Find the best area to stay in San Francisco to fit your budget and your vibe with this very thorough neighborhood guide to hotels and accommodation.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and know the neighborhoods. So, you can trust me to help you figure out where to stay in San Francisco. SF may be just 45 square miles but it has a lot of great neighborhoods and accommodations and picking a spot can be tricky. This thorough guide will help you figure out your own best location to stay in San Francisco based upon your personal needs, interests and budget.
Do you need a family sized room? Are you on a budget? Do you want something stylish? Do you crave great food? Don’t worry, you can find what you need. Each section of this guide has a neighborhood overview, three hotel suggestions and three ideas for fun things to do while there.
Find your own best neighborhood to stay in San Francisco by scrolling the whole post or pick a few locations of interest from the table of contents.
Overview of Where to Stay in San Francisco
Great SF Hotel Neighborhoods
- The Financial District: Full service hotels and good public transportation access.
- Union Square: Centrally located and good shopping.
- South of Market (SOMA): Cool vibes and fun bars.
- Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39: Fun for families.
- The Marina: Inexpensive motels near the bay with free or cheap parking options.
Great SF AirBnB Neighborhoods
- The Mission: Great food and street art.
- Potrero Hill: Quiet neighborhood with epic views.
- Castro Valley: Fun LGBT neighborhood.
- Noe Valley: Family friendly and cute shops.
- The Haight/Cole Valley: Funky hippy vibe near Golden Gate Park.
- North Beach/Chinatown: Vibrant neighborhood and great views.
Map of the Best Areas to Stay in San Francisco
This map is outlines great neighborhoods in SF along with locations for some specific hotels.
The Very Best Neighborhoods to Stay in San Francisco
The Financial District, Union Square and SOMA neighborhoods carry the highest density of hotels in San Francisco. All three are close to many popular sites and are easily accessed by the BART subway or MUNI bus system. These three neighborhoods are where you should stay in San Francisco if you are prioritizing choice and convenience.
(Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that if you chose to purchase, I’ll get a small commission.)
San Francisco Financial District Hotels
The Financial District has a cluster of four-star chain hotels catering to the business traveler, but the location is also good for the leisure traveler because of its central location. There are some great bars and restaurants in the neighborhood, especially at the Ferry Building, and it’s easy to access public transportation to anywhere in the city.
- Pros: Central location and access to public transportation.
- Cons: The hotels are typically pricier and many don’t offer much flair. Quieter at night.
Historic Icon: The Palace Hotel
“You will get a taste of what royalty must feel like”
The Palace was built in 1875 as San Francisco’s first premier luxury hotel. They have a stunning ballroom and lobby and they offer old-school services such as a signature tea and brunch.
4 Star chain hotel: Hyatt Regency Embarcadero
“Great lobby, great room, spectacular interior design”
The Hyatt is notable for its huge vaulted lobby and comfortable bar space. The hotel is attached to the Embarcadero shopping mall and there are quite a few good restaurants within a few blocks.
Good Value: Club Quarters Hotel
“Friendly and welcoming”
The Club quarters hotels offer similar services to the larger chain hotels but often at a better value. This one has a variety of room types, some with a kitchenette which could work for a family or an extended stay.
3 Fun Things to do in the Financial District
- Eat yourself silly at the Ferry Building.
- Get your hands all over science at the Exploratorium.
- Go shopping in the Embarcadero Center.
Hotels in Union Square
For sheer hotel options, Union Square is one of the best places to stay in San Francisco. There are over fifty hotels offering a wide range of style and budget. Union Square is well located for public transportation and is at the center of some of SF’s most popular sites.
- Pros: Centrally located with fun shopping, good restaurant choices and walkable to many museums.
- Cons: There are a LOT of people panhandling in Union Square and the further west of Taylor street you go, the worse it gets. The neighborhood is very busy and the area around the Powell street cable car turnaround gets very clogged.
