Where to stay in San Francisco
If you are traveling to California and you have just enough spare time to visit only one city then San Francisco has to be on your bucket list.
You may not know that this is the most densely populated city in the state, no wonder it’s hard to understand where to stay in San Francisco, especially if you are on a limited budget.
This is an expensive city, but still, you can find some great value areas to be based in San Francisco, from where you can explore all the major attractions.
In this guide, I will introduce you to the best neighborhoods to stay in San Francisco with or without a car.
I will also talk about the type of experience you can expect from the area (family-oriented or nightlife, budget or more of luxurious stay, or just a cool place)
Table of Contents
- 1 Where to stay in San Francisco – In a nutshell
- 2 Where to stay in San Francisco on a budget
- 3 Cheap places to stay in San Francisco (under $100)
- 4 Best area to stay in San Francisco without a car
- 5 Neighborhoods in San Francisco to stay with a car
- 6 Where to stay in San Francisco with family
- 7 Cool places to stay in San Francisco
- 8 Best area to stay in San Francisco for nightlife
- 9 Best areas to stay in San Francisco
- 9.1 Nob Hill (the iconic San Francisco experience)
- 9.2 SoMa (South of Market, wide choice of central accommodations)
- 9.3 Fisherman’s Wharf (one of the city’s busiest tourist areas)
- 9.4 Haight-Ashbury (the boutique area)
- 9.5 The Mission (best nightlife in SF)
- 9.6 Union Square (the shopping hub)
- 9.7 Chinatown (one of the oldest Chinatowns)
- 10 Worst neighborhoods in San Francisco
You can read also
Before starting your trip I suggest reading the Food section of the SF Chronicle for the latest cafes and restaurants news.
Where to stay in San Francisco – In a nutshell
- 7 Best areas to stay in San Francisco: Nob Hill (the iconic San Francisco experience), SoMa (South of Market, wide choice of central accommodations), Fisherman’s Wharf (one of the city’s busiest tourist areas), Haight-Ashbury (the boutique area), The Mission (best nightlife in SF), Union Square (the shopping hub) and Chinatown (one of the oldest Chinatowns in the USA). You can read more about every single area below.
- Where to stay in San Francisco on a budget: The cost of living and visiting San Francisco is relatively high. In saying that you can still find areas with reasonably priced accommodations and cheap places to eat out. SoMa is a laid-back area south of downtown with well-priced hotels and a few cool cafes. Union Square has a few hostels that maybe be the perfect option if you are willing to share your room. Finally, Chinatown, a great area to visit anyway, has also a few well-priced motels. Read more below about staying on a budget in San Fran, with a few bargain accommodations.
- Cheap places to stay in San Francisco: if your budget is under $100/night then you should check out a few hotels in Downtown or Chinatown. Read below for a list of them
- Best area to stay in San Francisco without a car: When you do not have a car, a location that has several attractions and is easily accessible by public transportation may be ideal. For this reason, both Union Square and Nob Hill are just perfect, within walking distance from all you need. Read more below about both of them.
- Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco to stay with a car: The Marina neighborhood is an excellent choice for those visiting San Francisco by car. The neighborhood is situated between the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf, so you can forget your car parked at the hotel (usually free of charge or at a small fee) and walk to your attractions. Read more about the Marina below, including a hotel with free parking
- Where to stay in San Francisco with family: Fisherman’s Wharf is a great choice if you are traveling with small kids, meanwhile Union Square is ideal if you are spending time in the city with grown-up kids. Read more below on both options, with a few tips on food and shopping.
- Best places to stay in San Francisco for couples: I would personally recommend the Mission District and the Parker Guest House (a quaint boutique place) is an amazing hotel, or close to Downtown and the Four Seasons at Embarcadero (amazing view, super romantic) is the perfect spot for a memorable stay.
- Cool places to stay in San Francisco: Staying in Haight-Ashbury is the coolest thing you can do while traveling to San Francisco. It’s not just about the boutique accommodations you can find there, it’s more about the chilled-out vibe of the whole area. Read more below on Haight-Ashbury, the area really deserves to be visited.
