Where to Stay in San Francisco: The City of Neighborhoods - Extranomical (2024)

San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods, each distinct in their culture and offerings for visitors. As wonderful as this is, it can be overwhelming to figure out the best place to stay in San Francisco.

This is a huge and complicated topic, and this blog can’t cover everything. We do hope to give you the lowdown on each of the most popular neighborhoods in San Francisco so you are able to choose the best one for you and your travel companions.

So if you are trying to figure out where to stay in San Francisco for an upcoming trip (or where NOT to stay), this is a great place to start. If you have a particular neighborhood in mind, use the neighborhood map below to navigate to that section. Or start at the beginning and work your way through each neighborhood to get a good overview of the neighborhoods of San Francisco.

  • How to Get Around San Francisco
  • Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco Hotels
  • Union Square, San Francisco Hotels
  • Nob Hill/Russian Hill, San Francisco Hotels
  • North Beach/Chinatown, San Francisco Hotels
  • Financial District/Embarcadero, San Francisco Hotels
  • The Castro, San Francisco Hotels
  • The Mission, San Francisco Hotels
  • Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco Hotels
  • Hayes Valley, San Francisco Hotels
  • The Marina District, San Francisco Hotel
  • Golden Gate Bridge/Presidio, San Francisco Hotels
  • Where NOT to Stay in San Francisco
  • Where to Stay in San Francisco FAQ
Where to Stay in San Francisco: The City of Neighborhoods - Extranomical (1)

How to Get Around San Francisco

Before we begin our tour of the City, we want to give you a quick idea of how to get around in San Francisco. First things first: San Francisco is a very walkable city. It is compact, with tourist attractions heavily-concentrated in the same areas.

San Francisco’s neighborhoods are also very well connected by a public transportation system consisting of BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains, MUNI buses, historic streetcars, and cable cars. BART can also easily transport you to and from the SFO airport and downtown.

Just a piece of the extensive San Francisco public transportation system:

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On the rare occasion you cannot walk or take public transit to your destination, rideshare apps such as Uber and Lyft are popular and easy to use in San Francisco. The combination of rideshare, public transportation, and walking should be sufficient for most visitors during their visit to San Francisco.

In order to see the beautiful areas outside of San Francisco, we recommend booking a tour. In just one day, you can explore both Muir Woods and Wine Country Or take the opportunity to see Yosemite in One Day from San Francisco. Visit Extranomical Tours to explore all of your options!

Be sure to read our FAQ section at the end of this article for important information regarding rental cars and safety in San Francisco.

Morning Guided City Tour of San Francisco
  • 4 Hours
  • 65+

Most complete and entertaining San Francisco city tour available. Stops to explore Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, Land’s End, and Twin Peaks.

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Most Comprehensive

Alcatraz Island and Guided San Francisco City Tour
  • 8 Hours
  • 139+

This full-day tour breaks you into Alcatraz and and explores the Palace of Fine Arts, Golden Gate Bridge, Land’s End and Twin Peaks.

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Popular Combo

Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco Hotels

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Best San Francisco Hotels for: Touristy fun

Transportation: Good. A lot will be within walking distance, but if not, Fisherman’s Wharf is connected to the rest of city by MUNI buses and scenic cable cars

Pros: Touristy, lively, near a lot of popular activities, waterfront views, good for families, seafood

Cons: Touristy, crowded, noisy, inauthentic

We are starting with maybe the most controversial neighborhood in San Francisco. Many locals would quickly warn people not to stay at Fisherman’s Wharf. But guess what? Those are LOCALS. Of course they wouldn’t want to stay in the most touristy area of their own city!

Fisherman’s Wharf is undeniably touristy. It is filled with places to spend money: places to buy souvenir San Francisco mugs and T-shirts, places to pay for a view while eating incredible seafood, and even a place to take selfies with wax celebrities.

But it is also where you can find the famous Pier 39 sea lions, begin your San Francisco tours, and catch the boat to Alcatraz. These are all must-do things for San Francisco first-timers! Staying at a Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco hotel makes it easy.

