Most visitors to San Francisco are initially confused as to where about is best to stay for their trip. Fortunately, San Francisco is a fairly small city with good transport infrastructure so the simple answer is anywhere there really isn’t a bad place to stay.
But of course, some good choices are better than others so this guide is designed to help you decide what is the best area to stay in San Francisco for you. We will run you through the different districts with their pros and cons to help you decide where to stay in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Peninsular has a fairly basic layout. At the heart of it are Union Square and the downtown area surrounding it. In the north is the fisherman’s Wharf Area.
Union Square / Downtown
Most hotels are centered around Union Square and the Downtown area. Being in the heart of the City has many advantages and really very few disadvantages. That said it’s not always the most inspiring place to stay. You are unlikely to get anything in the way of a view or hotel grounds to relax in.
However, the Hotel is not normally the actual focus of a City break, and a Hotel in the heart of the City gives you easy access to most things. Of course, there are great transport links from here out to any of the more distant attractions that you would want to visit.
Dining options are numerous but more Chain type restaurants than some of the more trendy eateries of San Francisco. You are also a stone’s throw from China Town so you can always try some of the best “western-style” Chinese food in the world.
Being in the most populated area of the City Parking can be at a premium so check if your hotel offers Parking at a reasonable cost if you are planning on hiring a car.
Inn at Union Square, A Greystone Hotel
$280-$360 a Night
A bright and airy, modern, luxury hotel right in the middle of the city just off Union Square. Rooms are luxuriously appointed and have excellent amenities and beautiful bathrooms. Step outside and you are immediately in the center of everything, with Chinatown only a few blocks away and Fishermans Wharf just a short hop on the tram. A continental breakfast is included in the price but parking is not offered. Being right in the center with such good traffic links we would seriously consider not hiring a car!
Chancellor Hotel on Union Square
$150-$200 a Night
The Chancellor is another wonderful option right in the heart of Union Square only it is around half the price of the hotels in the surrounding area and it is not immediately obvious why. The Hotel boasts the same amenities and offers a very high standard and quality rooms. Considering the location it really is a bargain hotel.
It is not quite as plus as some of the surrounding options but they are certainly not twice as plush as the price might suggest. If you want to be in the middle of it all but are looking for a more budget option you will do well to beat the Chancellor!
North Beach / Fishermans Wharf
Moving away from the Centre, North Beach offers plenty of options for staying nearer the waterfront. Quieter and much less built-up, North Beach can offer a more tranquil stay, However, it’s still very much in the thick of things.
Being in the Italian Quarter means there are plenty of restaurant options especially if you enjoy Italian food. One of the plus points of North Beach is its proximity to Fisherman’s wharf and its multitude of seafood restaurants. Meaning you will never be stuck for something to eat.
Transport to most other areas of the city is still very convenient from North beach. It may mean a trip to Union Square first but generally, you can get anywhere you may want to go very easily.
Argonaut Hotel – A Noble House Hotel
$250-$350 a Night
A wonderfully located and stunningly decored hotel. The Argonaut is right by the Maritime waterfront and feels like a Disney-themed hotel. Everything is perfectly detailed to the San Francisco Nautical Theme. The little details such as the bed cushions and bedside lamps all fit the theme. The location could not be more perfect and the Habor View Rooms, while more expensive (around $100 per night more), are really wonderful.
The On-site restaurant is pretty great, however, with so many options close by at Fishermans Wharf it needs to be to survive. No Breakfast is included in the price and Parking is an Eyewatering $75 a day with no in and out privileges! While we tend to treat most hotels in San Francisco as merely a place to lay our heads the Argonaut is far more a place you will want to spend time!
San Remo Hotel
$100-$130 a night
The San Remo is a real love/Hate type hotel and is certainly not for everyone. We fall into the Love category, but it is easy to see why it would not suit some. Shared Bathrooms are an instant no for some and the tiny rooms are another red flag. But if you can see past those the hotel is seriously charming. With tons of old-world charm this relic of San Francisco’s past is like staying in a museum.
From the Quirky and greenery-filled halls to the antique furniture in the rooms, even the shared bathrooms have an old boarding school feel about them that takes you back to a simpler time. The Shared bathrooms are nothing to concern yourself about as they are spotlessly clean and the showers and WC’s are all separate, you just share a sink area.
