how much do you stay in the room? Even living there, I wasn't staring out the window at the boats going by all that much.

                                                      There are some good food options in the area, sort of, but most are pricy and there is a lot of mediocre stuff ... even at the Ferry Building, except at the Saturday market.

                                                      Especially around Justin Plaza, the homeless problem is almost as prevalent as Union Square. It is nice if staying in different neighborhoods, but it wouldn't be my first reccomendation for the OP.

                                                  2. My suggestion does not meet the OP's criteria for great sight-seeing within walking distance, but staying at one of the hotels near Japantown offers the following:

                                                    1. Easy walking access to many restaurants around Japantown and along Fillmore Street (Lower Pacific Heights). While there aren't a lot of cheap eats within walking distance, there is a very good variety of cuisines and price points.

                                                    2. Excellent and easy Muni bus access to most other foodie neighborhoods, especially those with cheap-eats: #22 line to the Mission, Lower Haight, and the Castro (also transfer from there to the N Judah light rail to get to the Inner Sunset) all to the south, also Cow Hollow and The Marina to the north. #38 and #2 lines to the Richmond to the west and Tendernob and Union Square to the east. #1 to Russian Hill, Chinatown and the Embarcadero and #1BX in the morning to the financial district.

                                                    3. Japantown/Lower Pac Heights is definitely safer than Union Square.

                                                    Basically, staying "central" to other foodie neighborhoods has its advantage.

                                                    1. Berkeley has many food choices. Gourmet Ghetto for example. Do a google search.

                                                      1. Oh my my!!

                                                        All these posts are dizzying!

                                                        Roberto! You have lots of suggestions here.. Some are totally ridiculous, some very good....

                                                        Here my 2 cents from a 3rd generation San Franciscan....

                                                        I note you like a variety of Asian cusines... well, you're coming to right place! Problem is Asian restaurants are NOT very centralized, they're all over the city... There are centralized Chinese areas and the like, but food quality varies all over the city.

                                                        So... For me, it comes down to location, location, location! Which was your original question.

                                                        You want things to see and do, good transportation access and good food.....

                                                        I would say pick the best of all of those, but there will be concessions....

                                                        Example:

                                                        North Beach Hotels - Transport's OK, food (Chinese/Italian), sites (North beach, China town, Wharf, Strip clubs on Broadway {probably NOT going to be interested}), acess to plenty of sites!

                                                        Union Square - Higher priced hotels, but bargains can be found, food is more continental and expensive, transportation is limited and lots of street people are within 2-3 blocks. So, I would say....Transport (soso), Hotel (good), food (poor), sites (so so)... This is where all the TOURISTS stay. Why? I don't know....

                                                        Fisherman's Wharf - Simpler hotels (Stay away from the Embarcadero), lots of public transport (cable car, bus, light rail and BART via light rail), sites (you're on the bay!) acess to every part of SF with good transport. Safe area? Any place where tourists are, vagrants will follow.... I've never had a problem in any area mentioned with the exception of Union Square. Food? Lots of cheap eats, also quality food if you wish. Easy access to North Beach, China town, Marina, etc...

                                                        I would choose the Wharf as a starting local....

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: mojo2

                                                          How is transportation limited from Union Square? The cable car, MUNI, and BART all run right through it and has the best selection of hotels in town. The main detractor from Union Square is the lack of food, but it is very central.

                                                          Fisherman's wharf is simply horrendous. I am embarassed when visitors think it has anything to do with San Francisco as a city. It is a tacky tourist hell and I can't fathom why anyone would recommend it.

                                                          North Beach is a good compromise. I don't know hotels there, but if you find one that looks good, it is a great food/siteseeing neighborhood.

                                                          Just a warning that it can get into the 50's in July and is rarely very warm. Enjoy your trip!

                                                          1. re: norjah

                                                            I'm with Norja. Again, every transportation line in the city runs two blocks from Union Square. And North Beach is one of my favorite spots.

                                                            I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone, much less a native, would recommend the Wharf. Just one of the tackiest, most obnoxious places I've ever seen. And with really, really bad food offerings...

                                                            1. re: uptown jimmy

                                                              I totally disagree with mojo2. The only place where I've been accosted by a homeless person in a really aggressive manner is in Cow Hollow, on Union Street. Never had a problem in Union Square. There are some nice restaurants nearby in the hotels.

                                                              Fisherman's Wharf is a total tourist dive, pretty tacky. No one would recommend eating or staying there. And no San Franciscan native would go there unless there was some compelling reason to do so. Gary Danko's is pretty close though.

                                                        2. Just a quick reminder--Talking about chow in San Francisco is what we do best. General information on hotels, neighborhood safety, transportation, etc. are outside the boundaries of our narrow chow focus. Thanks.

                                                          1. Wherever you stay, don't miss the farmer's market at the Ferry Plaza(Saturdays and Tuesdays). Picture an upscale Faneuil Hall Marketplace and farmer's market rolled into one, all in the most spectacular urban setting imaginable.

                                                            If the weather is nice and you're up for a long walk while pushing a stroller, you can walk from the Ferry Plaza to Fisherman's Wharf (a must see just so you can experience what a joke it is) and then on to Chestnut Street in the Marina District, one of SF's more vibrant neighborhoods. I am no longer intimately familiar with the food scene in the Marina (having moved to the 'burbs 15 years ago) but I've been to A16 a couple of times and it's well worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: paulblum

                                                              Good suggestions, but a walk with a stroller from the Ferry Building to A16 is a pretty serious hike even for the young and determined (about four miles)!

                                                            2. I'm late to this discussion but have to plug my new neighborhood. I moved to the corner of Webster & Geary a year ago and love this area; not only do I have all of Japantown to explore, there are the plethora of restaurants up Fillmore and four jazz clubs right here as well. Sitting right on the 38 busline, I am learning I can get to anywhere in the city.

                                                              Food-wise, what I feel I am missing is *good* Indian and *good* Mediterranean. There is a sample of each, but nothing remarkable.

                                                              1. Little kids love the Wharf, and there is some edible food to get by on.

                                                                1. Another thing to do with kids is go to the Ferry Plaza where you can gather all kinds of great food for a picnic. Grab a cab and go over to either Fort Mason Park or
                                                                  Fort Point National Park both great for views and people watching, picnicking.. just be sure to wear layers. If you go to Fort Mason Park, you can take the path along along the bay and it will lead you over to Pier 45 a lovely walk.

                                                                  http://www.nps.gov/fopo/

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Lori SF

                                                                    Or take your picnic on the ferry to Angel Island! One of my favorite activities to wow the visitors.