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Where to stay in San Francisco for first time travellers

A comprehensive guide to help you find the best accommodation in San Francisco

Choosing where to stay in San Francisco can get you off to a running start, and help you avoid unwanted mistakes. We've put together a list of places worth considering in the city to start your trip in style and end it with memories of a lifetime.

When we think of the city of San Francisco, most of us envisage the iconic Golden Gate Bridge towering through the clouds of mist with the glittering city beyond. Sitting at the edge of a peninsula and surrounded by ocean on three sides, San Francisco is one of America's most recognisable cities and a coveted spot to explore in California. It has a lot to offer, from enviable cuisine, decadent architecture, renowned museums and art galleries, thriving nightlife scenes, celebrated diversity; and of course amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The city is perfect for families, foodies, couples, LGBTQ crowds, budget to luxury travellers and anything in-between. So what is the best area in San Francisco for first-time travellers?

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Where to stay in San Francisco

The major part of the city is walkable and reasonably compact, but it can be difficult to choose between the multitude of fascinating suburbs in which to stay and soak up the vibes. There's so much on offer among the quaint and hip neighbourhoods that everywhere and anywhere is a divine choice. So deciding what side of San Francisco you wish to see can be a challenge. The most touristy places like Fisherman's Wharf and Haight-Ashbury have their perks, and everyone visiting San Francisco should try the clam chowder bread bowl and spend a day sifting through old records in the beautiful old Victorian houses. But, San Francisco has such a huge range of diversity that there's something and somewhere for everyone to connect with down every street and around every corner. Discover traditional Italian cuisine in North Beach, or indulge in Mexican flavours in The Mission. Experience the contrast of down and out life along the Tenderloin, against the hedonistic lifestyles in Nob Hill and Pacific Heights.

Where to stay in San Francisco

Downtown - For the best shopping and central location

Why stay in Downtown

Downtown consists of several different neighbourhoods in the area between the hills and the waterfront. At the heart of it all is Union Square, which can't be beat for its central location. All the major retail brands are based here as well as a wide range of hotels and accommodations. It's the perfect spot if you want to be in the middle of everything. As the cities main shopping district, Union Square has great links to the main transportation lines, including the quaint and rustic cable car lines that make you feel like you just stepped into an old Judy Garland movie. If that gets you in the mood, there are a host of theatres close to Union Square to catch a show or two. Locals and tourists alike meander through the hectic squares of glittering storefronts and restaurants catering to all budgets.

Why avoid Downtown

Union Square is a crowded and popular area with lots of people flashing their cash. Be aware of pickpockets and keep your valuables safe.

Where to stay in Downtown

Where to stay in San Francisco
Check Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco on Booking.com

Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco

Located five minutes’ walk to the shops and restaurants at Union Square and Yerba Buena Gardens, this San Francisco hotel provides a full-service spa, an adult indoor lap pool and a restaurant.

Select suites feature a view of San Francisco at the Four Seasons San Francisco. Each elegant room is equipped with a seating area, a large soaking bath tub, a flat-screen TV and an iPod docking station. Bathrobes, slippers and large deposit boxes to store valuables are also provided.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Warwick San Francisco

Just 5 minutes’ walk to Union Square Park, this luxurious hotel blends San Francisco Victorian décor with modern amenities like free WiFi in all rooms. A European bar, lounge and restaurant are onsite. Bathrobes, slippers and free Gilchrist & Soames spa toiletries are provided in each modern room. 

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Taj Campton Place

Steps from Union Square, this historic yet modernized hotel features classic European charm and in-room spa services. It includes the 2 Michelin Star rated Campton Place Restaurant and a 24-hour rooftop gym. Each elegant guest room at the Taj Campton Place includes a state-of-the-art sound system.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

North Beach and the hills - For Italian food, classic San Francisco experience and luxury

Why stay in North Beach and the hills

North Beach is the 'Little Italy' of San Francisco, where a passion for pasta, gelato, and espresso comes to life. A place for fabulous food, views and local vibes. The steep residential streets are ideal for wandering and taking in the expanding views of the city. At the top of The Hills, the views don't get much more sublime. The rising towers and skyscrapers punctuate the horizon creating a covetable view whatever the weather. The Telegraph Hill and Russian Hill areas feature the more opulent homes with views towards Nob Hill in the South. The area is commonly known as Snob Hill due to its numerous swanky hotels and grand mansions. Nob Hill is one of the original seven hills of San Francisco and you can definitely sense the nostalgia here. For a taste of the high life stay in one of the many luxury hotels around the Hills.

