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Why SoMa Is San Francisco’s Weirdest Neighborhood

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As a lifelong Bay Area resident, I’ve always wanted to live in San Francisco. Luckily, I’ve finally been able to achieve that, and I’ve landed in one of the hardest to define neighborhoods in the City: SoMa. 

SoMa stands for South of Market Street, so in terms of boundaries, its borders are pretty explicit, but its identity is strange, fascinating, and like so many other San Francisco neighborhoods – grimly dystopian. 

I live in an interesting corner of SoMa that sits on the border with the Mission District. The building I reside in has a secured entrance and most of my neighbors are techies, which I can’t really complain about now because I’m a fucking techie, too. I’m basically a Bay Area version of that Batman quote, “you either die the hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” I don’t think I’m a villain, but my current life is a far cry from the class angst that inspired many of my memes. I feel weird all the time. I felt weird all the time before, but now I can afford a therapist. I don’t have one, but I can. I need to find a therapist soon because my girlfriend made me promise to get one as a condition of us moving in together. 

Clearly I’m a great person who’s not at all draining  to be around. 

Anyway. Fucking SoMa. This neighborhood is weird as shit. 

There are homeless people everywhere and everyone in SoMa is either driving a Tesla or sleeping on concrete.

SoMa is kind of part of Downtown in the sense that there are high-rise buildings everywhere, but it’s also heavily industrial. There’s a lot of warehouse space but it’s not as dense as say the Financial District was prior to the pandemic. It’s also kinda the Tenderloin as 6th Street and the Henry Hotel technically are within SoMa’s borders. There are homeless people everywhere and everyone in SoMa is either driving a Tesla or sleeping on concrete. I’m kind of in between. I have a car, but it’s in the East Bay collecting dust because I don’t want to get bipped. And I live in a loft but I’m probably the brokest and least educated person on paper in the building. My neighbors that live under a roof in my building have french bulldogs and investment portfolios. My unhoused neighbors that live beside my building have fallen on hard times. Either they’ve lost their job during one of the many economic catastrophes of the last 15 years, have drug problems that cause mental health issues, or have mental health issues that cause drug problems. There’s no in between. SoMa is both home to the haves and have nots. I’m just kind of here, figuring out if I fit or not. 

SoMa is also touristy. It’s not all yuppies and used syringes. You’ve probably been to SoMa and didn’t know it because it blends into other neighborhoods so effectively…Oracle Park? Yup, that’s in SoMa. Chase Center? Fucking SoMa. That Van Gogh exhibit that your friend from Walnut Creek who isn’t into art at all posts about on Instagram all the fucking time? That’s in SoMa, Papi… I don’t ever say “papi” in actual conversation, but I really wanted to slip it into an article because I felt it would be jarring. 

Are you jarred? 

Well, if that isn’t jarring, the Millennium Tower certainly is. You know the building that is sinking and sliding simultaneously? It’s in SoMa. Willie Brown also lives there. He’s metaphorically been balls deep in San Francisco forever now, but with the help of shitty design, his home, despite the efforts of several architects and engineers, is also balls deep in San Francisco, and only getting deeper by the day. 

So considering SoMa has so much going on, what does living in SoMa actually mean? 

But that’s what’s best about SoMa, it’s San Francisco’s sampler platter.

Most of San Francisco’s neighborhoods have unique histories that differentiate each section of it from other parts of the City. If you live in the Richmond District, people know it’s foggy, quasi-suburban and quiet. If you live in the Mission, people know it has cool murals, a rich cultural history from San Francisco’s Latino community, and exists as ground zero in the City’s gentrification battle. If you live in the Fillmore District, you know that nestled among the condos and boutique shopping there are housing projects and murals celebrating its past status as the ‘Harlem of the West.’ North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf had strong Italian roots. My grandmother who was an SF native and member of the Italian community used to say “you go to North Beach for poets, prostitutes (sex workers) and pasta.” 

Every corner of San Francisco drips with identity, except for SoMa. 

But that’s what’s best about SoMa, it’s San Francisco’s sampler platter. 

And as a kid from the East Bay who’s new to living in SF proper, it’s perfect for me.

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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff is a San Francisco-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, BrokeAssStuart.com. His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground will be available early 2022.

8 Comments

  1. SoMa Resident
    March 8, 2022 at 9:35 am — Reply

    Wow, there’s someone else! I was born and raised in the East Bay, and managed to also nab a place in SoMa. I had come to terms with the fact that I’d never be able to afford living in the city.. then the pandemic hit, and rent prices tanked. Been living here for the past couple years and love it 🙂

  2. cjenkins
    March 8, 2022 at 10:28 am — Reply

    What I think is weird is a San Francisco resident with a closed mind. You haven’t experienced enough of life and the world to determine what’s weird and what’s normal. Where do you come from some closed gated community in suburbia? So did I. That’s not an excuse for being ignorant.

    • Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord
      March 8, 2022 at 10:32 am — Reply

      Anyone who wishes the plight of the poor was actually taken seriously in San Francisco is a sheltered suburbanite. You got me.

      • Brooke
        March 8, 2022 at 1:15 pm

        What ?? SOMA is where the proper dance clubs are and not to mention the leather folk Ala Folsom St Fair. The Hotel Utah is a big cyclone of old and new kinetic energy made more intense by the multiple on off ramps close by.. “ dripping” with culture to me it is.. but I lived in San Francisco for 14 of the best years of my life and so many memories were made in that area. I was eventually priced out. Yeah it was that simple.

  3. Anya Knees
    March 8, 2022 at 2:02 pm — Reply

    When I first moved to San Francisco in 1991, I read a lot of books by San Francisco authors set in San Francisco. In one (I can’t remember the title or author), they talked about this vibrant neighborhood of antique shops and used bookstores wonderful stuff that I really wanted to visit. I got out my Thomas Bros. guide to San Francisco and plotted out the neighborhood according to street references in the book and discovered that it was basically the footprint of Moscone Center and therefore no longer existed. So, SOMA was once an interesting place with its own flavor, but somebody decided the people who lived and worked there weren’t worth saving.

    In 1992, I went for a job interview in a building that was across the street from the CalTrain station and genuinely feared for my life walking the streets of an area that now commands ridiculously high rents. So, SOMA wasn’t always bland and without character. There is history to be revealed, but I haven’t got around to digging into it.

  4. R
    March 10, 2022 at 2:22 pm — Reply

    This article was incredibly cringe to read. This lacks any kind of substance research on the neighborhood you’re talking about, which could have been a 5 minute google search about something other than corporate buildings. You may have an apartment there, but it’s obvious you don’t live there or have personally explored the neighborhood. Yes, the wealth disparity and homelessness is insidious, but there is lots to SoMa worth celebrating and exploring. Congrats on agreeing to go to therapy so your girlfriend will live with you, I guess.

    • Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord
      March 10, 2022 at 4:52 pm — Reply

      I am incredibly cringe. So, naturally, I agree. You’re an observative man with astute observations and I hope your dreams come true. I love you.

  5. Annie
    March 10, 2022 at 6:43 pm — Reply

    I’m a native San Franciscan and have lived South of Market for over 30 years. It’s full of history. Has had artists,music of all kinds,historic gay bars, families of all incomes and diversity. Yes sadly we have a large homeless community as does much of this side of SF. This writer should have done some research before writing this article.
    PS I use public transportation and none of my neighbors drive Tesla’s!

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