8.5 out of 10

North Park

Ranked 9th best neighborhood in San Francisco
37.7755238657779 -122.445774197396
Great for
  • Neighborly Spirit
  • Peace & Quiet
  • Public Transport
  • Medical Facilities
  • Resale or Rental Value
Not great for
  • Parking
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
Who lives here?
  • Singles
  • Professionals
  • Families with kids
  • Retirees
  • Students

Reviews

4/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 4/5
  • Safe & Sound 2/5
  • Clean & Green 4/5
  • Pest Free 2/5
  • Peace & Quiet 3/5
  • Eating Out 5/5
  • Nightlife 5/5
  • Parks & Recreation 5/5
  • Shopping Options 4/5
  • Gym & Fitness 4/5
  • Internet Access 4/5
  • Lack of Traffic 2/5
  • Cost of Living 2/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 5/5
  • Public Transport 4/5
  • Medical Facilities 5/5
  • Schools 4/5
  • Childcare 4/5
2yrs+
Editors Choice

"North of Panhandle (NoPa): What’s in a Name?"

Nothing excites San Franciscans more than place names of their fair city. “Don’t call it Frisco!” was newspaperman Herb Caen’s rallying cry, and a host of other off-limits monikers have since made the list: “San Fran” is a no-no for natives, as is “Tendernob” (as a conjunction for Tenderloin/Lower Nob Hill). Many locals eschew “SOMA” (preferring the longer “South of Market” or, if they’re certifiable old-timers, “South of the Slot”). Same goes for the various districts (the Sunset, the Richmond ) of the “Outside Lands” (that is, anything west of Twin Peaks): these are, simply, “The Avenues.” In a city that redefines itself every decade or so, traditionalists hew to their nomenclature.

So it is understandable that debate has erupted over the proper name of this former section of the Western Addition. The area is, accurately enough, north of The Panhandle—the eight-block-long/one-block-wide sliver of green that extends from Golden Gate Park to the east, a reminder of graceful 19th-century urban landscaping (built as a kind of testing ground for the trees in the huge park). But of late, as attention has turned to the mix of Victorian houses, wide streets, and historic former schools and hospitals here, the question of the renaming has surfaced—specifically, whether the new label was simply an invention of real-estate agents eager to distance this up-and-coming place from the grittier Western Addition, with which it had long been associated, or (having always had the distinguishing features and history to stand as a neighborhood) whether it deserves a name unto itself. North of Panhandle (or NoPa)—formerly Northern Park, but that’s another story—does indeed have qualities that make it look and feel largely different and distinct from its larger neighbor, just as subdivisions of sprawling districts like the Sunset and Richmond have theirs.

But the argument here centers on more than geography. Some claim that the new name demonstrates revisionist history at work, highlighting the present gentrification at the expense of years of preservation. Others maintain the name switch is an example of subtle racism, ignoring many of the traditional working-class African-American residents who gave this part of the Western Addition its character and strived to save their old homes from the same urban-renewal wrecking ball that leveled much of the area to the east in the 1950s, resulting in the “modern blight” of that district’s ugly, characterless housing projects.

But however the naming issue is resolved, the fact remains that this neighborhood is the focus of renewed development and the kind of changes that bring new residents and businesses. The transition may be somewhat rocky, but as with so many other neighborhoods in San Francisco that have been through a similar transformation, the results are always interesting.

As a neighborhood, it’s one of the more architecturally intact in the city. Like the adjoining Haight-Ashbury District, NoPa was spared devastation in the post-quake fire of 1906, so many of the homes here are prime examples of the exuberant Victorian and early Edwardian architecture emblematic of those periods (the ornamented piles lining the north side of Fell, across the street from The Panhandle, attest to this somewhat excessive tendency). The same holds on Lyon Street, with its polychromed turrets and bulbous bay windows; along Broderick north of Fulton, with the heavily gewgawed facades; and even on Hayes, where, though less grand, the houses stand as a veritable catalog of style, from Italianate to Stick to Queen Anne.

