Marina/Cow Hollow

We lived here for a year while remodeling our home and almost did not leave.


My family and I have a special place in our hearts for the Marina and Cow Hollow Districts of San Francisco, California. We lived there for a year while remodeling our home and almost did not leave. It has a unique character that you just can’t find anywhere else.

 My husband and I have a couple of young kids, so of course, we rented a house in Cow Hollow, south of Lombard Street. We were a little too old to be in the middle of the Marina but were happy to be in walking distance of it. The walkability of the area (supplemented by ample bus lines through the neighborhoods) was one of the things we loved most overall. When you walk down Chestnut Street, it is hard to make it to the other end without running into someone you know.

I had always heard that San Francisco was hilly (it’s the hilliest city in the United States and the second hilliest city in the world), so I was surprised to find this flat oasis in the middle of it. I did some research and found that the flatness is mostly artificial. While Cow Hollow is named after the pastures that were used for grazing cattle in the 1800s, the Marina was mostly uninhabitable marshlands. After the 1906 earthquake, brick and rubble from the destroyed downtown were dumped there, creating unstable dwellings.

In 1915 the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was built on the site. For a year, 60,000 visitors per day visited the exhibits. Today, the Palace of Fine Arts is the only building that remains from that time. (Speaking of, if you are visiting or want to have a special day with your kids, take your family to the Palace of Fine Arts and after that stroll to the Marina Green for a look at the Bay and vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge. Grab a coffee at Dynamo Donut & Coffee. My family loves to walk by the St. Francis Yacht Club and end up at the Wave Organ, which is a must-see for kids!)

The Marina waterfront was prime real estate after the Exposition, but another earthquake in 1989 caused a fire that wiped out all the buildings with unsteady foundations. The area was rebuilt and, let’s admit it, gentrified. The area is now known for its luxury and beauty. It’s without one of the most desirable neighborhoods in San Francisco.

There is a natural progression through the Marina and Cow Hollow districts that sort of mirrors the evolution of life out of the primordial ooze further into the progression of modern man. One’s journey starts in the Marina, where San Francisco’s wealthy, post-collegiate crowd likes to live. The flat, easily walkable neighborhood creates a feeling of closeness that feels like an extension of the dorm life.

Some people talk about the nightlife of the Marina in condescending tones but take a moment to appreciate how perfect it is for young people of a certain age (and income bracket). There’s a robust singles scene, not only in the bars but also in the coffee shops and on the streets where you’re likely to bump into someone out for a walk. There are some rowdy bars and small nightclubs, which creates an overactive nightlife, but these pubs are pretty well concentrated on Lombard and Fillmore Streets, making them easy to avoid if you want to.

Chestnut Street is lined with high-end shopping, restaurants, and spas. The same can be said for Union Street, with the added benefit that Union Street is in Cow Hollow. The relative stability of the pastureland means that you’ll also find an assortment of preserved architecture, from Edwardian and Victorian houses to modern-style lofts.

Cow Hollow is like Marina’s slightly older sister - still cool, but starting to settle down. It’s the perfect place for a young family like mine. Sure, the housing is expensive, but the schools are good and there is a low violent crime rate and a below average property crime rate for San Francisco. There are tons of things to do with your kids as they grow up. Sprout has everything you need as a new parent, including classes and playdates to meet other parents. There’s free story rhyme times each week at Marina Public Library and Golden Gate Valley Public Library (aka Green Library) as well as Little Bears Music and the Moscone Rec Center & Playground. Get your kids active by signing them up for Soccer Tots or It’s Yoga Kids or La Petite Baleen Swim School or taking them to House of Air Trampoline Park or rock climbing at Planet Granite.

You can watch sailboats and cargo ships passing through the bay. Eventually, your kids will be able to explore the Presidio (directly to the west) or bike along with the Marina Green by themselves. Perhaps around this time, you’ll decide to move just slightly south up into the hills of Pacific Heights as so many residents seem to do as they begin moving on in years. Your kids will go off to college and you’ll find yourself looking out of the windows of your empty house, down at the valley where you spent so many years. You’ll chuckle softly to yourself as you realize that you spent the majority of your life on a slow march - only one mile long - from the shore of the bay up the hill where you now stand. It won’t be lost on you how the laborious trek mirrored your life in many ways. How it began from nothing and was unstable for so long, but each step brought you to firmer and more certain footing. How your progression was both inward and upward until you gained the perspective to see it all at once, as a whole.

And then your kids will graduate and move to Marina like all the other noisy punk kids down there.

The Marina and Cow Hollow district is a beautiful neighborhood for young singles and young families alike to enjoy a walkable, dense urban area in the heart of San Francisco. My family loved it and so will yours.

Contact Missy Wyant Smit to find exclusive real estate, chic houses, Marina condos, and luxury homes for sale in Cow Hollow.

Some Of Our Transactions

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Charming Edwardian Condominium

3039 Octavia Street, San Francisco, CA 94123
$1,495,000

2 BED | 2 BATH | 1 CAR PARKING | FRESH PRICE $1,495,000 Soaring ceilings with intricate period detail and grand scale volume are the defining featu...

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Sophisticated Cow Hollow condominium

2675 Filbert Street, San Francisco, CA 94123
$1,945,000
  • 2 Beds
  • 2 Baths

2 BED | 2 BATH | 1 PARKING | $1,945,000 Ideally located in the heart of Cow Hollow, this sophisticated condominium features soaring ceilin...

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Charming Marina Condo

227 Cervantes Boulevard, San Francisco , CA
$2,495,000
  • 4 Beds
  • 3 Baths

Ideally located in the heart of the Marina, this top-floor condominium with a spacious office or guest suite enjoys an extra-wide lot within a bloc...

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Marina Garden Oasis

45 Rico Way, San Francisco , CA
$4,895,000
  • 4 Beds
  • 3.5 Baths

Welcome to 45 Rico, a tranquil oasis on the best tree-lined block in the Marina that combines refined modernity and warmth. On the main level,...

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Art Deco Marina Bungalow

3212 Broderick Street, San Francisco, CA
$2,500,000
  • 3 Beds
  • 2 Baths

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Breezy Marina Condo on Buchanan

3117 Buchanan Street,
$1,412,000
  • 2 Beds
  • 1 Bath

This top-floor view condominium enjoys iconic San Francisco views of the Golden Gate Bridge and convenient proximity to Union and Chestnut Streets....

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Beautiful Fort Mason Escape

3044 Franklin Street #302,
$1,750,000
  • 3 Beds
  • 2 Baths

Located in the quiet rear of a boutique elevator Marina building, this top floor three bedroom, two bathroom condominium is bright and secluded wit...

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Stunning Detached Marina Single Family Home

451 Avila Street,
$4,506,150
  • 4 Beds
  • 3 Baths
  • 3425 Sq.Ft.

Located on one of the most coveted streets in San Francisco, 451 Avila is a detached home on an oversized lot that blends classic details with soph...

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