Living in Cole Valley
Cole Valley is the smallest neighborhood in San Francisco. It really feels like a small village that is a little isolated (not really) but easily accessible.
I think it’s a ‘real’ neighborhood in the sense that you can pretty much do you errands, eat out, shop all in the immediate area you live. You know the owners/people that work there, and they know you. It even has it’s own Facebook Page Cole Valley, a Not-So-Secret SF Neighborhood
The neighborhood’s central focus is the three block commercial strip along Cole Street and part of Carl Street with more than a dozen restaurants, cafes, coffee houses and stores.
Most of the businesses in Cole Valley are small, independent, usually family-owned, controlled and operated. “Mom and Pop”.
Food and coffee are specialities in Cole Valley. There are more than a dozen restaurants, coffee shops and cafés, some of which attract visitors from around the Bay Area.
Padrecito is considered one of the city’s top dining spots, while Zazie is a magnet for locals on weekends for brunch. The Ice Cream Bar serves up Instagramable creations in a fun, old-timey atmosphere, while Luke’s Local features prepared food specialties and fresh produce.
Tourists frequently don’t recognize Cole Valley as a separate neighborhood from the Haight neighborhood. Or even know where it is. It has a very different vibe than the Haight and doesn’t have the same ‘colorful’ history. As a result, it’s typically not a big tourist draw. And I don’t know anyone that has a problem with that.
You’ll see families, strollers, young professionals, empty nesters and UCSF Medical Center doctors and staff running errands, hanging out at tables in front restaurants, and taking advantage of the variety of products and services at Cole Hardware “Hardware for the soul.”
On Halloween, the strip of Belvedere Street between Parnassus and 17th streets is blocked off as packs of kids gather to show off their costumes and celebrate the holiday.
Another event takes place Easter Sunday in the Cole Valley Dog Park along Carl Street between Clayton and Cole streets, when many people from the neighborhood turn out in full Easter bonnets and other costumes.
For those of a certain age, and haven’t destroyed all their grey cells yet, do you remember “The Other Cafe” on the corner of Cole and Carl? It was a comedy club that showcased up and coming comedians and bands. Through the eighties you could see people like Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, Paula Poundstone, Whoopi Goldberg and many more. All considered local comics at the time. Remember Bob (Bobcat) Goldthwaite? He had (has) this stage persona with this shaking high pitch voice. I always found it very unnerving!
As mentioned above, Cole Valley is a very family oriented neighborhood. The average age range is mid to late 30s. But there plenty of younger and older residents living the life of community, creativity, urban nature and diversity.
There are a mix of single family homes, condos and TICs (Tenancy in Common) and a large number of rentals.
In 2019, the median cost for single-family houses and condos/TICs in Cole Valley was $2.495 million according to the SF Association of Realtors. It’s not inexpensive because very little typically comes on the market. People who are here are frequently here to stay. Even renters. And it’s location in the center of the city is a huge convenience for anyone working across any bridge and down the peninsula.
Renters pays upward of $2,500+ for a studio, and as much as $5,000+ for a two-bedroom apartment/condo.
Cole Valley is surrounded by neighborhoods like the Inner Sunset to the west, Haight Ashbury to the north, Buena Vista/Ashbury Heights to the east, Corona Heights to the south.
Walk north you’ll find the Golden Gate Park’s Panhandle and all the variety of the Haight. The Panhandle is almost a mile (but only one block wide) of lawns, trees, basketball court, playground and walking/running paths to/from Golden Gate Park.
Walk east and you hit the Buena Vista/Ashbury Heights neighborhoods with Buena Vista Park, the oldest park in San Francisco. Walk to the south and you walk thru the Corona Heights neighborhood onto the Castro. And on the west, you’ve got the Inner Sunset with blocks of restaurants representing many different countries and a variety of small stores.
Daily errands can all be done without a car. Largely flat with some not very steep hills so it’s also very bikeable.
Cole Hardware – More than a hardware store, it’s a key element of the neighborhood. This family owned business sells everything from hardware (of course) to stamps. And a whole lot in between.
Leenie Rae – A boutique and art gallery. , the owner Arlene Cook describes her store as specializing in “casual wear that’s nice and tailored,” as well as “going-out” clothes. Leenie Rae is also a gallery space with rotating exhibits.
Luke’s Local – A neighborhood grocery store with a large variety of fresh, cooked and semi-cooked food. Their daily fresh soup is always a treat! And I hear good things about their catering.
MadKat – A beauty store that is immediately recognizable by the purple awning out front. I’ve found products there that I’ve only seen available online.
Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy – A full-service pharmacy and “wellness-center”that also serves a resource for natural and organic over the counter medications.
The Sword & Rose – Hidden away in the back of a beautiful courtyard is the Spiritual and Metaphysical shop. “a welcoming place for all people who need help in their many different walks and paths of life and spirituality.”
Tantrum – I love this store. It is loaded with fun, unique toys, clothes, jewelry and lots more.
WHERE TO EAT
Bambino’s Ristorante – Brunch through dinner, the menu is extensive and you walk home with leftovers.
Beit Rima – Moving into the closed Burgermeister space is this second location of Beit Rima, the Palestinian and Jordanian comfort food restaurant.
Coffee Houses – There are so many and they range from full cafe meals at La Boulangerie de San Francisco to a small selection of pastries like the Wooden Coffeehouse and their divine chocolate croissants and they have a monthly stand-up comedy show.
Cafe Cole Cafe Reverie – Cash Only La Boulangerie de San Francisco Peets Wooden Coffeehouse
Crepes on Cole – The menu is extensive beyond crepes. The French toast is always been a safe bet, as are most of the sandwiches.