But NoPa is much more than a stand-in for Disneyland’s Main Street. The neighborhood also claims an interesting mix of horticultural history (the trees on The Panhandle are among the oldest in San Francisco) and offbeat pop history (the apartment house at 1827 Golden Gate, between Broderick and Baker, is where Patty Hearst was held for eight weeks in 1974 as a hostage of the Symbionese Liberation Army). Among its most prominent features are the Mercy Terrace Apartments (formerly the Southern Pacific Hospital, an impressive beaux arts structure with four wings that is now converted into a senior living/care facility); the original red-brick Lowell High School (now the John Adams Campus of City College of San Francisco); and one of the trendiest streets in the city, the “new” Divisadero (aka “Diviz”). The latter thoroughfare, long a dingy stretch with little to recommend it besides being a straight shot from Pacific Heights to the Castro, has been spiffed up as a hip boulevard, with drought-tolerant shrubs and trees down the median and “parklets” with benches and planter boxes gracing the sidewalks.

As may be expected with an everything-old-is-new neighborhood, the demographics here are in flux. The 20,000 or so residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, are a mix of 60 percent white, 15 percent Asian, 15 percent African American, and about 10 percent mixed race. They are middle class (median annual household income is $60,000), with about 75 percent of all residents renting their homes.

Today, NoPa seems to wear its past with pride while flaunting its new chic, especially along the refurbished Divisadero. At Grove Street, Da Pitt (called, variously, Lilly’s, Brother-in-Law’s, or Johnson’s in the recent past) is a holdover from the days when this was the Western Addition and the food was soulful barbecue. A number of other eateries (Eddie’s Café, with its all-day breakfast, and BlueJay Café, with its chicken feed, catfish and gumbo—not to mention the Popeye’s outlet at Hayes) echo the days not so far in the past when Southern cooking was the standard here. Today, everyone’s hot on Nopa (an “urban rustic” restaurant specializing in wood-fired meats and vegetables), Bar Crudo (the latest take on a seafood bar), Ziryab (Middle Eastern cuisine) and Club Waziema (Ethiopian food and drink). The Independent is a live-music hot spot between Grove and Hayes that is also drawing crowds from all over. Add to this a number of cafes (including Mojo, a bicycle shop/coffeehouse, Café Abir, and the Bean Bag Café), and it’s easy to see how this stretch of Divisadero deserves the attention.

Shops and markets are also dotted here and there on corners throughout the neigborhood, and one stretch of Fulton between Masonic and Central has an up-to-date supermarket in Petrini Plaza Shopping Center (serving the modern Village at Petrini Place condo/townhouse complex), a couple of restaurants and a Starbucks, along with a bank and a cleaners.

Although the Southern Pacific Hospital has been transformed into elderly housing, St.Mary’s Medical Center, known for podiatry, cardiology, and oncology, along with orthopedics and emergency care, is one of the bulwarks of Catholic Healthcare West and the oldest hospital still operating in San Francisco (it opened in the 1850s). Its main campus, comprising a few blocks bounded by Stanyan and Fulton on the northwest and Schrader and Hayes on the southeast, serves not only the neighborhood but also clients from throughout northern California.

Clearly, it’s easy to walk (or, as many do, ride a bike) to most stores and services in this compact neighborhood. But NoPa is also served by two east/west bus lines—the No. 5, which goes from Ocean Beach to Civic Center along Fulton and McAllister, and the No. 21, which travels a shorter circuit along Hayes from City Hall to Golden Gate Park—as well as the north/south No. 24, which goes from the Bayview to Pacific Heights via Divisadero, and the No. 43, which treks from Crocker-Amazon Park to the Marina District, using Masonic Avenue for a portion of its route. Although many buildings have garages, the high-density population of the neighborhood makes parking difficult, particularly during school hours Monday through Friday. Thus two-hour parking restrictions are generally enforced. For this reason, the Department of Parking and Traffic issues “L,” “BB,” and “P” permits for residents (depending on what street they live on).

The only public school in the area is New Traditions, an alternative K-5 that was rated 6 out of 10 by GreatSchools. Among the private choices are the San Francisco Day School at Masonic and Golden Gate (which caters to upper-crusty kids as well as those with learning differences) and Pacific Primary, a preschool/kindergarten at Grove and Baker. The University of San Francisco occupies a number of blocks in the northwestern corner of the area, forming its own sub-neighborhood, with offices, classrooms, and housing.

For all of its gentrification and inflow of educated, upper-middle-class people, crime remains something of a scourge here, according to San Francisco Police Department stats, particularly in terms of property theft and quality-of-life violations, such as disturbing the peace (which leads all crimes in NoPa) and vandalism (graffiti and damage to cars, mostly). Burglaries are regular throughout the neighborhood, and the incidence of car break-ins and vehicle theft is quite high. Assault is fairly common in a given three-month period, particularly along The Panhandle. Two homicides have been reported in the last three years.

