Hayes ValleySummary: Hayes Valley is an up-and-coming neighborhood with strong cultural attractions, a great restaurant district, and excellent residential areas.
Hayes Valley is perhaps SF’s best kept secret. Although the neighborhood is barely ever mentioned, it has a shopping and restaurant district to rival any in the city. Its central proximity to the theater district ensures the success of many of its high-end restaurants and despite this prosperity, the community is still fairly diverse. Hayes Valley has only existed for just over two decades in its current form. It arose in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, when fears for the safety of the monstrous double decker freeway that used to run through the area prompted city officials to tear down the long time eyesore. With a new, cleaner line of sight, developers saw an opportunity, and so Hayes Valley was reborn.
The eastern and southeastern borders of Hayes Valley are generally agreed upon as being Franklin and Market. The border extends northeast on Duboce Avenue, then turns north on Embarcadero, before tuning east on Fell and north again at Webster to McAllister. Thus, you might see it almost as a backwarks ‘L’ hugging Alamo Square and south of Western Addition. It also borders the Tenderloin on its eastern edge, and Lower Haight on its western side.
Despite its proximity to the Tenderloin, Hayes Valley is generally considered much safer than its eastern neighbor. Property crime is the major concern in Hayes Valley, as in many relatively affluent neighborhoods that border areas of blight or that are frequented homeless folks. Assaults are much less frequent than in the Tenderloin and when they occur they tend to happen late at night along the major shopping and dining lanes. Murders, are even rarer, with about one murder per year, on average.
Ironically, disasters have largely been good to this neighborhood. Many of the Stick Victorians here date back to pre-1906, the area having been largely spared from the devastation of the Great SF Earthquake and subsequent fire. These days, rents are on the rise, as more and more people stumble upon the “secret” neighborhood that has dwelled just under their noses for so long. This hide-in-plain sight quality to the neighborhood makes rental prices hard to pin down, having a mix of absolute steals in terms of SF prices (studios under $1K) and some that rise to usual astronomical prices of SF.
This mixed picture when it comes to rents repeats in the neighborhood’s demographics. Although three out of five residents are white, one in five are African American (Hayes was once a predominantly African-American extension of the Western Addition’s Jazz Age populace). The average income of those in the area is only $40K, definitely low for the state and city. Aside from its diversity, the neighborhood’s appeal is also its strong cultural attractions, boasting a number of eclectic galleries such as the Octavia’s Haze Gallery[P1]—featuring glass artworks—and Polanco [P2]—featuring Mexican art.
Although some visitors do come to Hayes Valley for the galleries, far more come for the restaurants and stores. The restaurant scene is as vibrant here as anywhere in the city. Food choices include Italian at Caffe del Stelle [P3], Thai food at Bai Thong [P4], Mediterranean at Paul K [P5], Indian at Rotee [P6] or sushi at Sebo [P7]or Otoro [P8]. The highlight of Hayes Valley however is Absinthe [P9], an upscale French grill where theater goers and comers often congregate. Some of the more exotic eateries include not one, but two Brazilian eateries: Canto do Brasil [P10], a Brazilian restaurant featuring codfish croquet and coconut flan, and Espetus [P11], a gaucho barbecue not to be missed. One of the quirkiest restaurants is Frjtz [P12], a fairly standard sandwich place that names it sandwiches after painters like Van Gogh and Pollock.
As in other SF neighborhoods, the café scene is still in vibrant swing with Café Corbas [P13] bringing up the lead. In Hayes Valley, you must also add wine merchants and tasting’s including Arlequin’s [P14], Cav’s [P15] or Place Pigalle [P16].
The shopping district along Hayes doesn’t take a back seat either. You can find everything from alabaster to antique Chinese furniture along Hays. More exotic fair includes the self-explanatory The African Outlet [P17] and several home furnishing shops that target the Yuppy gentrifier, such as Tazi Designs [P18], Inside [P19] and of course, Propeller [P20]. Clothing places include a number of boutiques like Azalea [P21] and Nida [P22] and some more unusual places like a corset shop called Dark Garden [P23] (just in case you’re a time traveler from Victorian England).
As far as nightlife goes, if the nearby theater district isn’t enough, you can stay in the neighborhood and go to the three story lounge, Jade, the gay bar that features female impersonators, Marlena’s [P24], or the music venue/bar, the Rickshaw Stop [P25].
The western section of Hayes Valley is sometimes known as Lower Haight, since both neighborhoods make their claims to the area. Duboce Park—mostly a dog park, that non-canine lovers claim smells of doggie doo doo but Hayes generally is regarded as one of the most beautiful neighborhoods for “alley catting,” walking down public alleys admiring the open backyard gardens, where succulents droop down from landmark Victorian bungalows.
With such attractions, it is probably only a matter of time before Hayes Valley becomes another Noe.