The best things to do at Fisherman’s Wharf tend to be a bit kitschy, but definitely memory-making, especially for families with children to entertain. Don’t miss Pier 45’s Musee Mechanique, a vintage arcade game museum that is free to enter. A handful of change is all it takes to have a great time.

Learn about the animals in the Bay at The Aquarium of the Bay. Grab sourdough bread bowls full of chowder from Boudin Bakery. You can take a tour here too and become a sourdough expert! After lunch, walk west to Ghiradelli Square for a sample, and maybe even a sundae at the famous chocolatier.

The cable car turnaround station at Powell and Mason is perfect for that classic cable car photo. The Powell/Mason line cable cars can take you to Union Square, traversing up Russian Hill in classic San Francisco fashion, with incredible views. If you like the idea of being right in the center of the tourist action, staying at a Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco hotel may be a great choice for you! We definitely recommend venturing outside of the area to see some more authentic San Francisco too, though.

Insider Tip: A great intro to the entire city is this Guided City Tour. Your local guide takes you to some of the best views in the city, like the Golden Gate Bridge and Twin Peaks, as well as introduces you to a few of the neighborhoods. After this tour, you will be excited to go back to those areas on your own to explore with confidence.

Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco Hotel Recommendations

High-end:

The Argonaut Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel located in the historic Haslett Warehouse building at Fisherman’s Wharf, offering nautical-themed rooms with views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, combining rich history with modern amenities.

Mid-range:

The Riu Plaza Fisherman’s Wharf Hotel features an outdoor heated pool, a fitness center, and an on-site restaurant, making it ideal for both leisure and business travelers seeking comfort and convenience in one of San Francisco’s most iconic areas.

Budget-friendly:

Holiday Inn Express & Suites San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf. This hotel offers a prime location on a quiet street near the waterfront, modern rooms equipped with amenities like HDTVs and Keurig coffeemakers, and a free daily continental breakfast. Additionally, guests can access a gym and a 24-hour business center​

Union Square, San Francisco Hotels

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Best place to stay in SF for: Upscale shopping and great transportation

Transportation: Excellent BART and MUNI

Pros: Central location, great transportation, lots of hotel options, upscale shopping and restaurants, Holiday magic, nearby entertainment venues

Cons: No SF charm, utilitarian, crowded

Union Square has an industrial, luxury vibe. Think lots of concrete, name brand shopping, and high rise city views.

The best thing about Union Square (if you don’t care about Louis Vuitton) is its central location. From Union Square you can walk to almost every neighborhood you would want to visit, or opt for one of the many public transportation lines that run through it.

If staying at a Union Square, San Francisco hotel, you will probably want to spend the majority of your time away from it. Union Square does have museums, art galleries, and plenty of restaurants to offer; it simply lacks much of San Francisco’s charm. For any of our famous Victorian architecture, quirky culture, or even waterfront activities, you will need to visit other neighborhoods.

The great thing is that travel from Union Square is just so easy! You can get anywhere quickly from here. There are a ton of great hotel options here too, many with incredible city views. This makes Union Square a popular option for tourists, if not the most inspiring one.

If you are visiting San Francisco around the holidays, you will find Union Square more charming. The Square turns into a celebration of the season, with ice skating and a giant tree. Nearby hotels go all out with their seasonal decorations too.

Union Square, San Francisco Hotel Recommendations

High-end:

The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square. This historic hotel combines elegant, early 20th-century charm with modern amenities. It offers spacious rooms with stunning views, excellent service, and a prime location that provides easy access to San Francisco’s top attractions and public transit​

Mid-range:

San Francisco Marriott Union Square offers stylish rooms with HDTVs and MP3 docks, a well-equipped fitness center, and on-site dining options. Its prime location near shopping, dining, and major attractions makes it a convenient and comfortable choice for travelers.

Budget-friendly:

The Mosser Hotel in Union Square offers stylish, space-efficient rooms and a great location between Union Square and the Moscone Convention Center. Guests appreciate the clean rooms, friendly service, and free morning coffee and muffins​

Hostel:

HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel is centrally located near Union Square, Chinatown, and the Moscone Convention Center. The hostel offers renovated lounges, daily activities, and free Wi-Fi, making it a comfortable and convenient choice.​

Nob Hill/Russian Hill, San Francisco Hotels

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Best place to stay in SF for: Classic San Francisco (hills included!)

