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Where to Stay in San Francisco | Best Areas & Hotels

Where to Stay in San Francisco | Best Areas & Hotels

San Francisco is the fourth largest city in California, with a population of just under 900,000. It doesn’t have as many historic locations as other cities, but there are still plenty of different entertainment venues, interesting shops, and multicultural areas that you can visit.

The city also takes up a space that’s around 230 square miles, so figuring out where to stay in San Francisco can be a bit difficult if you don’t know where you’re going.

But don’t worry. While it sounds overwhelming (it certainly was for us on our first trip to San Fran), there are really only 6 main parts of town we’d want to stay in again; we’ll break down each in detail below.

Where to Stay in San Francisco

Lombard street pictured from the top for a piece on where to stay in San Francisco

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The home of the Giants is a pretty diverse place both in terms of the people that live in this city as well as the architecture you’ll encounter.

There are several seaside locations and parks that offer amazing views, Asian and multi-cultural sections of the city with very distinct buildings, and a lot of shops, restaurants, and nightclubs that you can visit.

Most tourists probably come to San Francisco looking to see the famous Golden Gate Bridge or visit the infamous Alcatraz Island, which was the most notorious prison in the entirety of the US back in the day.

However, there are also many other notable places that you can visit and sights that you can see. There are several art houses and museums that you can visit, like the Exploratorium, the museum of 3D illusions, or the SS Jeremiah O’Brien.

In addition to all of this, you can also find quite a lot of sports courts that you can reserve and use, and of course, you also have Oracle Park, where you can go and hopefully catch a Giants game.

While there are a lot of attractions and places that you can visit, figuring out where to stay in San Francisco is actually pretty easy if you know how you want to spend your trip and what you’re looking for.

The 6 Best Parts of Town

San Francisco map with vector graphics of the most popular attractions

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While the storied Golden Gate Bridge alone warrants a trip to San Francisco, there’s much more to the Golden City than you might think.

The melting-pot nature of the city, the entertainment venues, and even the shops and small cafes that are littered all over the place make pretty much every area of this city worth visiting. That said, some areas are a lot more worthwhile than others.

Here are the ones that we think should top the list of any serious traveler:

  1. Chinatown: For a traditional Chinese meal and a peek into far-east culture
  2. Theater District: The go-to place if you want to catch a show
  3. Financial District: The epicenter of nightlife in the city, among other things
  4. Fisherman’s Wharf: The best place for sightseeing
  5. Marina District: For a little bit of everything
  6. Japantown: The place where you can go to relax and visit some interesting shops

San Francisco’s Best Areas and Hotels

San Francisco has a lot of natural beauty in the form of the many parks that can be found all over the city.

However, as we already mentioned, the aesthetic appeal extends to the diverse architecture as well, stemming from the different styles and ages of the buildings throughout the city.

Regardless of where you stay, there’ll be fun in the vicinity. Let’s dive in to cover each in detail to help you find out which area suits you best.

1. Chinatown

Image of Chinatown for a piece on the best places to stay in San Francisco

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A lot of cities in the US have a Chinatown or an area where the architecture and shops are all Asian-themed, but the Chinatown in San Francisco is probably the largest one that you’ll find and the one that has the most to see.

If you’re lucky enough to be in this part of the city during a celebration, then you’ll see tons of interesting decorations and costumes on display. There’s also plenty to see when there’s no holiday or event as well.

But there’s definitely a lot more effort put into making the celebrations feel special so that tourists have a fun time.

You’ll find an abundance of interesting knick-knack shops where you can find everything from souvenirs to whole stores full of traditional Asian dresses and even antiques that might catch your eye.

You might also like to visit one of the many teashops like the Yifang Taiwan Fruit Tea store or the Cool Tea Bar so you can try some exotic drinks that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the city.

You can also look through the menus of the restaurants in this area and try some dumplings or sweet and sour pork. However, once you get over the novelty value of the Asian aesthetic in this area, you’ll find out that there’s not much to do.

The teahouses and restaurants are all fine and good, but there are no nightclubs and not that many notable tourist attractions that you can visit, so we wouldn’t linger in Chinatown.

