With some of the most beautiful scenery and intact natural environments in the city, the Golden Gate area is the spectacular northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula. The city’s most famous landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge, connects this district with Marin County across the Bay. The area is made up of two National Historic Landmarks — The Presidio and Fort Mason — as well as several upscale neighborhoods famed for their Victorian architecture and views of the city, including Pacific Heights, Cow Hollow, and the Marina District. The district is roughly bounded by the San Francisco Bay to the north and west, Lake St and California St to the south, and Van Ness Ave to the east.
Pacific Heights, located 370 feet above sea-level and overlooking the Bay, was little more than a sandy hill until 1870, when the Cable Car line was extended and connected the area to downtown. Today, it’s favored by visitors for its impressive panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay and the Presidio, its abundance of opulent Victorian mansions, historic chateaus, foreign consulates, and finally its many upscale restaurants. The three blocks on Broadway St between Lyon St and Divisadero St have particularly good vistas and are known as the “Gold Coast.” Some of the buildings date back as far as 1853, with the majority being constructed after the 1906 earthquake. Considered today to be the home of “old money” families and young urban professionals, it was first settled by the “nouveau riche” of the late 1800s. The neighborhood is predominantly peaceful and residential with most of its activities centered around Fillmore St. It was also the backdrop for the 1990 movie “Pacific Heights” starring Melanie Griffith.
Cow Hollow derived its name from the many dairy farms that were established there in the mid-1800s. However, with the advent of the Gold Rush, the neighborhood flourished. Prominent San Franciscans began to settle the area and erected grandiose well-appointed Victorian, and then later Edwardian mansions. By 1891, the area had become so popular that all the dairy farms were closed down. Today, this once luscious grazing land is more renowned for its impressive mansions and its eclectic mix of antique stores, art galleries, bars, and restaurants. Union St is the main drag, where the Union St. Festival is held annually.
The Marina district was built on landfill — some of it wreckage of the 1906 earthquake — in the early 20th century to provide a fairgrounds for the 1915 World’s Fair (also called the Panama-Pacific Exhibition). Its poor foundation made it the focus of most of the damage (and media attention) in the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. Today it is an affluent, residential neighborhood with well trimmed hedges and colorful flower window boxes. Bounded by the Bay, the neighborhood actually has an impressive marina, which is home to a couple of prestigious yacht clubs. Marina Green, an 8 block stretch of grass running along the edge of the bay, is a favorite place for jogging, strolling, picnicking, and kite flying. Only a few blocks away, Chestnut St. is where shoppers can peruse boutiques or people watch while sipping on a latte. “Culture vultures” circle round Fort Mason, with its array of museums, art galleries and quirky theaters.
Fort Mason and the Presidio are two former military posts on the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula. Today, both are national historic landmarks and come under the remit of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. Fort Mason is smaller and has a world class youth hostel as well as several museums and theaters. The Presidio is huge, with 1,480 acres of rolling hills, forests, hiking trails, historic buildings, architecture, beaches, and marsh lands. It has one of the most intact natural environments you will find on the peninsula and is a must for every itinerary.