Luxury Boutique: Warwick San Francisco
“Nice little boutique hotel”
74 classic rooms done up in a clean, modern style with an on-site tapas bar and nearby theaters. Check their site for offers like a complimentary drink or free breakfast.
Rock and roll vibe: Zeppelin Hotel
“Coolest hotel in the city”
The Zeppelin bills itself as an “urban avant garde nirvana”, which you can enjoy while hanging out in their game room and sipping your complimentary welcome beverage.
Modern Budget: Herbert Hotel
“The room was sparse but clean and comfortable”
The Herbert is in a central location on Powell street with clean modern rooms. What more could you ask for $89/night?
3 Fun Things to Do around Union Square
- Spend your paycheck by going shopping at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Macys or the flagship Apple store.
- Revisit prohibition and have a drink at the Bourbon & Branch speakeasy.
- Listen to free music on Union Square. Check the schedule for regular events.
San Francisco SOMA hotels
SOMA used to be a gritty warehouse district but it has been transformed by the dotcom boom and the development of the Giant’s stadium. It’s now a hipster heaven with museums, brew pubs, retro bowling, pocket parks and coffee shops.
- Pros: Close to public transportation, particularly the Caltrain station. Great walking along the Embarcadero. Lots of restaurant choices.
- Cons: Most of the hotels are clustered along Market street. Parking is tricky, especially during baseball season.
Fabulous roof deck: Hotel Via
“Right across from the ballpark!”
The Hotel Via is the only hotel in the southern part of SOMA. It’s perfectly situated for the ballpark and warehouse district. They have a rooftop deck with expansive views of the ballpark and the bay.
Great location and a rooftop deck: Virgin Hotels
Virgin’s new property in SF is conveniently located near the Moscone convention center and lots of public transportation. The rooftop bar has killer views of SOMA and the Bay.
Small Inn: Hotel Griffin
“Cozy and convenient”
The Griffin is a boutique hotel with a European flair. Some of the rooms have a scenic bay view and they do not charge stupid resort fees.
3 Fun Things to do in SOMA
- Get photography inspiration at both SFMOMA and Pier 24.
- Go to a San Francisco Giant’s Game.
- Go retro with a round of bowling at Lucky Strike.
Other Areas to Stay in San Francisco
Hotels in Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the most popular tourist sites in San Francisco, particularly with families. Pier 39 doesn’t have a ton of hotels, but staying in this area of SF will serve a range of budgets, including some family friendly options.
- Pros: Lots of fun stuff for kids to do. From the wharf, it’s easy to get to other parts of the city using the cable car or street trolleys.
- Cons: Very crowded with tourists. The restaurants are meh in this neighborhood.
Luxury: The Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square
“Perfect location, amenities and staff”
The Fairmont is set right on the wharf with great views overlooking the bay. They offer 24 hour butler service, an outdoor terrace and some residential-style rooms with full kitchens.
Family Friendly: Holiday Inn Express Fisherman’s Wharf
“I definitely recommend this hotel for families…”
The Holiday Inn/Express offers families a free hot breakfast, family-sized suites and access to the pool at their sister hotel.
Hip & Funky: Hotel Zephyr
“..several fire pits, cool sculpture and a food truck…amazing!”
This hotel won a Conde Naste Traveler reader’s choice award in 2016. They have a playful decor, goofy outdoor deck and they are pet-friendly.
3 Fun things to do in the Fisherman’s Wharf
- Take the ferry over to Angel Island. Hiking around the island will give you 360′ views of the bay and you can explore historical sites from San Francisco’s history.
- Visit Alcatraz island. Alcatraz was not only a prison, but it was also the site of a major Native American civil rights protest. The tours are excellent and the views of the bay go for miles. But it’s very popular, so book ahead.
- Visit the resident population of sea lions who live at the end of the pier.
Read More: The Marina has some of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Check out this guide to finding the best spots for viewing and shooting the bridge.
