The Marina District

Summary: The Marina District is a young, upscale waterfront neighborhood packed with stores, restaurants, and outdoor attractions.

The Marina District, book-ended by the Presidio to the west and Fort Mason and the Wharf to the east, is the playground for young adults with big charge accounts. The ’89 Earthquake and subsequent fires hit this area hard downing many of the older buildings. As so often happens after such an event, however, this proved the impetus for new construction and revitalization so that now you have one of the most attractive, trendy places for the well off to live and play. The combination of new growth and ocean views have made this yet another high priced SF neighborhood.

Of course, any overview of a place called the Marina District must begin with its waterfront. Stretching from the Golden Gate to Fort Mason are a variety of recreational areas and points of interest. Just east of the Golden Gate, you find the prime jogging spot of the entire Bay Area, the grassy tree-lined Crissy Field with it prime view of the bridge and bay. It is often featured in films and reality TV shows. Tourists flock here to cross the Golden Gate or go to the small beach area (most people find it too cold to actually sunbathe, but it is great for flying kites).

To the east of Crissy Field, you find the high priced beachfront homes that stare out from large windows onto the mouth of the Bay. This area is also home to the Palace of Fine Arts [J1], that colonnade of Greek pillars that looks out onto an artificial lake—a construction for the 1916 World’s Fair that marketed SF’s return as a city after the 1906 Earthquake and Fires. Next to the Palace is the Exploratorium [J2], a museum of science designed especially for children—expect to see school trips during the week and families on weekends, many picnicking right next to the giant classical columns.

On the eastern end of the Marina is what is still called Fort Mason—though it, like the Presidio to the south of the Golden Gate—no longer has a military purpose. Its long pier and the adjoining area serve as the locale for plays, wine-tastings, and cultural events of various kinds. Three small ethnic museums are also housed here and the fort is home to a well-loved but pricey vegetarian restaurant—Green’s.

Back on the eastern end of the Marina, you find the woody expanse of the Presidio. The second oldest spot in San Francisco (in 1776 the Spanish colonizing party founded Mission Dolores just days before the Presidio); the Presidio remained an active military base until the end of the Cold War when the Clinton administration began its privatization. Since that time, it has briefly been home to Mikhael Gorbachev’s institute, and more recently of George Lucas’s Industrial Arts and Magic (at the Letterman Digital Arts Center). You can also find the Walt Disney Museum here [J3]. The buildings within the Presidio still resemble the historic buildings as they stood around the period of the Great Exhibition of 1916 (many have been restored to that state) and are interesting in themselves, though much of the Presidio is still in a transitional state.

The homes that make up the rest of the Marina District look much like newer renovated versions of the kinds of two and three story Victorians that you find throughout San Francisco’s neighborhoods—most reminiscent of those found in stretches of the Richmond district along the north of Golden Gate park. These are expensive homes and because of the exclusive locale, many people pay high prices to rent here. Although you occasionally may find a small studio or room in a home for about a $1,000, most rents are more than twice this much.

The Marina District and the northern areas of Cow Hollow are home to a variety of places specializing in separating you from your disposable income. Three art galleries open their doors onto Union, Images of the North [J4], the Hespe [J5], and the Hourian [J6]. Along Chestnut, Lombard, and Steiner you will find an international assortment of eateries where you can have everything from Wasabi Sushi and Pan-Asian tapas to steaks and more traditional faire. Food is only one of the ways for tourists and the well-off denizens to pass their time here—shopping is the other. The double-digit list of boutique clothing stores make this an area where you can get everything from one of a kind cocktail dresses to clothing and accessories worn by celebrities and luminaries. You can even dress your kids in designer clothing bought from stores like Mudpies [J7], and Thursday’s Child [J8].

The younger population also means that you have an active nightlife here. A series of nightspots dot Union Street—the Marina’s main party artery (although this technically is Cow Hollow). A series of bars like Bar None [J9] and the EastSide West Lounge [J10] also open their taps here—most of these places are dive bars (despite the upper crusty area) but the EastSide is definitely in tune with its location. Some dance places also can be found along Fillmore.

In a nutshell, the Marina is more fun than Pacific Heights, more upscale than Mission, slightly older than North Beach, and has better outdoor spaces than most other spots in the city. All of this makes it irresistible to those who can afford it.