Where to Stay in San Francisco – A Guide To The Best Neighborhoods

Written By: Mimi McFadden

Choosing where to stay in San Francisco can be difficult. With so many neighborhoods to choose from, selecting accommodation can be overwhelming for first-time visitors. Local writer Mimi McFadden created a guide to San Francisco that includes information on the 7 most popular areas with suggestions of where to stay, what not to miss, and insider tips.  

Whether you want to know the best restaurant to get clam chowder or you want to know where the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge is, this guide will help you plan your San Francisco vacation.

Where to Stay in San Francisco

San Francisco was once known as the epicenter of the counterculture movement. In the 1960s and 70s, it was the place where you would find artists, beatniks, and those who practiced an alternative lifestyle. Today, San Francisco is more tech than it is artsy but it still revolves around a culture that values tolerance and acceptance of diversity. One of the things that comes along with that change is that the city has become quite expensive which can make choosing the right hotels in San Francisco difficult.

Best Neighborhoods in San Francisco

where to stay in san francisco map of neighborhoods

The amount of districts in the city is often disputed, but it is thought to be at least 27 distinct neighborhoods in San Francisco. In this guide, we focus on the coolest and most popular areas.

At about 49 square miles, San Francisco is a compact city that is walkable – if you can manage the hilly terrain, bubbling with numerous districts, cultures, and good eats. Don’t let its size fool you, however. Even those who have lived there for years haven’t scratched the surface of everything there is to experience in this dynamic city.

From vintage and beatnik poetry shops, to world-renowned museums, funky art galleries, high-rise condos, famous live music venues, and Michelin-starred restaurants – San Francisco has everything your heart could desire. If you’re not careful, you might just leave it there someday

It can be really overwhelming to decide because each neighborhood has its own unique personality and draws. But we have made it easy for you. Choosing a San Francisco neighborhood is easy once you understand the layout of the city. So, grab your San Francisco City Pass, and let’s start planning your San Francisco trip.

Best hotels in San Francisco at a Glance

San Francisco Hotels with the Best View of the Golden Gate Bridge

We don’t recommend staying near the Golden Gate Bridge as it is on the outskirts of town. If you want to really explore San Francisco, we suggest one of the Neighborhoods in San Fransisco recommended in this guide. But the luxury hotels mentioned above are known for their outstanding views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay.

1. Fisherman’s Wharf – Best Place to Stay if you have a short time

places to stay in San Francisco fishermans wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf – best places to stay in San Francisco for first timers

For first-time visitors to San Francisco and families, this is a great choice for places to stay in San Francisco for the iconic landmarks and attractions.

If you are looking for tourist central, fog, clam chowder, and history this is the place for you. Crowds, bustling streets, and a salty sea breeze that makes your hair stand-up like a member of The Flock of Seagulls.

This is Fisherman’s Wharf, potentially the most touristy area of San Francisco, but also the perfect place to be based if you have a short time in the city and want to cross off a lot of things in a few days. At Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ll find the famous San Francisco clam chowder, tickets for Alcatraz, and tourist experiences like Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, and The San Francisco Dungeon.

Fisherman’s Wharf is what you might imagine San Francisco to be like in your daydreams – near the bayside, historic and colorful buildings, and a brisk wind that sometimes makes you forget you’re still in California.

Grab a City Pass to save up to 40% on local Attractions here.

Where to stay near Fisherman’s Wharf

  • Best Luxury 5 Star Hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf Fairmont Heritage Place – If you want a first-class San Francisco hotel this is it. It comes at a price but the views are incredible and you get that Fairmont service.
  • Best Fisherman’s Wharf Budget Hotel Hotel Zephyr – Boutique, nautical-themed rooms, central, near Pier 39, Lombard Street, and Ghirardelli Square.

Getting There – Take the E or F-Line streetcars (get off at Pier 39). You can also take Muni Bus 8 (get off at Powell St. & North Point St.), or 30, 91 (get off at Columbus Ave & North Point St.). For more information check out the San Francisco Muni website for updated costs and schedule.