Why avoid North Beach and The Hills

If you're on a budget, it's best to stay out of accommodation in The Hills and splash your cash on the cities numerous offerings, like the many celebrated restaurants and galleries.

Where to stay in North Beach and the hills

Where to stay in San Francisco
Check Fairmont San Francisco on Booking.com

Fairmont San Francisco

Atop centrally located Nob Hill, this landmark San Francisco hotel features luxurious rooms and suites. A full-service gym and spa and 3 unique dining experiences are available on site. Fairmont San Francisco is the only hotel in the city where all 3 cable car lines meet.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Huntington Hotel

This 5-star hotel, situated at the top of Nob Hill in downtown San Francisco, overlooks Grace Cathedral. This luxury hotel features spacious rooms and an award-winning spa. Every room at the Huntington Hotel is uniquely styled and offers panoramic views of the city. The elegant rooms include a seating area, flat-screen TV and bathrobes.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Nob Hill Inn

This hotel is located in the Nob Hill district of San Francisco and is within a 10-minute walk of Union Square. The boutique hotel offers rooms with a flat-screen TV. Nob Hill Inn rooms include a private bathroom. The rooms have unique décor in the Edwardian style. The suites have a separate seating area.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Northern Waterfront and Pacific Heights - for the freshest seafood and the best views

Why stay in the Northern Waterfront and Pacific Heights

The Northern waterfront features a little of everything. Showcasing glorious views over the water, passing through commercial areas, spots of extensive wealth, some major tourist hotspots, and ending at the site of San Francisco's biggest icon: The Golden Gate Bridge. On the East side of the waterfront is Fisherman's Wharf, where you'll regularly hear the gruff call of a sea lion and taste the cities absolute best seafood. Don't miss the San Francisco classic clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Fisherman's Wharf is arguably the most touristy area in the city, but it's a must do on the list of any visitor. It's also an easy place to base yourself for day trips to Alcatraz, the infamous offshore prison, and the surrounding sights of the bay area. Standing sentry in the Northern Waterfront is Pacific Heights, home to the glamorously wealthy and San Francisco's old money. Here you'll find a plethora of luxury hotels surrounding the heights offering outstanding views over the city, though you'll have to dip deep into your pocket for a room.

Why avoid the Northern Waterfront and Pacific Heights

Fisherman's Wharf is overpriced and unapologetically designed for tourists, but provides easy access for the trip to Alcatraz and Angel Island. It's a better fare for a day trip and to try some serious seafood.

Where to stay in Northern Waterfront and Pacific Heights

Where to stay in San Francisco
Check Hotel Drisco on Booking.com

Hotel Drisco

Built in 1903, Hotel Drisco boasts Edwardian architecture. Atop Pacific Heights on Pacific Avenue, this luxurious San Francisco hotel is only 5 minutes' walk from Presidio National Park. Each guest room provides free WiFi. Guest rooms at this hotel boast modern amenities such as a 42-inch flat-screen HDTV and a Blu-ray player. The en suite bathrooms feature luxury bath amenities and plush microfiber robes.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Jackson Court

Ideally situated in the exclusive Pacific Heights neighbourhood of San Francisco, this magnificent brownstone mansion is close enough to the action of the city, yet far enough away to provide peace and quiet. The charm of this 19th century building and the friendly staff will make you feel at home.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Monte Cristo

In one of the oldest neighbourhoods in San Francisco, California, surrounded by restaurants and shopping, this inn offers unique guestrooms and first-rate services. Monte Cristo Bed & Breakfast serves a continental breakfast featuring fresh fruits, yoghurt, pastries as well as gluten free option.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

South of Market and the Tenderloin - best for foodie travellers

Why stay in South of Market and the Tenderloin

There aren't many places to actively avoid in San Francisco, and you should be as vigilant as anywhere else when travelling to keep yourself and your belongings safe. One particular area to avoid staying in is the Tenderloin, a known area for drug trafficking and less salubrious sights. In the South of Market, one popular spot is the Vertigo Hotel, where the renowned auteur Alfred Hitchcock famously shot his hit film Vertigo. Looking for a hotel in South of market or SoMa maximises your chances of eating your way through the best of dining experiences on offer in the city. If you don't want to stay in a hostel but are still wanting something cheap, there are some nice accommodations here. It's also great to access The Mission, where the burgeoning Latino culture offers up a smorgasbord of delectable eateries.

Why avoid South of Market and the Tenderloin

Wander into the West and South of Downtown into the Tenderloin and the utopian view of San Francisco will fall away to reveal the harsh reality of the cities diversity. The neighbourhood has its fair share of dodgy dealings to be wary of and a startling amount of homeless people.