Things to Do

  • Participate in one of the many walking tours that are organized in this section of San Francisco every day and learn a bit more about the history of Chinatown and the buildings here.
  • Another walking tour that you can participate in is of the culinary kind, and it takes you through a lot of restaurants where you can try a lot of different types of exotic foods.
  • Visit The Tin How Temple and check out the colorful inside of the oldest Taoist temple in Chinatown, with a history dating all the way back to 1852.
  • Go to The Chinese Historical Society of America and learn a bit more about the history of the Chinese people.

Where to Eat

  • House of Dim Sum is a great place to get some Dim Sum (as you might have guessed from the name).
  • Good Mong Kok Bakery is the best pastry shop in the area.
  • Grant Place Restaurant has an incredibly large menu, and it’s one of the best places in town for some traditional Chinese meals.

Chinatown Budget Hotels

  • Hotel North Beach provides you with a comfy bed, a TV in your room, and a bargain when it comes to the price, but that’s about everything that it has to offer.
  • Grant Plaza Hotel offers 24/7 desk service, a flat-screen TV in every room, and free wifi, but it doesn’t have air conditioning.

Chinatown Mid-Range Hotels

  • Orchard Garden Hotel provides its guests with a rooftop garden and patio where you can enjoy a drink at night, as well as an iPod dock in every room for your gadgets.
  • SF Plaza Hotel has a flat-screen TV in every room in addition to the help desk that’s always available and the free wifi.

Chinatown Luxury Hotels

  • Fairmont San Francisco comes with a fitness center that has all of the gear that you might need to work out, a spa where you can go and relax or get a massage after you’re done, and two different in-house restaurants where you can dine.
  • The Ritz-Carlton allows you to call down to the front desk and order anything that you might like from the menu at any time of the day or night and have it immediately delivered to your room. 

2. Theater District

Orpheum theater in the Theater District, one our our picks for where to stay in San Francisco

Iryna Makukha/Shutterstock

As you might have already guessed from the name, the Theater District is the area of the city that holds the most entertainment venues.

Here, you’ll find several huge theaters, cinemas, and small amphitheaters, all of which you can visit at any time of day, and it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be able to catch a show.

This is where you’ll find the renowned Orpheum Theater, which is arguably one of the oldest and most historic buildings in the entirety of San Francisco. If you go just a bit down the road, you’ll also be able to see both The Strand and The Curran. 

While these two smaller theaters might not have as much historical significance as the Orpheum, they can still provide you with a night of spectacular shows and sights.

If you’re a fan of wizards, The Curran is known for the Harry Potter displays that it holds pretty often, where both young and old fans can go to see some recreations of the more memorable scenes of the books and the movies that might strike that nostalgic nerve.

The Strand is a lot more flexible in terms of the entertainment that it provides, and it’s actually a multi-purpose space that can show both movies and plays. It even has a cafe on the premises where you can get a drink.

This area of the city is pretty barren in terms of attractions that aren’t theater-related. The many entertainment venues are definitely welcome, but if you just want to see some of the attractions that San Francisco is truly known for, then we’ve got other areas to suggest.

Things to Do

  • The first theater that you should visit in this area is the Orpheum, where you can take a tour of the stage or just look up the play program and maybe get a ticket to a show that might have caught your eye.
  • Sit down at one of the many bars and cafes that are located close to the theaters themselves so that you can have a drink before or after the shows.
  • Visit the Westfield Mall and maybe get yourself a new outfit by checking out the many shops that are available here.

Where to Eat

Theater District Budget Hotels

  • Warwick comes with free wifi, a bar where you can get a drink, a lounge where you can enjoy that drink, and a restaurant where you can grab some dinner.
  • Andrews Hotel is located smack dab in the middle of the theater district, and it’s positioned relatively close to a lot of entertainment venues that you might like to visit.

Theater District Mid-Range Hotels

  • King George comes with a small amenity fee, but it provides you with free coffee and tea each morning, an amenities bag, and access to luggage storage during your stay.
  • Staypineapple comes with wifi and a flat-screen TV in every room, 24/7 concierge service, and even a coffee maker where you can make a fresh brew each morning.

