Nob Hill

Where to stay in San Francisco: best areas and hotels

Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Bay, San Francisco is surprisingly small for its sophistication. This picturesque city of just seven square miles has 43 hills that provide vantage points for the breathtaking views depicted in films and guidebooks. Glossy tourist brochures show these iconic images but rarely mention the practical considerations of staying in the city, such as urban grit, congestion, difficult parking and pedestrian routes that are not for the faint of heart. Choosing the right place to stay can alleviate these challenges.

There are two main areas of tourist accommodation: the center and the marina. Without a car, downtown is best because there are so many attractions within walking distance: Union Square Mall, North Beach (Little Italy), Chinatown, and scenic Nob Hill. Although driving around is a workout, breathtaking panoramas reward the effort. For those with a car, the residential Marina district offers a pleasant escape from the urban hustle and bustle. This waterfront neighborhood offers top attractions such as Ghirardelli Square, the world-famous Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Marina Green with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Whatever your itinerary, this guide will help you decide which area and which hotel is best for you.

Read also: San Francisco Walking Tour

Where to Stay for Sightseeing

Nob Hill

Of all the landmark neighborhoods in San Francisco, Nob Hill is one of the most desirable locations, with stunning views of the bay and the city skyline. This elegant part of downtown San Francisco is within walking distance of top attractions: Chinatown, North Beach (Little Italy), the Theater District and the Union Square shopping district. In this ultimate location, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins offers easy access to must-see attractions. You can hop on a cable car right in front of the hotel or go to the Top of the Mark restaurant to get great views.

Downtown San Francisco includes several neighborhoods in addition to Chinatown, North Beach and Union Square. Another popular area is the Embarcadero along the waterfront, where the Hyatt Regency is the best accommodation. This hotel features sleek modern architecture, a large lobby, and close proximity to the Embarcadero BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) that can take tourists to Berkeley and Oakland in the East Bay. Nearby attractions include The Embarcadero, a palm-lined promenade with views of the Bay Bridge and the Ferry Building, a historic landmark with gourmet boutiques and the farmers market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The Ferry Building is also the ferry terminal that runs to Marin’s charming seaside towns of Sausalito and Tiburon.

In the bustling SoMa (south of Market Street) of the city’s financial district lies the W San Francisco, a trendy boutique hotel. Slightly further away (about a 20-minute walk) from the touristy areas of Chinatown, North Beach and Union Square, this hotel has a modern, urban feel. Nearby highlights include the Museum of Modern Art, the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Museum of the African Diaspora.

For many tourists (especially first-time visitors), Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco’s original epicenter during the Gold Rush and still the city’s most emblematic neighborhood, is a favorite attraction. With historic boats in the harbor and sensational views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and Angel Island, Fisherman’s Wharf evokes the vibrant spirit of the Barbary Coast era. Today, visitors are more likely to find souvenir shops and clam chowder stands than commercial fishermen, but the area pulses with a lively seaport atmosphere. Surrounded by the tourist attractions of Fisherman’s Wharf, Hotel Zephyr offers guests stunning postcard views and comfortable, newly renovated rooms.

Where to stay for luxury

Photo copyright: Fairmont San Francisco
Photo copyright: Fairmont San Francisco

San Francisco has a wide range of choices in the luxury hotel category, but the ultimate is the Fairmont San Francisco. An icon on Nob Hill with a colonnaded facade, this beautiful hotel stands proudly above the bay where two cable car lines meet, and the 360-degree views are incomparable. The city’s vibrant financial district, Union Square shopping district and Fisherman’s Wharf are a short cable car ride away. The interior of the hotel is equally impressive. Visitors swoon over the opulent lobby, with its gilded ceiling and velvet furnishings that recall the grandeur of the Victorian era. The lavish rooms have pillowtop beds and soft duvets, adding to the feeling of being pampered.

Another high-end Nob Hill hotel is The Ritz-Carlton on a quiet side street just steps from the California Street cable car. Beautifully decorated in a modern, classic style, the hotel rooms are equipped with attention to detail, including luxurious bedding, flat-screen TVs and marble-paneled bathrooms. For an exceptional culinary experience, visitors can enjoy a gourmet meal at the hotel’s award-winning restaurant.

The historic Palace Hotel in downtown San Francisco was built in 1875 and is listed by the National Trust as a Historic Hotel in America. The graceful architecture is characterized by a beautiful portico entrance and neoclassical elements in the lobby and reception. The beautiful Garden Court restaurant with glass dome is known for its Signature Tea, a chic affair with authentic English tea and a variety of pastries served on fine fine porcelain.

Also downtown, in the heart of bustling SoMa (part of the financial district), is The St. Regis San Francisco. This elegant and sophisticated hotel features signature butler service, chic rooms and a chic restaurant. The neighborhood is less touristy than Nob Hill and Union Square, but it’s still close to top attractions like shopping and gourmet restaurants. Highlights within walking distance include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of African Diaspora.

For an expensive boutique hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf, the best choice is the Argonaut, overlooking Aquatic Park just steps from Ghirardelli Square and the old Cannery. The hotel’s historic brick building is reminiscent of the neighborhood’s famed Barbary Coast past. In keeping with the beautiful views of the bay and harbor, the hotel is decorated in a modern nautical style.

Where to stay for the best value

Photo copyright: The San Francisco marker
Photo copyright: The San Francisco marker

Staying in downtown San Francisco can be pricey, but there are a few affordable alternatives to the high-end luxury hotels. Centrally located in the Financial District on Kearny Street, near Chinatown and North Beach, the Hilton San Francisco Financial District is a great starting point to explore San Francisco’s colorful multicultural neighborhoods. It’s just a short walk to many top attractions such as the Transamerica Building, Chinese restaurants, North Beach cafes and (further up a steep hill) Coit Tower with its beautiful murals and majestic views of the bay.

