Even when the rest of the Bay Area is blistering, The Richmond stays cool and foggy. On the outer avenues, cars rust faster than anywhere else in town. Never go there without a sweater, or even a windproof jacket for the beach.

The Mission has sunshine, but The Richmond has its own unique smell - a pungent, vivid smell of the ocean mixed with the cool bite of eucalyptus trees in the adjacent parks.

The curious thing about The Richmond is how remote a great city feels at its fringes. Drive out along Geary Boulevard or Clement Street, past miles of terraced, only-in-San-Francisco-style suburban avenues, and you hit the Pacific. That always comes as a surprise because San Francisco's ocean is so unexpectedly green and wild.

Monster waves slam onto the hard-packed sand at gritty, neglected Ocean Beach, where, particularly during the winter months, the dangerous surf pulls in big-wave riders from all over the world. China Beach is another stretch of sand that's great for a salty walk. Above it perches Sea Cliff, a prosperous Richmond hamlet that looks like a Mediterranean fishing village. And Baker Beach, in the adjacent Presidio (close enough for The Richmond to claim as its own), may be the wildest, most beautiful beach inside any city limits.

But you've gone as far west as you can go without a boat, or at least a wetsuit. So it's time to head back - to whatever part of San Francisco has placed the biggest claim on you.

neighborhood essentials
when to go
anytime. always be ready for bright sunshine and cool fog, often on the same afternoon.

where to stay
the inn san francisco
943 s. van ness, 800-359-0913 or 415-641-0188; in the mission district, has just one drawback: streetside rooms can be noisy, though others are perfectly quiet. enjoy the hot tub in the garden, and reserve a parking spot when you book.