What areas / neighborhoods / streets should I avoid in San Francisco?
March 23, 2008 6:31 PM   Subscribe

What areas / neighborhoods / streets should I avoid in San Francisco?

Ok, I'm trying to plan for a trip to San Francisco in May. I've got a list of places to go but I'd like something of a list of places not to go to. Chances are I'll be traveling a bunch on foot so if there is a street that I shouldn't walk down. We're 23 years old, m/f couple from Cambridge/London, UK.

We're mostly planning to stay in the North West of the city, only once or twice planning on venturing to Ocean Beach and the Golden Gate Park on the weekend of the Bay to Breakers. We're also not really planning on going as far south as Sunset, Castro and maybe venturing into the Mission once for the Flea Market on a Sunday. So I guess anything south of those places don't really matter.

I've read about avoiding the housing projects although I don't know really where these are - as well as certain places around the Mission (16th, 20th, 24th and 26th), Northern Addition, some parts of Haight, some places on Market Street (between 5th and 9th) and into Tenderloin.

We'll be staying on Jones and Post at the USA Hostel, Mason and Beach at the Wharf Inn, as well as the Metro on Divisadero and Page so if there is a street literally around the corner that we shouldn't walk down then those would be much appreciated!

Any advice will be greatly received, thanks.
posted by stackhaus23 to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Union street? Seriously, San Francisco is not a scary city. Use common sense and you'll be ok. Stick with other tourists and you'll be ok. Have fun!
posted by quadog at 6:51 PM on March 23, 2008

All of the places you mention are safe. Some are a little seedy, but unless you're very unlucky you'll be fine, especially in the daytime. No one street in any of those neighborhoods is dramatically worse than the others. The Tenderloin is a little worse than the others, but even that's not so bad.

You'll want to stay away from Bayview and Visitacion Valley, but it doesn't sound like you're going there anyway.
posted by svolix at 6:58 PM on March 23, 2008

Unless you are drunk off your ass at 2 am, there is almost nowhere in the city you'll go that I'd classify as "dangerous." Bayview/Hunter's Point and Visitacion Valley are pretty much all residential and far enough off the beaten track that there's no way you'll end up there accidentally.

Missing out on the Mission means missing out on some excellent bars and restaurants. 16th and Mission is vibrant, 24th and Mission is a little more local shops and residential. The Mission is mostly Latino, and if you want to eat an honest-to-god Mission burrito, you're going to have to come here.

Mission around 6th street isn't very pretty, but it's not dangerous (see: drunk at 2 am exception).

It's the Western Addition, btw.
posted by rtha at 7:21 PM on March 23, 2008

I've lived in San Francisco for 20 years. While there are a few spots that make me a little wary, I've found that most parts of the city feel perfectly safe to me.

The advice you've gotten sounds good. The section of Market you mention can be a little worrisome, as is the same section of Mission (one block south). I'm not actually sure where the "Northern Addition" is; the Western Addition has some housing projects, and there has been some police activity this year in the part of the Western Addition between about - hm - Geary and Hayes and Franklin and Fillmore. I actually walk through that very area probably once or twice a week, sometimes at night (by myself). I haven't had any problems.

I would say the Tenderloin is the worst area in the areas you're talking about. (svolix is right about Bayview and Visitacion Valley, but also right that you don't sound like you'll be heading out that way, and there aren't a lot of tourist attractions there.) The Tenderloin's boundaries vary depending on who you ask, but Wikipedia defines the Tenderloin as being between Post, Mason, Mission, and Van Ness. I'm not sure I'd put it as far West as Van Ness, myself.

So your hotel at Post and Jones is arguably right at the edge of the Tenderloin - but I've had my mom stay within a block of there with no problems. She loved being close to Union Square, and you might, too. You'll just probably want to head north and east most of the time (toward Union Square, Chinatown, and Fisherman's Wharf) rather than south and west into the Tenderloin.

If you do find yourself walking through one of the iffy areas, especially during the daytime, don't get too worried - just keep walking briskly to wherever you're going. I've walked through the Tenderloin with my mother to go to a play, for example, and it was fine. (The Golden Gate Theatre is right at the edge of the Tenderloin, on that iffy stretch of Market.) Not inviting, exactly, but we had no problems. Many of the housing projects occupy a few blocks inside neighborhoods that shift to upper-class within another few blocks (the Tenderloin's proximity to Nob Hill has created an area some folks call "the Tendernob", for example, and the Western Addition housing projects are not that far from Pacific Heights, the most expensive part of the city) - all of which means that if you do start walking toward a project, you'll probably be past it in three or four blocks.

I love walking around the city, and I think the areas you're planning to enjoy (Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park, the Castro) will feel safe, especially during the day.

One tip: if you want to ride the cable car, consider catching it at California and Van Ness. You can generally avoid the hour-plus lines you'll find for the Powell line, and the ride from there into the nicer part of Market is lovely.

