Multicultural Richmond District
Where Pacific waves meet the setting sun, San Francisco’s Richmond District stretches 50 blocks west from the vast green spaces of the Presidio and Golden Gate Park. It’s a mainly residential neighborhood labeled Inner Richmond for the first 25 blocks or so, and Outer Richmond for the next 25 blocks right up to the sands of Ocean Beach.
Once written off as undesirable real estate known as the “Outside Lands,” this northwest quadrant of the peninsula still belonged to Mexico when California became a state in 1850. Since the area was home to several cemeteries, the earliest residents of the Richmond District were actually already dead. It took another 16 years before the district was deeded to the rest of San Francisco.
Within a few short years, everything changed with the development of Golden Gate Park and the steam railway and streetcars that transported tens of thousands of city folk west to the park or the seaside for the day.
Golden Gate Park
While modern day visitors should make a point of seeing Golden Gate Park, the nation’s largest urban park cannot be fully explored in a day. Within the park are two major museums, deYoung Fine Arts and the California Academy of Sciences. In addition, the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden and San Francisco Botanical Gardens are among the top attractions accounting for the park’s 13 million annual visitors.
Atop a hill overlooking the bay, the Palace of the Legion of Honor is a fine arts museum that brings large numbers of visitors to the Outer Richmond. A three-quarters scale replica of a building by the same name in Paris, the elegant landmark is graced by Auguste Rodin’s famous statue, “The Thinker” at its entrance. Views of the Golden Gate Bridge are special on clear days from both rom the grassy lawn in front of the museum and from the park’s golf course.
Ocean Beach and Lands End
Since many visitors feel that no trip to San Francisco is complete without a look at the Pacific Ocean, Outer Richmond is one easy to reach option. The famous Cliff House, first built in 1863, is a destination restaurant overlooking the bluffs at Ocean Beach, where a clear day could even mean spotting a gray whale. But, with unpredictable fog around the water’s edge, the first advice any San Franciscan would offer a visitor is to bring a jacket. Even more important advice is to heed the warning signs regarding strong waves and heavy undercurrents very near the shore.
Those looking for a hike with a smattering of history will want to read up on the trails through cypress and wildflowers around the ruins of an elaborate 19th century public bathhouse which once stood here, Sutro Baths at Lands End.
Secluded and exclusive, Sea Cliff is a prime residential neighborhood of multi-million dollar homes with manicured lawns perched on bluffs overlooking the intersection of the Pacific Ocean with the Golden Gate. This being San Francisco, there are days when the views are stupendous and other days when, socked in by the signature rolls of fog, one cannot see the tops of the palm trees.
It’s quiet and safe, green and clean. The handful of celebrity homes that used to bring visitors for a look around “Beverly Hills North” no longer have famous occupants, so the tony streets belong to residents walking their dogs.
The Inner Richmond is the eastern half of the district, sometimes called the New Chinatown. Along Clement Street, mixed in with storefronts offering Chinese herbal treatments, tai chi sandals and potted orchids, international ethnic eateries attract passersby for BBQ Korean-style, Pho noodles, Sushi or Peking Duck. Irish pubs host music sessions, families gather at pizza and pasta places, queues of fans line up for a Burmese dinner or opt for Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Middle Eastern, Russian or French. Boutiques, florists, gift shops, hardware stores, book shops, toy stores, ice cream parlors and bakeries provide a constant flow of locals running daily errands.
Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., between 2nd and 4th Avenues, Clement Street turns into a colorful farmer’s market, complete with musicians to set youngsters to dancing in the street.
Did You Know?
- Two 18-hole municipal golf courses are open to the public in the Richmond District at Lincoln Park and at the Presidio, plus a 9-hole course inside Golden Gate Park.
- * Remnants from the shipwrecked King Philip, a three-masted 19th century clipper ship, occasionally emerge into view in the sand off Ocean Beach. It is estimated that hundreds of colonial day ships are sunken in these waters.
- Along the coast trail from Lands End, on a promontory in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a memorial to the highly decorated WWII cruiser, USS San Francisco, looks out over the Golden Gate.
- Lands End has a Lookout Visitor Center, open daily, operated by the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy. Nearby, visitors can take a peek from the 1946 historic Camera Obscura looking out over the ocean behind the Cliff House.
- The Cliff House website indicates the time of sunset, so diners can schedule a cocktail and dinner with nature’s show.