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Behind the scenes | The history of San Francisco’s smallest neighborhoods

Behind the scenes | The history of San Francisco’s smallest neighborhoods

Picture of Kristine Xu
Updated: 11 December 2015
Hundreds of thousands of people visit San Francisco every year, experiencing the city through its world-famous tourist attractions and culturally rich museums. However, San Francisco has more to offer than just foodie culture, intense fog, and historical landmarks. Take a look at how these smaller neighborhoods offer a different taste of the city by the bay.

Duboce Triangle

Bordered by Castro Street and Market Street, Duboce Triangle is a quiet residential neighborhood located in central San Francisco. Almost every single Muni train passes through this neighborhood, making this neighborhood one of the easiest places to access by Muni. Unfortunately, crime and drug use have started becoming more rampant on the streets of Duboce Triangle. Despite these events, the neighborhood has formed a neighborhood alliance that aims to ‘protect, maintain and improve our neighborhood quality of life,’ while also representing the businesses and residents of Duboce Triangle. In addition, little pocket parks have taken up residence alongside the beautifully painted Victorian houses, in order to avoid demolishing and preserve the original architecture of the neighborhood. An adorable addition to the neighborhood sprouted up in 2012, where people can visit a lemonade stand that offer a variety of ‘goods’ depending on current events or time of year, for only 5 cents. A Little Free Library can also be found at this location, where anyone can pick up or drop off a book for free.

Russian Hill

This neighborhood was named after a Russian cemetery found at the top of the hill, featuring the remains of Russian merchants and ship crew members dating from the early 1800s. Though the cemetery has been removed, the name remains despite the lack of significant Russian population in the area. The San Francisco Art Institute is located in the neighborhood, while Ghirardelli Square is found just north of the hill. In order to combat the characteristically steep streets of Russian Hill, hairpin turns were suggested to make the street accessible by vehicle. In total, Lombard Street has eight turns that make up its unique and bizarre appearance. Tourists from all around the world come to visit this one-of-a-kind street, making it one of the most visited destinations in San Francisco. Some streets are even steeper than Lombard, making it necessary for pedestrian-only lanes with staircases instead of streets. The hill is even accessible by a cable car that offers scenic views of the Bay Area.

Twin Peaks

San Francisco is famously known for its steep streets, which make traversing the city by foot a near herculean feat. In addition to the concrete hills of the city, San Francisco is also home to two natural hills in the middle of the city — Twin Peaks. As the highest elevation point in the city, Twin Peaks may have been used as a lookout point for the native Ohlone people, long before the urbanization of San Francisco. The north and south peaks are named Eureka Peak and Noe Peak respectively. The undeveloped land at the top of Twin Peaks acts as a preservation area for birds, insects and vegetation, while also serving as one of the few remaining habitats for the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly. In addition, the reservoir just north of the hills is owned by the San Francisco Fire Department and used to fight fires through the city. The surrounding neighborhood at the foothills of Twin Peaks is named after the towering hills that offer spectacular sprawling views of the city, especially at nighttime.


The Tenderloin, a downtown community near the end of Market Street, took its moniker from its similarly named counterpart in New York. The Tenderloin was bustling with restaurants, theaters and hotels before the 1906 Earthquake, when most of the buildings were irreparably destroyed. Since then, the neighborhood has rebuilt businesses from the ground up, from the usual restaurants and hotels to the speakeasies of the 1920s and gambling halls. Despite the high rates of crime and homelessness in this neighborhood, there has been a recent effort for art revival in the Tenderloin. The Gray Area Foundation for the Arts was founded here, while famous street artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy have also painted colorful murals in this neighborhood. The Tenderloin is also home to the first homeless shelter for parents and children, established in 1971, as well as a number of Single Room Occupancy hotels, soup kitchens and other social services. The area has pushed for more open park areas, which lead to the development of Boeddeker Park and a number of playgrounds for children.

Treasure Island | © Kristine Xu
Treasure Island | © Kristine Xu

Treasure Island

Treasure Island was constructed in 1937 in preparation for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, which sought to showcase the newly constructed Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge to the world. The expansive 500-acre island off the Bay Bridge was converted into a naval station during 1941 in preparation for WWII, and later established as an automatic tracking radar facility in 1948. Despite being an often overlooked part of San Francisco, Treasure Island has transitioned from being a naval station to a celebrated part of San Francisco’s eclectic culture. During the 1980’s, old aircraft hangars were converted into sound stages for TV and movie productions such as The Matrix and The Pursuit of Happyness. Today, Treasure Island hosts a number of events through the year, including the famous Treasure Island Music Festival and the monthly Treasure Island Flea Market.

By Kristine Xu

Aspiring journalist obsessed with all things related to food, writing and food writing. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter @kristiners.