Because of San Francisco‘s wealth of attractions and places to visit, it is no wonder that it is considered one of the liveliest cities in the United States. If you’ve already got an idea of the main things to do in San Francisco, it’s time to choose the area where to stay and, as in all cities, here too there are decent neighborhoods. The two main factors to consider are the safety of the area and public transportation to the main city attractions.
Below you can find my selection of areas that can be visited, with some recommended accommodations (hotels, B&B, hostels…), but also some useful tips to save money, since in San Francisco, prices are not cheap (it’s difficult to pay below $ 120-145 per night). So let’s take a look at the best neighborhoods and areas to find accommodations in San Francisco.
- Best Neighborhoods To Stay In San Francisco: Fisherman’s Wharf, Ferry Building, and Union Square
- Cheaper Neighborhoods: Chinatown, Cow Hollow, and the Marina District
- Best Residential Neighborhoods: Lombard Street, Nob Hill, and Pacific Heights
- Ethnic and Unique Neighbourhoods: Castro, the Mission District, and Haight-Ashbury
- Staying in Neighboring Cities near San Francisco: Is It Convenient?
- Cheap Accommodations in San Francisco
- Discounts for Hotels in San Francisco
- Getting around the City: Bike and Cable Cars
- Where to Stay in San Francisco: Neighborhood Map
Best Neighborhoods To Stay In San Francisco: Fisherman’s Wharf, Ferry Building, and Union Square
The heart of San Francisco beats in three different places, maybe the most popular places to stay in San Francisco: Fisherman’s Wharf, a fun and contagious neighborhood, the Ferry Building, ideal for waterfront walks and dining experiences, and Union Square, the hub of downtown San Francisco.
Fisherman’s Wharf: The entertainment district of Fisherman’s Wharf
For those who want to have fun in San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to be. It is a dock for fishing boats (with its famous Pier 39), and those who want to be within walking distance of all kinds of shops, restaurants, and bars should look for accommodations here.
Since it is a very commercial district, it is possible to find the most extravagant and unique shops. Sleeping here allows you to be constantly in touch with the lively and festive side of San Francisco, as you can read in our article designed for those who want to visit Fisherman’s Wharf.
If you choose to stay in this area, you’ll be able to spot the many sea lions that rest on the pier, you’ll be close to where you can board a boat to visit Alcatraz Island, and you’ll easily find good fresh fish and the best Italian restaurants in North Beach will be in the vicinity.
It is also one of the best spots close to the famous Golden Gate Bridge, and no visit to San Francisco is complete without seeing the bridge.
Any recommendations? Here is a list of hotels:
- Argonaut Hotel: Besides reminding you of the myth of the Golden Fleece… here you really enter a high-class seafaring world! The maritime furniture is all blue and white and luxurious. The rooms and the restaurant have everything you need to make you feel at ease.
- The Wharf Inn: In addition to the price, a little below San Francisco’s typically high prices, the highlight of this motel is its location just off Pier 39. Actually, there’s another advantage that is even more attractive, which is that parking is included in the price!
Ferry Building: Already in the morning you can tell it’s going to be a good day
When considering hotels or B&Bs in a city as diverse as San Francisco, it is best to find a place as close as possible to the main areas of the city in order to reach the areas of interest in a short amount of time.
A great area to stay in San Francisco is the area near the Ferry Building. Here is the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, where you can find a variety of booths and choose whatever you like for breakfast.
Once you step out of the building, go and admire a breathtaking view of the ocean and enjoy your breakfast in a unique and welcoming atmosphere (it is no coincidence that we recommended it in our article on where to have breakfast in San Francisco).
Its unique geographical location makes this area very pleasant not only for an overnight stay, but also to take a nice walk along the promenade to admire the bay. Here are some recommended accommodations:
- Hyatt Regency San Francisco: This luxury hotel maintains very high standards and is conveniently located near the Ferry Building. The rooms have a view of the bay and are equipped with everything you need, and more!
- Hotel Griffon: This hotel may have fewer stars, but it is more affordable. It is located in Embarcadero, a short walk from the Ferry Building. The hotel is traditional and has small and functional rooms and has a great location.