We loved the Hotel and being just a few blocks from the Fisherman’s wharf meant the location was fantastic for the price!
The Marina District is a charming district a bit further out on the hills overlooking the bay. While dining options and transport links are a little thinner on the ground it is much less built up. This often means Hotels offer free parking. An option much more restricted in the more built-up districts.
Prices are also a little more competitive here. It’s the perfect choice for anyone wanting to rent a car during their stay. Hotels in the Marina District all tend to be quite similar, these are Motel type facilities that provide little more than a clean comfortable room and somewhere to lay your head.
$100-$130 a night
Out pick of the bunch is the Coventry Inn, this old-fashioned motor Inn has an old-school charm that is missing from a lot of its rivals, it doesn’t feel sterile like the modern chain Motels but not run down like some older-style inns can feel. Rooms are large and clean if a little dated. The location is excellent and you get free parking, a big plus in San Fran!
The majority of hotels are clustered around the above districts however there are plenty of other options in the remaining district. Soma has a number of hotels and these offer fantastic dining options. There are a few places in more residential parts of the City offering a more “authentic” experience. You can always stay further out however, we can’t think of any really good reason to do that unless the Hotel itself is worth the constant toing and froing.
Hotel Drisco – Pacific Heights
Price $400 – $500 A Night
Situated out of the way in Pacific Heights the Hotel Drisco is not particularly well placed. It is set right on top of the hill and enjoys stunning views out over the city. Pacific Heights itself is San Francisco’s ultra-upmarket suburb and home to many of San Frcisocos movers and shakers, homes in the area can sell for over $40mil and it is one of the richest neighborhoods in the US.
The Hotel Drisco is the type of hotel befitting of that type of exclusivity. Prices are high but not terrifyingly so and a few nights of abject luxury are not completely beyond normal people. The Hotel and the Rooms themselves are stunningly beautiful and any stay here makes you really feel like you have “made it” even if you are absolutely faking it!
Outside the City
As San Francisco is so small, any real estate is naturally quite expensive and this pushed hotel prices up. One solution is to stay outside of the City in one of the surrounding areas. Such as Oakland, Berkley, Richmond, or down in South San Francisco.
We do not really consider this a good option, the cost may be lower but not hugely compared to some of the cheaper San Francisco hotels. And the cost of getting into the city every day offsets that a little. There is also a time cost. 45mins to an hour every day heading into the City is a huge suck of valuable vacation time. The very advantage of San Francisco being a small and compact City is instantly lost by making yourself “commute” on a vacation!
Where to Book a Hotel?
There are a seemingly infinite number of different booking sites out there. Gone are the days when you simply asked your travel agent or rang the actual hotel. Of course, you could still do that if you wish. While the most obvious answer to the question could be to book at the cheapest site, How would you know which is the cheapest? There are a vast number of comparison sites all promising to find you the cheapest room.
For us, there is a fairly simple solution that works 90% of the time. And has some other fairly striking benefits as well. Our preferred booking site is Booking.com. As said 90% of the time we find they are the cheapest. When a Cheaper price is found elsewhere it’s normally an obscure name we don’t really trust.
We find the Map view on Booking.com very easy to find hotels in the districts we want, and it also shows prices so you can quickly narrow down the hotels that suit you before carrying out further research.
Finally, one of the biggest reasons we use Booking.com is the ability to book without charge and cancel for free right up until a few days before the booking. This way you can guarantee the cheapest price. If you find it cheaper elsewhere (or even on Booking.com) you can just cancel the original booking and get the cheaper price. We find most of the time this doesn’t happen and we stick with the original booking but there have been occasions where we swap to a cheaper price.
We wrote an in-depth guide to booking hotels on booking.com for New York but the same principles can be applied to San Francisco or any destination whatsoever.
Have Your Say
Hopefully, our guide to where to stay in San Francisco has been useful for you. Let us know if you have a preferred area to stay. Or let us know your requirements and we can see where we think would suit you best? Or if you just have anything at all to say. Just drop us a comment. We would love to hear from you.
