Any California traveler will find themself visiting San Francisco soon enough. As one of the three major cities in the Bay Area with an airport that connects to almost every corner of the world, this massive metropolis is a busy place. This is the main gateway to northern California and all the beautiful sights it has to offer.
For decades, the city of San Francisco has become more and more popular among all kinds of travelers. Its historic downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhoods, picturesque slanted streets, and the one-of-a-kind views of the Golden Gate Bridge against the San Francisco skyline are just a scratch on the surface of the great things about it.
If you’ve decided to plan a trip to explore San Francisco, you may have noticed a few things – it’s big, the attractions of the area are a bit spread out, and it’s expensive! All of these things make it essential to know where to stay in San Francisco to ensure the city is as great as it can be for you.
We’ve put together this San Francisco neighborhood guide to break down where you can stay, what to do there, and how to find something that fits your budget and preferences. Enjoy the land of sourdough bread, tech companies, and steep streets!
Show Table of Contents
- TL;DR – Best Places to Stay in San Francisco
- Best Areas to Stay in San Francisco
- Where To Stay In San Francisco
- 1. Fisherman’s Wharf
- 2. Russian Hill
- 3. Nob Hill
- 4. Union Square
- 5. North Beach
- 6. Embarcadero & Financial District
- 7. Marina District & Cow Hollow
- 8. Alamo Square
- 9. Sunset District
- 10. Pacific Heights
- 11. Haight-Ashbury
- 12. Civic Center
- 13. The Castro
- 14. Hayes Valley
- How long should I spend in San Francisco?
- What are San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks?
- What are the best neighborhoods to stay in downtown San Francisco?
- How far is the San Francisco airport from downtown San Francisco?
- Where is the best place to ride a cable car in San Francisco?
TL;DR – Best Places to Stay in San Francisco
- Best Luxury Hotel in San Francisco – Palace Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in San Francisco – Hotel Zephyr San Francisco
- Best Budget Hotel in San Francisco – Holiday Inn San Francisco
- Best Vacation Rental in San Francisco – Luxury Russian Hill Penthouse
- Best Family-Friendly Hotel in San Francisco – San Francisco Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf
- Best Pet-Friendly Hotel in San Francisco – Hotel Nikko San Francisco
Best Areas to Stay in San Francisco
- Best areas for first-timers/tourists – Fisherman’s Wharf & Civic Center
- Best area for budget travelers – Alamo Square
- Best area for luxury travelers – Nob Hill
- Best areas for safety – Embarcadero & Financial District
- Best area for families – North Beach
- Best area for business travelers – Union Square
- Best area for nature lovers – Sunset District
- Best area for slow travel – Haight-Ashbury
- Best areas for nature and city vibes – Marina District & Cow Hollow
- Best LGBTQ+ friendly area – The Castro
- Best area for sightseeing – Russian Hill
- Best area to feel like a local – Pacific Heights
Where To Stay In San Francisco
1. Fisherman’s Wharf
The Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood is my personal favorite place to stay in San Francisco whenever I visit. There’s so much to see and do just in a small area.
A near-endless number of great restaurants and cafes will ensure you’ll never go hungry here. The historic waterfront neighborhood is also easily walkable, so there’s no need to rent a car or Uber.
When you visit San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf is an absolute must. It is just a short walk from the Russian Hill neighborhood, which is home to a ton of the city’s main tourist attractions, such as Ghirardelli Square.
Though, you definitely won’t run out of things to do here as well. You find fantastic seafood, freshly baked sourdough bread, and accommodations to fit any budget and travel style.
One of my favorite things to do is to stroll along the wharf and watch the sea lions play and frolic in the water. It’s pretty wild to see them so close and just having a grand old time.
I also recommend doing a boat cruise of San Francisco Bay to see the Golden Gate Bridge, especially when the weather is ideal. Here are some of my favorite things to do and see in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood:
- Explore all of the sights and fun at Pier 39
- Admire the sea lions at the Fisherman’s Wharf marina
- Try some classic homemade fudge at The Fudgery
- Enjoy some warm, freshly baked bread from the famous Boudin Bakery
- Visit the Aquarium of The Bay, one of the most beautiful aquariums in the world
- Take a tour of Alcatraz Island, a tiny island in the bay and former military prison
- Enjoy breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge during a romantic dinner cruise
- Take photos of the Pier 43 Ferry Arch, a historical landmark
- Visit the Maritime Museum and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
- Admire the street art at Umbrella Alley (757 Beach Street)
- Spend an afternoon at the Aquatic Park Cove
Fisherman’s Wharf is the best area to stay in San Francisco for convenience. It’s also one of the best places to stay in San Francisco for first-timers.
There are a few great locations for first-timers to stay in the city, but Fisherman’s Wharf is my favorite. It is located near a ton of tourist attractions, offers excellent amenities and restaurant options, and has hotels that fit every budget.