Union Square: Find Accommodations in Downtown San Francisco
Union Square is the heart of the city. Full of luxury hotels (but not only, fortunately), shops, theaters, and beautiful monuments, Union Square is a great destination for those looking for a pleasant vacation. In fact, here you will have access to many services and to transportation both to the airport (BART) and to the surrounding attractions (Muni and the characteristic Cable Car).
It’s very nice to walk around the neighborhood and if you have the possibility to stay overnight here in downtown San Francisco, you can easily reach the Financial District, where you can admire the Transamerica Pyramid, a symbolic building that seems to evoke the best Blade Runner action movies. Take a look at these accommodations:
- Park Central San Francisco: What are the strengths of this beautiful hotel in Union Square? First the location. It is close to all the attractions of downtown San Francisco and to public transportation. Secondly, you can enjoy incredible views of the Financial District from the large windows of the rooms. Lastly, it has a beautiful lobby and modern public lounges.
- Beresford Hotel: This hotel makes you feel more like you’re in the UK than in the US, and it is worth it at least to admire it from the outside…The pub connected to this simple hotel confirms its Anglo-Saxon style. The rooms are not chic, but they are functional. The price is right given that it is in downtown San Francisco…
Cheaper Neighborhoods: Chinatown, Cow Hollow, and the Marina District
Especially on weekdays, cheaper accommodations can be found in these districts. However, while Chinatown is practically downtown, the Marina District and Cow Hollow are further away. On the other hand, the distance to the Golden Gate Bridge is much shorter from these neighborhoods and the atmosphere is quiet.
Chinatown: The low-cost solution in downtown San Francisco
Finding yourself in front of the Dragon Gate within 5 minutes from your departure from Union Square can be a bit of a strange experience. Chinatown is not just San Francisco’s Asian neighborhood; rather, it is a world unto itself.
You will notice this by walking down Grant Avenue or taking a dip in the colorful Waverly Place. The street is lined with buildings with oriental architecture, Taoist and Buddhist temples, stores, shops, oriental restaurants, and cultural centers where you can learn more about Chinese culture, with a special focus on its integration in San Francisco.
Not everyone may like the idea of staying overnight in an ethnic neighborhood with such distinct characteristics, but there are 3 important advantages. First, the location. Chinatown is strategically located for visiting central areas of San Francisco on foot. Union Square and the Financial District are a 5-10 minute walk away, while the Ferry Building, Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 33 are just over twenty minutes away walking.
Security: The neighborhood is quiet both day and night. Affordability: Especially on weekends, Chinatown hotel prices tend to be a little lower than in other central districts of the city.
- Omni San Francisco: This is a high-class facility with elegant accommodations and refined luxury. The hotel is located close by on California Street, a quiet “American” street a stone’s throw from the colorful streets of Chinatown.
- SW Hotel: On the northern edge of the neighborhood, not far from Embarcadero, there is the SW Hotel. If you like the Beat Generation, you may be interested to know that you are not far from the famous City Light Bookstore. The quality-price ratio is interesting. On the weekends in December, you spend just over $120 per night, breakfast included. Sounds like a lot, but hey, you’re in San Francisco!
Marina District and Cow Hollow: Motels in San Francisco
Not all of Lombard Street is flowers and bends. The street stretches east to Telegraph Hill, west towards the Presidium. On this last stretch of road (the lesser known part), there are some motels that are suitable for those who want to stay in a residential area of San Francisco and perhaps save money and take advantage of free parking, which around here is gold. Lombard Street marks the border between two small, quiet neighborhoods: Cow Hollow and Marina District.
The name Cow Hollow comes from the fact that this area was used for breeding, and we talked about this neighborhood before in the article about shopping in San Francisco. In this neighborhood, which is now residential, there are some very interesting shops and boutiques on Union Street.
Instead, if you were to walk from Lombard Street towards the bay, you will find the Marina District that has various points of interest, such as the houses in Mediterranean revival style, the pleasant walks on Marina Green, the views over the bay of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, the bizarre Wave Organ, and the grand Palace of Fine Arts that was built on the occasion of the 1915 Expo.
- Lombard Plaza Motel: Of course, American motels in any other American town would cost half as much, but the Lombard Plaza Motel offers all the amenities you could ask for, including free parking, which is very rare in these parts.
