Potrero Hill

Summary: Potrero Hill is a somewhat secluded south SF neighborhood, known for it good weather and family friendly environment, but also boasting a strong restaurant and dive bar scene at it northern and eastern borders.

Potrero Hill: Once upon a time, this was the neighborhood where O.J. Simpson grew up. (It still has the murals of the former murder suspect and football great to prove it). Potrero Hill now is one of those neighborhoods completely changed by gentrification. Overshadowed by SoMa to its north and the Mission to its west, Potrero Hill has carved out a quiet niche for itself as a great neighborhood for young families and couples who want to be near but not inside the action of the city. Bounded by the freeways on the east and west, Potrero has the feel of being a self-contained world onto itself.

Potrero Hill is also famous for having perhaps the best sunny weather in San Francisco, and some of the best views of the city from its crest. This combination of factors has made it a favorite among those who know the city well. Potrero Hill also has an attractive mix of architectural styles, from the typical Victorians that you would expect at it lowest elevations, to condos on its eastern end, and newer more interesting buildings and homes along the crown of the hill--where north facing panoramic views of the city bring residents (and even an occasional film crew, like that of 40 Days and 40 Nights). Throughout the majority of Potrero Hill, rents are roughly equivalent to those of adjacent Mission with anything in the vicinity $1,000 being considered a steal, and with the prices rising with elevation and view. (The exception would be in the housing developments to the south where prices fall below this benchmark for those who qualify.)

Potrero Hill was once a majority African American neighborhood, and although gentrification has changed its demographics, the neighborhood is still one of the most diverse in San Francisco with just about three of five being white, one in five African American, and one in ten Asian. Despite being a largely middleclass family neighborhood (the median income is around 70K), the neighborhood is relatively young with the average age being around 35.

One reflection of the family atmosphere here are the large convenience stores like Whole Foods (O1) and the presence of actual supermarkets like Safeway (O2) rather than just a series of corner markets common to the north. The neighborhood closely packed enough and families live here long enough, that they come to know each other, giving the sloping neighborhood a close-knit feel—unlike northern neighborhoods like North Beach whose high turnover tends to create the impression of perpetual transition. It has this neighborhood feel despite the fact that over half of the residents are renters. Perhaps, Portrero Hill most resembles Russian Hill in terms of atmosphere (except of the great weather and convenience stores). In fact, Potrero Hill has what is known as the “the real Crookedest Street in the World.” Vermont Street (O3), just south of McKinley Park along US 101, definitely gives Lombard a run for its money, even though it lacks the tourists and the views of its northern cousin.

Despite bordering Mission and Hunter’s Point, two of the most dangerous areas of SF, Potrero Hill’s authorities have largely kept crime confined to thefts and vandalism. Although you will tend to get some disorderly behavior as the inevitable satellites of the strong Potrero Hill dive bar scene, assaults and murders have managed to stay in check in the neighborhood—even in the Dogpatch area where the surface streets away from 3rd street largely clear out after dark. You get about a pair or murders within the borders of Potrero Hill every year.

Portrero Hill is not just a sleepy family neighborhood, however. Along its northern border with SoMa, where the great wall of warehouses demarcates the border with its more active museum-packed northern neighbor, 16th and 18th streets boast a cluster of restaurants, cafes, and mom-centered activity areas from yoga and Pilates to clothes shopping and manicures. Restaurants in this northern section include California Culinary Academy’s Bistro 350 (O4), the well-loved Goat Hill Pizza (O5), the fancy Italian Aperto (O6), and even some more off the beaten track places like the Turkish Pera (O7). One of the key neighborhood hangouts serving as the central caffeine hole for community is Farley’s (O8), a longtime neighborhood fixture, and one of several coffeehouses catering to the Gen Xers now playing the roles of parents. Another iconic business of the area, Anchor Brewing (O9), hosts tours of its north Potrero facilities and the area is also home to the SF Guardian (O10) newspaper.

The area also offers a series of eclectic instructional facilities for Potrero Hill adults, from a school of eastern medicine to dance instruction. The San Francisco Institute for the Book (O11), an institution that focuses on helping adults learn the tricks of the trade in the publishing craft. The SomArts Cultural Center (O11) on the northern border almost acts as a liberal and performing arts continuing education center, with dance and art instruction offered to locals. The neighborhood serves its families with a plethora of parks, as well. Jackson Park, McKinley Park, and Potrero Hill Park are the main leafy areas giving parents and children destinations for fresh air and sun.

The area’s heavy family density also makes this a prime locale for home furnishings, so that near Cesar Chavez Blvd. to the south, you will find everything from tile shops to home hardware and home furnishings like Liberty Home Builder Supply (O12). The housing projects of Portrero Hill’s southern border with Bayview and Hunter’s Point that share a space with these home furnishing stores are the last bastion of resistance against the gentrifying forces that have wholly altered the character of this neighborhood over last half century. With plans to revitalize Hunter’s Point due to break ground in 2013, this area is likely to undergo a massive makeover soon.

The area to the east of Highway 280 along 3rd Street is known as “Dogpatch.” It was once a thriving port area, but now the warehouses that once housed incoming and outgoing merchandise and foods, now host a number of companies that enjoy the easy parking (a rarity in SF) and lower rents of this neglected industrial area. This wave of new residents began in the 80’s with introduction of the Esprit headquarters (O13) to the area and continues today. This influx of new blood has revitalized 3rd street along this area, making it the home to a clutch of restaurants like Serpentine (O14) and Just For You (O15), and cool dive bars like the Dogpatch Saloon (O16) and the Retox Lounge (O17). You might also think of the Dogpatch area as SF’s closet, with perhaps the largest number of storage yards in the entire city.