San Francisco – Best of the Tenderloin

Photo by zoxcleb

What to see from San Francisco's Little Saigon to City Hall

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San Francisco’s Tenderloin is a precarious neighborhood. Anyone who knows the city well will tell you to watch where you walk, particularly at night. It’s how the area got its name, borrowed from a similar neighborhood in New York, one known as being an “underbelly” of crime. That said, San Francisco’s Tenderloin offers a treasure trove of affordable and worthwhile attractions. Lower prices on food and drink promote a healthy foodie scene and nightlife that appeal to those from all walks of life.

Tenderloin borders and basics

Though opinions differ as to the exact borders of the Tenderloin, most would agree that the area below Geary Street to Market and east of Van Ness to Mason would constitute its primary area. Colloquially referred to as the TL, the neighborhood hosts the highest amount of historic buildings, former theaters, gambling saloons, speakeasies, and brothels, and is a registered historic district with the National Register of Historic Places.

While still sketchy in some corners, the area has seen development in recent years. Elegant craft cocktail lounges and art galleries have opened up shop where seedy bars and vacant lots once stood. Perhaps most changed is Mid-Market, the stretch of Market Street from Fifth to Van Ness. With the arrival of startups occupying offices in the area, most notably Twitter, the strip now hosts artisan cafes and eateries, all while maintaining its distinction as being the Theater District. It’s the home of world-class stages like the Orpheum, the Golden Gate Theatre, and the Strand Theatre, as well as the Warfield, a live music venue.

City Hall and Civic Center Area

San Francisco’s City Hall, built in the elegant Beaux-Arts style, is an expansive sight bordering Civic Center Plaza. In nearby UN Plaza, visitors can see a monument to the formation of the United Nations, established in 1945 at this location. The main branch of the San Francisco Main Library borders the plaza, as well as the Asian Art Museum, one of the largest collections of Asian art in the world. Each Sunday and Wednesday, locals flock to this location for the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, a vibrant (and affordable) market featuring fresh local produce, food and crafts. On the other side of City Hall along Van Ness, fans of cultural events can find the Davies Symphony Hall (home of the SF Symphony) and the War Memorial Opera House (home of the SF Opera and the SF Ballet).

Photo by sirgious

Little Saigon in San Francisco

Slightly north of Civic Center Plaza, one finds Little Saigon, San Francisco’s Vietnamese district. Lovers of pho and banh mi can satisfy their cravings here at deals few other neighborhoods can compete with.

Due to its central location, a segue into the Tenderloin is an easy addition to any itinerary. The eastern end of the neighborhood is just a few minutes walk from Union Square, while the Civic Center area can be easily reached with BART or Muni Metro. However you choose to arrive, you’ll be glad you didn’t miss one of San Francisco’s most up-and-coming and affordable districts.

Explore Another San Francisco Itinerary

Best of Fisherman’s Wharf … Seafood and sea lions along the waterfront
Best of North Beach … Modern adventures on the Barbary Coast
Best of the Mission District … Finding art and local culture
Haight-Ashbury: Feeling the Groovy 60s … A stroll through the famous hippie hub
Fun, Food, Arts and Culture in San Francisco’s Embarcadero District … A walking tour from the Ferry Building to Union Square

And more related itineraries below.

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