- Town House Motel: During my research, I found very few accommodations that go below $110 per night in San Francisco (weekdays). One of these is the Town House Motel. Breakfast and free parking are included in the price.
Best Residential Neighborhoods: Lombard Street, Nob Hill, and Pacific Heights
These neighborhoods are a little further away from Downtown, but they have some features that can be interesting. All of them are well connected to the downtown area by public transportation and include parks, viewpoints, and incredible buildings. These are definitely some very nice neighborhoods to stay in San Francisco.
Lombard Street: See the panorama of the city
Frisco, as San Francisco is affectionately called by its inhabitants, has always been known as the panoramic city par excellence, especially for having some particularly scenic overlooks, such as the Coit Tower, the observation tower of Telegraph Hill, and Russian Hill, where there is Lombard Street, one of the most characteristic streets in the world, with its beautiful floral decorations along the steep and winding street.
If someone asked us about the attractions in San Francisco, Lombard Street would certainly be in the top 10. Being one of the most scenic spots in the whole city, sleeping in the Lombard Street area is definitely a great choice for those who want to enjoy a unique vacation. Would you like some examples? Here they are:
- Marriott Vacation Club Pulse: it has beautiful modern and original rooms… I’d say, the style is phenomenal. This hotel is close to Lombard Street, a cable car stop, and Fisherman’s Wharf.
- San Remo Hotel: You will find the San Remo Hotel after taking a short 10-minute walk from Lombard St. It will be incredible to stay in a hotel with a vaguely retro Italian style. Located in a quiet and central area, the San Remo Hotel is perfect for those who love to stay in a hotel where time stands still.
Nob Hill: Victorian houses and breathtaking views
This is definitely one of the most beautiful neighborhoods of San Francisco and it is characterized by beautiful Victorian houses and a privileged hillside location, which allows you to enjoy a beautiful view. There aren’t many hotels in this area, but if you manage to snatch one, you can say you slept in one of the most exclusive and chic areas of San Francisco. There are many classy restaurants and you would be fairly close to other attractions (a 15-minute walk from Lombard Street and a 20-minute walk from Union Square).
To get to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building, you should take public transportation (the historic cable cars run right through the center of Nob Hill and connect to other lines to downtown, Chinatown, the pier, and other areas). What do you think about these hotels?
- Stanford Court San Francisco: Also well connected to the rest of the city by cable cars, the Stanford Court (4 stars) looks like a traditional hotel, but it is not dated and offers impeccable service. Bike service is available (for the brave who want to use it uphill) but above all, you will enjoy great views of the bay from your room.
- Cable Car Court: This is definitely a low-cost solution, so you can’t expect the comfort of fancier hotels in the area. However, spending a reasonable amount of money in San Francisco for decent accommodations in this central area… it’s not bad at all!
Pacific Heights: For an elite experience
There are no attractions in the strict sense of the word in Pacific Heights, yet visiting it or staying here is not a bad idea. Why? Because Pacific Heights is known as the most exclusive neighborhood in San Francisco. The Victorian mansions, Baroque mansions, Italian-style villas, and lush gardens make Pacific Heights the most opulent and elitist area of the city.
It could be considered as a competitor of Nob Hill. Given the shortage of hotels in both Pacific Heights and in Nob Hill, it is just as difficult and expensive to stay in either neighborhood. If you’ve decided to spend the night here, take the opportunity to explore the neighborhood a little bit by dining at one of the restaurants on Fillmore Street or by enjoying the view at the top of Lyon Street Steps and from the heights of Alta Plaza Park.
- Laurel Inn: A refined boutique hotel that stands out for its good location. Although it is located on the edge of the neighborhood, you can easily reach downtown San Francisco by bus. There is a bus stop is right in front of the hotel.
- Hotel Drisco: Staying at the luxurious and cozy Drisco is a privilege those who can afford it can enjoy. In addition to the charming location near the best green parks and the most beautiful streets of the neighborhood, I must mention its deluxe services that are well above average in San Francisco.
