Where to Stay in San Francisco

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Updated: September 1, 2020

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The Best Area To Stay in San Francisco

Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods, each with a distinct culture, vibe, and history. In the 49 square miles that make up the city, there isn’t just one best part of town for a visit. San Francisco has neighborhoods for almost any interest, whether it is high-end shopping, nightlife, foodie travel, or simply experiencing the famous sights such as Fisherman’s Wharf and the prison on Alcatraz Island.

One of the first things to know is that locals call it “The City” or simply San Francisco. If you call it “San Fran” or “Frisco”, you’ll be pegged as a tourist and might even offend some locals.

The list of what to do in The City is huge. Apart from the famous Fisherman’s Wharf, there is the Golden Gate Bridge, the seals at Pier 39, cable car, Chinatown, Japantown, the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury, and Ghirardelli Square. These are just a few of the San Francisco highlights.

Beyond the abundance of sightseeing options, San Francisco is a foodie destination offering top restaurants (with a high concentration of Michelin stars), craft breweries, urban wineries, and mixology-driven bars.

It may be a small city, but it is built on streets with a lot of hills. There are 220 public parks and dozens of hidden staircases. This is a destination that requires good walking shoes.

San Francisco is not a warm city and surprising to many, it is especially chilly and foggy in the summer. Bring a jacket, scarf, and hat, and plan to dress in layers no matter what time of year you visit.

Its coldest month is January when the average low temperature is 46.4°F. September is the warmest month with an average daytime temperature of 71°F.

Tip: Don’t rent a car. Parking is expensive, the traffic is horrible, and parking spots are hard to come by. Public transportation is great in San Francisco and beyond that, an Uber is always a great option. Plan accordingly for sightseeing because, despite San Francisco’s relatively small size, it can take an hour or more to get from one side of the city to another on public transportation due to the hills and traffic.

The Best Places to Stay in San Francisco

Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood.

Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco for…

  • Best Neighborhood in San Francisco to Stay for First Timers: Fisherman’s Wharf
    If it’s your first time visiting San Francisco, staying near Fisherman’s Wharf puts you within walking distance of Pier 39, the cable car turnaround, Ghirardelli Square, a hop-on-hop-off bus stop, Hyde Street Pier, Madame Tussauds, San Francisco Dungeon, boat trips to Alcatraz, the bay tour, and many other tour start points. This is a great location for a home base to see San Francisco for the first time. There is enough to do within walking distance from the Fisherman’s Wharf area to keep busy for several days and it’s very easy to jump on a cable car or other public transportation to explore more of the city.
  • Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco for Sightseeing: Fisherman’s Wharf and Haight Ashbury
    When it comes to sightseeing, there is a large number of famous places to visit. Of course, Fisherman’s Wharf is the most photographed and famous part of the city, but many other neighborhoods have wonderful sightseeing options too. Haight Ashbury, both the street intersection and the entire neighborhood, is still a mecca for those seeking a peek at where San Francisco’s counterculture and hippy movement began. This is the community famously known as the home of the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967.
  • Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco for Nightlife: Castro, Mission, and SoMa
    There truly isn’t one particular neighborhood for nightlife in San Francisco. You’ll find great bars, dive bars, speakeasy-style spaces, and dance clubs throughout the city. SoMa is home to a number of clubs where many of the hipster and dance-till-you-drop crowds hang out. San Francisco is also known for having great bar-hopping streets. One of the best is Valencia Street in the Mission District; it is an official party zone and quite possibly the largest bar-hopping street in the city. San Francisco’s original jazz and blues district can be found on Fillmore. While the entire City is LGBTQ-friendly, Castro is the official home of the community and the nightlife here includes concert venues, bars, and clubs. If you are looking for karaoke, Chinatown is the place to go and one of the best spots is the Bow Bow Lounge.
  • Best Neighborhood in San Francisco for Food and Restaurants: All of San Francisco
    San Francisco is a foodie town and the best restaurants are scattered throughout the city. The Mission is where you’ll find the best Mexican food in the City. Explore Valencia Street, Mission Street, and 24th Street for great taquerias. North Beach is known for Italian food and some of the best coffee, pastries, and pizzas. Chinatown is where you’ll find the city’s best dim sum restaurants as well as tea shops and boba spots. Japantown, also known as Nihonmachi, is one of only three Japantowns in the US. It was founded in the 1860ʼs and is famous for sushi, ramen, mochi rice cakes, matcha green tea desserts, as well as the Michelin-starred An Sushi. A few don’t-miss restaurants include the Buena Vista Cafe known for its Irish coffees, El Faro for a Mission-style burrito, and Sotto Mare for Cioppino. Some of the oldest restaurants in the city are also worth a visit such as John’s Grill that dates back to 1908; Sam Wo, the “oldest restaurant in Chinatown” which was originally built in 1906; and, of course, the oldest restaurant in San Francisco, Tadich Grill, dating back to 1849. For brunch, head to Comstock Saloon, Yank Sing for dim sum, Marlowe for farm to table, and the Ramp for a great view and one of the best bloody Mary’s in town.
  • Best Neighborhood in San Francisco for Families: Fisherman’s Wharf
    One of the city’s most popular and famous destinations is Fisherman’s Wharf. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s also a lot of fun and there are many things to do here that are great for the whole family. It is the launching point for everything from Ghirardelli Square, the Maritime Museum, Alcatraz, Coit Tower, the world-famous San Francisco Cable Car, and the seals at pier 39. To top it off, it is one of the best spots in the city to take in the incredible views of the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Most Romantic Neighborhoods in San Francisco: Nob Hill and Presidio
    San Francisco has some incredibly romantic and luxurious hotels. Tucked away in a national park is The Lodge at the Presidio. This renovated army barracks is now a historic hotel with incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge. They serve a delicious included breakfast and host a wonderful afternoon wine-and-cheese cocktail hour for guests. It’s also just steps from one of the most talked-about Californian high cuisine restaurants, The Commissary. This is a great location for those looking for a quiet or romantic getaway. The Fairmont San Francisco on Nob Hill is another truly romantic and luxurious hotel with gorgeous views of the city, classy bars and restaurants, and old-school refinement. San Francisco offers a variety of romantic things to do throughout the city, including enjoying a cocktail at sunset at Top of the Mark, climbing the mosaic stairway at Grandview Park, or taking a stroll through Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park, to name just a few.
  • Best Neighborhood in San Francisco for a Local Vibe: Hayes Valley
    This is a neighborhood that not long ago was considered a very seedy part of town. Where rundown houses once stood, now there are trendy fashion boutiques, funky art galleries, high-end interior-decorating shops, top-notch restaurants, and hip nightspots. The close-knit neighborhood features a community garden and a pocket park with art installations. The local outdoor beer garden called Biergarten is one of the best ways to mix with the locals.
  • Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco for Walking: Chinatown and Presidio
    Chinatown is one of the most walkable neighborhoods in a city filled with hills. From the Dragon Gate to China Live, Chinatown is a bustling neighborhood with shops, boba spots, and restaurants galore. It’s worth spending an afternoon wandering through the colorful alleyways, shops, and markets and visiting one of the many dim sum restaurants in Chinatown. The Presidio is another great part of town for walking. There are many bike and walking paths here as well as Baker Beach. Several trails lead down to the beach from the Presidio, including Bluff Trail, Bay Ridge Trail, and Park Trail.
  • Safest Areas of San Francisco: Nob Hill and the Marina District
    Nob Hill is considered one of the safest places in San Francisco due to its low crime rate. This neighborhood is close to the city’s Financial District and South Beach. Marina District is another great neighborhood that is generally safe during the day and night, with a clean environment and easy parking.
  • Unsafe Areas of San Francisco
    Most of the neighborhoods in San Francisco are safe but as with many large cities, panhandlers, transients, and homeless are evident throughout the city. There is a problem with drugs with many of the transients and it’s not uncommon to see drug paraphernalia on the streets and in the gutters. A neighborhood to avoid, especially after dark, is the Tenderloin (in and around the intersection of Turk and Taylor streets). That being said, even the Tenderloin has been experiencing regentrification. In the summer, when the crowds are at their peak, areas such as Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square can be very busy and it’s wise to be on the lookout for pickpockets. Number one on the list of dangerous places in San Francisco is the Tenderloin. Car break-ins are rampant, so if you rent a car, do not leave any valuables in sight. Similar to any big city, be careful, especially at night, and don’t wander alone.

The 8 Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco for Tourists

Union Square in downtown San Francisco.

Union Square in downtown San Francisco.

1. Union Square

Union Square is the heart of downtown San Francisco. It’s centrally located, close to lots of public transportation, and there are many hotels with some of the best high-rise views of the city. The area is perfect for those who love to shop. It is filled with boutiques, art galleries, department stores, retail shops, and salons, and considered one of the best shopping districts in the world. A highlight for those staying in Union Square is the Cable Car Turnaround at the intersection of Powell and Market Street. You’ll be able to see the drivers get out of the trolleys and turn the massive cable cars around to point to the direction they came from and head back to Fisherman’s Wharf.