Theater District Luxury Hotels

  • JW Marriott allows you to keep a pet in your air-conditioned room, and you can even leave it alone in the room with a show on the flat-screen TV while you go down to the bar and maybe sit down for a drink and relax.
  • Hotel Adagio has both a fitness and a business center that are open all day and night, as well as a call desk that you can call down to whenever you need something.

3. Financial District

Cable cars in the Financial District for a piece on where to stay in San Francisco

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Skyscrapers, crowd-filled streets, and beautiful parks are all things that you can expect to see if you head north from the Oakland Bay Bridge and find yourself in the Financial District of San Francisco.

The name might not inspire a lot of confidence since the impression that it gives is that you’ll find nothing here but “business” and people milling around in stuffy suits, but that’s not the case.

Yes, you’ll also see a lot of people in nice suits, but you can also have a lot of fun here as well. The Financial District is one of the most densely packed areas of the city when it comes to the number of nightclubs and restaurants that you can visit.

In addition to those, there are also plenty of cafes and small shops where you can just go in to grab a drink and maybe sit down to enjoy a live performance.

People that know San Francisco and that want to have a good time on a night out usually take a beeline to the Financial District. There’s always a band playing somewhere, and if a certain bar is too packed, you can easily find one that has enough room for a few more party-goers.

Due to the fact that this section of the city sees a lot of traffic, a lot of the shops, restaurants, and hotels might cost you quite a lot more than in other sections of San Francisco.

You’ll still be able to find places with reasonable prices, but you might also sit down at a cafe and pay more for two beers than you would for your accommodation.

Things to Do

  • Check out the nightclub scene in the area and maybe spend a few nights doing a bar crawl to see how many you’ll be able to get through while you’re still on vacation.
  • Maybe visit Sue Bierman Park and take a walk, do some cardio, or just go to the play area and let your kids have some fun on the playground.
  • Go to the Ferry Building and either order something to eat or visit the local market for fresh produce to beat that inevitable hangover.
  • Nights out aren’t limited to clubbing—go for a fancy four-course meal in one of the many sensational restaurants in this area.

Where to Eat

Financial District Budget Hotels

  • Club Quarters offers free wifi, a flat-screen TV, an AC unit, and a coffee machine in every room so that all of the guests can enjoy the amenities that are provided.
  • Hilton San Francisco comes with an on-site restaurant and bar where you can sit down and relax, as well as both a fitness and a business center.

Financial District Mid-Range Hotels

  • Hyatt Regency provides all guests with access to the fitness center that’s always open, as well as a restaurant with an impressive wine list.
  • Galleria Park Hotel offers coffee and tea services each morning in the lobby, as well as a wine tasting each night so that every day starts and ends on a good note.

Financial District Luxury Hotels

  • Four Seasons has a great view of the city from almost every room, a restaurant that provides a wide variety of different food for on-site dining, and even a massage service that comes up to your room.
  • Palace Hotel comes with a fully-stocked drinks bar, a glass dome indoor pool, and glass chandeliers that hang all around the hotel and make the in-house restaurant feel as fancy of a dining experience as any 5-star restaurant.

4. Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf area, one of the best places to stay in San Francisco

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This area is one of the most popular spots where tourists routinely congregate. The many fishing boats here can either be chartered if you want to go out on the water, or you can simply buy a ticket and get on one of the many tourist trips that take you all over the coast of San Francisco.

Chartering a boat allows you to ask the captain to take you to some of the most popular fishing spots where you can spend a nice relaxing afternoon just watching the hook bob up and down until you get a bite.

Alternatively, you can promenade over the waves and enjoy the scenic marina. The many tour buses in this area can give you a rundown of some of the most historically significant buildings and regions of the city.

And the tour boats can take you out to see the Golden Gate Bridge from an angle that you could never get from the land. The outskirts of Treasure Island are not far either, and you can take a tour of Alcatraz or visit Ghirardelli Square.

The wharf itself is also home to some pretty great sea-themed restaurants that have expansive menus that are full of exotic types of fish, as well as locally procured fresh catches of the day.

If you’re not a fan of fish-themed dishes, and you’re not really all that interested in tours of the city, then this location might be a bit boring for you. There aren’t many nightclubs, cafes, or notable shops that you can visit, and the sights get stale after a few days.

