Thriving in San Francisco: A neighborhood guide for SF State students moving to the city
A preview of 10 diverse San Francisco neighborhoods for students who want to live off campus.
May 19, 2023
Hey Gators, congratulations on your admittance to SF State! We know there is a lot to do before the Fall 2023 semester starts, and we’re sure one of your top concerns is where you’ll live for the next four years. If by this point you’ve already decided you want to live off campus, we’re here to help! After all, we know how daunting moving to a new city can be.
San Francisco is filled with many diverse neighborhoods, 36 to be exact. However, choosing the right one for you can be a challenge, especially if you are not familiar with the city. Not to worry though, we asked dozens of current SF State students, who live off campus, what neighborhoods they live in and what they liked about living there.
To help make your selection process a little easier, we’ve compiled a list of 10 San Francisco neighborhoods you might consider when moving to the city.
Lower Nob Hill
If you’re looking for a neighborhood that gives you that big city feel, Lower Nob Hill might just be the one you’re looking for. Lower Nob Hill is popular among college students because of its proximity to public transportation, relatively affordable rent and nightlife.
San Francisco is largely known for its sky-high rent, so for college students on a fixed budget, affordable rent can be crucial. Though far from bargain prices, Lower Nob Hill has one of the most affordable rents in the city. According to Apartment Advisor, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Lower Nob Hill is $2,200.
A big draw for students residing in Lower Nob Hill is its proximity to major public transportation lines. The neighborhood sits just a half mile north of Market Street, where major transit systems such as BART and Muni run, making travel in and around the city extremely convenient. Thanks to SF State’s Gator Pass Program, students can ride many of the city’s transportation lines for free. Just tap your student OneCard and you’re good to go!
One of the most attractive aspects of Lower Nob Hill for students is how much is packed into its .25 square mile frame.
Daniel Orman, a fourth-year astrophysics major, chose to live in Lower Nob Hill because of its central location.
“Everything I need is within walking distance,” Orman said.
The neighborhood boasts an impressive array of bars and venues that are perfect for students looking for a night out. McTeague’s Saloon, DecoDance Bar and Regency Ballroom are just a few of the popular spots in Lower Nob Hill.
Compared to other neighborhoods on this list, Lower Nob Hill is a little the farthest from SF State. However, if you value easy access to public transportation, cheaper rent and lots of things to do in the area, Lower Nob Hill might be the neighborhood for you.
Located in the center of the city and just east of Golden Gate Park is the gorgeous Panhandle neighborhood. The Panhandle is an ideal location for college students who like pedestrian-friendly streets, public green spaces, accessible public transportation and its proximity to the highway.
One of the biggest assets of living in the Panhandle is its luscious, green spaces. The neighborhood rests directly above Panhandle Park, an ideal location for any number of recreational activities, and to the right of Golden Gate Park, a 3.5-mile urban park with several museums, gardens and other landmarks within its frame.
Bella Lown Heitz, a sociology major, loves having access to the parks in the area.
“I literally live across the street from the Panhandle [Park], and so I can just go to the park whenever I want to, which is really divine,” Lown Heitz said.
With a walking score of 96, the Panhandle is a car-less student’s paradise. Students can easily walk to the many shops, restaurants and bars in the area without worrying about climbing many famous San Francisco hills or finding parking.
If you’re a student with a car, the Panhandle is also a great neighborhood due to its easy access to Highway 1, which is a direct route to SF State. However, for students without cars, Muni’s M-line drops you off right in front of the university. SF State students ride Muni free of charge with Gator Pass.
Because of the Panhandle neighborhoods direct access to SF State and proximity to famous San Francisco parks, students can enjoy an easy commute to school with all the added elements of being near some of the city’s most desirable features.
The Outer Richmond is one of the northernmost neighborhoods in San Francisco. Though the neighborhood is not near SF State, students who prioritize being near Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park and surrounded by an active community might consider moving to Outer Richmond.
One of the most popular attractions in Outer Richmond is Ocean Beach, which is just a few blocks west of the neighborhood. Outer Richmond is one of a few San Francisco neighborhoods that touch Ocean Beach, which offers students a break from city life and an opportunity to enjoy one of San Francisco’s great outdoor amenities.
Mariam Vigdergauz, a second-year biology major, enjoys the outdoor activities available in Outer Richmond.
“I like that it’s [Outer Richmond] near the beach,” Vigdergauz said. “[Golden Gate] park is there so me and my friends can walk around. Nothing really rigorous, just walks and hikes.”
Golden Gate Park offers many opportunities for outdoor recreation and cultural exploration. The park features numerous attractions such as the Dutch Windmill, Bison Paddock and Golden Gate Park Disc Golf Course.
