Hayes Valley is as if the Mission and the Marina had a baby — then pushed it around in a stroller forever without stopping. With lots of greenery but few parks, and plenty of street life but too many expressway-like arterial thoroughfares, it’s a strung-together mess that will never shake off the legacy of the never-completed Central Freeway even though it’s bursting with boutiques and restaurants and an organic feel. Apart from Page Street heading inbound, the cycling infrastructure is horrendous, yet Hayes Valley is otherwise an urbanist’s dream: prosperous, walkable, and beautiful. Populated by the kind of people who hipsters call basic and basic types call hipsters, it’s Exhibit A in why it might be time to retire the term “inner city.”
As with many other sub-neighborhoods in and around the original Western Addition, 19th-century San Francisco’s streetcar suburb, its borders can be fuzzy. Based on the commercial zone that gives the neighborhood its name, its western edge can reasonably be said to be Buchanan Street, although Webster would be a firmer divide. But how about east: Franklin, or all the way to Van Ness? And does Hayes Valley extend south all the way to Market Street? (Surely, Zuni isn’t in the Lower Haight, but calling that stretch of Market doesn’t feel entirely in-character.) Heading north, it’s even less defined. Drawing a line at McAllister Street keeps all the commercial life in the fold, but that also seems suspiciously close to including all the new condos and excluding public housing. And one of those new developments even had the gall to take over a working farm.
Named for Colonel Thomas Hayes, a landowner who served as S.F.’s county clerk from 1853-56, it’s come a long way from farmland settled by Genovese immigrants a few blocks west of City Hall. Plenty of pre-1906 construction remains, as indicated by tall, narrow windows and squat yet ornate single-family dwellings. There is a larger-than-average number of turrets. There’s a Zen Center but few churches, cocktail bars but no dives. The opera and the Nourse and Rickshaw Stop ring it, and the southeast corner has a couple surface parking lots, that bane of transit-first planners. Murals large and small, socially conscious or apolitical, lord over multiple places to get coffee and ice cream. On one section of Fell Street, there’s a theoretical point where you can see City Hall’s rotunda line up with the Salesforce Tower. But even if that precise view is only the province of one lucky person’s bedroom window, the rest of us can see the twilight reflected in the glassy skin of 100 Van Ness, night after night.
For more Hayes Valley coverage check out these stories:
From the Central Freeway’s Ashes, a Booming Hayes Valley Economy
While the rest of San Francisco struggles to manage commercial vacancies and blight, small businesses thrive.From the Freeway’s Ashes Comes a Booming Economy
These Hayes Valley Vacant Lots Are Small But Mighty
Two itty-bitty lots on Octavia Boulevard are optimistically being considered for 24 units of housing.
Hayes Valley’s Commemoration of Central Freeway Removal Underway
Community members who made the removal of the Central Freeway possible want to acknowledge a fight that led to the neighborhood’s transformation.
Where to Eat and Drink in Hayes Valley
Infinite appetite, finite budget: This compact neighborhood has become the new locus of San Francisco’s food scene, with exciting openings at all price points.