One of America’s most iconic cities, San Francisco sits poised on the 47-square-mile fingertip of a peninsula on America's western edge. Here's our guide to the best places to stay in San Francisco.
The city has much to gloat about, from the rugged coastline and fog-capped hills to its distinct neighbourhoods. Some are quaint, others hip, lined by rows of preserved Victorian houses or dotted with chic clubs in converted warehouses.
Depending on what you’ve got planned for your visit, certain parts of the city may be a better base than others. To help you decide, we've put together an area-by-area guide on where to stay in San Francisco.
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Union Square: the best area to stay in San Francisco for first-time visitors
Dense with history and humanity, Downtown San Francisco comprises several vibrantly distinct neighbourhoods jammed together between the waterfront and the hills.
At the heart sits Union Square. This is one of San Francisco’s liveliest urban spaces, the city’s main hotel and shopping district, and the junction of its major transportation lines (including cable cars). Along the waterfront stands the elegant Embarcadero, anchored by the Ferry Building and its immensely popular marketplace, which rims San Francisco’s stalwart Financial District.
Union Square can’t be beat for its variety of options and central location. A few hotels near the Embarcadero offer a mix of both luxury and Bay views.
If you're wondering what to do in San Francisco, try our day-by-day itinerary for the perfect weekend in San Francisco that will keep you busy
- For art-lovers: Hotel des Arts. This buzzy spot is a hybrid art gallery and hotel, and many rooms are custom-decorated by local artists. A fun, bargain place to stay.
- For classic luxury: Marines' Memorial Club & Hotel Union Square. Located in a historic building that is just 5 minutes’ walk from Union Square, Marines' Memorial Club & Hotel Union Square boasts a rooftop restaurant, a library, a full-service health club and a 564 seat on-site theatre. All spacious guest rooms include free WiFi.
Where to stay in Union Square:
North Beach: an italian-flavoured neighbourhood with amazing views
Inland North Beach was named when the area sat along San Francisco’s original northern waterfront. It is best known as the home of the city’s Italian community. In recent years its original blue-collar character has been largely eroded by gentrification. Nevertheless, it retains an easy, worn-in feeling, and its sloping residential streets and vibrant main drags are ideal for aimless wandering.
North Beach is many neighbourhoods in one; the Little Italy of San Francisco (though nobody calls it that), the former haunt of Beat poets like Jack Kerouac, the city’s strip club hub, and a destination for night owls looking to mingle at bars and dance clubs. Because it offers so much, it is a great place when deciding where to stay in San Francisco here.
- Best for a B&B style hotel: Washington Square Inn. Overlooking Washington Square, this hotel has large and airy rooms with a European flavour. Some boast bay windows.
Where to stay in North Beach:
- Best for couples stay: Columbus Inn. Located in San Francisco, Columbus Inn is located 300 m from Lombard Street and 7 minutes’ walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. Guests can enjoy free covered parking at the property.
The Hills: where to stay in the original San Francisco
Primarily residential Telegraph Hill and Russian Hill, meanwhile, boast beautiful old homes. Hidden gardens can be found tucked away down pathways off steep hillside streets. To the south of Russian Hill lies pristine, yet historically snooty Nob Hill.
Above North Beach, at the end of Lombard Street, Telegraph Hill is crowned. Built in 1934 on the site of an early telegraph station, and funded by heiress Lillie Hitchcock Coit, it lures visitors with momentous views and WPA frescoes in the style of Diego Rivera. The lovely Filbert and Greenwich street staircases drop down the east side of Telegraph Hill, flanked by attractive and lush private gardens.
If you are lucky you will hear and spot the flock of wild redheaded parrots who live there, and who starred in the 2003 documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.
The cable cars from Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square climb one of the city’s best-known slopes, Nob Hill hailed as the “Hill of Palaces” by writer Robert Louis Stevenson. The hill is celebrated mostly for the size and elegance of the mansions and hotels built there more than a century ago which makes this place an attractive area to stay in San Francisco.
Russian Hill, next to Nob Hill, is known for magnificent views, stately homes, hidden bistros, and a labyrinth of secret streets, stairways, and alleys like Macondray Lane, which connects Taylor and Jones streets and provided the setting for writer Armistead Maupin’s much-loved Tales of the City saga.
- Best for big budgets: The Fairmont. The most famous of Nob Hill’s landmark hotels, this showy palace offers fantastic views despite being relatively low-rise for the neighbourhood.
Where to stay in the Hills:
- Best for location: Castle Inn. Centrally located between Van Ness Avenue and San Francisco’s stylish Russian Hill, Castle Inn is just 1.6 km from Chinatown, North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. All rooms offer free WiFi. Free guest parking is provided.
The Marina: where to stay in San Francisco for a swanky time
Much loved by young urban dwellers, the waterfront Marina District encompasses the area all the way from Fort Mason to the Presidio, and inland to Chestnut and Union streets. By day, Chestnut acts as one big outdoor café where the next generation of yuppies congregates in workout gear, when they’re not shopping in the trendy boutiques.
