Russian Hill

Summary: Known for the “crookedest street in the world,” Russian Hill is an upscale residential community offering great views, boutique shops and nearby access to North Beach and the commercial district.

Russian Hill rises up to the south of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina, and to the west of North Beach. On its western side, the apartments slowly give way to the family neighborhoods of Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow, while Nob Hill’s swanky hotels and restaurant lie to the south.

One might best define Russian Hill by its four directional faces. The northern face, with its views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, offers the most picturesque and wind blown vistas. On these streets, you find refurbished Victorians, whose quaint old facades have been remodeled with sleek lines for a modern aesthetic. Bay windows still abound, but now they perch on structures that only faintly resemble their former selves. Tall, older residential buildings also frame the northern face, offering the resident of these older 50’s structures great views in themselves.

The extreme grade of the eastern face offers a great view of the North Beach Victorians and of Coit Tower along the gentle slope of Telegraph Hill. Lombard Street [F1] snakes down the steep eastern grade, drawing droves of gawkers and shutterbugs to its brick-paved driveway bordered by gorgeous gardens. The extreme grade of the eastern hill has created the opportunity for unusual architecture—you will find several homes here whose tall eastern faces seem not to match their squat western entrances. The extreme grade has also created that opportunity for staircases that rise up through small parks and communal gardens to produce some of the best walking paths in the city. Russian Hill is home to the Vallejo Steps [F2] (just south of Lombard Street), Ina Coolbrith Park [F3], and the Alice Marble Tennis Courts [F4] where the great views make tracking the ball a unique challenge. For fans of Armistead Maupin’s Tales from the City, you will also find Macondray Lane [F5], the model for the book’s Barbary Lane.

The gentle grade of the southern face of Russian Hill offers progressively more high rises and hotels as Russian Hill gives way to exclusive Nob Hill. Throughout Russian Hill, property prices are a match for this southern neighbor with anything under $1,500.00 per month considered a steal while most prices climb considerably above this. Most residents of the Hill are renters, with fewer younger people and one of the highest percentages of older residents in all of SF. Despite the lack of young people, however, Russian Hill's high schools, Galileo Tech [F6] and Yick Wo Alternative [F7], are a pair of the best regarded public schools in San Francisco, with the latter serving the large Asian community that spills over from Chinatown to the southeast.

The western grade offers several Victorians and squat residential buildings, much in the flavor of North Beach, with corner markets and neighborhood restaurants. Unlike its eastern neighbor, however, the streets are far less crowded, with only the occasional tourist. Because only two bus lines serve this area, this is largely a car culture—most buildings and Victorians having ground level garages. Permit parking makes the area the usual challenge when it comes to finding parking spaces, and the steep grades of many streets add yet another level of difficulty for motorists and for automobile maintenance.

This seclusion also offers a certain amount of insulation from crime, with the most prevalent incidents being auto thefts. At the time of this writing there has not been a murder on Russian Hill since before 2007.

Although much of Russian Hill does escape the heavy traffic and accompanying problems of North Beach, it is not devoid of restaurants and boutiques, especially along the two main thoroughfares that stripe the Hill north-south, Hyde and Polk Streets. On these streets, you will find a variety of ethnic restaurants, boutique stores, and quaint pubs well patronized by locals and well-informed outsiders.