Where to stay in South of Market and the Tenderloin

Where to stay in San Francisco
Check InterContinental San Francisco on Booking.com

InterContinental San Francisco

Overlooking San Francisco's SoMa area and moments from top city centre sites, InterContinental San Francisco provides guests with modern in-room amenities. Shopping and dining opportunities in Union Square are 10 minutes’ walk away. Spacious accommodations at the InterContinental San Francisco are furnished with all the latest technologies, including flat-screen TVs and iPod clock radios. Guests will also appreciate in-room minibars and coffee machines.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

The Pickwick Hotel San Francisco

Just 2 minutes' walk from Westfield Shopping Centre, this Central San Francisco hotel features a restaurant and bar. It offers traditional guest rooms with free WiFi and cable TV. A fridge and coffee maker are provided in every light-colored room at The Pickwick Hotel San Francisco. The spacious rooms offer a bathrobe and hairdryer for guest convenience.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Hotel Vitale, a Joie de Vivre Hotel

Overlooking San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront, this hotel features an outdoor rooftop terrace, a spa and a restaurant. A flat-screen cable TV and an honour bar are featured in each spacious guest room at Hotel Vitale, a Joie de Vivre Hotel. Plush bathrobes, comfortable slippers and free boutique toiletries are provided in the en suite bathrooms. A spacious work desk and an ergonomic chair are also offered in each guest room.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

The Mission and the Castro - for best Mexican food and experiencing Pride

Why stay in the Mission and the Castro

If San Francisco had a heart, it would beat contentedly from the inner suburbs of the Mission and the Castro. Here, San Francisco's diverse culture and personality pulses through the streets. The areas are filled with galleries, local pop up shops, vibrant bars and restaurants and a thriving, rich nightlife. A melting pot of cultures commandeers the food scene with a mix of hipster cafes, Mexican eateries and traditional taquerias. This is also where you'll find the oldest building in San Francisco - Mission Dolores, built in 1776 and survivor of two earthquakes. The Mission also has the cities largest and oldest collection of murals. You could spend hours wandering the quaint streets in search of hidden gems. The Mission is the heart of Latino expression, whilst the Castro is literally bursting with Pride; an expanding LGBTQ neighbourhood with regular events and always something new to experience. Castro is proud to pronounce itself the “gay capital of the world.” Many B&B's in these areas are housed in beautiful historic buildings and offer home cooked scrumptious breakfasts. The towering heights of Twin Peaks stand nearby, with a hilltop park providing an epic 360 view of the bay area.

Why avoid the Mission and the Castro

In many areas of the city, car break-ins are frequent. Be extra vigilant if choosing to drive in the city, especially in the busier neighbourhoods.

Where to stay in the Mission and the Castro

Where to stay in San Francisco
Check Beck's Motor Lodge on Booking.com

Beck's Motor Lodge

The colorful Castro District in San Francisco is home to this charming motel, nestled on a tree-lined street near local attractions. Free WiFi and free parking are included. A small refrigerator and cable TV are provided in each guest room at Beck's Motor Lodge. An en suite bathroom is included.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

The Willows Inn

Situated in San Francisco, The Willows Inn features free WiFi, 1.2 miles from San Francisco City Hall. A continental breakfast is available every morning at the property.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Business Ready Room in Castro

Business Ready Room in Castro is located in the The Castro district of San Francisco, 1.8 miles from San Francisco City Hall and 1.9 miles from University of San Francisco. Guests may enjoy free WiFi. The holiday home has a cable TV. A dishwasher, an oven and a microwave can be found in the kitchen.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Haight-Ashbury and West of Civic Center - for 60s counterculture and Jazz lovers

Why stay in Haight-Ashbury and West of Civic Center

San Francisco has a rich creative history. Back in the 60s and 70s, famed artists such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Janice Joplin all found a home for their creative and experimental endeavours within the walls of the epicurious city. Haight Ashbury was once the epicentre of the beatnik movement and counterculture. Attracting the poets, wayward creatives and the peace and love campaigns of the 60s and 70s. The bright and colourful Victorian houses in the area are filled with vintage boutiques, tattoo parlours, record stores, and thrift stores. The cities artsy heart still beats in the cracks and corners, but these days it's more hipster than hippy. A more modern counterculture in San Francisco is found to the East in Lower Haight. Nearby is Alamo Square, the perfect pitstop to capture one of San Fran's most quintessential views. The 6 colourfully restored Victorian Houses set against the backdrop of the modern city. Staying around here offers fabulous views over Golden Gate Park, where 60s freedom fighters would stage impromptu music festivals and performances. Next to Alamo Square is Fillmore, a diverse neighbourhood full of a variety of ethnic restaurants and jazz clubs. Connected on the East side is Japantown, San Francisco's vibrant Japanese Quarter.