I’d also say that if you’re trying to figure out where to stay in San Francisco with kids, Fisherman’s Wharf is the best option. There are a ton of kid-friendly attractions that little ones of all ages will enjoy. Here are some of the best hotels in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood:
- Best Budget Hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf – Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Fisherman’s Wharf – This Holiday Inn Express is in the best location; it’s just a four-minute walk to Fisherman’s wharf. It features a fitness center with modern amenities and three different hotel room options.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf – Hotel Zephyr San Francisco -This nautical-themed hotel is in close proximity to Pier 39 and features modern amenities like a mini-market, game room, and cycling. It’s one of the most unique hotels in the city.
- Best Luxury Hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf – San Francisco Marriott Fisherman’s Wharf– This fabulous pet-friendly hotel is just minutes away from all the top attractions in the neighborhood. Enjoy free coffee in the lobby each morning.
See Related: San Francisco CityPASS Review: Is It Worth It?
2. Russian Hill
If you want to know where to stay in San Francisco near one of the city’s most iconic views, check out Russian Hill. This San Francisco neighborhood is home to the most famous road in the city (and one of the most famous in the country): Lombard Street. This iconic, steep, and winding road contains eight hairpin turns surrounded by gorgeous homes and landscaping.
Russian Hill is one of San Francisco’s original “Seven Hills” and provides breathtaking views of some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, like the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s home to many trendy restaurants and classic cocktail bars. There’s something for everyone on Polk Street, which runs from Market Street to Beach Street and right through Russian Hill.
I’m not gonna lie – if you do decide to stay in Russian Hill, be prepared for a lot of walking up and down hills. Though, I’m sure that can be said for most of San Francisco.
But I promise the views are totally worth it! Take a breather at Saint Frank Coffee shop, just steps away from Polk Street. The Scandinavian minimalist design, great coffee, and good vibes will make all the walking worth it. To sum it up, here are some of the best things to see and do in Russian Hill:
- Take a walking tour of the iconic Lombard Street (or drive if you’re feeling brave)
- Go shopping on Polk Street
- Enjoy a fantastic cocktail at Macondray
- Take in the majestic San Francisco skyline at Ina Coolbrith Park
- Check out the San Francisco Art Institute’s Chestnut Street campus art galleries
- Ride the famous San Francisco cable cars through Russian Hill (one of the most scenic cable car routes)
Russian Hill is another great location for first-time visitors to The Bay Area. It’s a bit ritzier than Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s also great if you’re looking for a quieter place to stay.
Russian Hill is mostly residential, so you can find many charming vacation rentals as opposed to hotels. This is perfect if you’re planning an extended stay in San Francisco. Here are some of the best hotels and vacation rentals in the Russian Hill neighborhood:
- Best Budget Vacation Rental in Russian Hill – Classic and Cozy Studio – This charming studio boasts a ton of natural sunlight and a location that can’t be beaten. It’s just one block from the Powell-Hyde line and a few blocks from Lombard Street.
- Best Mid-Range Vacation Rental in Russian Hill – Sunny Top Floor Apartment – This affordable two-bedroom can accommodate up to six guests and is beautifully decorated. Enjoy amazing views of the bay from this top-floor apartment.
- Best Luxury Vacation Rental in Russian Hill – Luxury Russian Hill Penthouse – If you want to envision yourself living the dream life in San Francisco, this penthouse is the perfect place to say. It features a gourmet kitchen and luxurious modern amenities.
See Related: Best Vacation Rentals in California
3. Nob Hill
Nob Hill offers the perfect mix of upscale luxury and fun and exciting tourist attractions. This San Francisco neighborhood was once home to some of the wealthiest railroad barons, and that sense of extreme wealth can still be felt today through its fancy hotels and historic mansions.
The “big four” railroad barons were the first to build in Nob Hill, though three of the four mansions, unfortunately, burned down during the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. You can still see the remaining mansion today; the historic building is located at the corner of Mason Street and California Street.
Another historic building in the Nob Hill neighborhood is the beautiful Grace Cathedral. Unfortunately, the original cathedral also perished in the earthquake but was rebuilt, with work starting in 1927.
Other historic buildings include the Fairmont Hotel and the Nob Hill Masonic Center. Here are some of the best things to see and do in Nob Hill:
- Admire the stunning Grace Cathedral
- Stroll through the charming Huntington Park
- Visit the San Francisco Cable Car Museum for a true San Francisco experience
- Have a cocktail at Top of the Mark in the Mark Tompkins Hotel
- Catch a concert at the Nob Hill Masonic Center
- Go on a gold, ghosts, and ghouls tour of Nob Hill and Union Square
Nob Hill is definitely the best place to stay in San Francisco for luxury travelers. The city’s swankiest hotels can be found in this stunning neighborhood.
Nob Hill is centrally located, and it’s super convenient to visit some of San Francisco’s other popular neighborhoods, including Russian Hill, Chinatown, and Pacific Heights. Here are some of the best hotels in Nob Hill:
- Best Budget Hotel in Nob Hill – Holiday Inn San Francisco – This centrally located hotel features an on-site restaurant and an outdoor rooftop pool. There is a 24-hour front desk, and laundry services are available, as well.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in Nob Hill – Stanford Court San Francisco – This beautiful boutique hotel features impressive views of the San Francisco skyline and a state-of-the-art fitness center. Guests love the bar and lounge, which serves craft beers and whiskey.
