Representing one of San Francisco’s original Seven Hills, and among the best located among them, there is good reason why Russian Hill is one of the city’s most sought-after residential locations. The neighborhood is perhaps most famous for the amazing zig-zag switchbacks of Lombard Street, as well as for its two picturesque cable car lines, one on Hyde Street and the other on Mason, at its eastern border. But it would take months to thoroughly experience all that Russian Hill has to offer: its stately and varied architecture, its wonderful restaurants and cafés, and its abundance of hilltop views showcasing the most striking aspects of the city and the surrounding bay.
While the cable car-lines offer an unforgettable route through Russian Hill, the neighborhood is best experienced on foot. Beautiful buildings abound, most notably in the Macondray Lane Historic District, a residential enclave accessible only by a charmingly wooded pedestrian walkway, as well as the impeccable facades of the Paris Block Architectural District, some of which date back to the mid nineteenth century. Many of the best views in San Francisco are available to the public from Russian Hill’s numerous parks, including the panoramic photo-ops of Ina Coolbrith Park, named for California’s first poet laureate; George Sterling Park, where one can play tennis and basketball on a dizzying overlook; and the newly constructed Francisco Park, near the top of the hill. Especially prized is tiny Fay Park, a favorite among wedding photographers, with its prim gardens designed by the famed landscape architect Thomas Church.
While some San Franciscans think of Russian Hill as lying south of Fisherman’s Wharf, the National Association of Realtors defines the neighborhood as following the diagonal of Columbus Avenue to the peninsula’s northern edge. While unfamiliar to some, this vision of Russian Hill accurately conveys the waterfront access its residents enjoy. Sheltered by both the 1,850-foot Municipal pier and the Hyde Street Pier, home to several historic ships, the calm waters of Aquatic Park Cove are a favorite among both boaters and swimmers, who complete their open-water laps around a line of buoys. Municipal Pier also attracts serious anglers, who have caught forty-five species there, the largest a striped perch in excess of forty-one pounds.
Most restaurants and cafés in Russian Hill are found along the thoroughfares of Polk and Hyde Streets, in the southern half of the neighborhood. While the elegant establishment named for celebrated chef Gary Danko is probably its best-known, there is also no shortage of less extravagant options. They range from excellent prix fixe omakase sushi, to refined Moroccan fare and several purveyors of excellent Italian cuisine. Residents of Russian Hill can enjoy these culinary riches on a daily basis and, for the lucky few, a cable car ride is a thrill enjoyed twice daily, both en route to work and on the return home.