Why avoid Haight-Ashbury and West of Civic Center

The ‘vibes’ can get a little too strong in Haight Ashbury and there can be political and cultural disputes amongst its residents and those trying to hold onto the past.

Where to stay in Haight-Ashbury and West of Civic Center

Where to stay in San Francisco
Check Stanyan Park Hotel on Booking.com

Stanyan Park Hotel

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Stanyan Park Hotel offers Victorian-style rooms with free WiFi. It serves a daily expanded continental breakfast. Golden Gate Park is steps away. A flat-screen TV, ironing facilities and an en suite bathroom with free toiletries and a hairdryer and provided in each room at this completely non-smoking hotel. Each suite includes kitchen facilities.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Hotel Vitale, a Joie de Vivre Hotel

Overlooking San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront, this hotel features an outdoor rooftop terrace, a spa and a restaurant. Free WiFi is provided in all guest rooms. A flat-screen cable TV and an honour bar are featured in each spacious guest room at Hotel Vitale, a Joie de Vivre Hotel.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Embarcedero and Financial District - for luxury hotels

Why stay in Embarcedero and Financial District

Embarcedero is San Francisco's gateway to the world, and oh “the places you’ll go!” The ferry building stands at the foot of Market Street and houses a food hall, restaurants and a farmers market. The man made treasure Island lies across the bay and is easily reached from Embarcadero’s ferry ports; as well as nearby Marin County, Vallejo, Oakland, and Alameda. Bordering the Financial district is Chinatown, one of the oldest Chinese settlements in the whole of the US. The streets and alleys here are full to the brim with rich street foods and traditional eateries. Head here for a taste of Asian culture, elaborate temples, and some of San Francisco's oldest cocktail bars.

Why Avoid Embarcedero and Financial District

Places close early around Embarcedero and the Financial District, so it's not the best place to find nightlife.

Where to stay in Embarcedero and Financial District

Where to stay in San Francisco
Check Loews Regency San Francisco on Booking.com

Loews Regency San Francisco

Featuring stunning views of downtown San Francisco from each spacious guestroom, Loews Regency San Francisco offers gourmet on-site dining, in-room massage services and easy access to sites such as Chinatown, 7 minutes’ walk away.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Omni San Francisco

Centrally located at the intersection of California Street and Montgomery Street, Omni San Francisco boasts a restaurant and elegant rooms. Offering service to San Francisco International Airport, Montgomery Street BART Station is 6 minutes’ walk from the hotel.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

Club Quarters Hotel in San Francisco

Situated in the heart of San Francisco's business and financial district, Club Quarters Hotel in San Francisco features comfortable hotel in a private club-like atmosphere. Guests enjoy free WiFi throughout the hotel. The Embarcadero and the scenic Ferry Building are 10 minutes’ walk away.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

The Sunset - off the beaten path

Why stay in The Sunset

For good clean fun try the Sunset neighbourhood. Made up of Sunset District and Outer Sunset, providing a relatively calmer area with more of a local vibe. It lies on the outskirts of the Westside, so is a little way out of the city centre. Locals refer to the Sunset as the 'Avenues,' where a grid of attractive pastels houses lay in grids towards Ocean Beach on the West Bay. Sunset doesn't lack attractions, with golden Gate Park sitting on the North side and San Francisco Zoo to the South.

Why Avoid The Sunset

The Sunset is the furthest neighbourhood away from the city centre and is a 30-45 minute drive into the main hub. As it's a local suburban area it's less set up for tourists than other neighbourhoods, but that may be exactly why you'd like to stay there.

Where to stay in the Sunset District?

Where to stay in San Francisco
Check Outer Sunset Home on Booking.com

Outer Sunset Home

Outer Sunset Home offers accommodation in San Francisco, 4.3 miles from University of San Francisco. Guests staying at this holiday home have access to a fully equipped kitchen.

Compare prices and read reviews, check: Booking.com

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Where to stay in San Francisco for first time travellers
Where to stay in San Francisco for first time travellers

Becky Alice Coe is the founder of Findingsummersend.com, where she writes about her travel adventures and disasters. She's lived in England, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand but is still looking for the perfect home. She loves Harry Potter, cats, and discovering charming little secrets from around the world.

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