- Best area to stay in San Francisco for nightlife: The Mission is the ideal place to stay if you wish to experience the lively nightlife of San Francisco. It’s not just about bars and clubs but also about restaurants and cafes around. Read more about The Mission below, including a few bars and clubs that you should not miss.
- Worst neighborhoods in San Francisco: Based on the FBI crime database you should avoid these 3 areas: The Tenderloin, Hunters Point and Bayview. Read more below on why you should not go there.
- Do you want to go straight to your hotel? Pre-order an airport transfer that will wait for you directly at the airport. So easy.
Where to stay in San Francisco on a budget
San Francisco is a relatively expensive city not only to live in but also to visit.
If you are looking to fit your trip into your tight budget, then the choice of where to stay in San Francisco is very important.
Three locations, in particular, will allow you to save a buck or two while still enjoying the city.
The laid-back neighborhood has some really decent hostels, inns and B&Bs for the budget traveler that may appeal to you.
SoMa in addition to having cheap accommodations also offers access to cheap but awesome restaurants and cafés.
A great example is The Bird which is a popular low-budget local chicken spot. They serve everything from chicken sandwiches to wings. They also serve beer and cocktails for a fun night out.
SoMa also has nice cafés for lighter meals including the Crossroads Café. This is a vintage little coffee shop that is perfect for a quiet day of relaxation.
Bring a book or your laptop and you will fit right in.
The Inn on Folsom is a good low-budget option if you want to stay in San Francisco’s scenic SoMa neighborhood.
The interior is well designed and the rooms have enough space for a few nights stay (see photos here).
It may be not the best hotel in town but at this (very) low price is difficult to find good alternatives in the whole of San Francisco.
Union Square (hostels)
Union Square is another great option if you are looking for a good place to stay in San Francisco on a budget.
It also has great hostel options like the very clean and famous HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel. It offers a great modern twist to traditional hostels (see photos here).
That way you get to enjoy luxury facilities like a theatre room, state-of-the-art bathrooms, a furnished lounge and so much more without having to break your budget.
It is also walking distance from major downtown attractions and shopping centers which saves you on transport money.
Check deal at the Downtown Hostel
It also has numerous low-budget eateries for a nice cheap meal.
One of these is the Sears Fine Food. This is an American cuisine spot known for its charming decor and vibes.
They also serve really awesome breakfast options at budget-friendly prices.
Finally, you can get really low-budget accommodation in the Chinatown area.
These are usually hostels and motels.
You may also get a sublet agreement if you are planning a longer stay.
The SW Hotel is a great option right in the heart of Chinatown.
It has simply decorated rooms (see photos here) that are the perfect combination of functionality and comfort.
It is a great value option as you get to enjoy free Wi-Fi, private parking, satellite TV and laundry despite the low price tag.
Cheap places to stay in San Francisco (under $100)
For a budget of under $100, your only options are hostels.
There may be a few hotels and motels available too but these are usually very dodgy and it may compromise your experience.
Chinatown has a bunch of cheap hotels, just read carefully the reviews before booking any.
In Chinatown, at least, you have access to restaurants like Hong Kong Clay Pot Restaurant.
It offers more of a cultural experience than anything else with its iconic clay pot arrangement.
Suggested accommodations in this area:
- Hotels: SW Hotel (in Chinatown), Mithila Hotel (basic in downtown)
- Hostels: HI San Francisco Downtown (good value), Amsterdam Hostel (cheap)
Best area to stay in San Francisco without a car
Getting around San Francisco can be quite a hassle as a tourist.
Most of the attractions are far apart and the steep hills can be unforgiving.
So if you do not have a car you may want to find a location with plenty of attractions and easy access to public transportation.
Union Square for the above mention reasons is one of the best places to stay in San Francisco without a car.
It is by far the most practical location not only due to the almost flat terrain but also due to easy access to public means of transport.
All you have to do is throw on your pair of trainers and you can walk wherever you need to go or catch a tram/bus at the nearby stop.
The Hotel Zelos San Francisco is ideal if you are traveling without a car mainly due to its proximity to public transport stops including the tram.
