The top 5 locations for the Neighborhood
See also:

Criteria for the location

  • Walkable. The rhythms of your life should bring you into organic contact with your friends, like on a college campus. A decent proxy is “distance to second-nearest coffee shop”. Ideally there are also cultural destinations (like the Center, a bustling coliving house, or the Interval) within walking distance.
  • Central. There’s an undeniable energy to downtown San Francisco that attracts many of our favorite people; we should be central enough that we don’t skip on going to a talk or having a friend over for dinner just because it’d be annoying to Uber.
  • Low crime. It needs to be safe to walk at night and viable for raising kids.
  • Nice houses. Some areas of San Francisco are more hampered by city policy than others - historical preservation districts, for example, mandate that row-house facades be preserved, this prevents demolition of old homes and makes renovations significantly more expensive, which has a noticeable effect on the quality of the housing stock.
  • Good weather. Meaningfully affects happiness and walkability. Should be east of Karl the Fog.
  • Transit options. Common commutes are to FiDi/SoMa, South Bay via Caltrain, and East Bay via BART.

The shortlist

From the top area to the bottom, these are Lower Pac Heights, Alamo Square, Cole Valley, North Noe Valley, and Precita Park. Each shaded area has a radius of a 12 minute walk and contains an average of 3,327 buildings (which, given 15-20% renter turnover and 5-10% homeowner turnover per year, is plenty of housing opportunities).

  • Walkability. Alamo Square is spectacular and studded with cultural destinations; Cole Valley has Haight Ashbury, a gem of a downtown, and is surrounded by gorgeous parks; Precita Park is rather boring; Noe Valley has Dolores Park, the Castro, great views, and a cute downtown, but is mostly suburban; Pac Heights has beautiful views everywhere, two gorgeous parks, the Marina to the North, but is also rather suburban and boring. Keep in mind that a mature neighborhood, even one in a cultural desert, will feel like a college campus. See Appendix 1.
  • Central. All of these locations are relatively central, but North Noe and Alamo Square stand out while Precita Park, Pac Heights, and Cole Valley (on the other side of Twin Peaks) would require a drive for most destinations.
  • Low crime. Alamo Square is the least safe by a 2-3x margin. Pac Heights’ moderate crime is mostly located at the northern and southern edges (in the Marina and Japantown/Fillmore, respectively), Cole Valley’s moderate crime is almost entirely from the Haight-Ashbury to the north, and North Noe and Precita Park are as safe as San Francisco gets. See Appendix 2 for spatial heatmaps.

Score (Crimes / Home)
Pac Heights
Alamo Square
Cole Valley
North Noe Valley
Precita Park
  • Nice houses. I rated 30 houses on Zillow in each neighborhood by the quality of their interiors using a 5-point rubric (see Appendix 3 for examples and my ratings data). North Noe, Precita Park, and Pac Heights have notably nicer houses than Alamo Square and Cole Valley. Anecdotally, Alamo Square houses seem actually worse, and Cole Valley house scores are probably skewed by overlapping with Haight-Ashbury, and are quite nice as you move uphill towards Buena Vista / Twin Peaks.

Neighborhood quality (% of houses >= 4)
Size (avg sqft / bedroom of all 4s)
Cost (avg price / bedroom of all 4s)
Colivability (% of houses with >= 3BR)
Pac Heights
Alamo Square
Cole Valley
North Noe Valley
Precita Park
  • Good weather. SF gets an average of 108 days of fog per year, but nearly all of that is west of Twin Peaks, so Cole Valley is by far the worst on this metric. Pac Heights is windier, cooler, and has some fog. Alamo Square is windier and cooler but not foggy. Noe Valley and especially Precita Park are beautifully warm and sunny for most of the year, with almost no fog.
  • Transit options. Depends on your goals. If you’re trying to get out of the city, it’s hard to beat Precita Park. If you’re taking an Uber downtown, Pac Heights and Alamo Square beat the others. Alamo Square, North Noe, and Precita Park are closest to BART. Everywhere but Precita Park is at a ~300ft elevation, which means you’d likely want an e-bike or a scooter.

Time to Uber to downtown SF (4th & Market)
Time to bike to BART
Time to drive to 101/80 onramp
Time to bike to Caltrain
Lower Pac Heights (Alta Plaza)
15min to Civic Center
15m to 8th St Mission
22min to 4th & King
Alamo Square
10min to Civic Center
9m to 8th St Mission
19min to 4th & King
Cole Valley (Frederick & Clayton)
15min to 16th St Mission or Civic Center
15m to 8th St Mission
23min to 4th & King
North Noe Valley (22nd & Noe)
8min to 24th St Mission
11m to 8th St Mission
21min to 22nd St
Precita Park
6min to 24th St Mission
3m to Cesar Chavez & Potrero
10min to 22nd St

My recommendation

Update 2022-01-05:

+The BYO Landlord idea means we may be able to access beautiful, epic homes even in near Alamo Square - I’m working with realtor friends now to reevaluate the market for homes we may be able to get - and which may be denser than I thought possible. This tips the scale for me in favor of the Alamo Square/Duboce Triangle/Hayes Valley/Buena Vista/NoPa supercluster. 

Previous recommendation, 2022-12-14:

I recommend settling in North Noe Valley.

The houses are excellent and reasonably priced, it has the lowest crime, it’s reasonably central, and it has some of the best weather in the city. Noe is commonly derided as a bit boring and family-centric, and that is true, but the Neighborhood will generate its own excitement and activity. Plus, just outside of our borders are many desirable destinations: Glen Canyon to the southwest, Twin Peaks to the west, Castro to the north, Dolores Park to the northeast, and the Mission to the east. It also has great views and folks with more income can expand up the side of Twin Peaks. Finally, most of the attractions around Alamo Square are accessible from Noe with a 20 minute bike ride.