The San Francisco City Pass gives you unlimited travel on Muni buses, trolleys, and cable cars for three days.

2. Union Square – The Best Place to Stay for Nightlife

where to stay in san francisco for nightlight unioin square
Union Square, San Francisco, California

Want to be completely immersed in the throbbing heart of the city? Then staying in Union Square is a must. Union Square is the heart of Downtown San Francisco, you’ll be surrounded by skyscrapers, locals and tourists alike, glitzy storefronts, and good eats for all budgets.

It’s one of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco for shopping, a central good restaurants, and being in the middle of all the action. Here you’ll find some of the highest rated restaurants and high end shopping

Downtown San Francisco is the most convenient location for getting around the city, either by foot or public transit. You are a short walk to the financial district and the ferry building. (Don’t forget to take a ride on the famous Cable Car that leaves from Powell Street)

A really good place for a stroll is the pedestrian mall of Maiden Street. It used to be a red-light district but now it is home to art galleries and boutiques. If you are a real museum buff then make sure to check out some of the best museums in the city including the Contemporary Jewish MuseumMuseum of African DiasporaSF MOMA, and the California Historical Society.

Hotels Downtown San Francisco and Union Square

  • Best Luxury Union Square HotelJW Marriott Union Square – Spacious, modern rooms close to restaurants and the theater district. A Quiet retreat in the heart of downtown San Francisco.
  • Best Mid-Range Hotel in Union SquareHotel Zeppelin is located in a historic building with funky interior design, great ambiance, in-room spa services, and it is pet-friendly.
  • Best Budget Hotel in Union SquareAdelaide Hostel is centrally located and clean, this hostel offers dorm and private rooms, free breakfast and twice a week free dinners.

Getting There – Take the E or F-Line streetcars (get off at Pier 39). You can also take Muni Bus 8 (get off at Powell St. & North Point St.), or 30, 91 (get off at Columbus Ave & North Point St.). For more information check out the San Francisco Muni website for updated costs and schedule.

The San Francisco City Pass gives you unlimited travel on Muni buses, trolleys, and cable cars for three days

3. Haight & Ashbury – Best Place to Stay for History and Culture

haight & ashbury neighborhood san francisco
Best neighborhood to stay in San Francisco for history

If you’re looking for counterculture history, alternative vibes, vintage shops, and a place where hippies and punks live side by side, Haight-Ashbury is where you should stay. One of the most beloved neighborhoods in San Francisco, it was the center of the Summer of Love in 1967. It’s where the hippie movement in California took form.

You might find more hipsters than hippies here today, but Haight-Ashbury is still one of the most interesting places to visit in San Francisco. We loved strolling along the streets visiting vintage and nostalgic shops, record stores like Amoeba Music, tattoo parlors, and the colorful streets.

Haight-Ashbury also has a wide range of quirky restaurants and cafes come together to form a funky combination of old and new. Make sure to visit Golden Gate Park where all the hippies hang out. Don’t be surprised if you see drum circles and smell a joint or two as you walk through its leafy grounds. This is where The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Jefferson Airplane used to play impromptu concerts.

You definitely do not want to miss the views from Buena Vista Park and make sure to grab a photo at The Famous Legs (at Piedmont Boutique) It’s also where you’ll find a more local side to the city than what you might see in Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square.

Where to stay near Haight-Ashbury

  • Best Luxury Hotel at Haight & Ashbury – The Metro Hotel is charming hotel with a convenient location for public transit, a 14-min walk to Haight-Ashbury, it’s family-run but has no elevator.
  • Best Mid-Range Hotel in Haight & AshburyStanyan Park Hotel offers free breakfast, Victorian-style rooms, kitchen facilities, wine & cheese hour & tea service, near Golden Gate Park.
  • Best Haight & Ashbury Budget Hotel – The Red Victorian – Historic, themed rooms, with antique electric fireplaces, and only two blocks from Golden Gate Park.

