RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE: SAN FRANCISCO’S MLS DISTRICT 4

The Mixed Middle: From Turn-of-the-Century to Mid-Century and More 

Located in the middle of the City, these areas surround Sutro Tower and the backside of Twin Peaks, which means you’ll have hilly and curvy streets that can be narrow in parts. Watch out for drainage issues and/or land movement issues (however rare). This also means the area’s hilly topography can also act as a buffer for the coastal fog we’re apt to get. Remember that the fog forms when cool moist air from the ocean is drawn in by the heated landmass from the East Bay, which means that the fog is chilly and wind-driven at times! Depending on where, these neighborhoods were among the last developed in the City because they were more removed from the flatter parts of the land and probably because some hillsides are so steep. Take note: all those trees you see up by Sutro Tower are not natural to the area. Originally, the area was covered by coastal scrub and grasses like you’d see on Mount Davidson. It was Adolf Sutro, of the tower’s namesake, who owned 1/10th of San Francisco at the time, who planted the eucalyptus, cypress and pine trees that we see today. Homes here range from having views to none at all. You may have a garage (which depends if you’re on the uphill or downhill side of a street) or you may park on the street — just remember to curb your wheels. Things to be aware of in the area: foundations, water drainage systems, roof conditions and other potential issues arising from the area’s potential dampness and/or forest-like feel. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the public school admission process which isn’t tied to where you live necessarily. You’re like to see kids and families, sport utilities alongside the shut-in who hasn’t kept their house up in years. The flatter areas off of Portola (Market Street’s name once you go over the hill) like West Portal and St. Francis Wood have larger homes and are in demand because they’re bigger and pricier as a result. Meanwhile, the area’s proximity to I-280 makes it attractive for tech folks and the area’s elementary schools are also sought after as they rank among the best in the City.

LOCATED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CITY, there are 2 main areas that comprise the most central of all the districts that are bisected by Portola (Market) Street. The first areas is in the shadow of Sutro Tower and runs to Golden Gate Heights and the Inner Sunset. The other half runs from Portola Street and blends into Glen Park, 280 and the Inner Parkside and SF state to the other. While this is a relatively large area a lot of the area is made up of open spaces (Twin Peaks and Glen Canyon).

In Sutro’s Shadow (North of Portola) Because of the area’s relative inaccessibility and cooler disposition, these neighborhoods were among the last developed in the City with construction starting in the 1940s going on until the 1980s in some cases. Oh, and all those eucalyptus trees you see topping the hills up by Sutro Tower are not natural to the area. Originally, the area was covered by coastal scrub and grasses (e.g., Twin Peaks). It was Adolf Sutro – the area’s namesake – who planted the eucalyptus, cypress and pine trees that we see today. Sutro bought enough real estate in the City that he effectively owned one 10th of the City’s area.

(The Right Side of Market/Portola) The neighborhoods forking off of Portola (Market Street’s name once you go over the hill) like West Portal, Miraloma and St. Francis Wood will have larger homes and are therefore in demand as they’re bigger and pricier as a result. Meanwhile, the area’s proximity to I-280 and 101 makes it attractive for tech folks and the area’s elementary schools are also sought after as they rank among the best in the City.

In Sutro's Shadow: District 4

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Sutro Tower. Good elementary schools. Zero lot lines. Portola Street. Trees. Curvy Streets. Mid-Century. Views. Fog. Suburbia in San Francisco.   


MLS DISTRICT 4

Miraloma, Sunnyside, Midtown Terrace and More…  

District 4 - the Middle with Kevin+Jonathan

Some of District 4’s areas

Portola Street bisects these neighborhoods which center on Sutro Tower and access to 280 at each ends with a big variety of homes that will make you feel like you’re in a forest or a stucco wonderland.


D. West Portal. Described by many as the ‘new’ Noe Valley, no one neighborhood drag is more dominated by the MUNI light rail than West Portal, which is a mix of a 1950’s-style vibe of local businesses and angled parking spaces. It’s one of the rare neighborhoods where you’ll see families of kids and parents out and about ala Norman Rockefeller — i.e., Americana but updated for the 21st Century. Above the street there are big and small houses with a mix of styles (Spanish/craftsman stucco-clad tudor anyone?) on windy and curvy streets. . Most are a mix of Spanish Mediterranean/Tudor/Marina and will have garages, juniper trees, wood floors and details with some having been redone. Proximity to Portola, 280 and MUNI make it popular as to do good schools.

A + B. Midtown Terrace. You live here for space, your kids and practicality. This practically should gets you over the feelings of isolation, fog and existential anxiety because there’s not a lot to do without driving and because of the urban forest feel you may feel like you’re in the middle of no-where even though you’re near the geographic center of San Francisco. Otherwise the houses are zero lot line with late art deco into mid-century style with some being renovated decently (every now and then, spectacularly), while other houses are still waiting for the facelift. Aluminum single-pane windows and swag carpet should be your touchpoint for the area’s style. Climate change could turn this into Palms Springs though.

And while the homes that have been redone can very nice (the larger-than-normal footprint helps) with spectacular views, the homes that haven’t will suffer from dampness, moisture-related structural issues and potentially questionable building materials (like asbestos) due to the vintage of the area. One other potential consideration to be aware of is that some of the homes are on stilts and are located on curvy streets that were otherwise steep bluffs, so you are well-advised to investigate a structure’s foundation but also the soil conditions too as some parcels do have land subsidence risks that are typically excluded from most homeowner insurance policies.