The iconic hotel has a beautiful contemporary design on the outside and luxurious décor on the inside (see photos here) for a truly ritzy experience.
When you are not out on a walk or a tram trip, you could also enjoy amenities like the fitness gym and the bar.
Nob Hill is another great option.
Yes, they have the dreadful hilly terrain. However, with its character and vicinity to iconic attractions, you will not have a lot of traveling to do.
And should things get too much then you could always take a cable cart.
The Nob Hill Motor Inn is a great value option and it is conveniently located for easy access to different parts of the city including Fisherman’s Wharf.
Check availability at Motor Inn
Nob Hill is also a great place to stay in San Francisco to experiences the awesome local restaurant.
One must-visit option is Seven Hills. It is an Italian restaurant best known for the amazing farm-to-table fresh food, from handmade pasta to flavorful sauces.
And you get to enjoy all this under a romantic candlelit ambiance.
Neighborhoods in San Francisco to stay with a car
If you are driving your vehicle into the city then the Marina neighborhood, between the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf, is probably the best place to stay in San Francisco with a car.
This location offers you great access to different attractions from Fort Mason to The Place of Fine Arts.
It also has a breathtaking view of The Golden Gate Bridge.
The best part is that with the right hotel parking is free or at a low management fee. There are plenty of motels and inns on Lombard Street.
I like to mention here the great value Bay Inn Hotel. In addition to the numerous amenities offered, this hotel is within walking distance of most transport terminals and just a 15-20 minutes walk to Fisherman’s Wharf.
The best? Free parking
Where to stay in San Francisco with family
San Francisco is a great place to take your family if you are looking to build memories together.
Despite the abundance of attractions all over the city, your choice of a specific location to stay should factor in the children’s ages.
Some parts of the cities are just better suited for certain age groups than others.
Fisherman’s Wharf (small kids)
If you are bringing your below-10 years old children with you then Fisherman’s Wharf would be the ideal location.
This is because of the access to the numerous child-friendly attractions like Pier 39 and the Aquarium of the Bay.
These attractions, however, are not all that Fisherman’s Wharf has to offer a family with young children.
Some fun activities you could add to your family itinerary include visiting the many playgrounds in the area including Joe DiMaggio Playground.
You could also have a fun day jumping up and down on the trampolines at the nearby Gymtowne Gymnastics.
The Wharf Inn is a good choice when traveling as a family if you plan on doing a lot of exploring around. The best part about the hotel is without a doubt the views of the street and the water (see photos here).
The hotel offers family rooms with flat-screen TVs and living spaces where you can all hang out together.
Check availability at the The Wharf Inn
Union Square (grown-up kids)
If, on the other hand, you are traveling with older kids and teenagers, then Union Square is the best option.
Its attractions appeal more to the “refined tastes” because monkey bars and swings just won’t cut it anymore.
The area has fun family-oriented attractions including museums, theatres and restaurants.
There is also the Holiday Ice Rink which is especially magical to visit during Christmas as a family.
About a place to stay in San Francisco, the Beresford Arms is truly a slice of history both outside and inside (see photos here).
The iconic hotel is something that your older kids will really enjoy especially if they are really into history.
The hotel has combined this beautiful aesthetic with modern amenities including air conditioning and free Wi-Fi for a great stay.
Check availability at Beresford Arms
Cool places to stay in San Francisco
If you are looking for the cool factor with your San Francisco trip then you should book your stay in Haight-Ashbury.
This incredibly edgy and hip neighborhood is chuck full of fun activities for you to try.
One of these activities is simply taking a stroll. Walking through those streets will give you a real sense of what makes this neighborhood so iconic.
There is just something about those colored buildings and a laid-back vibe that is in itself enough of an attraction.
Another fun thing to do here is to attend one of the many free street music shows. The most iconic is the monthly gig held by Amoeba Records.
These are meant to showcase the raw independent talents and they are a great way to spend the afternoon in SF.
The third awesome option is taking a ride on the magic bus. Yes, this is a thing that exists.
The bus takes visitors on a tour of the neighborhood as it was in the 60s. You will get to learn a whole lot for sure.
