Many San Franciscans name the Inner Sunset as their favorite neighborhood, despite the fact that it suffers some of the worst weather in the entire Bay Area. Located between Golden Gate Park to the north and Vicente Street to the south, from Stanyan Boulevard to the east and 19th Avenue to the west, the Inner Sunset is just three miles from the Pacific Ocean and smack in the middle of the fog zone. Year-round, most mornings and evenings are foggy, and some days the sun doesn't come out at all.
So why do locals love it so much? Because, despite gentrification, it retains the laid-back feeling of a small town -- one that just happens to have a funky edge, an intriguing ethnic mix and great restaurants.
Hang out long enough, and you'll notice that residents know each other. They chat over coffee at the Beanery, greet each other when they walk into Art's Cafe and stop on the street to say hello, often in a thick Irish brogue or the clipped English of a person who grew up speaking Cantonese.
The history of the Inner Sunset is reflected in these accents. Prior to 1887, the area was comprised entirely of sand dunes. That year, developer Aurelius E. Buckingham built a cluster of homes around what is now Lincoln Way and 5th Avenue and touted his suburb as the "Sunset District." It's doubtful that any of the buyers were fooled by Buckingham's misleading name -- most of them were Irish immigrants who had an intimate knowledge of fog and chill. Instead, it is much more likely that they were attracted by the price, which was very reasonable for San Francisco.
These first residents had to regularly clear drifts of sand from the sides of their houses and off the wooden walkways that provided the only access to their doorsteps. Then, in 1897, the University of California laid the cornerstone for their new medical campus on the slopes of Mount Sutro. The school brought more residents to the neighborhood -- students who were involved in the study of medicine, dentistry and pharmaceuticals.
Those students subsisted on the Inner Sunset's low rental prices, which stayed relatively low for the better part of a century and attracted new waves of immigrants, mostly from Asia. Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and Pacific Islander families bought homes, raised their families and opened businesses in the Inner Sunset, giving it more of a "global village" feel.
In the mid-1980s, about the same time that dining out became a chic pastime, Bay Area real estate prices went through the roof. Suddenly, those San Franciscans who wouldn't have previously chosen to buy a home in the Sunset -- or open a trendy new restaurant there -- did so. Chains like Starbucks and Noah's Bagels followed, and housing prices soared. Many longtime residents opposed the changes, while others welcomed the boom.
Today, the average resident of the Inner Sunset owns his or her own home, is married and is raising a family, and earns over $50,000 a year. The neighborhood contains several excellent primary and high schools, and young children are as omnipresent as UCSF grad students. The area has gentrified, but not at the rate or to the extent of other San Francisco neighborhoods. Thanks to the fog -- the one feature that hasn't changed -- there are still plenty of mom-and-pop diners, drug stores, shoe repair shops and grocery stores to keep the Inner Sunset real.