Those in the know – basically, the locals – call San Francisco’s Sunset District “The Avenues.” You’ll know it by its pastel-hued row houses stretching to the Great Highway and Ocean Beach. It’s a large enough area to be divided into subsections: Inner Sunset, Central Sunset and Other Sunset. Within Sunset, you’ll find great coffee, good food, a fantastic beach, urban hikes and more. Let’s dive deeper with this guide to San Francisco’s Sunset District so you can get the most out of your visit.
Don’t miss this four-mile-long stretch of sand spanning from Cliff House south to Sloat Boulevard. It’s wider than most beaches in the area and like all the beaches along the San Francisco coast is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Walk along the Esplanade or into Golden Gate Park or the San Francisco Zoo. Watch windsurfers riding the breaks, but remember, swimming is dangerous due to cold water temperatures and strong rip currents.
Take an urban hike through a dense eucalyptus forest to 900 feet above sea level and get a great view of the entire city. To get there, go up Stanyan Street, where you’ll turn left onto the Fairy Gates Trail. Depending on the weather, you may hike through the fog line, so dress warmly.
Even if you have no idea what you’re looking for when you enter the General Store at 45th and Judah, you’ll come out treasures you can’t do without. This delightfully warm, welcoming space celebrates the creativity of the local community and abroad, offering artwork, home goods, jewelry, gifts and more from aspiring artists. From statement vases to salty chocolate caramels to vintage found items, you’ll find everything you weren’t necessarily looking for, but absolutely must have.
16th Avenue Tiled Steps
If you appreciate outdoor art, make your way to Moraga Street between 15th and 16th avenues to the Tiled Steps Project. Climb up all 163 tiled steps leading from the base of Grand View Park to admire each of them – all part of a project started by local artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher in 2003. More than 300 citizens have contributed to the colorful and elaborately decorated project.
Golden Gate Park
Inner Sunset Farmers’ Market
Stock up on local produce, cheese and bread at the Inner Sunset Farmers’ Market before a Sunday at Ocean Beach or Golden Gate Park. The market runs year-round. Summer offers a boon of vegetables, stone fruits, berries, flowers, artisan cheese and more. The market is at 1315 8th Avenue.
San Francisco Zoo
Where the Sunset District runs into the Pacific Ocean, you’ll find the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens, home to more than 1,000 animals from around the world. Watch as the zoo’s two grizzlies enjoy their breakfast, get an up-close peek at the gentle giraffes and wander around the no-boundaries South American Tropical Rainforest & Aviary, meeting colorful toucans and macaws.
Lake Merced Park
Don’t miss neighboring Lake Merced Park, a favorite spot for runner, walkers and cyclists. Park yourself at one of the many benches or picnic tables and enjoy birdwatching or fishing in the lake. Keep an eye out for hawks, grebes, loons, egrets and cormorants. If you’d like to swim, head to the southern lagoon of South Lake, naturally divided from the main lake.
Festivals and More
If you’re a golfer, aim for spring when those who aren’t quite pro-level play the municipal course overlooking the Pacific Ocean – Harding Park Golf Club is part of the PGA’s Tournament Players Club.
Visit mid-June through mid-August to enjoy the Stern Grove Festival. It takes place every Sunday afternoon at a natural amphitheater in a eucalyptus forest and is the oldest performing arts festival in America. And it’s free.
Fall is the perfect time for beach walking, hiking around Lake Merced Park, hang gliding from the cliffs at Fort Funston and visiting the zoo minus the crowds.
Visit the neighboring Richmond District, close to several urban parks and some of the most highly rated Chinese restaurants in San Francisco. Check out the Presidio while you’re here to explore the Walt Disney Museum and national Cemetery. Tee off at the relatively inexpensive Lincoln Park Golf Course, known for its Golden Gate Bridge views. By night, live it up at Neck of the Woods, one of the hottest live music spots in this area of the city.
Where to Eat in the Sunset District
Decades ago, the Sunset District may have been full of undulating sand dunes, but today it’s a melting pot of global residents, surfers, artists and students. All this diversity has brought with it an incredible array of dining options, from spot-on dumpling restaurants to follow-your-nose bakeries. Here are some of the best places to eat in the Sunset District:
King of Noodles
The place to satisfy your dumpling craving. There’s another location in Parkside, but this one has more room and generally a shorter line.
Sustainable, irresistible Mexican food is served at this casual eatery. Don’t miss the tortilla chips smothered with Nopalito’s signature sauce and Cotija cheese (totopos con chile).
The Taco Shop at Underdogs
Sports fans and taco aficionados won’t want to miss The Taco Shop at Underdogs, the no-frills home to Nick Fasanella’s extra crispy, cheesy tacos.
Bring patience and a heft appetite to San Tung at 12th and Irving. The line for a table is usually long, especially at prime lunch or dinner hours. Consider placing a to-go order and picnicking in Golden Gate Park.
Dive into modern Korean, like kimchi pancakes and rice and roe bowls. The back patio is a great spot for an alfresco dinner.