Finnegan’s Wake – A dive bar (fewer of them around with the price of land). I’m told the Bloody Mary is awesome which you can enjoy on the outside patio out back. And unlike a number of dive bars that I’ve been in, there are plenty of TVs to watch whatever game is on. There’s also a pool table, a jukebox and ping-pong. Note: Cash Only
InoVino – A small Italian restaurant and wine bar.
Kamekyo – A friendly neighborhood sushi bar. An understated spot with a high-end menu and supposed to be very good. I haven’t been there yet.
Kezar Bar & Restaurant – Recently updated with a new chef, updated menu (still has a lot of the classics), and a kids menu, it’s still a fun place to hang out with friends and family and watch a game. Note: Don’t confuse it with Kezar Pub on Stanyan.
Padrecito – Services original Mexican dishes and handcrafted cocktails. Lots of fun.
Say Cheese – A small family owned and operated shop with the specialty cheeses, charcuterie and European wines. And some say the best sandwiches in the neighborhood.
The Ice Cream Bar Soda Fountain – Old style soda fountain and lunch counter that looks like you walked through a time machine to the 1930s. Everything from ice cream to the soda syrups to the sandwich breads are made in house. And if you’re over 21, they also serve wine and beer.
Zazie – A casual neighborhood French-inspired bistro that serves dinner and an insanely popular brunch. Zazie’s also has that rarity in SF of a wonderful garden patio where your dog is welcome. And it’s heated no less. One of the biggest distinctions that stands out is that Zazie is a no-tip restaurant. The entire menu’s pricing is all-inclusive. When was the last time you didn’t have to figure out a tip or being told how much it should be?
THINGS TO DO
Cole Valley is very laid back. People walk the neighborhood, shop in the small stores and hang out in restaurants and coffee shops.
Did I mention it’s a great place to walk? The Cole Valley neighborhood is called a “walkers paradise” by the website Walk Score.
Anyone with a dog is always looking for a place to let them run free or just walk (if they can’t go off-leash) near grass and trees.
The Cole Valley Dog Park is a small, conveniently located green space (with trees). It also provides a shortcut from Clayton Street to Cole Street behind the N Judah tracks..
The only thing is that it’s not fenced in, so if your dog is off-leash he/she better be good at recall.
Of added interest there’s what’s commonly called Wine Wednesdays. It’s informal, weekly and open to regular, infrequent and new users of the park. Alta Plaza Park in Pacific Heights usually has a similar gathering where everyone is welcome. BYOW and some to share.
The free annual Cole Valley Fair takes place on Cole Street between Carl and Grattan Streets.
This fair is produced by local, family owned businesses. Each year it features local artists, handmade crafts, great food, live music and vintage automobiles owned by neighborhood residents. Kid’s events including a bouncy house, balloon animals and face painting. You’ll also be able to take a look at historical photographs of Cole Valley and surrounding neighborhoods.
The specific date for 2020 hasn’t been published yet but it’s typically held in September. A perfect month in the City!
I really want to point out two things to do. One is Mt. Sutro Forest and the other is Tank Hill. And the reality is I think both of them also qualify as ‘Quiet Surprises’.
Mt. Sutro Forest is 80 acres of wilderness in the middle of San Francisco. However changes are taking place. On the 61 acres that belong to UCSF non-native eucalyptus trees have been/are being cut down and the UCSF plan is to replant with native plants and trees. But there are still miles of hiking and mountain biking trails that are maintained by the volunteer group Sutro Stewards.
Named after the water tank that was removed in 1957. It stands at 650 sqft and has an incredible panoramic view of the city at the top. Pathways that make reaching the top easier and rocky points that are great for climbing and taking pictures.
Check out Bigler Avenue, an unmarked dirt road between Twin Peaks Boulevard and Belgrave Avenue, which leads to a set of stairs up to the top of Tank Hill.
As in many of San Francisco’s neighborhoods there are lots of muni line stops conveniently located nearby. The light rail N-Judah, Muni 6, 7, 33, 37 and 43-Masonic that will take you all the way to Fort Mason near the Golden Gate Bridge.
Thanks to the documentary “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”, most people think of these green parrots with red masks as belonging only to Telegraph Hill. But the parrots actually enjoy summering in the southwestern corner of Cole Valley.
On Clayton St., near the intersection with Cole St. and just a short walk up from the N-Judah, you’ll find a row of Victorians and one tiny Victorian. The owners of one of these historic San Francisco homes have created an exact, mini replica of their larger Victorian. Take a book and leave a book.
There is this wild house on Frederick Street near Cole that is painted a variety shades of deep green. And in the center of the facade is a large sprawling tiger peering at you from the jungle.
COMMON ARCHITECTURAL STYLES IN COLE VALLEY
Cole Valley is a mix of single-family houses, condominiums in smaller buildings (often conversions from apartment buildings), and some units in 5- or 6-unit buildings. It was mainly built out in the early 1900s to 1920s, so Edwardians and Victorians dominate.
Victorian – To call a building “a Victorian” means it was supposed to have been built during the period of Queen Victoria’s reign, specifically 1837 to 1901. However the style was slower to be adopted here in the United States and became popular in SF in the late 19th century for single family houses and the reconstruction efforts after the 1906 earthquake and fire.
Edwardian – You can identify Edwardian homes most obviously in that they don’t feature the typical elaborate trim and ornate features of a typical Victorian.
OVERHEAD IN COLE VALLEY
“The Haight failed to get the memo the 60s are over”
Cole Valley is located the the center of San Francisco.
Approximate Commute Times
Financial District 25 mins by car
South San Francisco 30 mins by car
Silicon Valley 60 mins by car
If you have any questions about Cole Valley, any other neighborhood or are interested in more specific buying/selling updates, please feel free to Email or Text me at +1 415-215-7154