Where to Stay in San Francisco: A Complete Guide

road in between buildings

After seven years in San Francisco, I still find traveling to different neighborhoods in the city such an adventure. The city is only seven by seven miles, so every mile or so you walk, the vibe shifts slightly. If you’re visiting San Francisco and trying to figure out where to stay, I’m about to share my complete guide on the 11 neighborhoods you should know about, so you can pick what suits your likings and travel plans best.

Financial District

road in between buildings
Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

The Scene

As the neighborhood name implies, this is where all the investment banks, consulting firms, and financial companies have set up shop. Aside from these big corporations, there are also many tech companies and other businesses here.

Who It’s For

This is the a good option for anyone who’s visiting San Francisco on a business trip and needs easy access to offices in Financial District (FiD). Would I recommend someone stay here while visiting San Francisco though? Probably not.

Nearby Attractions

Where to Stay

The Garden Court
Photo by Palace Hotel

Mission District

The Scene

There’s no doubt Mission District is the hippest neighborhood in SF. It has some of the city’s best coffee shops, restaurants, and boutique shops. And of all the big cities I’ve visited, SF still has the best Mexican food. If you decide to pop by this neighborhood, be sure you check out these Mexican restaurants: El Farolito, Taqueria Cancun.

Who It’s For

This neighborhood has something for everyone, but is probably most suitable for students, millennial travelers and young families. The area can get pretty rowdy and isn’t the cleanest of the neighborhoods.

Nearby Attractions

Where to Stay

Union Square & Tenderloin

grayscale photography of tram near buildings
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

The Scene

Union Square and Tenderloin are technically two neighborhoods but they blend fairly easily so I wanted to talk about the two in one section. Union Square is shopping central while Tenderloin is good food and homelessness central.

Who It’s For

If your goal is to stay as central as possible, close to financial district, with easy access to shopping and walking distance to good eats, this could be a good choice. However, just beware that there is a bustling homeless population in the Tenderloin and that sometimes means they wander into Union Square. But if you’re cool with that, this location is easily accessible to a lot of stuff.

Nearby Attractions

Presidio/Marina

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The Presidio
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Lover’s Lane at the Presidio

The Scene

I consider this the preppy part of San Francisco. The houses are gorgeous, and I would almost compare it to the Upper East Side of New York City, but with a bay view. If you stay here, expect to take lots of morning and afternoon strolls by the water.

Who It’s For

This area is great for families, those who want to do lots of activities on the water, or just want to experience what living in a nice house in San Francisco is like. On the flip side, this is also a great place for new college grads who are looking for restaurants and bars to go to on weekends and in the evenings.

Nearby Attractions

  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • The Presidio
  • Crissy Field

Where to Stay

Sunset & Richmond

The Scene

The people that live in the Sunset and Richmond are going to be upset with me! These neighborhoods are unique in their own ways and really shouldn’t be lumped together…but I like to think of these two neighborhoods as the “suburbs of San Francisco” surrounding Golden Gate Park.

If you’re visiting San Francisco, you’re probably not looking to stay in the burbs. But let me tell you this. Not only are these neighborhoods easily accessible to the beautiful Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach (surfers I’m talking to you here), they also have THE BEST Asian food. And shameless plug, my favorite hotpot restaurant Tasty Pot is there <3

Who It’s For

Asian food lovers, nature lovers, surfers, or those who want to stay a little further from the action of downtown San Francisco.

Nearby Attractions

Where to Stay

Castro

San Francisco, Castro, Colorful, Crosswalk

The Scene

The first and most prominent gay neighborhood in San Francisco, Castro is fun, quirky, and full of character.

Who It’s For

This neighborhood is for anyone who wants to be in one of the most active parts of San Francisco. Good restaurants, bakeries, and activities aplenty, Castro will for sure make your trip to San Francisco a memorable one. If you’re looking for beautifully decorated Airbnbs to stay at, your chances of finding one in the Castro District are also pretty high.

Nearby Attractions

Where to Stay

Pac Heights/Japantown

light beach vacation lights
Photo by KEHN HERMANO on Pexels.com

The Scene

Castro isn’t the only neighborhood that is full of culture. Japantown has an entire square dedicated to Japanese food, deserts, a karaoke bar, and shops. It’s also very central and will give you easy access to other neighborhoods.

Who It’s For

Everyone. Pac Heights/Japantown is not only a popular spot for locals to find housing, it is also a great place to stay for travelers.

Nearby Attractions & Eats

Where to Stay

North Beach/Telegraph Hill

The Scene

Once you’re in San Francisco, you’ll notice it can get quite cold and windy (unless you visit the peak Indian summer months between September and October). Because of that, it’s rare to see outdoor dining. North Beach is the exception to this rule, and you’ll quickly spot European style patio seating the moment you step onto Columbus Avenue. North Beach is also SF’s Little Italy, so be prepared to eat lots of Italian food if you choose to stay here. For those looking for a little more excitement…North Beach is also lined with strip clubs and they can be pretty fun!

Who It’s For

This neighborhood is suitable for all, and especially the Italian food lovers. If you’re in SF for work, North Beach is not a far walk from Financial District and could be a good option to get away a bit on the weekends.

Nearby Attractions & Eats

Airbnbs and Hotels

Chinatown

china town
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

The Scene

Straddled between FiDi, North Beach, and Nob Hill, this is more of a tourist attraction than a neighborhood. It’s one of the oldest and most established Chinatowns in the U.S., and is an awesome place for photos.

Who It’s For

I’ll just say this straight away – I wouldn’t recommend living in Chinatown because it’s such a touristy place. However, one reason you might want to stay here is the easy access to good Chinese food and groceries.

Nearby Attractions & Eats

Hayes Valley

The Scene

Hayes Valley is as cute as neighborhoods get in San Francisco. There’s also tons of shopping.

Who It’s For

Hayes Valley is perfect for anyone, but be prepared to pay a little more to stay here since housing prices tend to be steep. I do recommend Hayes Valley for families as the neighborhood is safe and there are things to do for adults and kids alike.

Nearby Attractions & Eats

Where to Stay

To Conclude

I realized as I was writing this guide that there are SO MANY neighborhoods in San Francisco and they all have their own character. It made me realize how much I treasure all the years I’ve had to know this city. There are a few neighborhoods I didn’t included in this guide. They’re either smaller or I’m not familiar with them enough to give you good tips. I’ll mention them here in case you want to do more research: Duboce Triangle, Russian Hill, Haight-Ashbury, and Civic Center.

Regardless of where you end up staying in SF, I hope you get to visit as many of these neighborhoods as possible. That’s the best way to get to know all facets of the city.

If you’re planning a trip to SF and still have questions, feel free to comment below and I’m happy to answer them. And if you’ve been to San Francisco and absolutely loved the neighborhood you stayed at, please let me know in the comments too!!

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