Transportation: Decent, more MUNI in Nob Hill, mainly just cable cars in Russian Hill

Pros: Classic San Francisco, great views, quiet

Cons: Expensive, steep walking

Just up the hill from Fisherman’s Wharf lies Russian Hill. Its southern neighbor is Nob Hill. These neighborhoods share a lot in common, so we have grouped them for this guide.

If you are looking for a classic San Francisco stay like you have seen in your favorite movies, look no further than a Nob Hill or Russian Hill, San Francisco hotel. But only if you love walking up and down hills! This is why we recommended this neighborhood for fit people.

Nob and Russian Hills could be considered walkable, but only if hills are no problem for you. We keep saying it, because the hills in San Francisco are no joke, and they are not to be underestimated.

The other main thing to consider in Russian Hill and Nob Hill are the prices. These are quieter, upscale neighborhoods with incredible views. The San Francisco hotels you will find here are very nice, and their prices reflect that. So budget travelers may want to search elsewhere for accommodation.

Climbing through Russian Hill from Fisherman’s Wharf to Union Square are the iconic San Francisco cable cars. The Powell/Hyde line transports tourists to and from Lombard Street, aka “the crookedest street in the world.” While this is definitely an exaggeration, Lombard is still a very fun stop for the experience and the photo op. You can leave the cable car at Lombard and Hyde streets to walk down the famous eight hairpin turns of Lombard Street, then go and enjoy a meal in North Beach.

You can find shopping and restaurants along Polk Street. And don’t miss a stop at Grace Cathedral. The cathedral is gorgeous both inside and out, and, with some planning, you may be able to catch a fun community event there, like a yoga class.

When planning your stay, be mindful not to stray too far south in Lower Nob Hill. This area butts up against the Tenderloin. We will go more into this later, but the neighborhood here gets a bit grittier and, in general, less tourist friendly.

Nob Hill/Russian Hill, San Francisco Hotel Recommendations

Luxury:

The Fairmont San Francisco is the best luxury hotel in Nob Hill, offering elegant architecture, stunning city and bay views, luxurious rooms, top-notch amenities, and world-class dining, including the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar. Its prime location provides easy access to premium shopping and entertainment​.

Mid-range:

The Stanford Court Hotel in Nob Hill blends historic charm with modern amenities after a multi-million dollar renovation. It offers comfortable rooms, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and attentive staff, all centrally located near Union Square and Chinatown

North Beach/Chinatown, San Francisco Hotels

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Best place to stay in SF for: Walkability and culture

Transportation: Good, MUNI routes connect to Union Square

Pros: Walkability, great food, vibrant history and culture, live music, Washington Square Park

Cons: Broadway is bright and loud at night

Nestled between Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square are North Beach and Chinatown. Once again we have combined two neighborhoods into one. When you wander these neighborhoods, you will find yourself passing between the two seamlessly.

North Beach and Chinatown are both historic immigrant neighborhoods. North Beach is also known as Little Italy, and was once the home to the Beat Generation of authors, including Jack Kerouac. North Beach and Chinatown are both vibrant cultural areas filled with fantastic food. Both are incredibly walkable, with much to explore.

While centrally located for a lot of the best neighborhoods and tourist activities, North Beach and Chinatown are not as well connected to public transit as Union Square. You will find a trip to Golden Gate Park, for example, to take a bit more time.

There is a lot to love about North Beach/Chinatown, and it is definitely one of the best places to stay in San Francisco. You are close to the waterfront and all of its activities while far enough into a real neighborhood to get a good dose of charm and authentic San Francisco.

Wander through Chinatown to the Dragon’s Gate, enjoying the red lanterns and transportive atmosphere. Stop into a tea shop or follow your nose to the fortune cookie factory for free samples. If you are lucky, your visit will coincide with one of the many annual festivals centered in Chinatown, like Lunar New Year or the Moon Festival.

Climb your way to Coit Tower for fantastic City and Bay views from atop the historic building. Grab a local coffee on Grant Avenue, and browse City Lights bookstore before enjoying incredible Italian food and a performance of Dear San Francisco at Club Fugazi.