C. Forest Gate, Hill, Knolls West Wood + Park. This is a smattering of neighborhoods and streets snaking around Sutro Tower between Twin Peaks, Golden Gate Heights, Midtown Terrace and the Inner Sunset above West Portal that almost feels like a well-heeled mid-Atlantic suburb because there are trees, swear-to-god detached bigger-footprint homes and curvy streets. Yes, some homes are like the ones in the Sunset in size but many others are much bigger and grander with larger parcels and trees. Some have sweeping views and vistas of the denizens below you. When you’re closer to Woodside and nearer to Portola the homes decidedly take a Spanish-stucco style flare (with a fair number of fixer opportunities depending on the block).

G. St. Francis Wood. If this neighborhood had better weather, this would rival Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights in value and luxury. As it is the ‘gated’ neighborhood is the closest you’ll get to Pasadena or San Marino in San Francisco — it even has key-access parks and a large fountain or two and are single-family homes only. The homes are large, grander and detached and named after California cities with a “Saint,” “San,” or “Santa.” Homes will have detached garages, driveways and manicured lawns and canopy trees that all exude a non-San Francisco feel (it should be nice because each owner has to pay a decent amount in annual neighborhood dues). You’ll see lots of tudor style houses mixed Spanish-styled homes among more. Some homes have been renovated in that Peninsula-cum-Orange County terezzo-heavy manner with other homes still needing that renovation as many families in the area have owned for more than 30 or 40 years so expect to see porte-potties and contractors among the benzes and leaf blower crew.

A. Diamond Heights. If you think you’re in a mid-century redwood village when you’re in this neighborhood you’re not far off. Dreamt up in the 1950s and 1960s by the folks who brought us those Eichler homes, the entire area was the first big project the San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association led. The thought here was to use modern building techniques that fit into the hilly topography instead of simply bulldozing as you may have found in other parts of California’s suburban sprawl. Thus, Diamond Heights represents a very deliberate planned neighborhood with subtle and angular architecture among the trees with far fewer architectural embellishments or adornments. From the large condo developments (usually studios or 1-bedrooms) on Red Rock Way to the smattering of single-family homes overlooking Glen Canyon or Noe Valley, parking tends to be the first feature you’ll see in the area (big parking lots or big garage doors). Next, you may notice that many homes and condos will have ceiling joists as a pronounced interior element. You’ll also likely find big-pane glass wall windows with sweeping views with sliding glass patio doors to access a patio of some kind. Along with those features you’ll see low-slung stone fireplaces, electric stoves, carpeted floors, and faux wood panels. The neighborhood is both central and removed at the same time. It’s relatively central location is counteracted by its higher elevation and lack of light trail. No other businesses apart from those in a Safeway-anchored strip mall exist here which may explain the emphasis placed on driving and parking or the prevalence of buses.

E. Miraloma Park. This heavily-residential neighborhood branches off of Portola and runs down along curvy lanes of densely packed homes with front-facing garages. The homes will have wood floors, various architectural details with single-pane windows and older systems. A lot of these homes are stucco-clad, 2-bed, 1-bath homes in the marina-, Spanish- and art-deco style with more and more being remodeled with a tell-tale darker, sleeker facade.   

H. Sunnyside. Immediately outside of St. Francis Wood and the Westwood Park sits a neighborhood with a mix of marina-, craft- and art-deco style homes that were built anywhere from the 1920s and 1940s with the errant Victorian here and there. The area is undergoing a similar demographic turnover that Glen Park and Bernal Heights are going through. You’ll see some blocks that are further along than others in having homes updated. The most common configuration here is the 2-3 bedroom with 1-2 baths, garage with about 1200-1400 sqft. And as other areas rose in value many folks took another look at the relatively ‘cute’ and sleepy neighborhood and liked what they saw. The area seems like an extension of Glen Park as it too is on the southern slope of Twin Peaks going down to I-280. The neighborhood’s schools are good which also draws families as does the Sunnyside playground. Access to 280, 101 and to the Glen Park BART station, along with more room are also draws for would-be buyers. One thing that differentiates houses is whether or not freeway noise can be heard.

F. Westwood Park & Westwood Highlands. Quieter than Sunnyside the homes here tend to be larger and more ornamented if not more charming. There seems to be a more obvious pride of ownership here than in many other neighborhoods but that may be due to the fact that many homes sit on larger parcels and are detached from each other. Homes here tend to have 3-4 bedrooms with 2-3 bathrooms and the possibility of more than 1 parking space routinely. But the area is more removed which necessitates a greater need for a car.

The Skinny

The area is known for more single-family homes than anything else. For every condominium that was sold there were 6 single-family homes sold in 2015. Here are 2015 stats for District 4 from the MLS:

  • 343 single-family homes sold, average list price: $1.420M, sale: $1.610, 25 days on market at $812/sqft
  • 52 condominiums sold, average list price: $674K, sale: $725, 32 days on market at $717/sqft
  • 4 2-4 unit buildings sold, average list price: $1.529M, sale: $1.646, 42 days on market at $526/sqft
  • 2 5+ unit buildings sold, average list price: $4.948M, sale: $5.125M, 39 days on market at $526/sqft

Current MLS Sales Data:

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Curbed SF’s Coverage of Midtown Terrace, West Portal, St. Francis Wood,  and Miraloma.

San Francisco Real Estate Experts +1-415.297-7462 (Kevin) +1-415.215.4393 (Jonathan)