  • Best Hotels: Four Seasons San FranciscoWestin St. FrancisChancellor Hotel
  • Best Boutique Hotels: Hotel GHotel Zeppelin
  • Best Moderate Hotel: Villa Florence
  • 2. Fisherman’s Wharf

    Fisherman’s Wharf is an iconic location and definitely touristy, but it is also a prime location for visiting many of the key attractions in San Francisco. Staying here gives you easy walking access to the seals at Pier 39, the cable car turnaround, Ghirardelli Square, a hop-on-hop-off bus stop, Hyde Street Pier, Madame Tussauds, San Francisco Dungeon, Buena Vista Cafe, Boudin Bakery, the pier for boat trips to Alcatraz, the bay tour, and many other tour start points. It’s also where you will find some of the best clam chowders in bread bowls in the city. This is a great location for a home base to see San Francisco for the first-time visitor if you don’t mind the crowds.

  • Best Hotel: Hotel Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square
  • Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Hotel Riu Plaza Fisherman’s WharfHyatt Centric Fisherman’s Wharf San Francisco
  • Best Hostel: HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf
  • 3. Haight-Ashbury

    Haight-Ashbury is an intersection of two streets and also the name of the neighborhood. It is famously known as the home of the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967. The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane were just a few of the famous bands during this time that lived in the neighborhood and were known for playing free shows. There are still plenty of tie-dye t-shirts at the many hippie-centric shops and second-hand stores. You’ll also find the neighborhood is gentrifying a bit with a few higher-end shops and cafés, though it still has some of San Francisco’s beautiful Victorian homes. Haight-Ashbury also borders Golden Gate Park where you can find many museums, walking and hiking trails, and the botanical garden.

  • Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: The Stanyan Park HotelThe Red Victorian
  • 4. Hayes Valley

    About 1.5 miles away from the heart of Union Square is Hayes Valley, an idyllic neighborhood with tree-lined streets, sidewalk cafes, and small boutique shops. The heart of the neighborhood is along Hayes Street where you will find a large concentration of its bars, restaurants, and shops and, to a lesser extent, along Gough Street. One of the most popular things to do is visit the traditional, outdoor, German beer garden, Biergarten, and sample their German beers and locally-produced foods.

  • Best Hotel: Edwardian San Francisco Hotel
  • Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: The Hayes Valley InnThe Grove Inn
  • 5. Castro LGBTQ Cultural District

    The Castro’s streets are packed with bars, vintage shops, and popular restaurants and is the heart of the LGBTQ community. The GLBT Historic Museum is located on 18th Street and is a great way to learn about Harvey Milk and the history of the community. The Castro Theater is the city’s last remaining movie palace and the historic landmark still shows movies and hosts special events.

  • Best Hotel: Parker Guest House (adults-only)
  • Best Cheap/Moderate Hotel: Twin Peaks Hotel
  • 6. North Beach

    Nestled between Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown is North Beach. This neighborhood is San Francisco’s “Little Italy”, packed with pizzerias, cafés, gelato shops, and light poles painted with the Italian flag. The famous bookstore City Lights is located here, which was a popular hangout of Beat generation writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Neil Cassady, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac in the 1950s. The 3-story bookstore is a designated San Francisco landmark and well worth a visit. There is a stretch of Broadway here that can feel a bit seedy at night. In this section, you’ll also find some strip clubs and dance clubs, but they can easily be avoided.

  • Best Hotel: Hotel Boheme
  • Best Cheap/Moderate Hotel: Washington Square Inn
  • 7. Nob Hill

    Nob Hill has a sense of wealth and privilege that steeps back to when some of the largest mansions in San Francisco were located here. Today, some of the city’s swankiest hotels are perched on the steep hill. You’ll also find the Gothic-style Grace Cathedral and Huntington Park here.

  • Best Hotels: Fairmont San FranciscoThe Huntington Hotel
  • Best Cheap/Moderate Hotel: Nob Hill Hotel
  • 8. The Presidio

    The Presidio is a lush national park at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. It is located in the city but is a bit tucked away and well worth exploring. For over 200 years, it was an Army post and is now a national park as well as a modern-day multi-functional public space. Inside the Presidio, you’ll find numerous museums including The Walt Disney Family Museum, restaurants, scenic hiking trails, an 18-hole public golf course, and San Francisco’s most historic building, the Presidio Officers’ Club. You’ll also find some spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay, Pacific Ocean, and the city skyline. It is home to the Inn at Presidio and the Lodge at the Presidio, a renovated historic hotel with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a great location for those looking for a quiet or romantic getaway.

  • Best Hotels: Inn at PresidioLodge at the Presidio
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