- Best Luxury Hotel in Nob Hill – The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco – As one of the best luxury hotels in San Francisco, this Ritz-Carlton is known for its elegant decor and superb food and beverage options. Choose from 24/7 in-room dining, the club lounge, The Lounge bar, or the Parallel 37 restaurant.
See Related: Best Botanical Gardens in California to Visit
4. Union Square
If you’re looking to do some retail therapy in San Francisco, there’s no better place to go than Union Square, located in the heart of downtown San Francisco. The neighborhood surrounds the Union Square public plaza north of Market Street.
When visiting San Francisco, Union Square definitely shouldn’t be missed. It’s the center of the city and is home to some of San Francisco’s best shopping spots and theaters.
The downtown San Francisco neighborhood offers many hotels within walking distance of the city’s theater district. Powell Street, one of Union Square’s main thoroughfares, is lined with some of the city’s most exciting bars and restaurants, like Golden Gate Tap Room and Sam’s Cable Car Lounge. It’s one of the most fun neighborhoods in San Francisco.
Along with bars, restaurants, and shopping, Union Square is home to a notable amount of art galleries. My favorite is the Keane Eyes Gallery, which celebrates the work of Margaret Keane.
Her life story is absolutely fascinating and was featured in the film Big Eyes. These are just some of the things you can enjoy while in Union Square:
- Shopping and admiring the city skyline through the glass dome of Crocker Galleria
- Visiting the neighborhood’s namesake, Union Square, a beautiful historic plaza
- During winter, Union Square hosts a fun and romantic holiday ice rink
- Admire Margaret Keane McGuire’s iconic artwork at the Keane Eyes Gallery
- Stroll down Geary Street for a fantastic mix of boutique shops and art galleries
- Catch a live show in the theater district (San Francisco Playhouse is a great option for broadway plays)
- Go clubbing at Love+Propaganda
- Sit for coffee, walk your dog, or let the kids play on the jungle gym at St. Mary’s Square
- Head south to the SoMa (South of Market) district and visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Yerba Buena Gardens
If you’re looking for some of the best hotels in San Francisco, Union Square is the place to be. It’s also a great location for business travelers as Union Square sits in the heart of downtown San Francisco.
In Union Square, luxury hotels are a dime a dozen, but you can also find accommodations for almost any budget. If you don’t mind spending a bit more for the convenience and central location, Union Square is a fantastic neighborhood. Here are some of the best hotels in Union Square:
- Best Budget Hotel in Union Square – Inn at Union Square – This boutique hotel is centrally located right in the heart of Union Square. Each room is elegantly decorated, and some are even equipped with a fireplace.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in Union Square – Orchard Garden Hotel – If you appreciate eco-friendly hotels, the Orchard Garden Hotel is the place for you. The hotel features a rooftop garden, organic bath products, and an on-site restaurant, Roots, which uses sustainable ingredients.
- Best Luxury Hotel in Union Square – Hotel Nikko San Francisco – This five-star pet-friendly hotel features breathtaking views, sleek modern decor, and even a pet relief area. One of the most stunning parts of this hotel is the enclosed rooftop pool area. You can’t miss Hotel Nikko’s American-Japanese fusion restaurant, Anzu.
5. North Beach
North Beach is a fun and lively San Francisco neighborhood surrounded by Chinatown, the Financial District, and Russian Hill. It’s located in the northeast part of the city and is known for its deep Italian roots. Within the North Beach neighborhood, you can find streets lined with traditional Italian trattorias and bars with retro vibes.
If you’d love to learn more about San Francisco’s history, the North Beach neighborhood is a great place to do it. It’s still home to an Italian-American community with strong roots in the neighborhood.
Visitors can enjoy exceptional Italian cuisine at places like The Stinking Rose, Cotogna, and Original Joe’s. Relax after your meal by strolling through Washington Square Park.
If you want to learn more about the Beat Generation, a movement by young authors in the 1950s, you can do that by visiting City Lights Booksellers & Publishers and at The Beat Museum. At the intersection of Broadway and Columbus Avenue, you can see the permanent art installation Language of the Birds, which is a collection of seemingly flying illuminated books. Some of the best things to see and do in North Beach include:
- Enjoy the scenic hike up to Coit Tower for stunning panoramic views of San Francisco Bay
- Browse through three levels of books, art, and poetry at City Lights Booksellers & Publishers
- Enjoy the historic Washington Square Park and playground
- Learn about some Beat Generation icons at The Beat Museum
- Take photos of the iconic (and super steep!) Filbert Street
- Enjoy the delicious cuisine and funky retro Italian vibes at The Stinking Rose
- Take in all the sights and sounds along Columbus Avenue
- Admire the beautiful architecture and stained glass windows of Saints Peter and Paul Church
North Beach is one of the best areas to stay in San Francisco for families. While the part of North Beach near Columbus Avenue is known for its late-night bar scene, you can find quieter, family-friendly areas closer to Telegraph Hill and the Embarcero neighborhoods. Here are some of the best accommodations in North Beach:
- Best Budget Hotel in North Beach – Hotel Boheme – Located close to North Beach’s best Italian restaurants, Hotel Boheme is a charming little hotel that transports you back to the 1960s. It’s the perfect place to be based while you explore this historic area.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in North Beach – Washington Square Inn – This gorgeous hotel is decorated with gold, wood, and hunter-green accents. Some rooms feature cozy fireplaces, while others will dazzle you with stunning views of the city.