The Marker San Francisco is located close to downtown Union Square and offers affordable prices considering its luxurious accommodations. This four-star boutique hotel, with bright, trendy rooms, is designed in the Beaux-Arts style, inspired by the Belle Epoque architecture in France. This hotel is a good choice for travelers without a car. It is just a few blocks from the Powell Street Cable Car.

For those who prefer to stay near the waterfront, the Sheraton Fisherman’s Wharf Hotel is within walking distance of Pier 39 shops and restaurants, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square . The hotel has spacious rooms, a terrace and a heated outdoor swimming pool.

Where to Stay on a Budget

Crissy Field
Crissy Field

Although San Francisco is notoriously expensive, it is still possible to visit on a budget. Below you will find hotels that offer a reasonable price as well as a convenient location for tourists. In the downtown area, the centrally located Post Hotel is best for travelers who prefer to sightsee without a car. From this spot, visitors can walk to Union Square’s art galleries, boutiques, and department stores. An excellent selection of restaurants and the entertainment venues of the theater district are also nearby.

There are other budget options outside the center. The Travel Lodge Presidio is well located near beautiful Golden Gate Park and the Presidio National Recreation Area. It offers affordable accommodation with breakfast and refrigerators in the room. Since this hotel is best for travelers with a car, the free on-site parking is convenient.

For a relaxing hotel stay in the Marina district, Super 8 San Francisco on Lombard Street is located a few blocks from the street’s famous winding street and close to the main tourist attractions of Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square. This budget-friendly motorcycle lodge has a boutique feel and comfortable rooms with luxurious bedding. The hotel has limited parking. Also in the marina, the Greenwich Inn is located on a quiet residential block. This hotel is a short walk from Crissy Field and the Marina Green, which offer impressive views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Nearby Chestnut Street is lined with inviting fashion shops, cafes and restaurants.

Where to stay for couples

Foto copyright: White Swan Inn
Foto copyright: White Swan Inn

With its dreamy landscape and quaint neighborhoods, San Francisco invites romance. Several hotels in the city cater for couples, with luxurious rooms, spas and breathtaking views. The Scarlet Huntington on Nob Hill is fashionable and recently renovated. It has an attractive and distinctive ambiance that would be perfect for a romantic getaway or honeymoon. Guests will appreciate the warmth and character of the lobby, as well as the restaurant serving innovative fusion cuisine. The rooms are decorated in a sleek style, with influences from the Strait of China. The hotel’s spa is an urban oasis with an infinity pool, saunas, steam rooms and pampering treatments.

Another charming hotel on Nob Hill is the White Swan Inn, with decor that channels an English country cottage with a touch of 1960s London fashion style. This cozy little boutique hotel feels like a home away from home. It’s convenient for visitors traveling without a car because it’s within walking distance of cable cars, Union Square shopping, Chinatown, and North Beach.

Combining an intimate atmosphere with a lively location, the Hotel Rex has it all. This attractive spot is steps from Union Square shopping, fine dining and Gallery Row with its weekly art receptions. The 1930s-style hotel has an inviting atmosphere, thanks to its contemporary art exhibitions and a wood-paneled library that also serves as a venue for literary lectures, art shows and music concerts. For more entertainment options, visitors can walk to the nearby Theater District to enjoy a play or musical. Also in the Theater District is the Clift Hotel. This luxury hotel has a sleek, modern style with beautifully appointed rooms and a glamorous gourmet restaurant with an enticing ambiance.

Where to stay for families

Photo copyright: Hotel del Sol
Photo copyright: Hotel del Sol

San Francisco can be challenging for families, even though there are many fun things to do with kids. Urban congestion abounds, and downtown’s dicey neighborhoods are right next to the tourist areas. To alleviate these problems, it is best to stay in Fisherman’s Wharf or the marina, as these areas are cleaner, safer and easier to get around by car. Parking is plentiful here and cheaper than in the center. The hotels in this area also offer more spacious accommodations and suites that are ideal for families.

Located near several top tourist attractions, Hyatt Centric Fisherman’s Wharf is just steps from the fish and chip shacks and fresh crabs of Fisherman’s Wharf. A few blocks away is Ghirardelli Square and its water park overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Several blocks in the other direction is Pier 39, with kids’ favorite attractions: the Aquarium of the Bay, sea lions, street performers and an old-fashioned carousel. Kids will also love the Hyatt’s heated pool, and parents will enjoy the hotel’s casual restaurant that serves California comfort food. Another great choice at Fisherman’s Wharf is the Fisherman’s Wharf, which is located on the water and two blocks from the cable car.

If you’re looking for laid-back California beach house-style accommodations, try the cheerful Hotel del Sol. Located in the Marina district, the hotel is near the scenic Marina Green and Fort Mason Center (great places for picnics and for kids to play frisbee), about a 20-minute walk from Ghirardelli Square and a 30-minute walk from Fisherman’s Wharf. With its connecting rooms and suites, this boutique hotel is great for families. Plus, there’s even a heated outdoor saltwater pool and affordable parking on site. Housed in one of the historic brick buildings on Ghirardelli Square, the Fairmont Heritage Place is a residential-style hotel perfect for families. Each of the spacious one-bedroom suites, two bedroom or three bedroom apartment features a well-equipped kitchen, a dining room and a living room with a fireplace. As an added bonus for parents, the hotel offers childcare for an additional fee.

Read also:

Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in San Francisco

top-notch day trips from San Francisco

San Francisco Walking Tour

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