Enjoy your visit!
posted by kristi at 7:33 PM on March 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

You'll miss out if you avoid the Mission. The least attractive place on your list is probably your first hostel. You are very safe in pretty much any part of the city during the day. At night, use common sense and watch yourself and you'll be fine. San Francisco is at least as safe, if not safer, than most parts of London.
posted by judith at 7:40 PM on March 23, 2008

Good advice so far. Any place you're in the day as a tourist should be fine.

You'll likely encounter some panhandlers, and people with "great" stories (e.g. my car just broke down, etc...), if you feel uncomfortable , feel free to excuse yourself and keep walking.

When you are at Divisadero and Page, try to walk over to Corona Heights, a high rocky spire near Roosevelt Way and Museum Way. It has a great view the city. It's may 10 - 15 minutes walk away.

Get a Muni (bus) map (any Walgreens or Safeway and most other drug stores, etc..) great for walking around and hoping the bus when you can.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 7:53 PM on March 23, 2008

I used to work near 5th and Mission, and there's nothing in that area that will be a problem in daytime. At night, stick to streets with people on them, which will be almost every street, as opposed to the rare but obvious semi-deserted narrow alleys, and you will most likely have no problems aside from panhandlers.

I'd steer tourists away from south of Market St from 6th on up (through at least 9th) after 10pm or so. There's a remote chance you'll get mugged there, but more likely agressively panhandled. It's not the sort of neighborhood where you would expect to hear gunfire or see violent crimes.
posted by zippy at 7:54 PM on March 23, 2008

Seconding what kristi said. If any block feels sketchy, walk for another block and it will likely become non-sketchy and perhaps even upscale.

I can't imagine whats unsafe about 24th and Mission. Thats one of the most interesting parts of the city. Its even one of my recommended walking tours.
posted by vacapinta at 8:16 PM on March 23, 2008

I lived in the Mission once upon a time, and I had a habit of walking home from SOMA or Haight Street or wherever I was. At night (LATE at night, as in 2 AM). By myself. And I'm a small woman. And I lived to tell the tale. Nothing bad ever happened to me except for the usual obnoxious catcalls.

Now I wouldn't advise doing what I did - but San Francisco, as cities go, is not that dangerous. In particular, I don't think the Mission is dangerous during the daytime, and if you skip the Mission, you're missing out on the oldest part of San Francisco - Mission Dolores is well worth seeing - and yummylicious, cheap burritos. I routinely drag all my tourist friends through the Mission and make them eat burritos.

And if you skip the Western Addition, you'll miss out on seeing some beautiful old Victorians. There's also a lot of nice and inexpensive cafes and the like there.

What you want to avoid are deserted streets - you'll be fine as long as there is foot traffic. Also you don't want to look like a lost and bewildered tourist, standing on the street corner reading a map and so on.

The really dangerous/bad parts of San Francisco are Bayview/Hunter's Point and the Visitacion Valley, neither of which an out-of-towner is ever likely to see.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:30 PM on March 23, 2008

There are places in New York, London and Paris that are FAR worse than here, I've found. I find that when I'm in a sketchier area, most of the scariest people here are pretty harmless. The occasional street people who seem on the edge here appear (to me) to be more self destructive than committing random violence against strangers. Generally the people I avoid the most on the street here are simply people on heroin; and I'm not afraid for my safety so much as I just don't want to be anywhere near them. Every once in a while I'll be walking alongside a guy who will stop walking so he can pee on the sidewalk... or the other day I was pulling my car out of a garage in Union Square and I had to drive around a guy who was literally shooting up right there. That stuff weirds me out, but I knew I was more likely to hurt him with my car than he was going to hurt me. He didn't even see me. So I didn't feel in danger or anything, I just think it's seriously weird to see people shooting up heroin in full view of tourists. Sometimes I see stuff and think, "Y'know, this is really not what I expected to see when I moved to the Bay area. I'm just going to pretend I didn't see that. Life will be better that way."

One thing to keep in mind is that San Francisco is very much a walking city, though. So as opposed to somewhere like LA, there are generally people out. Especially in busy places like Union Square and the Mission. The Mission BART stations are sketchy but I've never had a single problem there. I just avoid eye contact with tweakers and keep to myself. I took the BART home last night after midnight by myself and didn't feel a bit unsafe.