- Best Luxury Vacation Rental in North Beach – North Beach Apartment – Equipped with two bedrooms, a large kitchen, and a spectacular rooftop deck, this apartment is perfect for families. The hosts can also provide a pack N play, stroller, and car seat if needed.
See Related: Most Exotic Places in California to Visit
6. Embarcadero & Financial District
The Embarcadero and Financial District are two small side-by-side waterfront neighborhoods on San Francisco Bay next to the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge. The Financial District is known for its amazing selection of restaurants and cocktail bars, while Embarcadero is an awesome place to stroll along the water.
One of the most popular attractions in the area is the Ferry Building Marketplace. The building’s clock tower has been a San Francisco icon for over 100 years.
Inside the marketplace, you can find all kinds of merchants, from bakeries selling freshly baked bread to bookstores, health and beauty shops, and another Bay Area icon: Blue Bottle Coffee. The Ferry Building also hosts a farmers market every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Almost everywhere you visit in the Financial District will feature dazzling views of San Francisco’s skyline. One of the standouts you’ll see here is the Transamerica Pyramid, a 48-story modernist skyscraper and the second-tallest building in San Francisco.
The neighborhood is home to some incredible date-night spots like Kokkari Estiatorio and The Shota. There’s no shortage of brunch and breakfast options, either. My favorites include Boulettes Larder and Caffe Bianco. Here are some of the best things to do in the area:
- Have a meal at Tadich Grill, San Francisco’s oldest restaurant
- Check out the buzzing marketplace at the Ferry Building
- Take in the views of the Transamerica Pyramid building
- Check out the educational and interactive exhibits at the Exploratorium
- Enjoy a comedy show at The Punch Line San Francisco
The Embarcadero and Financial District are the best areas to stay in San Francisco for safety. You’ll find that after business hours, the Financial District gets pretty quiet.
Public transportation is very accessible from both neighborhoods, and they’re both easily walkable. The only thing that Embarcadero and Financial District lack is good shopping, but Union Square is so close and offers all the shopping you could want. Here are some of the best hotels in Embarcadero and the Financial District:
- Best Budget Hotel in the Embarcadero/Financial District – Club Quarters Hotel Embarcadero – This hotel is located in the heart of the Financial District and includes things like a 24-hour concierge, fitness center, and grocery delivery. You’re also just ten minutes away from the Ferry Building and other great waterfront attractions.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in the Embarcadero/Financial District – Le Meridien San Francisco – The Le Meridien boasts an excellent location and modern amenities. It’s within close walking distance to Chinatown, Union Square, and the cable car lines.
- Best Luxury Hotel in the Financial District – Palace Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel – The Palace Hotel is one of the most sought-after luxury hotels in the city. It represents the epitome of elegance and luxury with its opulent chandeliers, high ceilings, and glass dome indoor pool. Don’t miss an opportunity to have tea at the hotel’s Garden Court Restaurant.
- Best Luxury Hotel in Embarcadero – 1 Hotel San Francisco – 1 Hotel San Francisco is one of the newest luxury hotels to open in the city. The breathtaking property brings the outside in with gorgeous displays of greenery throughout the common spaces. Head up to the rooftop terrace for stunning views of the bay, or relax at the Bamford wellness spa.
7. Marina District & Cow Hollow
The beautiful Marina District neighborhood is one of the best places to view the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. It’s located in North San Francisco between the Russian Hill neighborhood and The Presidio.
Just south of the Marina District and across Highway 101 is the small Cow Hollow neighborhood. The Marina District and Cow Hollow are often combined and can be explored together in a day.
The scenic Marina District is known for its upbeat atmosphere and fun bars and restaurants. Besides the Golden Gate bridge, the most popular landmark here is the Palace of Fine Arts, which sits just on the outskirts of The Presidio and was built in 1915. To the east of the Marina District, you’ll find Fort Mason, which hosts cultural events and includes a park and Farmers’ Market.
Cow Hollow is a bit more residential than the Marina District. It’s among the favorite neighborhoods to live in for affluent young professionals working in San Francisco.