Though Outer Richmond is most recognized for its proximity to local beaches and parks, the neighborhood is also known for its active community. Every week the neighborhood puts on the VA San Francisco Farmers Market, an event that allows the community to support local vendors.
The Outer Richmond neighborhood offers students a unique experience. With its beautiful beaches, expansive parks and enriching community events, students can find a peaceful escape from city life while still being near all that San Francisco has to offer.
The Outer Sunset is a chill, beachy neighborhood located on the west side of the city. Some of the most desirable qualities of this neighborhood are its laid-back vibe and its proximity to Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park.
One of Outer Sunset’s most unique features is how quiet the neighborhood is compared to some of the other popular neighborhoods in the city. The Outer Sunset is known for its relaxed environment, which makes it an ideal place for college students looking for a slower-paced neighborhood.
Like Outer Richmond, the Outer Sunset also has direct access to the city’s largest urban park. Golden Gate Park is famous for its many attractions such as the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden at the Murphy Windmill, Turtle Pond and Strawberry Hill. With endless activities, Golden Gate Park is the perfect place to explore and unwind on a day off.
Griselda Neri, a fourth-year sociology major, loves her neighborhood’s proximity to the water.
“I go to the beach a lot because it’s like a two-minute walk from where I live,” Neri said.
One of the Outer Sunset’s biggest assets is its direct access to Ocean Beach. The neighborhood and Ocean Beach are separated only by a stretch of road called the Great Highway. On the weekends the Great Highway becomes a pedestrian-only space for recreational activities.
The Outer Sunset is an easygoing neighborhood ideal for college students who love being surrounded by the city’s natural beauty.
The Inner Sunset neighborhood is located just south of Golden Gate Park and directly east of the Outer Sunset neighborhood. The Inner Sunset is a great neighborhood for students due to its easy access to public transportation, community engagement and being one of few neighborhoods with direct access to Golden Gate Park.
Getting to and from the Inner Sunset neighborhood is easy due to its public transportation options. The neighborhood has direct access to Muni’s N-lines, which connects the Inner Sunset to downtown San Francisco. SF State students ride Muni for free, making it an affordable way to access the city.
Riley Ford, 20, is a business major who loves the close-knit community in the Inner Sunset.
“I found a lot of the neighbors around me are super nice,” Ford said. “It honestly feels like there’s a good sense of community, which is really cool. I’ve never really had that before where I’m close to the people I’m living around.”
Community engagement is an important aspect of life in the Inner Sunset. The Inner Sunset Merchants Association organizes events like the Inner Sunset Flea market to promote local businesses and encourage community involvement.
Like several other neighborhoods in the area, the Inner Sunset has direct access to Golden Gate Park. The Inner Sunset entrance has access to the park’s southeast end where attractions like Kezar Stadium, Robin Williams Meadow and San Francisco Botanical Garden reside.
The Inner Sunset’s proximity to Golden Gate Park, convenient public transportation and active community, make it an ideal home for students. This neighborhood offers a unique urban experience only available in the Inner Sunset.
Just south of the Panhandle Park and east of Golden Gate Park is the quaint Cole Valley neighborhood. Cole Valley is well known for its public transportation lines, safety and its proximity to Golden Gate Park.
One of the great things about living in Cole Valley is the accessibility of its public transportation lines. With Gator Pass, SF State students can head to campus for free by hopping onto the 43 bus and transferring to Muni’s M-line, which will drop you off right in front of campus. Muni’s N-line also runs through Cole Valley, which can take you west toward Ocean Beach or east to downtown San Francisco.
Tara Khanna, a third-year business major, chose to live in Cole Valley because of its homey feel.
“I love that it feels like a real community over there [Cole Valley], at least from my experience everyone is really nice with each other, for the most part, it’s pretty safe,” Khanna said.
Cole Valley has a reputation as a relatively safe neighborhood due to its well-lit streets, pedestrian traffic and police presence. According to the San Francisco Police Department Civic Hub, in April 2023 there were only eight reported crimes in the Cole Valley area, all non-violent.
Cole Valley is yet another San Francisco neighborhood that touches Golden Gate Park, which makes it a highly desirable location for students who love the outdoors. Since Cole Valley is small, there are limited activities available within the neighborhood, which makes access to the park essential.
With access to several major transportation lines, a low crime rate and convenient entry into Golden Gate Park, students can enjoy living in the heart of San Francisco with easy access to the rest of the city.
