Tucked away in the southwest corner of the 101-280 junction is a small neighborhood called Portola. Over one hundred years ago immigrants settled the area and grew flowers, but today it is primarily a residential neighborhood with a very diverse community. Also, it is home to several well-known private schools that excel scholastically.
This district consists mostly of single-family homes and very few apartment buildings. Therefore, the area is generally very quiet and feels more like a suburb; unless you are near San Bruno Avenue or Silver Avenue. Also, typically it is not too challenging to find a home to rent or buy in this area, since there is usually enough housing inventory. And if you work down the Peninsula or across the Bay, this neighborhood provides easy access to both Highway 101 and the 280. If you choose to live here, there are many rental agencies; property managers and realtors that can help you find the right place. However, you can also start doing some research by visiting www.zillow.com or www.trulia.com to see listings with prices and home descriptions.
The Portola District has a relatively good reputation safety-wise, but there is still some criminal activity in the neighborhood with the majority concentrated around San Bruno Avenue. For further information regarding crime in the area, visit www.spotcrime.com or go to @SFPD (San Francisco Police Department.)
In general Portola is not the best-connected neighborhood in San Francisco. Its location, topography, as well as its north and south boundaries, highways 101 and 280, pose a barrier for through traffic that make this neighborhood a little more challenging to get around in. That said, if you are up for a few hills, bicycling is a great option. In addition, there are a few bus lines, which serve the neighborhood. Also, though I try to never recommend driving, this neighborhood probably has the most on-street parking spaces in the entire city.
In order to plan and/or schedule a trip by bus, car, on a bike, or on foot, go to www.sfmta.com for traffic, transit and commuter information.
Shopping and Dining
The main commercial corridor is on San Bruno Avenue where you can find cafes, restaurants, and shops of all kinds. To be honest, however, San Bruno Avenue is not the most pedestrian friendly or attractive street in San Francisco, but it has places to eat or have a coffee and relax.
Additionally, Silver Avenue also has some stores, including the Grocery Outlet, which offers great deals on food items.
Parks and Recreation
There are a few smaller green spaces around, but the best park to go to, and among the top three parks in the City by acreage, is McLaren Park at the southwest corner of Portola. The park is described in more detail on this website, but I will write here that it is my favorite park in San Francisco. You really feel like you are far from a densely populated city; especially since there are not usually many people in the park. Therefore, you feel like you are in nature and can even hike around with your dog comfortably.
Schools and Libraries
Considering the relatively small size of the neighborhood, there are quite a few public and private schools in the area. The local public schools are ER Elementary School, Hillcrest Elementary School, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School, and the Phillip Burton Academic School. The private schools include the Cornerstone Academies, which are Christian schools with emphasis in Chinese immersion; The San Francisco School, which is a well-established (1955) school with a great reputation; and the Alta Vista School, which is also considered a good school with a middle school annex in the Mission District. For more information regarding the private institutions, go to www.niche.com. For information regarding public schools, visit www.sfusd.edu.
The Excelsior Branch Library is located at 4400 Mission Street on the corner of Cotter Street. It has a good collection of books, DVDs and periodicals. The building is not particularly interesting.