Things to Do

  • Go on one of the many tours that are organized several times a day for the infamous Alcatraz island Prison, and see this historic location for yourself.
  • See some pretty interesting works in the Cartoon Art Museum that’s just next to the Maritime Museum, which also has some fascinating displays.
  • Musée Mécanique has some old-school arcade games that you can spend a whole afternoon just playing as long as you have a handful of quarters.
  • Go to the nearby Great Meadow Park at Fort Mason, walk around, and maybe explore the community garden or the Black Point historic gardens.

Where to Eat

  • The Baked Bear is a great place to get a frozen treat on a hot summer day
  • Pier Market Seafood Restaurant is a great place to grab a quick bite to eat
  • The Fisherman’s Wharf chowder and crab sidewalk stands are where you can find a lot of different food that you can try out.

Fisherman’s Wharf Budget Hotels

  • Travelodge by Wyndham provides you with free wifi and coffee makers in every room, and while the rooms might not be luxurious, they’re really cheap.
  • Holiday Inn Express Hotel has a fully-equipped fitness center that all of the guests can take advantage of, as well as free wifi and cable TV in every room.

Fisherman’s Wharf Mid-Range Hotels

  • Riu Plaza provides you with coffee and tea-making facilities, a safety deposit box where you can store your valuables, and an outdoor pool. 
  • Hotel Caza has an outdoor swimming pool that guests can enjoy, an in-house restaurant, and even billiard tables in the lounge.

Fisherman’s Wharf Luxury Hotels

  • Argonaut Hotel is located right next to the beach, all of the rooms and their insides are nautically themed, and you also get access to a full fitness center, free yoga gear that you can rent out, and even a yoga channel on the TV in each room.
  • Hyatt comes with a heated seasonal pool that’s surrounded by lights for a night dip, a hot tub, a reception desk that’s there for you at any time of the day, and a free breakfast each morning with a lot of options to choose from.

5. Marina District

The palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District, one of the best places to stay in San Francisco

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It’s easy to see how people might confuse this area of San Francisco with the previous one that we mentioned since the Marina District is located in the same general area of the city and is only separated from Fisherman’s Wharf by Fort Mason Park.

However, the main difference between the two would be the larger number of shops, bars, and restaurants in the Marina District. The Marina District still has a lot of tourism and both bus and boat tours that you can get on to learn a bit more about the history of the city.

However, it also has a few historic buildings like the Palace of Fine Arts, which was constructed back in 1915. The north side of this area is also full of beach-side restaurants and bars that can allow you to either grab a drink or just enjoy yourself in the sun.

You could also come back to the beach at night for a party in one of the many nightclubs in this area. The jogging track and fitness facilities located near the pier are also a place of interest for many.

If you’re ever in the mood to work up a sweat and lift some weights or maybe just take a simple stroll by the sea, then Marina Green Park is a great place for you.

The Marina District has a little bit of everything, but it doesn’t really have any distinguishing attractions. The nightlife is decent but not as good as in the Financial District. There are a few historical buildings, but nothing all that memorable.

Moreover, there really aren’t that many visitors that come here, and the number of hotels is limited, so we’d advise a one-day excursion here at most.

Things to Do

  • Go for a walk by the lake and visit the Palace of Fine Arts if you want to see a Romanesque design with giant sweeping arches.
  • If you’re a fan of baseball, you can visit the Moscone Softball Fields and either rent it out or just watch a local game that’s going on.
  • You can go to the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and check to see if there’s an event or celebration that’s scheduled.
  • Go to the Marina Airfield Historical Marker and soak up some of the history while also sitting down for a coffee in one of the cafes around this place.

Where to Eat

Marina District Budget Hotels

  • Super 8 is a pretty small hotel that provides all of its guests with free parking and wifi, as well as a flat-screen cable TV.
  • Greenwich Inn has very simple rooms, but they don’t cost too much money and come equipped with an HD TV.

Marina District Mid-Range Hotels

  • Cow Hollow Inn provides a TV and AC unit in every room, a vending machine in the lobby if you want to grab a snack, and a front desk that’s open 24/7.
  • Hotel Del Sol gives you access to an outside pool with a lounging area, as well as free wifi and cable TV in every room.

