I live in Cow Hollow. It's a green, lush place that sits between the steep slopes of Pacific Heights and the flat Marina. Pac Heights is all big, fancy houses with views of the Bay and gardens that are manicured perfectly, or neglected in the orderly way that means: "We didn't hire a landscaper, but we do have help." The Marina is all residential, apartments and some houses, but perhaps because it was flattened in the 1906 earthquake, it has a strange feel. And none of the stately Victorians that are on the hill above. Cow Hollow is a mix of both and includes Union and Chestnut, two boutique-y, cute-restaurant streets that are great for wandering around. I do that often, as I am unfettered by a job. Currently.
The entire area gets a bit of a bad rap--Pac Heights for its old-money snobbery, the Marina for the same, except of the yuppie variety, and Cow Hollow for being a meeting place for both, as well as for being a bit bro-y or fratty. Although some of this is undeniably accurate, Cow Hollow offers more than the (different kind of) snobby brush-off given by some San Franciscans and tour books, including Time Out. In the past, I've loved Time Out for its ability to give the locals' view of a city, and I used the guide (and magazine) frequently to find new things in New York. Maybe I'm getting too old, at the ripe age of 25, to put up with a certain level of hipster-inspired superciliousness (I also complain about music being too loud in bars, sometimes), but their out-of-hand dismissal of my neighborhood was a bit of a bummer. Boo, Time Out.
I've been doing a bit of walking/jogging/slogging around the neighborhood and surrounds, and I've started to notice a few trends. Jogging is very popular, at any time of day. Probably because of the hills. If you ever want to see your life flash before your eyes, take a little sprint up the Lyon Steps. I can't say I was able to even jog all the way up, but I did, at least, make it to the top. The sharp inclines from Cow Hollow to Pac Heights are totally worth the view, by the way. On a clear day, you can see all of Alcatraz:
Pac Heights and Cow Hollow dwellers take advantage of every available space for flowers, gardens and greenery. This includes carefully maintained tree boxes in front of almost every house (right next to the street), vines and other creepers on walls, rooftop gardens, flower boxes and potted plants, and trees and bushes that trail over fences, usually with beautiful blooms.
A well-maintained garden is a point of pride. Sculptures optional, but arresting succulents, sprays of flowers, and different shades of green are not.
I love how this Japanese maple just flares up in the late afternoon.
There are quaint leftovers from simpler times. Like these emergency boxes (which do not appear to work).
And great little details or touches that differentiate every house.
Even houses that look the same. Doesn't this remind you of the Bo-Kapp?
There's one final thing that seems to be a must, especially in Pac Heights: having your house renovated. Which means lots of cones, city permits, signs, and, of course, port-a-potties. They're everywhere. See?
When I first moved to Cow Hollow, I was a little intimidated by the way people (mostly women/girls) dress. And I decided that to fit in, I would have to acquire a dog, which is not allowed in my building. Or a baby (plus $2,000 stroller), which is out of the question. And a Mini Cooper. OK, so the area is a bit (a lot) fancy. And I can't guarantee that you won't find young people reliving their college weekends at some of the bars, especially for college football games (last weekend was kind of intense with all the face-painting...I was glad I don't care). But let's be real: in any place with a young, highly-educated demographic (much of The Mission, too, my little hipsters), regardless of their particular scene, you're going to find twenty-somethings "reliving their college experience" in some way. That's just life. On top of Cow Hollow's somewhat questionable population, there are delicious restaurants for every wallet size, shops with unique clothes that make me want to cut up my credit card (yes, I have only one) to stop me from buying anything else, weird bookstores, bakeries of all dispositions and specialties, exciting antiques (I'm a nerd, it's already established, let's move on), and great little cafes for sitting and watching all of the people that walk by. You can hear the fog horn from the Golden Gate Bridge almost every night. And there's so much greenery, which must mean that most people here are a bit happier and healthier. Cow Hollow (and around) is great. It has everything you need. Plus a stinky port-a-potty on every corner.