This neighborhood rises from the northeast of the San Francisco peninsula, with structures huddled on its hillsides. On the north runs North Point Street, fronting Fisherman's Wharf and the Marina. Depending on who you ask, the landmark Ghirardelli Square falls just within or outside the community's borders.
To the east slashes the diagonal of Columbus Avenue, dividing the hill from North Beach. In the south, Broadway Street lines up in front of Nob Hill, which rises higher both in geography and financials. Finally, to the west, Van Ness divides the community from Pacific Heights and Cow Hollow.
If it were called Russian Flats, then you could amble from the community's center to any of its borders in about 15 minutes tops. But real life puts the hill in the name as well as the physical location. So going that same distance can mean an upward trek, which can prove more physically challenging exhausting than your Zumba workout.
A less tiring option for travel is by private car. Except if your pad doesn't have a garage, parking can be a chore. Polk Street contains some metered spots that last up to an hour, even on Sundays. Many streets theoretically have free parking for two hours, if you happen to snag a spot when everyone's evacuated after an earthquake. Residents with an "A" permit, which costs money, can park for days. But they still need to move their jalopies during street cleaning, which can happen several times per week.
There's also the problem of driving through those altitude changes. Vallejo and Chestnut become stairways, and Lombard Street zigs and zags as the world's "crookedest street" between Hyde and Leavenworth.
That leaves the public transportation alternative. Hop on the cable cars for rabbit runs on Hyde or Taylor. Otherwise, try the 19, 41, or 45 buses for the turtle crawl through trafficked thoroughfares.
As in the rest of the city, places to rent in Russian Hill cost as high as their elevation. However, finding a place isn't a problem because most residents are renters. You'll find choices ranging from Victorian town homes ringing the bottom to residential towers growing from the hill's crest.
You can start your apartment search by deciding what type of building turns you on. A renovated Victorian may be charming but it'll lack such work-savers as dishwasher, washers/dryers, and elevators. Many accept pets. In comparison, a modern high-rise condo rental may have all utilities paid, a heated pool, and laundry rooms. But they may not allow your favorite pooch as a roomie. The higher the floor, then the higher the rental rate.
Next comes the side of the hill you want to live in. On the north face, you'll enjoy views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge, and homes here are a smidge closer to the bay. On the east face, you'll find views of Coit Tower spiking from Telegraph Hill. Grades are steeper, breaking many of the roads into connecting staircases passable only on foot. (Lombard Street is on this side.)
The south face has a gentler rise toward the ritzier Nob Hill. Finally, the west face offers better access to the commercial area on Polk Street and the wider avenue of Van Ness, which is useful if you have a car.
If one of your must-haves for a city apartment is proximity to work, a park, or some other destination, don't just rely on a map, especially if you like to saunter on foot. Before saying "I do" with a place to rent, take a trial strut from your potential digs to the required destination. The elevations can transform a stroll into a mountain climb. For example, on the map, the corner of Greenwich and Jones is only a couple of blocks or a thousand feet to George Sterling Memorial Park. But the difference in height is about 200 feet, which is like slogging up a 20-story building.
If you're crazy enough to own a car, find out if "parking available" means you're actually getting a spot. Usually that perk costs extra unless you're renting a single-family townhouse with a garage at street level.
It's only a neighborhood because residents and merchants get in each others business and care about what's going on around them. You can get involved with the non-profit Russian Hill Neighbors, which not only hosts monthly confabs but events like the Neighborhood Sweep, where you and your favorite cleaning tool shine up the block.