Marina District Luxury Hotels

  • Comfort Inn provides all of the guests with coffee and tea making facilities, cable TV in every room, a complimentary breakfast each morning that comes with waffles, and you even have access to the weekday newspaper in the lobby.
  • Infinity Hotel SF gives you access to an on-call desk that’s available to you 24/7, all of the rooms come with free wifi, a cable TV, and an AC unit, and you even have a fire pit that you can sit around in the lounge.

6. Japantown

Aerial view of one of our picks for where to stay in San Francisco, Japantown

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SImilarly to Chinatown, this area of the city gives you a unique insight into Japanese architecture and culture.

There are plenty of historic buildings in this area, and while they might not be as old as some of the buildings in the Chinatown district, most of them still have quite a lot of history behind them.

This is without a doubt the best place in the city where you can go if you’re in the mood for traditional Japanese food. There are plenty of different sushi shops scattered all over the place, you can find ramen stalls here and there.

And you can even find a few shabu-shabu restaurants if you’re in the mood for something even more exotic. You can visit the courtyard plaza and either take a walk by the five-tiered Peace Pagoda or try to catch one of the many community events that are held in this area.

We’d personally recommend trying to catch the annual Cherry Blossom Festival that happens in early April every year. Japantown is a pretty small section of the city, so it doesn’t have all that many attractions or even hotels.

The shops and unique entertainment venues around this area help keep guests entertained and interested enough to look around for a few days and explore, but not many people stay in this district for longer than that.

Things to Do

  • If you want to have some fun with your friends, you can go to one of the many karaoke venues and just scream your heads off trying to hit the notes to your favorite songs.
  • If you want to relax, you can go to one of the many Asian-style spas in this area and just lounge around.
  • Visit some of the more unique markets in this area that have special food items that you won’t be able to find in any other area of the city.
  • Have a night out and enjoy the restaurants that are littered all over the place in Japantown, all of which have interesting menus.

Where to Eat

Japantown Budget Hotels

  • Inn on Broadway is actually located a bit outside of Japantown, but it still places you relatively close to the area so that you don’t have to walk for too long.
  • Pacific Heights Inn provides you with free parking and wifi, a front desk that’s on call 24/7, and each room comes with cable TV.

Japantown Mid-Range Hotels

  • Queen Anne provides a free continental breakfast each morning for all of the guests, free wifi and a flat-screen TV in every room, and a lounge area where people can just relax and enjoy the English and American antiques that decorate the place.
  • The Laurel Inn has free wifi and a flat-screen TV in every room, as well as a coffee and tea service that’s available all day and all night.

Japantown Luxury Hotels

  • Hotel Kabuki provides you with a beautiful garden that you can relax and lounge in, a bar where you can get a drink that you can enjoy in that garden, as well as a flat-screen TV in every room, and an on-site fitness center.
  • Hotel Drisco provides the guests with 24-hour room service, and you can call the help desk at any time; you get coffee and tea making facilities in every room and a sound sleep machine in every room.

So, Where Should You Stay in San Francisco?

San Francisco has a lot of hotels that are scattered all over the place. Some areas are naturally going to have more than others, but even if you don’t find accommodations in the exact area that you visit, you’re still very likely to get a room that’s relatively close by and just walk to the attractions that you want to see. 

Even if you’re a bit further away than you might like, the city has public transportation that will take you pretty much anywhere, and the tickets are only 3-5 dollars. If you’re still unsure where to stay in San Francisco, let’s briefly remind you of the options.

Hyatt is a very reliable chain of hotels, and they can usually be found in all of the major cities, so if you’re looking to find a place to stay with as many comforts as possible, then we’d recommend the one in Fisherman’s Wharf.

Hilton is another chain that usually has good facilities and can provide you with a decent room in pretty much any location that you find a hotel in, and this naturally applies to the one that we mentioned in the Financial District.

When it comes to budget hotels, anything is fine as long as you have a clean bed and a private bathroom, but we’d recommend going to the Grant Plaza hotel if you’re staying in Chinatown.