Cow Hollow has some amazing small clothing boutiques, high-end fitness studios, and hip cafes. Here are just some of the best things to do and see in the Marina District and Cow Hollow:
- Head to Crissy Field for the most stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge
- Check out the stunning Palace of Fine Arts
- Stroll through The Presidio Park
- Visit the McElroy Octagon House
- Check out the Wave Organ, which features 25 organ pipes that are activated by the waves of the bay
- Visit the Walt Disney Family Museum
- Shop ’til you drop on Chestnut Street
- Enjoy classic French fare at the Côte Ouest Bistro
The Marina District and Cow Hollow are where to stay in San Francisco if you want to be in between nature and the city. The Presidio is full of wonderful nature trails, but you’re still surrounded by San Francisco’s hottest neighborhoods like Russian Hill and Pacific Heights. Here are some of the best hotels in the area:
- Best Budget Hotel in the Marina District & Cow Hollow – Buena Vista Motor Inn – This budget hotel offers a great bang for your buck when it comes to location and (rare) free parking on-site.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel Rental in the Marina District & Cow Hollow – Days Inn by Wyndham San Francisco – The Days Inn features awesome amenities, including free parking, free breakfast, and free wi-fi throughout the property.
- Best Luxury Hotel in the Marina District & Cow Hollow – Infinity Hotel SF, Ascend Hotel Collection -This charming hotel features a fun indoor courtyard with a fire pit, lounge chairs, and tons of greenery. It’s located right between the Marina District and Cow Hollow.
See Related: Best Spring Break Destinations for Families
8. Alamo Square
Alamo Square is a small, mostly residential neighborhood located north of Market Street and just under Japantown and Pacific Heights. It also neighbors the Civic Center neighborhood. The neighborhood surrounds its namesake, Alamo Square Park, and is home to some of San Francisco’s most gorgeous Victorian homes.
If you’re a Full House fan like me, you have to visit Alamo Square! Why? It’s home to the iconic Painted Ladies, the beautiful pastel rowhouses featured in the show’s introduction.
These iconic houses are located on Steiner Street between Grove Street and Hayes Street. The best place to view them is definitely from Alamo Square Park.
This neighborhood is the perfect place to stroll and wander. You can admire other Victorian mansions like the William Westerfield House.
Adjacent to Alamo Square is the Fillmore District, home to the city’s most popular jazz clubs. The Fillmore is one of the most popular music venues in San Francisco. To recap, here are some of the fun and best things to do in and near the Alamo Square neighborhood:
- Visit the iconic Painted Ladies
- Even better, take this San Francisco Movie Sights City Tour
- Have a picnic in Alamo Square with the Painted Ladies as your backdrop
- Go on a free walking tour of Alamo Square, courtesy of the SF Public Library
- Have dinner at Alamo Square Seafood Grill
- Catch a show at The Fillmore
Alamo Square is the best neighborhood if you’re looking for where to stay in San Francisco on a budget. Instead of high-end, ultra-luxury hotels, you’ll find charming bed and breakfasts set in beautiful Victorian buildings. This neighborhood is scenic and beautiful without being pretentious. Here are some of the best accommodations in Alamo Square:
- Best Budget Hotel in Alamo Square – Casa Loma Hotel – This European-style hotel is perfectly located between some of San Francisco’s most popular neighborhoods. Rooms range from a standard with a shared bathroom to a private deluxe room.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in Alamo Square – The Grove Inn – The classy Grove Inn is just a few steps away from the pastel-colored Painted Ladies and features quaint but modern guest rooms.
- Best Luxury Hotel in Alamo Square – Chateau Tivoli Bed and Breakfast – Chateau Tivoli is located in the heart of Alamo Square. The decor truly transports guests to an eccentric French chateau with its ornate rugs, claw-foot tubs, and oversized wooden bedframes.
See Related: Where to Stay in San Diego
9. Sunset District
The Sunset District is a large area actually made up of several small neighborhoods: Outer Sunset, Inner Sunset, and Parkside. The district sits smack dab in the middle of Golden Gate Park and Lake Merced Park. Outer Sunset sits on the shores of Ocean Beach, and Parkside is adjacent to the wonderful San Francisco Zoo.
Throughout this charming area, you’ll find lots of restaurants and cozy cafes. A local favorite coffee shop is Andytown Coffee Roasters, where you can enjoy coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and pastries.
If you’re searching for somewhere to take a mid-day break, a great option is Sunset Reservoir Brewing Company. For eateries closer to the seaside, check out Java Beach Cafe and Beach’N SF.
If you want to explore bigger green spaces in San Francisco, the Sunset District is surrounded by wonderful parks like Golden Gate Park, The Presidio, and Mile Rock Beach. Take a bike ride to the Pacific shoreline of San Francisco, and you’ll end up at Ocean Beach.
On the way there, you may pass sights like the 16th Avenue painted steps or the de Young Museum. The San Francisco Botanical Garden is also located in Golden Gate Park. Some of the amazing things to see and do around the Sunset District include:
- Play on the shores of Ocean Beach
- Visit the San Francisco Zoo
- Stroll through Golden Gate Park
- Do some shopping at the Outer Sunset Farmers’ Market
- Enjoy the beachfront Lower Great Highway Trail
- Explore the gorgeous Queen Wilhemina Tulip Garden
- Enjoy some fresh seafood at Hook Fish Co
- Go fishing at Lake Merced Park
The Sunset District is where to stay in San Francisco to escape the bustling city center and enjoy nature. It’s a great location for families and couples who don’t mind being away from the main downtown San Francisco area. Here are some of the best hotels and vacation rentals in the Sunset District:
- Best Budget Hotel in the Sunset District – Rodeway Inn & Suites San Francisco – The Rodeway Inn & Suites is basic but has everything you need for a place to stay in the Sunset District. You also can’t beat its location directly across from Ocean Beach.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in the Sunset District – Mirage Inn and Suites – The Mirage Inn is unassuming from the outside but features modern rooms. It’s close to the San Francisco Zoo and Ocean Beach.
