Having once lived in San Francisco, I can honestly say that I left (a piece of) my heart there, as corny as that may sound. There are so many wonderful things to see and do in this culturally rich city that I decided that the top 5 sightseeing spots must be some of its neighborhoods. Once tourists get off the beaten path and into some of the most exciting neighborhoods of San Francisco, they will truly see the city's soul.
1. North Beach
This is the neighborhood of the Beat poets, and the premier hang out for writers like Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the 1950s. An old Italian section, today the neighborhood is filled with cafes, coffee bars, and great restaurants. Moose's and The Stinking Rose (which refers, of course, to garlic) are two great eating spots. Bordering Chinatown, North Beach is an easy spot to find for any tourist. Stop in at the very first bookstore in the country to sell paperbacks, City Lights, which was founded by one of the original Beatniks.
2. Russian Hill
While many tourists know Lombard Street (the steepest, most winding street in San Francisco), many may not know that the adjoining neighborhood is called Russian Hill. Beautiful Victorian houses sit side by side with trendy shops and restaurants. This is where the young and hip buy their kitchen goods and dress up clothes, decorate their homes, and go out for drinks. It's charming with none of the tourist hype, but all of the style San Francisco is known for.
3. The Haight
The cross-section of Haight and Ashbury Streets gave a location to the hippie movement. Here is where Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix hung out and rose to fame playing the local clubs. The first head shops and all-natural bakeries still dot the landscape, which also adjoins beautiful Golden Gate Park. Buy your Grateful Dead souvenirs, prowl the punk resale shops, or go for a vegetarian vibe. See where the 1960s revolution in music and style began.
With the largest population of Chinese in the United States, San Francisco's Chinatown is a uniquely thriving community today. Celebrate the Chinese New Year by enjoying a dragon parade. Stop for dim sum on Sunday, when all the Chinese families flock to the old neighborhood. Buy dishes, clothing, and bedding at rock bottom prices after stopping in at one of the hundreds of restaurants crammed into an eight block area. Find the street that writer Amy Tan used as a character name in the "Joy Luck Club."
5. Nob Hill
Grace Cathedral and the Fairmont Hotel (where many a president has stayed) mark the square of this neighborhood. Take the cable car up California Street, stop in at the Top of the Mark for cocktails and a view, or enjoy some early morning Tai Chi exercises performed with grace and ease in its central park. Home to railroad barons, this was once the wealthiest neighborhood in town, where you could learn to "hob nob" with the rich and famous.
These five neighborhoods make up just a fraction of the city overall. San Francisco is full of delights, as are the surrounding areas, including Muir Woods, the wine country of Napa and Sonoma, and Highway One, which hugs the California coastline. Every year, San Francisco tops the list of favorite American cities and, with so much to offer, it's no surprise why!