Photos and content regarding retail activities in West Portal have been generously provided by LostinSF.com, the only French-American insider’s guide to San Francisco and the Bay Area. The French version of this article can be found here.
Named after the western entrance to a transit tunnel completed a century ago, the quiet neighborhood of West Portal is proud of having been overlooked by much of the frenzied redevelopment going on in many other parts of San Francisco. No big white Google or Apple buses prowl the streets here. You want bars filled with 20 somethings ordering $12 cocktails and artisan beers? Head downhill to the warmer climes of the Mission. Here, in the foggy western shadow of San
Francisco’s iconic Twin Peaks, you will discover a neighborhood, which, in spite of appearances, offers a wide array of choices.
The neighborhood’s commercial district runs along West Portal Avenue and serves locals with an adequate choice of restaurants, banks, and retail stores. That other icon of SF’s recent affluence – Whole Foods – cannot be found; however, there is a Mollie Stone’s not far away on Portola Avenue, which runs parallel to West Portal Avenue and forms its southerly boundary.
If people do not fall in love with West Portal for its weather, which can be dense with fog during the summer months, they may be more than happy to enter into a long-term relationship because of the neighborhood’s many other qualities.
Primary among these is the quality and affordability of its housing. Here you will find charming homes, often dating to the mid-1920’s, with lovely interior architectural details framed in wood and exterior touches like red-tiled roofs that explain the name given to this particular period’s architectural style: “Spanish-Mediterranean Revival.” And an important quality that distinguishes West Portal from many other San Francisco neighborhoods is that homes here are “detached” – meaning that there is often a narrow side yard between you and your neighbors on both sides. This is very different to the “row house” style that one sees in most parts of San Francisco and significantly improves the likelihood of interior natural light. With pleasant back yards, quiet streets, and a very low crime rate, it’s easy to understand why this neighborhood is popular with families.
Until the last few years of this intense sellers’ market, it was not too difficult to find properties averaging 2,000 square feet for around $1 to $1.2 million in West Portal. (see chart). Over the last two years, however, as families have been priced out of more chic neighborhoods like Noe Valley, prices have been going up rapidly. In 2014, the average price was $1.452 million. Not cheap, until you consider that a comparably sized home might sell for nearly $2 million in other parts of the city. It is also reassuring to know that just on the other side of Portola Avenue is one of San Francisco’s most refined luxury neighborhoods – St. Francis Wood – with mansions that can sell for well over $2.5 million. (Do keep in mind that there are very few sales per year in both West Portal and St. Francis Wood, so prices can vary widely from home to home.)
People will be surprised at all the possibilities offered by West Portal where businesses have flourished: its movie theatre as well as its restaurants, draw a lot of people there and allow residents to enjoy a real local life.
Start the day with a croissant at La Boulange that opened pretty recently, or with a bagel right next door. Have a ceviche for lunch at Fresca or grab an organic hamburger at Calibur. Share a dinner with friends at the Trattoria Da Vittorio or order a pizza at Goat Hill Pizza (a city treasure).
On West Portal Avenue, you will find one of the biggest toy stores in the city, Ambassador Toys or you can get high on sugar at San Francisco’s oldest candy store, Shaw’s. You can have your nails done, buy a book, complete your vinyl collection, find a nice gift at GG’s, find a SPA for you… and even for your pet, buy flowers, and get your knick-knacks at the Hardware store.
On West Portal, you will also find every medical office, orthodontist, dentist, ophthalmologist… you or your family could possibly need.
Not too far from West Portal, on Taraval, is Guerra, one of the most renowned butchers and delicatessens in the city, Just a couple of blocks away, find the perfect wine pairing at the SF Wine Trading Company.
For even more shopping, head to nearby Stonestown Galleria, where you’ll find Trader Joe’s, H&M and the Apple Store! No need to go all your way to Downtown!
And finally, there is that transit tunnel after which West Portal was named. Despite its reputation for being in one of SF’s hidden corners, West Portal is well-served by Muni’s light rail service. You can get from West Portal to downtown San Francisco in under 20 minutes.