Getting There – Take the Muni bus 6, 7, 37, 43 (get off at Haight St & Masonic Ave) or 33 (get off at Ashbury St & Haight St). For more information check out the San Francisco Muni website for updated costs and schedule. The San Francisco City Pass gives you unlimited travel on Muni buses, trolleys, and cable cars for three days.

4. South of Market or SoMa – San Francisco on a Budget

SoMa is where to stay in San Francisco if you are on a budget
One of the best nieghborhoods in San Francisco – SOMA (South Market)

This area is quite large and encompasses quite a few different vibes. If you are on a budget or looking for nightlife this is one of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco to make your base. .

This area has come a long way in a few years. It used to be a warehouse district, but like most developing cities the businesses have moved out and gentrification has moved in. That being said SoMa is now one of the trendy areas of San Francisco to stay.

If you are looking for some more budget options when it comes to accommodation then SoMa is where you can get the most bang for your buck. You can find cheaper apartments a little further out but we think this is your best bet if you want to save a little cash on your hotel room.

If you are visiting during baseball season and are taking in a game at the AT&T Center then this is the perfect place to base yourself.

There are also some great food and nightlife choices here as well and you are not going to want to miss restaurants like Saison or South Park Cafe. If you are into live music then check out the Mezzanine, if you just want to grab a good ber head over to the 21st Amendment.

Where to stay in South of Market or SoMa

  • Best Mid-Range Hotel in SoMo San Francisco Marriott – Located in the heart of SoMa, this hotel has great rooms and don’t miss the view from the 39th floor!
  • Best Budget Hotel in South of Market The Carriage Inn – Conveniently located just a five-minute walk from the Civic Center and BART rail station. Clean rooms that come with a continental breakfast included.

5. Nob Hill – Best San Francisco for the First Timers

The beautiful streets of Nob Hill neighborhood in San Francisco

A centrally located neighborhood with up-scale accommodation. Nob Hill is one of the best places to stay in San Francisco for first timers. We loved Nob Hill. It is really in the center of it all and had a great choice of great restaurants, fun shopping, and amazing hotels. There are a ton of great restaurants as well as boutique shops to keep you busy.

You are a stone’s throw away from Chinatown, the Cable Car Museum, North Beac, Union Square and, the famous Lombard Street. Make sure to wear your walking shoes as it is a hilly area but beautiful.

Just a short walk from the heart of Nob Hill, Lombard Street is a fun one to drive down or walk around. It’s called ‘the most crooked street in the world’ for a reason.

If you are looking for some nightlife, make sure to check out Polk Street which is lined with different bars. Also, make sure to check out the view from The Tonga Room if you get a chance

Where to stay in Nob Hill

  • Best Luxury Hotel in Nob Hill Fairmont San Francisco – The most luxurious hotel in San Francisco. Each room has a marble bathroom, walk-in wardrobe, very good wifi, very quiet, blackout curtains and a super comfy bed.
  • Best Budget Hotel in Nob Hill – HI San Francisco – – A great hostel that has free breakfast, free Wi-Fi. A full kitchen along with laundry, lockers and nice clean dorm rooms. It is also a great place to look for tours as well.

6. North Beach – Where to Stay in San Francisco with Family

best area to stay in san francisco close to North Beach

If you’re looking for boutique shops, family-run delis, and Italian culture, this is the neighborhood for you. This is my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco for its delicious food, great bars and cafes, and its local feel.

North Beach, located just north of the Financial District and south of Fisherman’s Wharf, has a little bit of everything that makes San Francisco so special – good food, great views, and ideal people watching.

During the day there are countless cute cafes to spend the afternoon in, the perfect picnic spot at Washington Square Park, and independent bookstores to peruse.

