The Marina: The Neighborhood Everyone Loves to Hate

But is that fair?

Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane

If this state ever secedes from the U.S., and the California-less remainder of America opens a consulate in San Francisco, it will probably be in The Marina.

That’s because it’s the place in the city that’s most like the rest of the country. Partly for that reason, much of S.F. looks down on it (except for the Pac Heights crowd, who do so only in a literal sense). Like everybody jumping out of their chair all at once to denounce Suzanne Somers as “irrelevant” when she made some mild comment in support of Donald Trump, it’s very, very easy to get non-Marina-dwellers to slag off the Marina.

You can dismiss it and neighboring Cow Hollow with a single syllable — bros — but at the same time, rituals of collective antipathy take on a life of their own. How many Marina-haters have really spent any time there, and how many are just parroting kool-kid dogma?

Sure, it is collegiate — practically Bostonian. It’s safe and it’s very white and it’s full of eyelash lounges and strollers and an Untuckit store and some divey sports bars that probably serve a lot of lemon drops, plus they’re all doomed anyway because we’re overdue for a big shaker and the last one pancaked the whole place. The Marina is an incursion of the suburban into the urban, and it’s annexing Polk Street, too.

And — no denying it — it’s as basic as liking golden retrievers and hating the word “moist.” The North Face store is next to the Bonobos store and the Lululemon boutique is opposite Chubbies. Marine Layer and North Face aren’t far. And that Untuckit store is next to LaserAway, which has the personal-training service Perfect Fit on its other side. There’s also a Starbucks Reserve, a Pottery Barn, and a Williams-Sonoma, plus the Gap, Gap Baby, and Gap Body. Founded exactly 50 years ago by Donald and Doris Fisher, the upwardly mobile Gap feels like Chestnut Street incarnate, although its first store was on Ocean Avenue in Ingleside.

Interchangeably affluent denizens notwithstanding, the Marina is also undeniably pretty (if bisected by expressway-scale Lombard Street). Very few parts of the city have as many Deco rooflines, and the Marina District proper — the area closest to the bay, as opposed to Cow Hollow — has a stunning architectural unity. The Moorish turrets of the 111-year-old Vedanta Society Old Temple on Webster and Filbert are as wonderfully garish as the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England, or the cartoon-steroidal Queen Anne proportions of the Carson Mansion in Eureka, Calif. Charlton Court is a verdant dream of an alley. The Wave Organ is something special, too. The Palace of Fine Arts, the only one of 10 from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition to survive, remains California’s finest folly — and the nearby restaurant named for its designer, Bernard Maybeck, ain’t half bad, either.

You can debate how many fitness studios and athleisure stores one neighborhood really needs, but one result of all the residents’ vigilant paranoia about their physical appearance is that the Marina has comparatively few commercial vacancies, a plague that has befallen many other neighborhoods. One of the few empty storefronts only recently belonged to Sup. Catherine Stefani’s re-election campaign. She votes no on every single piece of legislation, but she managed to find it in her to say yes to a short-term lease. And the cult of wellness isn’t all bad. There might be a lot of people on Union Street barking into their Bluetooth, but not many of them are smoking.

The Marina is also home to some top-tier bars and restaurants, from local chains like Roam Burger and Tacolicious and Dabba to classics like Balboa Cafe or Patxi’s (Update: not for long) to mid-range notables like Belga or The Dorian to heavy-hitter A16 — and, of course, the three-Michelin-star gem, Atelier Crenn and its little sibling, Bar Crenn. Are many eateries over there quote-unquote ethnic restaurants? Nope, those are almost as scarce as dispensaries. But Fort Mason alone has Greens, The Interval, and Radhaus. Don’t like the idea of a bar called “Campus”? Fine — don’t go there.

Haters don’t have to go to the Marina at all, really, since it’s not exactly on the way to anywhere except the bridge — hence the name Final Final — and the traffic lights are mostly timed. This relative isolation explained the popularity of the now-deceased jitney service Chariot, but it also makes for peaceful coexistence between the normals and the rest of San Francisco. Like anything that a lot of people don’t like, the Marina is a great fit for the people who love it. If you deem everything south of Sutter Street to be “sketchy,” you have your spot away from all the weirdos.

And one day, in some future America, when they want to travel to Seattle or Dollywood or South by Southwest, those weirdos might go get their visas there.

 

Read more from SF Weekly’s Marina issue:

Have a Cow, Man, at Marlowe’s Newest Spinoff
Sneak away for a bit of opulence at Cow Marlowe, which fits the neighborhood hand-in-glove.

Fort Mason Is Really Two Institutions in One
With half a century left on its leas, the future of the arts is bright — and eventually, all the piers may be restored.

Yacht Rocks: The Unsung History of the Marina District Lighthouse
A stone landmark that doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

What’s Happening With That Giant Building Behind the Palace of Fine Arts?
The city has struggled to find a purpose the Exhibition Center, one of the largest single-story structures in San Francisco.

Will the Marina Say Yes to Muni This Time?
Neighbors have opposed several transportation projects, but they’re hearing out preliminary plans to extend the Central Subway their way.

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