Just be aware when booking a place to stay, or walking around in North Beach after dinner, that Broadway feels a bit like Vegas after the sun goes down. Strip clubs advertise with blazing neon lights and insistent hawkers. Our advice is to avoid a hotel right on that strip if you want to sleep.

North Beach/Chinatown, San Francisco Hotel Recommendations

Mid-range:

Omni San Francisco Hotel located near Chinatown. It combines old-world charm with modern amenities, offering elegant rooms, excellent dining, and easy access to major attractions like North Beach and Union Square.

Budget:

Hotel Boheme in North Beach is a boutique hotel that captures the bohemian spirit of the 1950s with its colorful, characterful rooms and vibrant atmosphere. It’s ideally located for exploring Chinatown, Little Italy, and other iconic San Francisco sites​.

Financial District/Embarcadero, San Francisco Hotels

Best place to stay in SF for: Business trips and water views

Transportation: Excellent, BART and MUNI

Pros: Convenient to SFO airport, waterfront views, Ferry Building, plenty of hotels

Cons: Things close early, lack of charm

We have one more combo neighborhood category: the Financial District and the Embarcadero. The Embarcadero runs along the waterfront a bit north of the Financial District, but has more of a FiDi vibe than its North Beach neighbor to the west.

The Financial District is the best choice for business travelers, as their work will most likely be in this area. It is also very convenient from the airport, so great for short trips. The business-centered aspect of the neighborhood means FiDi tends to suffer from 9-5 syndrome, and it can be more difficult to find things to do and places to eat after work hours.

But the area, especially towards the water, can also be a good place for non-business tourists, as it offers plenty of hotels, attractions, easy public transportation, and waterfront views.

The Embarcadero is a good alternative for those having a hard time finding a hotel room atFisherman’s Wharf. The Embarcadero still provides those waterfront views, attractions like the iconic Ferry Building and the Exploratorium, and you are just a pleasant walk or quick streetcar ride from the Wharf.

Overall, the Financial District and the Embarcadero can be convenient places to stay, but are once again going to lack that classic San Francisco neighborhood feel and picturesque architecture. But with plenty of good hotel options, and excellent transportation, it can be a great home base from which to explore the rest of the City.

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The Castro, San Francisco Hotels

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Best place to stay in SF for: LGBTQ+ culture and nightlife

Transportation: Good MUNI, no BART

Pros: Vibrant culture, nightlife, festivals, warmer weather

Cons: Further from tourist hotspots, not many hotels, can be noisy at night

The best place to stay in San Francisco if you are looking for LGBTQ+ culture and nightlife is The Castro. One of the most well known neighborhoods in San Francisco, the Castro is famous for its diverse residents and progressive ideals.

There is no shortage of places to have a good time in the Castro. Bars and nightclubs keep the party going and the neighborhood lively late into the night. If you are more of an old soul, looking to see some of the main city sights by day and then sleep somewhere quiet at night, this might not be the best area for you.

Whether or not you stay in the Castro, you definitely should visit it. Absorb some of that famous San Francisco pride and inclusivity, sun yourself in nearby Dolores Park with the locals, and maybe catch a show at the Castro Theater. Take the kids for a trip down the iconic Seward slides.

The Castro and the Mission are sometimes warmer and sunnier than other parts of San Francisco. It has to do with all the hills and the buildings. Be sure to take advantage of this little quirk and head to these neighborhoods when the others are foggy or cool.

If you stay in the Castro, you will be close to excellent urban hiking opportunities at Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve and Twin Peaks. Twin Peaks is one of the highest points in San Francisco, and the views from there are epic. Hiking your way to the top provides a dose of nature and the chance to see the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly.

The Castro’s neighbor to the South is Noe Valley. This can be a good, quiet place for families to stay, but its southern location makes you even more dependent on transportation to get to popular activities. From here you are easily a 25-min Uber ride from Fisherman’s Wharf, and twice that on public transport.