After dark, the same crowd meets in the plethora of tasty and inexpensive restaurants, then heads to the post-collegiate-type bars. Union Street is a chic stretch of boutiques, antiques stores, gourmet shops, delicatessens, and classy restaurants.
- Best for city exploring: Cow Hollow Inn and Suites. Located in San Francisco, the Cow Hollow Inn and Suites offers non-smoking accommodation to guests. Shopping is available at the nearby Marina District from the Cow Hollow Inn and Suites. Many restaurants are also available to guests within walking distance.
Where to stay around the Marina district:
- Best for a rooftop views: Infinity Hotel. Located in San Francisco’s Marina District, Infinity Hotel SF, Ascend Hotel Collection offers spacious rooms with free WiFi and a cable TV. It is just a 6-minute drive from the famous Golden Gate Bridge.
Fisherman’s Wharf: a family-oriented neighbourhood with lots of attractions
Among San Francisco’s most visited spots, the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf is a bright, family-oriented carnival of attractions. Despite the crowds and occasional tackiness, it also holds tons of seafood restaurants, good little stores tucked between the souvenir stands, and two garden parks with open space for picnicking.
In summer, when the narrow boardwalks are jammed with sightseers, it’s easy to forget this is a major historic site. Along with hundreds of sailboats and yachts, and the ferries packed with visitors and commuters, much of San Francisco’s maritime past is moored here.
- Best for luxury: Hotel Caza Fisherman's Wharf has a restaurant, free bikes, an outdoor swimming pool and fitness centre in San Francisco. Among the various facilities of this property are a bar, a shared lounge and a garden. Free WiFi is available and private parking can be arranged at an extra charge.
- Best for a boutique B&B: The Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square. Built high atop Ghirardelli Square with San Francisco Bay views, this urban San Francisco resort features luxurious apartments with free WiFi and fully equipped gourmet kitchens. Sweeping terraces with fire pits are featured on-site.
Where to stay around the Fisherman’s Wharf:
South of Market and the Tenderloin: different shades of San Francisco
The idea of San Francisco as a Victorian-lined utopia holds fast until you wander into the areas to the west and south of Downtown.
Better known as SoMa, South of Market is a sprawling district with wide traffic-filled streets stacked with tall office buildings, condo high-rises, hotels, nightclubs and major museums. The adjoining Civic Center and Tenderloin districts show a different side of the city. The Civic Center has grand government and cultural buildings, and a cluster of visual and expressive arts venues. Tenderloin, meanwhile, is one of the city's poorest areas.
Be aware that it maintains a bad reputation, and most tourists choose to avoid it. If you’re on a particularly tight budget, but don’t wish to stay in a hostel, these areas are your best option, with some trendier accommodation in South of Market.
- Best for minimalistic design: LUMA Hotel. ituated in San Francisco, 400 m from Oracle Park, LUMA Hotel San Francisco features accommodation with a private parking, a fitness centre, frette bed linens, bathrobes and slippers. Among the facilities at this property are a 24-hour front desk and room service, along with complimentary WiFi throughout the property.
- Best for boutique luxury: 1 Hotel San Francisco. Overlooking San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront, this hotel features an outdoor rooftop terrace. Free WiFi is provided in all guest rooms. Oracle Park is 1.6 km away.
Where to stay in South of Market and the Tenderloin:
The Mission and the Castro: the beating heart of San Francisco
Together, the Mission and the Castro make up the beating heart of San Francisco. Here more than anywhere else in the city, a number of cultures exist far outside the boundaries of mainstream America.
These compelling neighbourhoods are filled with galleries, murals, one-of-a-kind local shops, vibrant restaurants and thriving nightlife. The Mission is the centre of San Francisco’s largely working-class Latino community. The Castro, meanwhile, is the Bay Area’s – and some would say America’s – epicentre of gay culture.
Many B&Bs here are housed in historic buildings. The sacrifice of a private bathroom for the charms of a home-cooked breakfast is worthwhile.
- Best for a B&B with a view: Inn San Francisco. Superb, sprawling B&B set in two adjoining historic Victorians. Expect stunning views across town from the smokers’ terrace on the roof.
- Best for an eco stay: Nineteen 06 Mission. Each room is designed with the environment in mind: energy-efficient lighting, re-purposed building materials and free organic toiletries are provided.
Where to stay in The Mission and the Castro:
Haight-Ashbury and west of Civic Center: San Francisco's take on diversity
The districts between Civic Center and Golden Gate Park are perhaps the city’s most racially and economically diverse. Once grubby and crime-ridden, they now make up an eclectic patchwork.