Ethnic and Unique Neighbourhoods: Castro, the Mission District, and Haight-Ashbury
Castro, Mission, and Haight-Ashbury are full of history and charm. However, there are few accommodations available in these neighborhoods and there are some roads to avoid. In addition, they are farther away from the main points of interest. Walking around these neighborhoods is not recommended and public transportation can sometimes take a long time.
The Mission District and Castro: Murals and rainbow flags
These two neighborhoods are adjacent to each other, but each has its own distinct vibe. While Castro is a parade of rainbow flags and a favorite destination of civil rights activists and LGBT organizations, the Mission District is the Latin quarter, scattered with historic murals (over 400) inspired largely by the work of artist Diego Rivera.
Both neighborhoods boast several points of interest and a fair number of accommodations, although availability is obviously more limited than in the downtown area, so you need to search and book well in advance.
As far as transportation is concerned, even if it is a little remote, the area has its advantages. It can be reached by the MUNI from the Ferry Building and the Financial District and with the BART directly from the airport.
However, from the point of view of security, we should warn you that the Mission District is generally not very safe. The safest area is the west side of the Mission District towards Castro, but I advise you not to go too far east. Locals also say you should look out while walking the streets around Valencia Street and Guerrero Street where there have been thefts and robberies.
Accommodations in the Mission District and Castro are less expensive than in downtown, but it must also be said that quality often goes hand in hand in terms of both service and cleanliness. I recommend that you look at the reviews carefully before booking a cheap hotel.
Here are 2 places to play it safe:
- The Inn San Francisco: A beautiful historic Victorian bed & breakfast dating back to 1872 (one of the few buildings to survive the earthquake in 1906). It has elegant, well-furnished rooms and excellent public transportation to downtown San Francisco (it is near both the BART and the bus stop).
- Nineteen 06 Mission: A clean and quintessential B&B in the Mission District built with the utmost attention to the environment, with energy-efficient lighting, recycled materials, and organic products. What makes the difference is the proximity to the BART stop (only 2 minutes on foot), which means that in just 25 minutes you can arrive directly at the airport.
- Parker Guest House: Located in Castro, these beautiful apartments are close to the Mission of St. Francis of Assisi and Mission Dolores Park. The MUNI stop is a short walk away, and there are many restaurants and snack bars.
Haight-Ashbury: The hippy district of San Francisco
You can’t finish an article on San Francisco’s best neighborhoods without mentioning the eclectic Haight-Ashbury, which will delight those who love the 1960s era. While there is no shortage of things to do in Haight-Ashbury, it’s also true that there aren’t many accommodations. There are just a few B&Bs or apartments for rent in residential areas. If you’d like to know more, read our detailed article at the link below.
Staying in Neighboring Cities near San Francisco: Is It Convenient?
Are there good accommodations in cities around San Francisco, such as Oakland, Berkeley, San Bruno, Daly City, Colma, and Sausalito? Is there public transportation to downtown San Francisco? Are they interesting cities? To answer these legitimate questions, we have published an article on where to stay outside of San Francisco.
Cheap Accommodations in San Francisco
The cost of rooms in San Francisco ranges from medium to high. Low-priced accommodations are also available, but the quality is very poor. In the areas farther from downtown, prices drop a bit, however, it is rather difficult to find satisfactory solutions below $120 per night, except for the motels on Lombard Street and some places on the edge of Chinatown.
If you want to stay in downtown San Francisco for a cheap price, the best choice is a hostel. There are excellent hostels and some rooms also have private bathrooms. Two solutions that I recommend you to evaluate are the HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel and Ansonia Hostel San Francisco. Those who are looking for a particular experience can fall back on the Pod Room O’Farrell St where you can sleep inside real space capsules. It is located close to Union Square.
Discounts for Hotels in San Francisco
Of course, there are always discounts for hotels. Here are the hotels in San Francisco that are offering discounts right now. Enjoy your stay!
Getting around the City: Bike and Cable Cars
Regardless of where you stay, San Francisco offers really good public transportation. The historic cable cars give you the chance to fully experience the beauty of the city and immerse yourself once again in its most impressive past. Another great solution is to rent a bike, even if going uphill and downhill may tire you out in the long run. Here is an article that can help you understand how to get around San Francisco.
Where to Stay in San Francisco: Neighborhood Map
On this map you can see the location of the San Francisco neighborhoods described above.