- Best Luxury Vacation Rental in the Sunset District –Spacious Modern House – If you’re looking for beautiful seaside accommodations for your family, this is a great option. It features three bedrooms and is also close to Golden Gate Park.
See Related: Best Road Trips in California (+ Scenic Drives)
10. Pacific Heights
The posh Pacific Heights neighborhood sits just south of the Marina District and Cow Hollow. It’s also just next to the southeastern portion of Presidio Park. When you think of a quintessential San Francisco neighborhood with colorful historic buildings and the perfect mix of eclectic boutiques and restaurants, that is exactly what Pacific Heights embodies.
Pacific Heights’ busiest street is Fillmore Street, which runs north to south through the middle of the neighborhood. Here, you’ll find amazing local shops and cuisine from all corners of the world.
Awesome cocktail bars like Palmer’s Tavern, The Snug, and Harry’s Bar are all in the same area and perfect for pre-dinner drinks. Noosh and La Mediterranee will get you sorted if you love Mediterranean flavors.
Between meals, stroll around Pacific Heights for the perfect mix of upscale and local boutique shopping. If shopping’s not your thing, there’s no shortage of parks and trails to spend your time at. Pacific Heights is right next to Presidio Park, and there are a ton of hiking and walking trails easily accessible from Broadway and Lyon Street.
- Trek the scenic Lyon Street Steps
- Visit Mrs. Doubtfire‘s House at the corner of Broadway and Steiner Street
- Admire some of San Francisco’s most historic homes, including the Spreckels Mansion and Haas-Lilienthal House
- Enjoy the panoramic views from Alta Plaza Park
- Take in the environmental art at Andy Goldsworthy’s Wood Line in Presidio Park
- Hike the Lovers’ Lane trail
- Enjoy a picnic at Lafayette Park
- Have brunch at Sweet Maple in Lower Pacific Heights
Pacific Heights is where to stay in San Francisco if you want to feel like a local. It offers an amazing mix of shopping, restaurants, and green spaces.
The neighborhood is centrally located and within walking distance of some of San Francisco’s top attractions and hottest neighborhoods, so you won’t miss out on anything if you stay here. These are some of the best accommodation options in Pacific Heights:
- Best Budget Hotel in Pacific Heights – Pacific Heights Inn – This no-frills hotel offers basic traditional hotel rooms that include wi-fi and parking. The hotel has a tour desk that can assist you with planning your Bay Area vacation.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in Pacific Heights – The Laurel Inn – The bright and airy Laurel Inn features bright rooms and Instagram-worthy decor. It’s pet-friendly and close to Pacific Height’s greatest attractions.
- Best Luxury Hotel in Pacific Heights – Hotel Drisco – The historic Hotel Drisco was built in 1903 and features some of the most breathtaking architectural elements in the area. The hotel offers all guests a free gourmet breakfast and free evening wine and cheese with small bites daily.
The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood rose to fame in the 1950s and 60s as a vibrant hippie neighborhood in the heart of San Francisco. It hosted famous residents like Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead. Haight-Ashbury’s biggest claim to fame is that it was the home to the “Summer of Love” in 1967, when thousands of young artists and activists traveled to San Francisco to freely express themselves during the height of the hippie “free love” movement.
Haight-Ashbury is characterized by its tree-lined streets, colorful Victorian buildings, and the best thrift stores in San Francisco. Haight-Ashbury is the place to be to soak up the hippie vibes of the past. Head over to Haight Street for an amazing collection of record shops, vintage clothing boutiques, and dive bars.
This lovely neighborhood is next to Golden Gate Park, where you can explore areas like Hippie Hill and the McLaren Lodge. Above Haight-Ashbury is The Panhandle, a long offshoot of Golden Gate Park that is the perfect place to stroll in the evening.
You’ll have no shortage of welcoming coffee shops in this neighborhood to take a break at. Some of the most popular ones are Ritual Coffee Roasters, Coffee To The People, and 1428 Haight Patio Cafe & Crepery.
- Take a sightseeing tour in a groovy 70’s VW Bus
- Go on a free walking tour of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood
- Stop by the That’s So Raven House
- Go thrift shopping on Haight Street
- Stroll through The Panhandle
- Take in the amazing vistas while walking through Buena Vista Park
- Catch a free show at Amoeba Records, one of the largest independent music stores in the world
- Admire the murals on Haight Street and Cole Street
Haight-Ashbury is the where to stay in San Francisco if you love slow, chill vibes. It’s perfect for visitors who want to explore San Francisco at their own pace.