Haight-Ashbury, once the centre of the hippie movement, has adopted its peace-and-love past as a de facto marketing campaign but is still worth visiting. If you’re really looking to connect with modern-day counterculture, however, you’re better off in the Lower Haight, immediately to the east.
Elsewhere, the affluent nook of sleepy Cole Valley is a pleasant diversion. Alamo Square is worth a stop, too, where six restored Victorian houses and the Downtown skyline provide one of San Francisco’s most popular photo opportunities.
North and west of Alamo Square is the Fillmore, once home to some of the city’s most notorious housing projects and still economically deprived. Grafted onto its eastern edge is Japantown, an awkwardly artificial development but the heart of the city’s Japanese community.
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- Best for a taste of Japan: Hotel Kabuki. The Kabuki strikes a sophisticated, streamlined look in architecturally drab Japantown. Tea service rituals and workshops on Japanese traditions complete the picture.
- Best for park views: Stanyan Park Hotel. Overlooking Golden Gate Park, this small hotel has 35 sumptuous rooms that are incongruous in its countercultural neighbourhood. Each is busily decorated in country florals with heavy drapes and junior four-poster beds.
Where to stay in Haight-Ashbury and west of Civic Center:
Hayes Valley: fashionable neighbourhood in San Francisco
Hayes Valley is located between the historic Alamo Square and Civic Centre areas. Numerous townhouses in Victorian, Queen and Edwardian styles alternate with boutiques, trendy restaurants and apartment complexes.
Hayes Street, the neighbourhood's main shopping street, is home to many high-end designer clothing and home décor shops. There are also patisseries, trendy bars and restaurants. There's a community garden and an installation park on the block. Here, next to the administration building, you can watch plays and listen to music.
- Best for comfy stays: Sonder Hayes Valley. Sonder Hayes Valley has well-equipped accommodation featuring free WiFi in San Francisco, less than 1 km from San Francisco City Hall and 3 km from Moscone Center.
Where to stay in the Hayes Valley:
- Best for budget stays: Hayes Valley Inn. Located in San Francisco’s charming Hayes Valley neighbourhood, Hayes Valley Inn is just 5 minutes’ walk from attractions such as the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House and San Francisco City Hall.
Presidio: the best area to stay in San Francisco for a beautiful landscape
Hundreds of thousands of invigorating cypress, eucalyptus, and pine trees shade the 1,480 acres of the Presidio of San Francisco, the prettiest ex-military establishment you’re ever likely to see. Founded as a Spanish fort in 1776, then active on the American side in several wars, it was belatedly converted to civilian life during the 1990s as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The beauty of the landscape dates from the late 19th century, when the trees were planted on what had been forbidding, rocky heights. Feel free to explore the Presidio, by bus or car or on foot, for its tastefully designed and impeccably maintained headquarters buildings, officers’ quarters, and even model enlisted men’s barracks.
- Best for historical charm: Beresford Arms. Named on the National Register of Historic Places, this hotel offers Victorian charm combined with modern amenities and is located a short stroll from area attractions, including cable car lines.
Where to stay near Presidio:
- Best for modern stays: citizenM. Ideally set in the Union Square district of San Francisco, citizenM San Francisco Union Square is situated 400 m from Union Square, less than 1 km from Moscone Center and a 16-minute walk from San Francisco City Hall. Among the facilities of this property are a restaurant, a 24-hour front desk and a shared lounge, along with free WiFi throughout the property.
Sunset & Richmond districts: the Avenues
The largest district in the city and county of San Francisco is the Sunset District. On the district's northern border is Golden Gate Park and on the western border is the Pacific Ocean. Part of the Sunset District is known as the Parkside District. Before Sunset was built up with residential and commercial buildings in the 19th century, much of the area was covered by sand dunes, which San Francisco residents called the "Forbidden Lands".
Sunset and neighbouring Richmond are often locally referred to as 'Avenues', much of both areas run along numbered avenues from north to south.
One of San Francisco’s most beautiful museums, the Palace of the Legion of Honor is located in the city’s most northwestern corner, at Lincoln Park in the Richmond District. A collection of 4,000 years of ancient and European art is housed in a Beaux-Arts building in an exquisite setting overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Best for a boutique B&B: Sunset Edwardian B&B At Golden Gate Park. Located in San Francisco, 3.7 km from University of San Francisco and 6.7 km from Golden Gate Bridge, Sunset Edwardian Bed and Breakfast At Golden Gate Park San Francisco provides sea views and free WiFi.
Where to stay in Sunset & Richmond districts:
- Best for budget stays: FairBridge Hotel. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, SeaScape Inn - A FairBridge Hotel offers guest rooms with free WiFi. Offering public transportation to downtown San Francisco, The Judah BART Station is located outside the hotel. Free guest parking is available.
Where to go after San Francisco? Try nearby Mammoth Lakes, California. Don't miss our guide to Mammoth Lakes. And if you are interested in other destinations in the US, explore our guide to the most beautiful places in the United States.
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