Do you know the best places to stay in San Francisco? If you choose one, we suggest you go to Union Square, Marina District, Russian Hill, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, North Castro, the Financial District or SOMA. Here’s why. San Francisco is one of the largest cities in California in the United States. It was founded by the Spanish in 1776, the year of the country’s independence. The population grew up around the Mission of San Francisco de Asis, hence the name.
The Gold Rush of 1848 and the San Francisco Earthquake were two turning points in its history that the city was able to fit in, to grow and to rise from the rubble. The city of San Francisco was founded at the bottom of its closed bay because of the advantages it offered to navigation.
The hills, which form such a characteristic urban landscape of this great Californian city, were also a point of defense in the times when the western lands of the United States were a border.
If the primitive San Francisco settled on seven hills – like Rome – the 44 hills that today serve as support for its urban fabric represent a challenge for its citizens, for transport, for services and for those who visit it. Although, it must be said, they do have their charm. Paradoxically, the roller coasters that form its street style have become a tourist attraction.
According to wellness statistics, San Francisco is the second city in the United States by quality of life after Honolulu in Hawaii. That’s not saying much, because it says it all.
The best areas and neighborhoods to stay in San Francisco
Union Square, Marina District, Russian Hill, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, North Castro, the Financial District and SOMA all share the cake of San Francisco’s great attractions, and we choose them as the best neighborhoods to stay in San Francisco.
Each one with its own atmosphere, its own history, its own unique offerings. Districts that offer a variety of accommodations and experiences to choose from alone, as a couple, with friends or family.
The Financial District is perfect to sleep in San Francisco on a business trip, the Union Square area in downtown has a great and varied offer to stay, being the center of everything. In the Marina District, the hotels are all grouped together on practically the main avenue, making it easy to find accommodation.
The SOMA, Chinatown, North Beach and Haight-Ashbury areas are ideal for those looking to stay in historic, dynamic neighborhoods, to integrate among the San Franciscans during the time of their stay or simply because they are fashionable.
It is worth noting that the SOMA and the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is where you can find the greatest variety of sleeping establishments in San Francisco, at all levels.
In order to discover this special Californian city, these are the key districts to stay in San Francisco, one by one:
Union Square is downtown San Francisco, kilometer zero of the city, a preferred setting as it is the historic center of San Francisco. It is formed by the square of the same name and the immediate avenues and streets around it.
The large square is just over an hectare in area and is located in the northeast center of San Francisco just over a mile from the area of El Embarcadero and the seafront. Between the districts of Chinatown and the Financial District.
In Union Square, you can find hotels to stay in San Francisco in a wide range of prices, especially affordable are those that are accommodated in the side streets of Union Square Sutter Street, Powell Street, Post Street or Grant Avenue. There is a lot to choose from.
An urban ecosystem is also perfect for finding themed restaurants and gourmet restaurants from around the world and shops to buy souvenirs of a trip to the U.S. West Coast. Hairdressers, upscale boutiques, art galleries and department stores abound.
Union Square is named after the place where Union supporters gathered during the American Civil War. For that reason, the square was declared a California Historic Landmark. Union Square, as the main urban center, is a very well-connected area with the city’s transportation.
Accommodations in Union Square
Marina District is a small neighborhood located north of downtown San Francisco. It was the place chosen for the 1915 San Francisco Universal Exposition with which the city wanted to send a message to the world, its firm commitment to be reborn after the 1906 earthquake.
The district sits on land reclaimed from the sea and its waterfront is Yacht Harbour, the yachting port, and East Harbour. Marina District is one of the most expensive and exclusive neighborhoods in San Francisco.
It is an area of expensive hotels but, a few, only a few, have prices in an acceptable range to stay in San Francisco and enjoy the city independently (you have to find those hotels). In any case, as mentioned, all hotels are grouped in the same area.
Marina District has incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge and walking to it is one of the recommended walks in the area (on foot or by rental bike) especially when the weather is good. Marina Boulevard, Fillmore Street and Cervantes Street are the streets to find boutiques, souvenir shops and restaurants.
The best restaurants, the ones that offer terraces at the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. In any of them you have to dare to ask for sourdough bread, a very characteristic sour taste bread of the city. It goes well as a mid-morning snack.
Bus lines ensure mobility and connect Marina District with the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area. The bus lines that pass through Marina District are 80 and 22 (red), 51A and C (green). There is also a BART stop, a rapid metro system that crosses the Bay.
Marina District Hotels
Russian Hill is a neighborhood also located north of San Francisco, right at the entrance to the bay and a short distance from Fisherman’s Warf, North Beach, adjacent to Chinatown and a stone’s throw from the water in the Embarcadero area.