The Castro, San Francisco Hotel Recommendations

Luxury:

Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco at Embarcadero: Known for its breathtaking views of the Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and the city, this hotel provides luxurious accommodations and exceptional service. Guests enjoy the spacious, well-appointed rooms and the convenient location​

Mid-Range:

Hilton San Francisco Financial District: Situated at the crossroads of the Financial District, Chinatown, and North Beach, this hotel provides comfortable rooms and great views of the bay from higher floors​

Budget:

Green Tortoise Hostel offers affordable accommodations in a historic building near the Financial District and Embarcadero. It provides a social atmosphere with communal spaces and organized activities.

The Mission, San Francisco Hotels

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Best place to stay in SF for: Hipsters

Transportation: Great, BART and MUNI routes

Pros: Great mexican food, street art, trendy shopping, quieter, Dolores Park

Cons: Further from main tourist spots, opportunity crime, can be dirty

One of the trendiest neighborhoods in San Francisco is the Mission. San Francisco’s oldest building, the Mission Dolores, still stands here, but new restaurants and boutique shopping are transforming this local neighborhood.

You will find the best burritos in San Francisco, incredible street art, and quiet streets in the Mission, but you will also see the side effects of gentrification, as locals are pushed out in favor of coffee shops. Some areas of the Mission are a bit grittier, with higher rates of opportunity crimes such as theft.

We think the Mission is best to visit for the day. It is conveniently located on transportation lines to make a visit from most places in the City a breeze. Stroll Valencia Street for thrift shopping, bookstores, and boutiques. Visit the Mission Dolores for a look back at early San Francisco.

Definitely don’t miss the street art in the Mission. The colorful murals look incredible in photos, so you will definitely fill up your camera. But also take the time to really study and absorb these artworks, as many focus on powerful and important themes such as racism and gentrification. Better yet – take a street art tour to learn even more about the art and the history of the area.

Grab some to-go burritos (the BEST is the country!) from one of several legendary local Mexican eateries, and take them to sunny Dolores Park. The city views from here are incredible. If you still have room, grab some ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery at 3692 18th St.

The Mission, San Francisco Hotel Recommendations

Mid-range:

The Parsonage Bed and Breakfast: Located in a historic Victorian building in The Mission District, The Parsonage Bed and Breakfast offers cozy accommodations with a personal touch. It features beautifully appointed rooms, a garden patio, and a complimentary breakfast.

Budget-Friendly:

The Mission Inn: This budget hotel offers simple accommodations in the heart of The Mission District. It provides basic amenities and a convenient location close to restaurants, bars, and public transportation.

Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco Hotels

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Best place to stay in SF for: Hippies and architecture

Transportation: Good MUNI routes, no BART

Pros: Charm, architecture, hippie/grunge culture, Golden Gate Park, shopping, cafes and restaurants

Cons: Travel to other neighborhoods, weed smoke, not a ton of hotel options

Haight-Ashbury is one of the best places to stay in San Francisco, but only if you like the hippie/grunge aesthetic. Once the very heart of the Summer of Love, the Haight still retains this vibe, complete with tie dye and marijuana aplenty.

The Haight is also one of the best neighborhoods for charming San Francisco architecture, and the best access to all of the wonders of Golden Gate Park. Hotels aren’t very plentiful here, and you will have to hop on public transport to reach other neighborhoods, but it is a great place to stay in San Francisco.

Strolling along the beautiful homes on Haight is one of the main draws of Haight-Ashbury, but the shopping is also fantastic. From hand-curated boutique stores to grungy thrift stores, you will find it all in the Haight, complete with a refreshing local flair you won’t find in Union Square.

Hop over to Divisadero Street for a great selection of bars, restaurants, and cafes. Here you are also close to Alamo Square and the famous Painted Ladies.

This next door access to Golden Gate Park is truly a bonus when staying in the Haight. Golden Gate Park is over 1,000 acres of top-notch museums, gardens, and tourist attractions, great for families with small children, and nature lovers alike.

Getting to and from the tourist hotspots near the waterfront will take you longer from Haight-Ashbury, but the park and the culture here are good trade offs, especially if you don’t plan to spend much time along the waterfront.

Check out our article on the best things to do in Golden Gate Park.

Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco Hotel Recommendations

Mid-range:

For a luxurious stay in Haight-Ashbury, consider the Stanyan Park Hotel. This historic property offers Victorian-style rooms, modern amenities, and a great location near Golden Gate Park. Enjoy free Wi-Fi, daily breakfast, and a complimentary wine hour​

Budget-friendly:

The Metro Hotel is a charming hotel that offers clean and comfortable rooms at reasonable rates. It’s conveniently located close to great shops, cafes on Haight Street, and public transport.

Hayes Valley, San Francisco Hotels

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Best place to stay in SF for: A charming, residential feel

Transportation: Decent MUNI routes

Pros: Charming tree-lined streets, walkable, boutique shopping, street dining, near Civic Center museums and art venues

Cons: A little disconnected, not many hotel options

Just on the other side of Alamo Square from Haight-Ashbury is Hayes Valley. This area is similar to the Haight as far as great shopping and charming, walkable streets. Restaurants spill onto the sidewalks during good weather, and the neighborhood is full of modern condos.

While great for walking, Hayes Valley is not super well connected via public transportation to the rest of San Francisco. If you are looking for an area to easily jump from place to place in the City, Hayes Valley may not be the best choice. The good news is a 10-minute Uber can get you to Union Square.

Hayes Valley has plenty of activities to enjoy. The neighborhood is a great place to watch a Jazz show. Or check out the Church of 8 Wheels, an abandoned church turned disco roller rink. Or visit the nearby Civic Center to catch the San Francisco Symphony, Opera or Ballet. It is great to be near the Civic Center, without being IN the Civic Center. More on this later.

If you visit in May, Hayes Valley may just be filled with San Francisco locals running the Bay to Breakers, only some of them clothed. It is a super fun event, but if nudity worries you, avoid Hayes Valley and Golden Gate Park on Bay to Breakers day.

Hayes Valley, San Francisco Hotels

Mid range:

One of the highlights of The Grove Inn is its tranquil garden courtyard, where guests can relax and unwind amidst lush greenery and flowering plants. The courtyard is the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening.

Budget Friendly:

The Hayes Valley Inn features a variety of comfortable rooms, ranging from private rooms with shared bathrooms to ensuite rooms with private baths.

The Marina District, San Francisco Hotel

Best place to stay in SF for: Groups with a car

Transportation: Decent. Good MUNI, no BART

Pros: Easier to have a car, waterfront parks, young professional vibe, shopping and restaurants

Cons: Lack of old SF charm, noisy near the bars on weekends

The best place to stay in San Francisco if you have a rental car is The Marina District. The Marina offers good street parking (just read the signs carefully!), as well as several hotels which provide free or cheap parking.

The Marina District is situated on the waterfront, just west of the action of Fisherman’s Wharf. It is a little removed, but if you stay on the eastern edge, you won’t feel so far away from the tourist spots. The western edge provides easy access to the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Young professionals love the Marina District, and its slightly swanky vibe. You can find boutique shopping, delicatessens, and classy restaurants along Chestnut and Union Streets, and the art, food, and music hub of Fort Mason right on the water.

Don’t miss the Palace of Fine Arts on the edge of the Presidio. The out-of-place architecture makes it a hotspot for couples taking wedding photos, and a great spot for your own photos or even a picnic. Head to Crissy Field to put your toes in the sandy beach.

All in all, the Marina District is a trendy area with a young vibe and a good place to stay in San Francisco. Although it is a bit on the edge of the action, the area is connected via MUNI bus lines to the rest of the city.

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The Marina, San Francisco Hotel Recommendations

Mid range:

Cow Hollow Inn and Suites offers modern amenities such as luxurious bedding, air conditioning, and flat-screen TVs. It’s conveniently located near various restaurants, shopping complexes, and San Francisco attractions, ensuring a comfortable and pleasant stay.

Budget:

HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel provides a budget-friendly stay with amenities like free Wi-Fi, a garden, and a games room.

Golden Gate Bridge/Presidio, San Francisco Hotels

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Best place to stay in SF for: Parks

Transportation: Okay. Decent MUNI, no BART

Pros: Hiking, Golden Gate Bridge, safe/quiet, easier to have a car

Cons: Far from most everything, not a lot to do besides parks

Significantly west of the action is the Golden Gate Bridge and Presidio Neighborhood. This is a residential neighborhood, with less to offer for tourists. One big exception being the Presidio, a military base turned park with wonderful views, sandy beach, and room for kids and dogs to run.