At night, the sultry bars and clubs pick up for a wide range of patrons, some call it seedy or bro central at times, but it just adds to the diverse and intriguing nature of the district.

North Beach isn’t too far from the famous Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower. Here you’ll find some of the most breathtaking views of the city and bay. Inside the tower are murals that were funded by the WPA and tell a visual history of the city.

Where to stay in North Beach

  • Best Mid Range Hoel in North BeachHotel Boheme – Bohemian-inspired decor from the 50s and 60s, steps away from many cafes and jazz clubs, near Lombard Street.
  • Best Budget Hotel in North Beach San Remo Hotel – Quirky, European-stye hotel, 10 min walk to the beach, pedestal sinks, furnished with Victorian heirlooms.

Getting There – Take Muni buses 30, 45, or 91 (get off at Columbus Ave & Union St) Additionally, you can take the Powell/Mason cable car (get off at Columbus Ave & Chestnut St). For more information check out the San Francisco Muni website for updated costs and schedule.

7. The Mission – Where to Stay in San Fransisco for Shopping

san francisco trolley near Market Street
The Mission is a great place to stay in San Francisco with great food

If you’re looking for trendy hipster cafes and shops, as well as the best Mexican food and locally-run grocery stores, this is the neighborhood for you. 

The smells of freshly roasted coffee and Mexican food waft together alongside the sights of colorful murals and local grocery stores as you walk down Mission or Valencia St.

The Mission, located close to Hayes Valley and south of Market Street, is a huge district that’s heavily influenced by Hispanic culture. It was actually named after a Spanish-era mission, Mission San Francisco de Asis.

It’s the place where you’ll find trendy bars, cafes, and boutique shops, but also local Mexican grocery stores and traditional taquerias.

The Mission is an eclectic mix of old and new and a diverse melting pot of cultures. You’ll also get your kitschy tourist items in this area and plenty of cheap drinks. The charm of this area is just getting lost in the streets.

Where to stay in The Mission

  • Best Luxury Hotel in The MissionNoe’s Nest B&B – B&B, buffet breakfast, marble bathrooms, relaxing spa and garden views available.
  • Best Mission Mid-Range Hotel The Inn San Francisco – Another B&B featuring Victorian decor, free breakfast, 24-hour refreshments, hot tub for guest use.

Getting There – Take Muni bus 14, 14R, or 22 (get off at 16th St. & Mission St). You can also take the BART (get off at Mission Station/16th St or 24th St). For more information check out the San Francisco Muni website for updated costs and schedule.The San Francisco City Pass gives you unlimited travel on Muni buses, trolleys, and cable cars for three days.

San Fransisco Quick Tips

san francisco neighborhoods

As I mentioned above, the city is fairly walkable and easy to navigate. The local transportation is widespread and runs often, and you have plenty of options from the local Muni buses, to the BART, and trolley/streetcars.

Passes can be bought either on the trolley and bus, or at any BART station.

Bus tickets start at $2.50, a single cable car ticket costs $7, and BART tickets depend on the distance you’re traveling.

  • If you’re going to be in the city for multiple days, consider getting a Clipper card: this transportation card can get you on the majority of transport in the city, and you can easily put funds on at most BART or Muni stations. You can also find locations to buy a Clipper card and load funds on from this website. Clipper cards can be used throughout the Bay Area, so they are useful if you want to take a day trip to Sonoma, San Jose, the East Bay, or another spot in the Bay.
  • Bus tickets have a 1.5 hour window: so if you need to make 1 or 2 transfers to get to where you’re going, you can use the same bus ticket (if it’s within the time frame) without having to buy another ticket.
  • San Francisco Airport Transfer to Downtown San Francisco for $17: Save time and money, and avoid the long line for a cab at San Francisco Airport. This hassle-free transfer provides efficient, comfortable, and safe service to your downtown hotel in San Francisco.
What is the best neighborhood in San Francisco?