If you believe the best way to get to know a city is through its clothing and music taste, this neighborhood is the perfect place for you. Here are some of the best accommodation options in Haight-Ashbury:
- Best Budget Vacation Rental in Haight-Ashbury – Charming Victorian Flat – This beautiful Victorian apartment is a book lover’s dream. It has a library filled with over 1,000 books for you to enjoy during your vacation.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in Haight-Ashbury – The Metro Hotel – The Metro Hotel is an incredible place to stay in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Each room is uniquely decorated to celebrate the neighborhood’s past and present. Standard rooms and family rooms are available.
- Best Luxury Hotel in Haight-Ashbury – Stanyan Park Hotel – This charming hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Guests can enjoy a wine and cheese hour and evening tea service every weekday.
See Related: Best San Francisco Walking Tours [Free & Guided]
12. Civic Center
When you visit San Francisco, the Civic Center is one area not to miss. This upbeat neighborhood is located in the southern area of downtown San Francisco, directly south of Nob Hill. Some would even argue that Civic Center is the cultural heart of San Francisco as it’s home to multiple performing arts venues and museums.
This gorgeous downtown area is home to some amazing architecture, as well. One of the most stunning buildings in the Civic Center neighborhood is the San Francisco City Hall, built in 1915 and features a breathtaking gold dome.
Across Van Ness Avenue from city hall, you’ll be greeted by two beautiful grand theaters: Herbst Theatre and the War Memorial Opera House. Both historic buildings are still in use today, with the opera house being the home to San Francisco Ballet.
Along the rest of Van Ness Avenue, you’ll find many more theaters and historical buildings. If you are an art lover, you’ll certainly want to stop by the Asian Art Museum adjacent to the Grand Civic Center Plaza. Civic Center is also where you’ll find the San Francisco Public Library.
After a long day of exploring, unwind at the Absinthe Brasserie & Bar, one of the Civic Center’s hottest eateries. Arsicault Bakery offers a wide selection of pastries, fresh-baked bread, dessert, and coffee for breakfast and quick bites. Here are some of the best things to do in the Civic Center neighborhood:
- Watch a Broadway show at The Orpheum Theater
- Go to a concert at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
- Admire the Beaux-Arts architecture
- Enjoy a performance by the San Francisco Ballet
- Check out the San Francisco Symphony
- Admire the world-renowned art at the Asian Art Museum
- Enjoy an opera performance at the War Memorial Opera House
Civic Center is among one of the best places to stay in San Francisco when you’re visiting for the first time. If it’s not your first time, it’s still a great place to stay to be in the middle of all the action.
If you want to experience a ton of entertainment, you won’t be disappointed here. These are some of our favorite hotels in the Civic Center neighborhood:
- Best Budget Hotel in Civic Center – Inn@Market – If all you need are the bare basics, Inn@Market has you covered. This hotel offers basic accommodations in an excellent location close to San Francisco City Hall and The Orpheum Theater.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in Civic Center – YOTEL San Francisco – If you’ve ever stayed at a YOTEL, you know the brand gives an elevated modern take on basic hotel rooms. This hotel features ultra-modern decor, a fitness center, and a ton of common areas to mingle with other guests.
- Best Luxury Hotel in Civic Center – San Francisco Proper Hotel – This stunning hotel is the absolute best place to stay in the Civic Center neighborhood. It features a stunning rooftop terrace, gorgeous guest rooms, and an amazing restaurant, all housed within a historic flatiron building.
13. The Castro
The Castro is internationally recognized as one of the most LGBTQIA+-friendly neighborhoods in the world. It’s also one of the safest neighborhoods in San Francisco due to its strong sense of community, and many families love to call The Castro home. Within this progressive neighborhood, you’ll find fun restaurants and bars and plenty of things to do.
The neighborhood is located south of Market Street and is centered around The Castro Theatre. The historic landmark was built in 1922 and can accommodate over 1,400 attendees for film festivals and live performances. It’s one of many stunning buildings in the neighborhood.
The Castro is not only about ornately-decorated buildings, though. Several expansive parks can be found in and surrounding the neighborhood, including Mission Dolores Park, Kite Hill, and Corona Heights Park.
Historical landmarks for the gay community, like Twin Peaks Tavern and the Rainbow Honor Walk, can be found throughout the area. For the best restaurants in The Castro, head to 18th Street for an amazing selection of global cuisines. These are just some of the things you shouldn’t miss when visiting The Castro:
- Catch an old film or live performance at The Castro Theatre
- Pause at the Pink Triangle Memorial Park, a memorial for queer victims of the Nazi regime
- Have a picnic at the gorgeous Mission Dolores Park
- Visit the GLBT Historical Society Museum to learn more about the community’s leaders that shaped The Castro
- Grab a drink at the historic Twin Peaks Tavern
- Visit the Rainbow Honor Walk, similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame but for LGBTQ+ activists
- Go on a Castro Walking Tour
The Castro is where to stay in San Francisco for safety. It’s certainly the best place to learn more about San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ history. The Castro is located just on the outskirts of downtown San Francisco, so it’s a super convenient place to visit the rest of this dazzling city. Here are some of the best places to stay in The Castro neighborhood:
- Best Budget Vacation Rental in The Castro – Central Castro Garden Apartment – This cheerful two-bedroom apartment is the perfect place to stay in San Francisco if you love the Castro district. It’s great for couples, business travelers, and families.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in The Castro – Parker Guest House – This quaint hotel is close to other popular San Francisco neighborhoods and offers guests homey accommodations with a garden, bright rooms, and a buffet breakfast.