The Stanyan Park Hotel is another great San Francisco hotel to try out if you are a fan of history. The Victorian-style property offers guests beautifully decorated accommodations (see photos here) with awesome street views that you will definitely enjoy at night.
It is also really close to cool hangout spots in the area including bars and hip cafes.
Check availability at Stanyan Park
Haight-Ashbury has also a lot to offer when it comes down to restaurants.
A popular option is Nopa. This restaurant offers the best of California-style cuisine. So expect a lot of organic options and avocado-inspired dishes. It also has some of the best craft cocktails in the city.
Another high-end option worth considering on your food tour through Haight is Ijji Sushi.
This sushi bar stops at nothing to give you the full Japanese experience. From the region-inspired decor to the authentic meals, it will definitely be worth your while.
Best area to stay in San Francisco for nightlife
Finally, if you are looking for an active night scene, The Mission is the best place to stay.
The Mission is the part of town that just never seems to sleep.
There is a ton to do during the day with all the taquerias to eat your way through and murals to appreciate. Then when the sun sets the party really begins.
One of the best nightspots is Trick Dog. The best thing about this bar is the setting which features a dimly lit converted basement.
They serve a wide variety of drinks including signature cocktails and craft beers. And when you get a case of the munchies there are numerous biting options for you to choose from.
For a more laid-back night out, the Kilowatt Bar is worth checking out. Just don’t go there when there is a big game on if you don’t want noise.
Overall, it is a nice casual spot with a traditional bar vibe featuring a pool table and pinball machine.
If you are looking for a really wild and surprising night then Public Works has to be on your list.
Strictly speaking, this isn’t a dedicated nightclub but instead, an open space often rented for different events.
It has hosted some of the most legendary bashes with famous DJs and bands. So look up their party calendar and you just might be in luck.
The Inn San Francisco is in the heart of the Mission District and puts you in the best position to truly enjoy San Francisco’s very active night scene.
The unique bed and breakfast has the classic painted lady Victorian design (see photos here) which you will appreciate both outside and inside.
In general, it is a beautiful property with awesome amenities laundry, housekeeping and free Wi-Fi. Plus the amazing breakfast that is sure to cure any potential hangover.
Best areas to stay in San Francisco
Located at the end of a peninsula, this city offers a great view of the water at 270 degrees, from the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco Bay.
The best neighborhoods to stay in San Francisco are mostly central to the city and between the two bridges (Golden Gate Bridge and the Emperor Norton Bridge)
There are of course many more great parts of San Francisco to see and visit, however they are more residential and they offer a limited supply of accommodations.
Following is a map where I highlighted the best areas to stay in San Francisco. I suggest using it as a reference through the post
Nob Hill (the iconic San Francisco experience)
This upscale part of town is truly as iconic San Francisco as it gets.
They have it all from the gothic style buildings and tree-lined streets to the steep hills and cable carts.
Its high-income neighborhood status dates back centuries as it was home to numerous prominent 1850s railroad tycoons.
However, despite the obvious opulence, Nob Hill had and still has a very welcoming vibe for visitors looking to get a real taste of San Francisco.
Nob Hill has successfully managed to maintain this swankiness with the numerous luxury hotels and high-end homes still there.
It is also home to some pretty awesome historic buildings like the Grace Cathedral.
In addition to all the sightseeing that you will inevitably do, Nob Hill has numerous eateries for all your foodie needs as well as high-end shops for some retail therapy.
SoMa (South of Market, wide choice of central accommodations)
SoMa is short for “South of Market Street’ which refers to the area’s location, south of the famous and busy Market Street.
Market Street happens to be at the very heart of San Francisco’s transit network.
It features numerous cable cart terminals, an intricated street grid as well as the Market Street Subway.
SoMa is a great place to stay in San Francisco if you plan on exploring the many beautiful neighborhoods of the city.
In terms of the vibe, SoMa is a pretty laid-back part of town which is mainly due to its predominantly residential status.
It is, therefore, a great place for you to stay as a tourist if you are looking for an escape from the noisy city life.