While being closer to the Golden Gate Bridge may seem like a good thing to first-time visitors, the bridge is actually quite far away from the rest of the tourist activities, and staying near the bridge will make you feel isolated from the action.

An Uber will take you 15-20 minutes to reach Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf. Public transportation will take easily twice as long, if not much longer. Just be sure to weigh this into your decision.

The main tourist activity nearby is obviously the Golden Gate Bridge. Every visitor needs to at least get a great view of the Bridge, but many take it up a notch by either walking or biking across the famous landmark.

Rent bikes for the day and make your way across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. Then put your bike on the ferry and enjoy an affordable boat ride across the Bay back to San Francisco.

Where NOT to Stay in San Francisco

You may be wondering if there are any places you should not stay when visiting San Francisco. While we do not think there are any neighborhoods in San Francisco that are all bad, there are a couple that we would not recommend for first time visitors.

Below are the neighborhoods where you should not stay on your first trip to San Francisco. We do recommend that you explore them during your visit however, because they have great things to offer. They are simply trickier to recommend in a broad way because they may not feel comfortable to certain travelers. Some have certain streets that are worse than others, which can get complicated.

Once you have visited and decided for yourself how you feel in different areas, you can return to San Francisco with all of the knowledge you need to pick the perfect place for your next trip. Who knows — it may just be in one of the following neighborhoods.

Tenderloin/Civic Center

The Tenderloin is where all of San Francisco’s problems are laid bare. The streets are dirty and rundown. You are guaranteed to encounter unhoused individuals. The area has problems with drugs and opportunity crimes such as theft and car break ins (especially at night).

The Tenderloin also offers entertainment and great food. You can find Broadway tours and popular music venues, like the Great American Music Hall, and amazing banh mi sandwiches in Little Saigon.

The Civic Center is where you will find the Asian Arts Museum, the San Francisco Ballet, and the San Francisco Symphony. But similar to its Tenderloin neighbor, the Civic Center has its rougher side. One street can feel starkly different from the next. This is why we do not recommend staying here for your first visit.

Conveniently, transit to the Tenderloin and Civic Center is quick and easy from most neighborhoods. Their central location also means that the Uber back to your hotel after a show will be quick and inexpensive.

West SoMA

To locals, SoMA stands for South of Market. SoMA is the southeastern part of San Francisco, consisting of many smaller neighborhoods. This is a HUGE area, and with that size comes a huge range in desirability.

Parts of SoMA, especially the northern reaches near the Embarcadero is where you’ll find many contemporary skyscrapers, modern restaurants and boutiques. Many visitors, especially foodies, would enjoy exploring this area for the day.

Just south of Market, near Union Square, is also where you can find some of the best museums in San Francisco, such as the SFMOMA and the Museum of the African Diaspora.

On the other hand, much of SoMA is less polished (Van ness to 6th Street), and visitors would be much more likely to encounter unkempt streets and situations which may feel unsafe. For this reason, we recommend first time visitors not stay in this part of SoMA.

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The Avenues – Sunset, Richmond

Our last recommendation for where not to stay in San Francisco is the Avenues, including The Sunset and Richmond. The reason here is completely different from the previous neighborhoods.

The Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods are too far from the sights and activities first time visitors want to see and do in San Francisco. From this far western edge of San Francisco, you will spend much of your time on public transportation getting to and from the action.

What these neighborhoods do offer is Pacific Ocean views, easy access to Golden Gate Park, great Asian food, and the quiet of the suburbs. If that is what you want from your vacation — Amazing! They are simply not convenient places to stay in order to see San Francisco. Plus, that cold Pacific Ocean fog is no joke!

Where to Stay in San Francisco FAQ

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Which area in San Francisco is best to stay?

As you can see from this article, there are a ton of great options of where to stay in San Francisco. Our top recommendations for first time visitors are Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, North Beach/Chinatown, and Haight-Ashbury.