Hotels in the Marina
The Marina is a residential neighborhood right on the bay. The Marina doesn’t have fancy hotels but it’s well stocked with modestly priced motels, many with parking.
- Pros: Less expensive than other parts of the city, available parking, fun restaurants and boutique shopping scene.
- Cons: Getting to many popular sites without a car will require using the bus, often with a transfer.
Retro Boutique: Hotel Del Sol
“…a super cool place to stay”
The Hotel del Sol is a souped up former motor lodge with a pool, free breakfast, inexpensive parking and a colorful beachy vibe.
Charming: Marina Motel
“…not your run of the mill white plastic and pale wood motel”
The Marina motel is a cozy little spot built in the ’30’s. They have a flowery courtyard and family-sized rooms. Check reviews at Trip Advisor or rates on Hotels Combined.
Basic & Budget: Travelodge
“Affordable, pet-friendly spot…”
The Travelodge is….a Travelodge. It offers basic accommodation, free breakfast and an inexpensive base for exploring San Francisco.
3 Fun Things to Do in the Marina
- Eat, drink and shop on Chestnut street. Walk just one block north of the gauntlet of motels on Lombard and you can kill an evening strolling bookstores, boutiques, bars and bakeries.
- If you are in the neighborhood on a Friday, hit up Off the Grid in Fort Mason where you can eat your way through 30 food trucks.
- Stroll Crissy Field along the bay. You can learn about the aquatic ecosystem at the Pacific Coast Federation and pop into the Warming Hut Cafe. If you want to do some mileage, keep walking up onto and over the Golden Gate bridge (3.3 miles one way).
Best Neighborhoods to Stay in San Francisco for AirBnB
San Francisco isn’t defined by its downtown core, even though that’s where most of the hotels have camped out. AirBnB was founded in SF and its listings nearly double the available lodging options, with whole homes and rooms to rent all over the city. Most of the following neighborhoods may have the odd B&B or sketchy hotel, but trust me, they are much better served using AirBnB. Check AirBnB listings here.
- Pros: “Live like a local” by getting advice from your local host. Save money on eating out and laundry. Good for families and larger groups.
- Cons: Most neighborhoods (except for the Mission) are further out in the city and getting downtown will require slower buses. For the couple who wants the privacy of a whole home, it can sometimes be cheaper to snag a great hotel deal rather than do AirBnB.
Get a deal: If you’ve never used AirBnB, you can use this link to get a $40 discount on your first booking.
In addition to the normal rooms and apartments, there are some really amazing AirBnBs in San Francisco that provide truly unique experiences.
This artist loft in the mission promises an immersive experience. The host is an artist himself and he offers the space as a place for creative exploration. Check out the listing here.
The Treat Clubhouse in the Mission offers an inexpensive hacker hostel environment with bunk beds and cool common spaces. Check out the listing here.
Choosing Your AirBnB Neighborhood
The Mission: By far, one of the best areas to stay in San Francisco. The Mission’s vibrant streets are like a cross between of your Latino uncle and Sergy Brin. You can find illuminating street art, dinosaur-sized burritos and combo coffeeshops/bookstores.
Noe Valley: Strollers, yoga and coffee fill the 24th street corridor in Noe. The strip has something for everyone including a used book store, a craft brewery, a dive bar, some cute clothing shops and designer togs for the discerning toddler.
The Haight/Cole Valley: It’s been fifty years since the Summer of Love but the hippie vibe lives on in the Haight. They still sell vinyl at Amoeba records and you can purchase Grateful Dead gear, tie-dyed socks and, err, other paraphernalia.
North Beach/Chinatown: The AirBnB’s in this neighborhood offer all of the benefits of the downtown hotels, but with more hills! You can spend most of your allowance money buying books at the City Lights bookstore and then spend the rest on mysterious vegetables and dried fishes in Chinatown.
Choosing the best area to stay in San Francisco is a very personal choice. Pick your budget, consider what sort of vibe you want and then use this guide to chose your neighborhood. Enjoy your stay and have fun!
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