A House with Garden or a Garden with House?

Deciding where to live in San Francisco is not simply choosing a neighborhood; it is also selecting a climate! Choosing a climate is tricky business in San Francisco and determines what will grow in your garden! Of course, you may be one of the dedicated gardeners who buys not a house with a garden, but a garden with a house. If you are one of the latter, you may be interested in learning a bit more about Plant Hardiness Zones and Climate Zones.

San Francisco Districts & Microclimates

In San Francisco, we find not just sunlight, nor moonlight, but foglight - that diaphanous, ever-changing, ever-moving, inbetween light that creates sunlight streamers as easily as it creates a chilly darkness.

Within San Francisco, there are three broad Microclimate Zones:

click district map for details
© 2003 Janet Feinberg Schindler

Districts: 1 (Northwest); 2 (Central West); 3 (Southwest); 4 (Twin Peaks West).
Districts: 1 (The eastern part of the Northwest); 5 (The western part of the Central District);6 (Central North); 7 (North); 8 (The westernmost part of the Northeast).
Districts: 5 (The central and eastern parts); 9 (Central East); 8 (All but the westernmost part of the Northeast).

Fog blows in from the ocean, so the farther east you are, (i.e. the farther away from the ocean) the less foggy the weather will be. Moreover, since cold wind carries the fog, the main determinant of weather is the amount of wind from the ocean that reaches your location. Variations of 10 degrees between the foggy region and the sunny regions are not uncommon. (The main temperature readings for San Francisco are usually taken in the Mission District - the Sunbelt. Most locations are cooler.)

Other factors such as what side of a particular hill you live on, and how high up on the hill will also determine the amount of wind and fog you receive. Generally, the south and east sides of hills (the protected sides) are sunnier and less windy than the north and west sides. Patterns of fog prevail, and one well-known one is the "finger of fog" that points south from twin peaks, out to Diamond Heights, completely bypassing Corona Heights, Upper Market and Noe Valley. Some areas are known to be highly foggy, such as Diamond Heights while others, even just a few blocks away, (i.e. Noe Valley) are not.

Just looking at a garden and seeing what is growing there is often the best predictor of weather at that site. Flowering Hibiscus and bright yellow lemons mean SUN! Flourishing Impatiens or garden stones encased with green mildew mean Shade! Shapes of trees bent by wind or growth of trees towards the sun are also good predictors of microclimates. (All of this, despite what a realtor or seller may say!)

Some people prefer to live in sunny areas rather than foggy areas for a variety or reasons. One of the most frequently mentioned is the ability to get outside and barbeque and garden; Of course, it is possible to do both in the fog, it's just colder! And if you have a penchant for growing tomatoes, you'd best find a garden in Zone 5 or 9!

For the true gardener, buying real estate is not simply about buying a house and garden. It is, rather, buying a garden with a house! In San Francisco, the south garden is most preferable because it is the sunniest. All other exposures have benefits too, and many flowers and vegetables will also grow there.

© 2003-2009 Janet Feinberg Schindler. All rights reserved.