Sunnyside is an easygoing neighborhood that is perfect for students who want a hassle-free commute to campus. The neighborhood is only a couple miles from SF State and has several transportation options and direct access to nearby nature.
Sunnyside’s proximity to SF State is a major plus for many college students. The neighborhood is less than two miles away from SF State, which makes it a breeze for students to get to and from campus.
A unique feature of living in Sunnyside is its proximity to nature. Glen Park Canyon is a stunning natural park just west of the Sunnyside. The park offers a variety of hiking trails and gorgeous views of the city. For students who enjoy spending time in nature, access to Glen Park Canyon is a major perk.
One of the biggest advantages of living in Sunnyside is its excellent public transportation options.
Mo Pippenger, a fourth-year biology major, loves that Sunnyside has a lot of accessible transit nearby, which makes getting to school convenient.
“I walk to Glen Park BART, which is like an eight-minute walk,” Pippenger said. “And then I take it two stops to Daly City, and then I take the shuttle or the 28 here [SF State].
Sunnyside’s many available transportation options keep it well connected to other parts of the city. Students who choose to live in Sunnyside will have direct access to several transportation lines such as BART, Muni, bus lines and the I-280 freeway, making it easy for students to get around with or without a car.
Sunnyside is a great option for college students who value public transportation options, proximity to nature and easy access to SF State.
Ingleside is a residential neighborhood located directly east of SF State. There are many benefits for students considering Ingleside, such as the neighborhood’s proximity to campus, access to public transportation and affordable housing options.
One of the biggest advantages of living in Ingleside is its direct access to SF State. Separated by Junipero Serra Blvd, this easy-access to campus can be a huge advantage for students who want a light commute to school.
Though San Francisco is well known for its outrageous cost of living, Ingleside is one of the more affordable neighborhoods in the city. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Ingleside is $2,670, which is quite a bit lower than the city’s average of $3,313.
Daniela Castro Gonzalez, a second-year pre-nursing major, thinks public transportation is a crucial part of living in the city.
“I feel like using the Muni and transportation gives you more of a college experience,” Castro Gonzalez said. “Just having adventures with friends, getting to know the city more.”
Ingleside is known for having several public transportation options, including BART, Muni and multiple bus lines. Muni’s K-line runs through Ingleside, while Balboa Park BART station is located at the edge of the neighborhood, providing easy access to other parts of the city and the East Bay. SF State students ride Muni for free with Gator Pass.
Ingleside is a great neighborhood for students who want to be close to campus, have easy access to public transportation and find more affordable housing options in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.
Parkmerced shares its borders with SF State, making it a sought-after residential neighborhood for students attending the university. This neighborhood is also known for its relative affordability and access to the nearby Stonestown Galleria.
Affordable housing is often a top concern for college students. Parkmerced is one of few neighborhoods in San Francisco where rent is below the city’s average of $3,313. According to Zumper, the average rent for a one-bedroom in Parkmerced is around $2,650 a month.
Another important aspect of Parkmerced for college students is how close it is to campus.
Andrew Hansen, a fourth-year marketing major, talked about his breezy commute to school.
“I walk,” Hansen said. “So, a five-minute walk to get up here [SF State]. I’m at the bottom of Parkmerced and it only takes me like 10 minutes to get to the business building. So yeah, super nice.”
Another perk of living in Parkmerced is its proximity to Stonestown Galleria, a large shopping center with a wide variety of shopping and entertainment options. Stonestown Galleria has everything a college student could need just a short walk away such as grocery stores, a gym, a movie theater and restaurants.
Parkmerced offers college students a unique combination of affordability and convenient access to SF State and Stonestown Galleria. With its welcoming atmosphere and numerous amenities, it is no surprise that so many students choose to live in Parkmerced.
Daly City is not a neighborhood in San Francisco, however, many students reside in this neighboring city. Daly City is a popular option for a lot of students because it is near SF State, has its own BART station and a local beach.
Daly City BART station is a major transportation hub located in Daly City and provides easy access to San Francisco. Students can use BART to commute to and from campus or to explore other parts of the Bay Area. Students heading to and from Daly City BART station can get 50% off their ride with Gator Pass.
Another great quality of Daly City is the access to Thornton Beach. The beach offers a wide variety of activities such as surfing, fishing and hiking along the rocky cliffs.
Alexa Pabalate, a third-year communications major, likes that she still lives close to campus without having to deal with San Francisco problems.
“It’s close to school,” Pabalate said. “And I like that it’s not in the city-city where the parking is terrible. It’s more mellow than the city.”
Daly City is a great option for college students who prioritize living close to campus, but also want to be away from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. Daly City offers convenient transportation options and access to the Pacific Ocean.