This would be a toss-up between Nob Hill and Haight-Ashbury. Nob Hill if you want upscale accommodation and Haight-Ashbury if you are looking for history and that hippie vibe.

Best neighborhoods in San Francisco for families?

Fisherman’s Wharf is the best place to if you are a family. It is close to all of the iconic landmarks and is one of the safest areas in the city. North Beach is another good option.

Where to stay in San Francisco for first-timers?

For first-time visitors to San Francisco, Nob Hill or Union Square are the neighborhoods to consider. They are both quite central with great transportation options and are less touristy than Fisherman’s Wharf.

Where to stay in San Francisco on a budget?

South of Market or SoMa has probably the best selection of budget accommodation like hostels and smaller hotels. For its location, this is your best bet.

As you can see, there are many unique experiences to have in San Francisco and the bay area. It’s the perfect weekend (or week-long) trip that offers culture, quirkiness, and those California vibes in a condensed 49-square-mile package.

San Francisco has grand views, various nightlife options, and tourist attractions, but also one that is bursting with green parks and hiking trails not too far from its busy streets. San Francisco is hard to forget, even long after you’ve packed your bags for home. Its versatile character is truly one-of-kind.

So, bundle up in your favorite scarf to cut out the wind, thumb through that book of beat poetry, and get ready to eat the best clam chowder of your life. Enjoy your trip to San Francisco, and be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

Enjoy this San Francisco Neighborhood Guide? Save it to Pinterest for future reference.

Where to Stay in San Francisco Pinterest
Where to stay in San Francisco

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About Mimi McFadden

Mimi McFadden is a travel blogger and freelance writer. Originally from California, she has been slow traveling the world since 2013. When she’s not writing, she’s probably sipping on a pint of craft beer, chasing waterfalls, or planning her next crazy adventure in a foreign land. Follow Mimi at TheAtlasAtHeart / Facebook / Instagram /

Leave a Comment

13 thoughts on “Where to Stay in San Francisco – A Guide To The Best Neighborhoods”

  1. Such a helpful guide! We loved staying near Union Square but will have to check out one of these neighbourhoods next time! Lombard street is such a cute place to visit and North Beach looks perfect!

    Reply
  2. What an excellent guide! I’m sure a lot of travelers who are planning on a visit to San Francisco will find this very helpful..

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  3. I stayed in the financial district last time I was in SF and really liked it. There was so much to see and do. Will have to check out another one of your listed neighborhoods next visit!

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  4. Hi
    I’ve heard that San Francisco is a pretty dangerous place to stay in. My husband and I hope to visit SF in Oct 2019, is it safe to do so?
    Thanks

    Reply
  5. Good post and right to the point. I don’t know if this is really the best place to ask but do you people have any thoughts on where to employ some professional writers? Thank you ?

    Reply
  6. Can it get any better than this? I dont think I need to even search elsewhere for any more information. Yep, definitely going to enjoy the trip to San Francisco. Not sure of flowers in my hair though!

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  7. A Really nice city where I have been living for a while. This summer I am getting back there. Hope to discover it once again.

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  8. What a great overview of San Francisco! One thing I love about the place is that there are so many ‘off the beaten path’ things to do – you never run out! I like how you laid out the different areas of the city and what they have to offer. The pictures and map are great!

    Reply
  9. The map provided could use some updates.
    “The Avenues” are more commonly referred to as The Sunset south of Golden Gate Park, and The Richmond District north of the park.
    The yellow and green sections labeled Golden Gate are The Presidio (green) and The Marina (yellow).
    Plus, the waterfront south of SoMa (for South Of Market St) has various little sections such as Mission Bay and Dogpatch which are up and coming areas.

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  10. Listed places to stay at San Francisco with picture helps a lot to find the good accommodation while traveling to this city. thanks for sharing useful tips and tricks.

    Reply
  11. Such a great guide! This is really helpful post. Whenever we go there, used your article. I bookmarked it. Thank you so much for sharing a great information.

    Reply