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 your hotel offers Parking at a reasonable cost if you are planning on hiring a car.
$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 $52 a day and fairly limited. Being right in the center with such good traffic links we would seriously consider not hiring a car!
$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 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.
$250-$350 a Night
A wonderfully located and stunningly decored hotel. The Argonaut is right by the Maritime waterfront and feels all the world 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 fitting 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! While we tend to treat most hotels in San Francisco as merely a place to lay our heads the Argonaut is far moe a pace you will want to spend time!
$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 is 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. Tons of old-world charm this relic of San Francisco 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.
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 any of San Frcisocos mover 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 where 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 have 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.