It’s a hilly neighborhood, like most, cut off at a square by the system of straight streets. The name Russian Hill comes from the place of a cemetery found by the first settlers who settled in this part of California and which was the burial place of the sailors of the Russian whalers who died during the fishing seasons at sea.
A plaque placed by the Russian government in Vallejo Street recalls the location of the now-defunct cemetery. Over time, Russian Hill has become one of the most elegant neighborhoods in the city of San Francisco.
The views from its heights of the city are exceptional and even more so if you take the cable car to Hyde Street. The cafes, restaurants, boutiques and antique shops along Polk Street or Columbus Avenue, the main streets of Russian Hill, give the neighborhood a European and bohemian feel that visitors to the district remember.
But the area’s most popular attraction is Lombard Street, a winding, iconic street seen in hundreds of movies and TV shows. It is said to be the steepest street in the world.
This peculiar street was created in 1922 to overcome the 27º slope of the hill. The worst thing is the queue that forms every day to go down it by car in an evocative route in the middle of period houses.
We recommend seeing Rivera’s paintings at the Art Institute of San Francisco (800 Chestnut Street), the Ina Coolbrith Park, a small but charming urban park (between Vallejo and Taylor streets).
Columbus Avenue is a typical place to eat and find nightlife. In its best restaurants, you should order the typical San Francisco crab dishes: dungeness crabs or crab cioppino.
Getting around on Russian Hill is easy with the city’s bus system. The key lines are 45 (to Safeway and Whole Foods Market), 28 (to Crissy Field) and 73 (to Oakland Airport). There is a fast BART subway stop for crossing to the other side of the bay and beyond.
Accommodations in Russian Hill
Chinatown, San Francisco’s Chinatown, is the oldest in North America and one of the largest Chinese communities outside of the Asian country. The neighborhood began to be built in the 1840s and today is a very important tourist attraction for the Californian city.
The district occupies an area of about two square kilometers between Montgomery Street, Columbus Avenue and the Financial District to the east, and Union Street and North Beach to the north. To the southeast, Chinatown is bounded by Bush Street and Union Square.
The neighborhood is dominated by narrow streets, which is why the few free areas are prominent places to meet. That is the case of Portmouth Square where you can see many neighbors practicing tai-chi and old people playing chess.
As for what to see in Chinatown, a photo stop at the famous Dragon Gate is a must. Three references: on Stockton Street, the oriental atmosphere is even more striking, you should not miss the neighborhood’s night market, nor, of course, the museum of the Chinese Historical Society of America that tells in a very reliable way the historical process that the Chinese communities in San Francisco and California lived.
Chinatown is a preferential place that should be on the roadmap of those who want to make original purchases in San Francisco. The neighborhood is very well connected to the city’s combined transportation system, which is otherwise accessible to people with reduced mobility.
The accommodation in Chinatown is very varied, for all kinds of pockets and is characterized by its pronounced typology.
Fisherman’s Wharf is the waterfront of the North Beach neighborhood. It is a district formed by a few blocks also at the edge of the entrance to the San Francisco Bay, north of the historical center of the city. The neighborhood runs from Ghirardelli Square and the Van Ness Avenue area eastward to Pier 35 and the Kearny Street area.
This is a very, very touristy area. The highlight of Fisherman’s Wharf is the popular Pier 39. Pier 39 is a new pier in the area (1978) opened as a shopping center and is geared towards families with children.
There are shops, restaurants, a Marine Mammal Interpretation Center, and the Bay Aquarium. An unforgettable experience is the direct observation of sea lions, seals and walruses in the vicinity. The views of Angel Island, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge are also part of the natural attraction of the place.
At the cafeterias or restaurants on Pier 39, you can order the classic It’s-it, a kind of ice cream sandwich with buttered dough inside that’s all covered in chocolate. A delicacy. And, for hot days, there are the popsicle, ice pops with a stick of many flavors also typical of San Francisco.
Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 can be reached by bus on lines 27 (to and from the Golden Gate), 38 (red) and 80 (green). However, the experience of getting to Fisherman’s Wharf (with your family) is a great one if you take the city’s historic streetcar, the F Market & Wharves.
Other attractions in the area include the Musée Mécanique, a permanent exhibition of automatons and the Wax Museum. On Pier 45, there is a small chapel that recalls the memory of the fishermen who disappeared at sea in the San Francisco area and in Northern California.
This is not a particularly suitable environment to stay in, if you are looking for peace and quiet. But, if you’re looking to stay in San Francisco on the site of its most popular tourist attraction, then the place is perfect.
Accommodations in Fisherman’s Wharf
North Beach is the Italian quarter of the city of San Francisco. The Italian immigrant population has settled here since the second half of the 19th century. North Beach is located northeast of the city center, right next to Chinatown.
