Sunset DistrictSummary: Notorious for its perennial fog, Sunset District is a mostly middleclass group of residential neighborhoods that stretches along the southern edge of Golden Gate Park to the Pacific.
Stretching out on the south side of Golden Gate Park, the perennially fogged in Sunset District is actually a cluster of neighborhoods surrounded by parkland and Pacific breakers. The SF Zoo and Stern Grove mark the southern border, with Mt. Davidson Park and its memorable cross forming the southeast corner stone. On the east, the Sunset hugs Forrest Knolls reaching north to Stanyon where it borders the Haight.
The district is often further subdivided into three sections, the Outer Sunset, from Sunset Boulevard to the beach; the Central Sunset from 19th (Highway 1) to Sunset Boulevard; and the Inner Sunset, east of 19th to roughly Stanyan. The area is firmly middle class at the beach and generally climbs as one journeys inland. The Inner Sunset can also further be sectioned into Golden Gate Heights between Grand View Park and Golden Gate Heights Park (not to be confused with Golden Gate Park); and Forrest Knolls and Forrest Hill along the south eastern section of the district.
Outer and Central Sunset
The main attractions to this area are the long stretch of beach (a surfer’s paradise, but largely ruined for sunbathers by the constant fog) and the SF Zoo, whose early Twentieth Century facilities have largely been renovated both for a more aesthetic appeal and for the welfare of the animal inhabitants, whose new facilities better mimic their natural needs. The coastal areas and parks also offer great places to hike and take in the ocean view. The Monterey cypress trees that characterize the area have long been the subject of many a painting and photograph. Inland the streets are largely flat and grid-like, offering cozy, two story homes at relatively affordable prices by SF standards. Teachers, nurses, and middle class working folk in general make up the population.
This is also a strong family area and you will find several well-regarded public and private schools. Parents in the area value the security of the Sunset as well. No recent murders and few assaults have occurred here, and only the run of the mill car break-in and vandalism occupy the attention of authorities these days. Thus, the neighborhood is known as a quiet, even a sleepy area. In large part, the fog itself deserves credit, since it keeps many away and literally muffles much of the noise. In addition, residents have been resistant to large chain stores so most of the shops in the area are mom-and-pop operations that cater to the basic needs of the locals—think shoe repair and donuts.
This being a family area, there are some restaurants focused on the kids like the Doggie Diner [N1] with its dog-faced façade, but generally, residents have to go inland to get anything resembling haut cuisine.
Inner Sunset is a far more culturally diverse area and has far more choices in terms of dining. Irving Street, running east-west parallel to Golden Gate Park is a central artery for restaurants and stores. On Irving, for example, you can find the usual set of international choice that we associate with San Francisco’s cosmopolitan restaurant culture. Although French restaurants are not very common in Sunset, you can find some one-of-a-kind restaurants here. For example, you can sample Eritrean food at New Eritrea [N2], get Hawaiian food at Kaleo Café [N3], or Peruvian barbecue at Fresca [N4] (off Western Portal Ave. not Irving).
Irving also boasts several quirky clothing stores of the thrift store and boutique variety. Women can find everything from second hand smocks to designer labels along the street. Other, more unusual kinds of stores also have their storefronts here. Kids and teens will love the wide variety of classic comic books at Amazing Fantasy [N5] or the magic kits at Misdirections [N6], for example, while moms and dads might prefer the cigars at Havana Cigars [N7], or the East Asian specialty items at Kazu Sushi [N8] or Yum Yum Wong [N9].
You will also find a number of Irish Pubs in the area, a reminder that many of the first renters who came here just after the dunes were first paved over, were from the Emerald Isle. Generally, however, other than a few neighborhood bars and a pair of movie theaters this isn’t really the area that most people think of first when it comes to nightlife in the city.
Golden Gate Heights
Golden Gate Heights, between the parks breaks from the rest Sunset’s architectural theme, replacing the squat gabled facades on bland street grids with boxy, modernist type homes or eastern themed dwellings perched along winding hill roads. These architecturally interesting constructs are further highlighted by the two tall hills that bookend them on the north and south. Both Grand View and Golden Gate Heights parks are known for their spectacular views, though tourists and shutterbugs rarely venture to them because of the fog and lack of surrounding tourist and shopping areas.
Because of the high altitude and unusual homes, this is no longer the province of the middle class as the rest of Sunset is. Here home prices soar along with the elevation.
Forrest Knolls and Forrest Hill
Forrest Knolls is even more of a woody area than Golden Gate heights to its west. Ensconced between those two hills and the wooden park area around Twin Peaks Reservoir, Forrest Knolls is regularly overlooked by SF denizens. In terms of price and feel, it is much like Twin Peaks to the southeast. It is expensive, clean and largely the enclave of single-family homes. Many of its residents are associated with the La Honda Hospital along the hillside.
Lacking the view of Forrest Knolls, Forrest Hill’s tree lined streets attract residents with their old-fashioned feel, classic square fronted apartments and large chateau-style manors with trim front lawns (a rarity in SF). Many of the residents of the area are doctors and health care professionals who work or teach at the nearby medical college while others are just upper middle class executives who prefer the area to the more active and noisy parts of town. As with the rest of Sunset, it is one of the best areas in SF for raising kids with security and piece of mind.