Also keep in mind that San Francisco is a bit sleepy and sometimes it folds up earlier than you'd expect for a "big city." Depending on the neighborhood, there are lot of people here that go to sleep by 10pm (I'll never be one of them). So if you're out late walking around, look for neighborhoods where there's more nightlife going on. I wouldn't suggest wandering the Tenderloin by yourself after 10pm, but otherwise you're good to go. Like everyone else has said, it's not really a particularly dangerous place in the world.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:35 PM on March 23, 2008

I've been mugged in the Haight before (which went fairly well - I didn't have more than a dollar or two, and the mugger shrugged and moved on without taking it). It was 4am and I was by myself outside on the street, which probably isn't what you'll be doing. Don't ask what I was doing, which is probably also not what you will be doing. SF is a pretty safe place. No worries.
posted by ctmf at 9:03 PM on March 23, 2008

Funny, when I asked about somewhere in San Francisco to kill a few hours, our fellow Mefites sent me to the Mission. It was fine. You should go there for the burritos if nothing else!
posted by cabingirl at 9:22 PM on March 23, 2008

I'd steer tourists away from south of Market St from 6th on up (through at least 9th) after 10pm or so. There's a remote chance you'll get mugged there, but more likely agressively panhandled. It's not the sort of neighborhood where you would expect to hear gunfire or see violent crimes.

Yeah, ditto this about Market from 6th-9th. I lived there for a year, and it's unpleasant (even somewhat so in midday). On the other hand, I often waited 10 minutes and caught a 1 am bus on the corner (fun times at the bus stop!). Stupid perhaps, but I agree that we're warning you about places more because of the annoying-ness of being somewhere dirty where your danger signs are going off, and/or being panhandled by meth addicts or people with other serious drug addictions, than about actual danger.

Speaking of annoying people on drugs, it also applies to Mission St. (16th-20th) in the middle of the night as well. (For pleasant walking, walk on Valencia, then cut down to the BART on 16th or 23rd or 24th.) I also feel sketched out if I'm on Mission around 13th-14th alone after dark.

But to talk about of a place you might actually be in the middle of the night, are you arriving by Greyhound, by any chance? If you get in at night, go out the main entrance (it'll be obvious) and turn right/north on that first street you see there (I think it's 1st St). A good dozen or so people sleep under the awning of the east-west running Transbay Station and the freeway overpass there, and you'll go past them if you head west. It doesn't feel dangerous to me, and they're just sleeping. My walk from the office to the bus I catch takes me right through a parking lot under the overpass and along the awning, so I pass these folks maybe three times a week and have never been bothered. So I wouldn't say it's "dangerous," but it might feel weird to walk there without being oriented about which way to go to get to the crowds and busy bars.
posted by salvia at 10:29 PM on March 23, 2008

And just to clarify about the Tenderloin a bit - the Wikipedia article points out that a lot of city highlights are technically inside the Tenderloin (as they define it boundaries): City Hall, the main public library, a number of excellent theatres, and more. Stepping foot in the Tenderloin (especially during the day) is not an immediate recipe for disaster. The closer you are to the northeast, north, and west boundaries (Union Square, Post, and Van Ness), the safer things are and the more you'll find major attractions you might indeed want to visit, like City Hall (great free tours) or the major theaters.

And vacapinta mentioned walking tours - the City Guides Walking Tours are awesome. They're free, there are several every day, and they're led by enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers under the auspices of Friends of the Library. They even have extended schedules with lots of extra tours during May and October, the months when San Francisco weather is at its loveliest.
posted by kristi at 11:06 PM on March 23, 2008

Nthing that you're fine -- San Francisco is a pretty safe city overall. Even the Tenderloin is fine. Just use normal street smarts and enjoy the city.
posted by desuetude at 6:10 AM on March 24, 2008

Response by poster: We're arriving at SFO at around 9pm so we have to make our way from there to the Wharf Inn.

Thanks for all the great advice so far. It was the Western Addition I was talking about, I have no idea where I got Northern from?
posted by stackhaus23 at 6:27 AM on March 24, 2008

I've lived in SF more 15 years, and I've no idea what could possibly be called the Northern Addition.

BTW, no idea what flea market exists in the Mission on Sunday. Do you mean it's at the Alemany Farmer's Market? I have no idea how one gets there on public transportation.

All of the other comments here are accurate, especially about the Tenderloin (parts are scary, yes) and the Mission (mostly fine, and Valencia Street is fun. Great food there, too).

By the way, Bay to Breakers really interferes with the public transit around the city (especially bus lines -- underground lines are fine). If you're planning to get somewhere on a bus the Sunday of B2B, you might not want to plan to go anywhere close to the race until after noon or so. If you're planning to run, though, have a great time! Hope you enjoy our fair city.
posted by stonefruit at 8:26 AM on March 24, 2008

I live right next to the housing projects in Western Addition. That's really the only area in Western Addition you need to avoid. It's roughly a 6x4 block area that's dangerous after dark (McAllister St and Grove St on north and south, Fillmore St and Octavia St on east and west). Neighborhood-wise, it's flanked by Hayes Valley to the south and Japantown to the north. So if you're in either of those two areas at night, avoid walking north from Hayes Valley or south from Japantown.

Other than that, you don't have anything to worry about in SF as long as you're walking together, even in Tenderloin or Mission. Ironically, both of those districts look a lot more dangerous than they are while the housing projects in Western Addition look completely innocent.
posted by junesix at 12:36 PM on March 24, 2008

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