Real-estate prices here are predictably on the rebound from the latest downturn, up 17 percent a year after their low point in 2009. Though single-family homes are rare, a number of two-flat buildings have gone on the market for $900,000 to $1.2 million, some of which at recently raised asking prices. That said, it’s still possible to find flats and condominiums for around $500,000 (as a remodeled two-bedroom/one-bath unit on Grove listed for recently). Bargain rentals here are difficult to find in any economic climate, owing to the built-in demand from students attending any one of the nearby universities. A 300-square-foot studio on Fulton recently listed for $1,000, a one-bedroom on Golden Gate listed for $1,500, and a two-bedroom on Lyon was asking $2,300 a month.

Although many longtime residents in this changing neighborhood are resisting calling their home “NoPa,” they appear to be benefitting from the renewal as well as the variety the newcomers bring. NoPa may not have a special ring to it, but it’s drawing the curious and creating just the right sort of buzz for this oft-overlooked corner of town.
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
srm srm
5/5 rating details
  • Neighborly Spirit 4/5
  • Safe & Sound 4/5
  • Clean & Green 4/5
  • Pest Free 4/5
  • Peace & Quiet 5/5
  • Eating Out 4/5
  • Nightlife 3/5
  • Parks & Recreation 5/5
  • Shopping Options 4/5
  • Gym & Fitness 4/5
  • Internet Access 4/5
  • Lack of Traffic 3/5
  • Parking 3/5
  • Cost of Living 4/5
  • Resale or Rental Value 4/5
  • Public Transport 4/5
  • Medical Facilities 4/5
  • Schools 4/5
  • Childcare 4/5
2yrs+

"Convenient, quiet neighborhood with a strong community feel"

Before I moved to the area, I went to an appointment at St Mary's and was struck by how quiet it was in the blocks surrounded by Masonic, Stanyan, Fell & Fulton. Since moving here I haven't been disappointed, it's a really good neighborhood with a strong community feel. We've lived here 11 years and many of our neighbors are long-term residents. It is very conveniently situated near Golden Gate Park and other areas: Haight/Ashbury, Cole Valley, Divisadero, Lower Haight, Inner Sunset, Laurel Village & Inner Richmond. And it has some great neighborhood spots of it's own: Abacus, Papalote, Central Coffee & Tea, Bistro Central Parc to name a few. Also, the Lucky Supermarket, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are close by. We work in the city and haven't owned a car for 7 years - there are plenty of car-sharing pods in the area when we need one.
Pros
  • Convenience
  • Quiet Neighborhood
  • Community Feel
Cons
  • Parking
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
3/5
2yrs+

"Cafe's and Private Schools"

North Park neighborhood is home of a little café favorite of mine on 30th Street just before Upas Avenue called Commonwealth Café. Lots of down home favorites like bacon and eggs, omelets, hormone and antibiotic free burgers, homemade pies and brownies. Prices are cheap but the food is great.

Homes in North Park are standard and average for the San Francisco area. The average home price is well under a million, so if you are on a budget in the Bay Area, this might be your community.

There is a highly esteemed private school on Masonic called the San Francisco Day School. The school is for K-8 and boasts one of the most impressive libraries I have ever seen in an elementary school. Parents are down to earth, especially for an urban private school. Great teachers and parent body alike. The program is rigorous and impressive.
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Retirees
4/5
2yrs+

"DMV, Starbuck's & Panhandle"

Unlike the downtown area, the west part of San Francisco lacks the plentiful Starbuck's-on-every-corner-theme you might see, say, around Market and 4th Street. If you're looking to get one of their special drinks, the shop at Fulton and Divisidero is the place to go.

Also in this part of town is the ever-so-hard-to-find-parking for DMV located between Fell and Oak and Baker and Broderick. If you can make an appointment before you go, do -- things typically go faster this way.

If you like to bike, there's a fun part of the bike path to take along the panhandle where you can feel somewhat immersed in the city feeling with the 4 lane wide roads Oak and Fell surrounding you while also getting a feeling of the woods by inhaling the lovely smell of the bay laurel trees around you.
Recommended for
  • Professionals
  • Singles
  • Families with kids
  • Retirees

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