North Beach is also known as Little Italy and is a favorite place to enjoy the nightlife of this California city. One of its most outstanding charms is the set of Victorian-style houses built in the 1920s after the 1906 earthquake.
We highly recommend the little hotels and hostels installed in these typical houses, very home-style accommodations that can turn stays into unforgettable memories.
Despite the fact that the population of Italian descent has fallen steadily since the 1980s, the Latin identity is still perceptible in this district. Whether it’s in the shops or at parties like the Father’s Day Parade or Día de la Raza (which runs from Columbus Avenue to Aquatic Park), two of the most important events on San Francisco’s calendar of mass events.
A reproduction of the shrine of St. Francis of Assisi is located in the neighborhood. For culture and book lovers, 261 Columbus Avenue is home to the City Lights Bookstore, a world-famous independent bookstore. Buses 2, 10, 12, 41, 45 and NL connect North Beach with other neighborhoods in the city.
Accommodations in North Beach
North Castro & Haight-Ashbury
North Castro, in the Castro district, is located southwest of Union Square in the interior of the peninsula where the old part of San Francisco lies. In North Castro, is located the foundation of the Franciscan Mission that gave birth to the city. It is an architectural spectacle, especially its chapel (between Dolores Street and 16th Street).
In the neighborhood, you can also enjoy the picture of the Victorian houses that are very representative of the city and that go down – or up – the steep streets of the district. One place to see them is on the corner of 20th and Castro Streets.
San Francisco’s gay community has a landmark space and centers of social activism in the district, between Market Street and Castro Street and all the way up to 19th Street. Pink Triangle Park is reminiscent of the homosexuals who died in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
Castro’s name comes from the neighborhood of José Castro (1808-1860), Mexican governor of San Francisco and a staunch opponent of the integration of the California territory into the United States.
The urbanization of this area took place from 1887 when the city’s tramway extended its network to this space then far from the urban center. The traditional San Francisco streetcar, the F Market, passes through Castro Street and 17th Street, making it a perfect way to get to know, to approach the neighborhood and to connect with other areas of the city.
Castro Street Fair, the Dyke’s March, Halloween, Pink Saturday and the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival are popular events on the city’s calendar that should be taken into account when traveling to San Francisco to learn about its culture and participate in a social immersion in this destination.
For its part, not far away, right next door, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is another popular district of San Francisco. Haight-Ashbury is the cradle of the beatnik movement of the fifties. A creative, counter-cultural and rebellious lifestyle.
Haight-Ashbury is a very good area to find accommodation in San Francisco with charm (hostels, apartments or small city hotels) and at really interesting prices.
Hotels in Haight-Ashbury
The Financial District is the financial district of the city of San Francisco, popularly known as the ‘FiDi’. It is located between Union Square and Sacramento Street south of North Beach and Chinatown, across from El Embarcadero in northeast downtown San Francisco.
Financial District was the first port in the San Francisco area during the Spanish domination. It supported the nearby colony of Presidio, although the wetlands gave many problems to the managers of the Embarcadero.
In the area of the modern Financial District, office towers dominate. The tallest buildings are at 555 California Street, the Trans American Pyramid (an icon of the city), 101 California Street, and 345 California Center.
These are the official or territorial headquarters of banks, finance companies, large real estate companies, as well as law firms. In the Financial District, you can also find some of the most important commercial areas of San Francisco such as the Crocker Galleria, the Embarcadero Center, the Ferry Building and the Rincon Center complex.
Financial Street is very well connected to the rest of the city’s neighborhoods through its integrated urban transportation system (BART, buses 80, 51A, 5R, 31BX, 7, 28, 54, H or NL, in addition to the classic San Francisco streetcar).
In the Financial District, you can find luxury hotels but also other more modest San Francisco sleeping accommodations and even hostels open to all pockets.
Accommodations in Financial District
SOMA is the acronym for South of Market, another of San Francisco’s popular neighborhoods. Ideal for finding cheap accommodation and a variety of formats to lay the foundation stone for memorable stays in San Francisco.
Also because in the vicinity, on Fourth Street (corner of King Street), is located the San Francisco Train Station which guarantees total connectivity with any location in California and other states for long rail (or bus) routes.
The SOMA is located northeast of the historic city center. In the area, you must sign up to see the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and keep an eye on its exhibition calendar.
It is also recommended to enjoy the gardens of the Yerba Buena Island, connected by a bridge over the San Francisco Bay. A perfect place for a family picnic. And if it’s a family trip with children, the Children’s Creativity Museum allows for one-on-one interaction with the principles of science (221 Fourth Street).
San Francisco is an atypical urban travel destination in the United States, as much as it is this decidedly countercultural city of mixed cultures, which has the ocean, Asia and the Orient as very close horizons.