- Best Luxury Hotel in The Castro – The Hotel Castro – The amazing Hotel Castro honors the neighborhood’s past and celebrates its present and future. This 12-room hotel features uniquely-designed guest rooms, each representing an LGBTQ icon.
14. Hayes Valley
Hayes Valley is one of the newest up-and-coming San Francisco hotspots. It’s perfectly situated between Alamo Square, the Haight, and the Civic Center neighborhoods.
In Hayes Valley, you’ll find live jazz performances, fabulous shopping, and a ton of European-inspired cuisine. If you’re looking for a good time in a local San Francisco neighborhood, this is a good place to go.
If you want to mingle with the locals, you’ve come to the right place. Hayes Valley is teeming with popular eateries, pubs, and cocktail bars – and they’re the best way to meet locals.
A favorite among locals and tourists alike is Biergarten, which will transport you straight to the lively beer gardens of Germany. If you can’t get enough of that hearty German cuisine, head over to Suppenküche to enjoy a mix of classic Bavarian fixings with traditional menu items, including pretzels and schnitzel.
Another super popular place to eat in Hayes Valley is Chez Maman West, a French bistro serving up French classics, including crepes and mussels. For fine dining, you’ll want to book a table at Nightbird, which features a California-inspired tasting menu. It also has an attached cocktail lounge, the Linden Room.
You’ll find the best shopping along Hayes Street, Gough Street, and Laguna Street. Shopping here ranges from high-end brand names to small local boutiques.
If you want to take a break from the bustle of the city, there are several wonderful surrounding parks to choose from, including Jefferson Square Park, the Margaret S. Hayward Playground, Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley, and the Page and Laguna Mini Park. Let’s recap the best things to do in Hayes Valley:
- Visit Biergarten, San Francisco’s very own German beer garden
- Catch a show at SF Jazz
- Admire the ever-changing art installations in Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley
- Enjoy a fine dining experience at Nightbird
- Enjoy live music at Rickshaw Stop
- Check out the eclectic mix of live music, art, and gardens at Hayes Valley Art Works
- Grab a drink at the iconic Smuggler’s Cove, a pirate-themed bar with over 700 kinds of rum
Hayes Valley is a great place to stay in San Francisco if you’re looking for a quieter place to stay close to all the action. This charming neighborhood is small and close-knit, but you’re also surrounded by some of San Francisco’s biggest attractions and fun things to do.
It’s also home to great restaurants and awesome bars, so even though it’s quieter than some of its neighbors, it’s definitely not boring here. These are some of the best hotel options in Hayes Valley:
- Best Budget Hotel in Hayes Valley – Oak Hotel – This is one of the most affordable hotels near downtown San Francisco. It’s within walking distance of all of Hayes Valley’s top attractions as well as Union Square.
- Best Mid-Range Hotel in Hayes Valley – Edwardian Hotel – Located in the heart of Hayes Valley, this boutique hotel features uniquely designed modern guest rooms. The hotel is just steps away from some of the neighborhood’s best restaurants and less than 10 minutes from the Civic Center neighborhood.
- Best Luxury Hotel in Hayes Valley – Sonder Hayes Valley – This hotel is great for business travelers and digital nomads. It features fast wi-fi, contactless check-in, and communal workspaces.
How long should I spend in San Francisco?
If you want to experience all that this amazing city has to offer, a few nights isn’t enough. For a full experience, I think you need at least five days for a San Francisco trip. However, if you want to see San Francisco’s highlights, a long weekend in the Bay Area should be sufficient.
What are San Francisco’s most iconic landmarks?
San Francisco is full of icons and historical landmarks. Some favorites include the Painted Ladies, Golden Gate Bridge, and Lombard Street. Presidio Park, the Palace of Fine Arts, and The Castro Theatre are big landmarks. Many also visit Alcatraz island during their visit to San Francisco.
What are the best neighborhoods to stay in downtown San Francisco?
The best neighborhoods to stay in downtown San Francisco are Union Square, Embarcadero, the Financial District, and Nob Hill. These neighborhoods are all part of the downtown area and are so easy to get from place to place, whether walking or using public transportation. They each offer many fun things to do and are stunning.
How far is the San Francisco airport from downtown San Francisco?
The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is 13 miles from the city center. An Uber can range from $35 to $45. You can also take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains from SFO to downtown, which will take around 30 minutes.
Where is the best place to ride a cable car in San Francisco?
Part of what makes San Francisco so unique is its amazing retro cable cars. Out of the three cable car lines in San Francisco, most people consider the Powell-Hyde line, also known as the Blue Line, the best route. You’ll see amazing sights on this line, including Alcatraz, Lombard Street, and Coit Tower.
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Brittney is a lifelong traveler from Oahu, Hawaii. She has visited more than 35 countries and is continually researching new places to explore!