It also has several attractions for you to check out including exhibits at the Academy of Art University and The Children’s Creativity Museum.
Fisherman’s Wharf (one of the city’s busiest tourist areas)
If you want to really get your tourist vibe on the full-throttle then Fisherman’s Wharf is where to be.
This place offers easy access to all of San Francisco’s most iconic attractions. These include The Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island just to name a couple.
In addition to these sightseeings, Fisherman’s Wharf offers you a lot of itinerary-worthy activities.
From here, you could easily take a hop-on open bus tour of the city which is not only fun but also very informative.
Or you can opt for a boat trip under the iconic bridge.
You could go shopping, restaurant hopping or even seeing the regional historical reenactments at The San Francisco Dungeon.
Fisherman’s Wharf clearly has a lot to offer you as a tourist.
However, being such a popular location for visitors means that there is always plenty of people around.
So be ready to deal with long ticket lines, heavy foot traffic on the streets and the daily noise. It’s all fun
Haight-Ashbury (the boutique area)
Haight-Ashbury is San Francisco’s most eclectic neighborhood.
I mean what would you expect from the birthplace of the hippie countercultural community?
This neighborhood stands out mainly due to its beautiful architecture.
It has managed to maintain the Victorian era style with the multi-color scheme suiting its laid-back vibe perfectly.
Beautiful buildings, however, are not all that this boutique area has to offer.
Most of their attractions are in line with the countercultural vibe including numerous vintage shops and bookstores as well as retro hotels like The Red Victorian.
It also has a relatively active night scene for the night owl traveler with multiple dive bars.
These give you a reason to be out in the dark while also allowing you to interact with the locals for a more immersive cultural experience.
The Mission (best nightlife in SF)
There are numerous clubs and party spots all over San Francisco but none can hold a candle to The Mission (darkness pun very much intended).
The Mission is one of those neighborhoods that should be on your bucket list if you are a sucker for a good party.
There are numerous vibrant nightclubs, gourmet restaurants and cocktail lounges for you to explore.
The Mission is also a huge cultural hub being home to one of the largest Latino communities in the city that have heavily influenced the attractions with so much to explore, including Mexican cuisine restaurants and street art like the murals on Clarion Alley.
Union Square (the shopping hub)
Attention all shopaholics and souvenir addicts! This is the part you have been waiting for.
Union Square really is a dream come true if shopping is always a huge part of the tourist experience for you.
If you are looking to spend the big bucks, Union has you covered with its numerous high-end stores.
These include the likes of Nordstrom, Harajuku Hearts and Lululemon.
For budget shopping and souvenirs, they have stores like Miniso and the popup San Francisco Art Market.
When you are done with all your shopping for the day, you will find numerous cafés, restaurants and bars to restock your energy stores at.
Chinatown (one of the oldest Chinatowns)
San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the oldest and largest oriental neighborhoods in all of North America.
From the very point of entry, it will become clear pretty fast that this is not like any other Chinatown you have visited.
I mean they have an actual traditional-style dragon gate at the entrance. And that’s just the start.
The community is home to numerous oriental shops and restaurants for you to explore.
The area also has special attractions like the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and Tin How Temple.
As far as boutique and/or luxury accommodations are concerned, Chinatown might not have a lot to offer.
However, it is definitely a place you should set a day apart for during your San Francisco trip.
Worst neighborhoods in San Francisco
Is San Francisco a dangerous city?
Yes, it can be, like any other city in the world if you end up in one of the worst neighborhoods in San Francisco.
According to the FBI crime database that counts the number of crimes per 10,000 capita, these areas should be avoided, especially after dark:
- The Tenderloin, west of Union Square. Police consider this neighborhood dangerous at all time
- Hunters Point, well known as a place to avoid
- Bayview, with often gun violence, it’s increasing the exposure to street art and becoming more attractive in the last few years
If visiting Western Addition, watch out more for petty crime than anything else.
There are a few programs from the council to improve and enhance these areas.
Fingers crossed it will happen soon. At the moment, if you can, try to avoid them.
Photo credits on a few photos in this post
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