12 thoughts on “Where to Stay in San Francisco – What is the Best Area to Stay in San Francisco?”
Good stuff. I’ve only ever heard great things about San Francisco but I’ve never been. It looks like an absolutely awesome place to go and see. The landscapes look incredible.
I like your suggestion of being near North Beach. The wharf sounds like a nice location to be near.
I hope I get to take your recommendation soon!
Hope you get there soon it is a very awesome city. Has a very relaxed feel for a big city. We really like north beach as this vibe is even stronger there. Thanks for reading and the comment.
My brother used to live in the LA area and we would frequently visit him, but I have yet to make it to San Francisco. That being said, fantastic site all around. I have been looking for something like this that will help give me a layout ahead of time. Thanks so much for the info.
Hi Jen. Thanks for the comment. Hope you make it to San Francisco soon, ts a great City. Glad you like the site. LA is next on our list of Cities to tackle to help people get the most out of them.
Hi Steve, we are planning a trip to San Francisco next year so this has been enlightening. My wife is from South East Asia so I would like to stay near Chinatown if possible. The closer the better to be honest. I can check out hotels in the area on TripAdvisor but maybe you can help with a couple of things…is the area around Chinatown safe and are the hotel prices cheap there or more expensive than other areas, say Fisherman’s Wharf? How far from FW to Chinatown? Is it walking distance?
Thanks – Craig
Hi Craig. San Francisco as a whole is a very safe city. China Town is no exception. Hotels, in general, are quite cheap in China town, The Dragon gate end (junction of Grant Av and Bush St) has plenty of cheaper options. The plus side of this is they are meters away from both china town and Union Square. Putting you right in the heart of the city but saving a little bit over Union Square hotels.
Unfortunately, this is not really within walking distance of Fishermans Wharf. It is walkable but would be a trek, approx 1.5 miles or 30minutes. Nothing is too far in San Francisco, but 1.5miles isn’t something you want to do too often. There are local buses (Number 30) that are very regular and will whisk you there (or anywhere else) in less than 5mins though.
Hope you have a great trip
Great guide here, Steve. Thanks for a map of the city, too. Usually when I go to a new place I don’t even bother looking at the map, but that only leads me to getting lost. I really need to be more convenient! My trip to San Francisco is at the end of this year. I’m saving a lot of money up so I can have a great time while I am there. Your ideas are amazing and have definitely helped me out. Thanks a lot!
Hi Brandon, Hope you enjoy your upcoming trip. San Francisco is such a great City we are sure you will. Stay tuned and we will provide lots of ways you can save tons of money on your trip.
Thanks for reading.
Wow! Love your post, great memories for me, I visited over ten years ago with my Husband and then young boys and we could have done with your well planned out and informed guide to help us. We travelled from the UK direct to San Francisco and after 11 hours felt exhausted but overwhelmed when we landed, for us it was a dream come true 🙂 Our travel company arranged all the details, I wish we had your post back then, we had to find out everything once we arrived, so much to see and do, we only had three days there to before moving on.
Loved Fisherman’s wharf, North Beach, China Town and of course we had to tour Alcatraz.
I have no doubt that your information will help tourists enormously.
Hi June, Thanks for the comments, Loved reading about your trip. Its certainly is a long Flight and very exhausting. But definitely worth it. Glad you enjoyed the post and think it will be useful to others. A bit of fore knowledge and planning can really help a trip go smoothly.
I’m sure those 3 days flew by.
Very useful post on finding accommodations in San Fran. I have never been, but would love to go. The North Beach area looks like the spot I would target. I use booking dot com as my go to for finding affordable accommodations as well. It seems to have options for all budgets. How many days would you recommend for seeing the whole city?
Hi Jason, Glad you like the look of North beach, Its our favorite too, We just like being close top the water wherever we go. Booking.com really does have the other beat in our opinion, but always worth shopping around too.
3 days is what you would need to see most things in a semi relaxed manor, 2 days would give a rushed whistle stop tour, and you would be amazed how much you can pack into just one day!!! Any more and you can begin to get into the real San Fran Vibe, and start finding the more niche less tourist attractions.
Hope you make it there soon, I am sure you will love it!