Every neighborhood in this guide has something slightly different to offer, and the best choice depends entirely on the needs and wants of your group. The information above was written to help you make the best decision.

Is San Francisco safe to visit?

Yes – San Francisco is safe to visit! That is the quick and easy answer. But like any city, San Francisco does have its problems. This is much too big a topic to cover in any blog, but here is an overview that will be useful for first-time visitors.

Homelessness is an issue in San Francisco. The mild climate and lack of violent gangs makes San Francisco a marginally easier place to be homeless than some other cities. And like the rest of the country, this unhoused population struggles with the seemingly insurmountable issues of drug addiction and mental illness.

While unhoused persons may make you feel uncomfortable, it is important to remember they are vastly in more danger on the streets than you. Give them some respectful space and most will return the favor. As far as crime that affects tourists, the unhoused population asking for pocket change is not to blame.

As a tourist in any city, you should be aware of opportunity crime. These are crimes such as car break-ins and phone/purse snatchings. These make up the overwhelming percentage of crime in San Francisco.

In the “Where NOT to stay in San Francisco” section above, we mentioned a couple of neighborhoods where some of these crimes are more prevalent. The truth is, tourists anywhere in the world should take precautions with their things. Secure your personal belongings on your body in a way that would be difficult to grab, and be aware of your surroundings.

Ideally you will not have a car on your visit to San Francisco. If you do, know that car break-ns are common. The great news is that car break-ins in San Francisco are on the decline in 2024, but the classic advice of not leaving anything valuable inside your vehicle will probably always apply.

Should I rent a car in San Francisco?

We do not recommend renting a car in San Francisco. There are three main reasons:

  1. San Francisco is very walkable, with good public transit. If you stay in the right neighborhood, you simply don’t need a car.
  2. Parking in San Francisco is terrible. In most neighborhoods, having a car is a nightmare. Parking is limited and expensive.
  3. Car break-ins are common. See above.

If you do need to get to an inaccessible part of the city, we recommend ordering a rideshare like Uber or Lyft. Taking a couple rides like this during your trip will save you tons of money over renting a car and paying for parking.

Having said all of that, there are some reasons why you may want to rent a car for a short part of your trip. Maybe you want to spend the weekend leisurely exploring Wine Country. Maybe you want to do an extended road trip to Monterey, CA. Simply plan your trip to only have the car for those days and leave it behind for your time in San Francisco.

Better yet, skip the car and book a tour to see the areas surrounding San Francisco. Browse all of the options at Extranomical Tours.

Insider’s Tip: We mentioned this above, but if you do have a car during your visit, you can lessen the pain by choosing the right neighborhood. Try the Marina District. It is still decently close to the action, but there are several hotels there that include free parking.

Should I stay in a vacation rental/AirBnB in San Francisco?

This question, and answer, are tricky. Vacation rentals are great for so many reasons. They often allow bigger groups to stay all together in one private space. They can lend a fun, authentic vibe to your lodgings, and they often provide kitchens, which is ideal for those with dietary restrictions (or on a budget).

The drawback is that San Francisco, like many cities in the world, is dealing with gentrification and a lack of affordable housing. Iconic San Francisco neighborhoods are changing, and in many cases, people who have lived in them for generations are being forced to move. While obviously not the sole cause, vacation rentals do contribute to these problems.

For this reason, we recommend trying to find an established hotel or inn, over an airBnB or the like. There are so many fabulous options. You may have noticed that our lodging recommendations in this article were entirely hotels. While admittedly harder to find in some of the more residential neighborhoods, they do exist.

If your choice is to stay in a vacation rental, or not visit San Francisco at all, obviously we still want you to come! Many local San Franciscans have been responsibly running vacation rentals for decades. Once again, this is a nuanced question with a complicated answer that is not black and white.

We hope this San Francisco neighborhood guide gave you a better idea of your lodging options in this great city. As always, let us know if we can answer any more questions prior to your trip. Enjoy your visit to San Francisco!

Kat Thompson

Kat is a blog writer, personal assistant, and avid hiker, reader, and world traveler. She loves finding the hidden gems in each new place she visits, and has an unhelpful tendency to add three new places to her travel bucket list for every one she checks off.

Published on: June 18th 2024

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