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What's the best neighborhood in S.F. for a first time visitor?

I've never been to SF and I'm a little overwhelmed by all the hotel options. I'd like to stay in a hotel that is central and gives me good sense of what SF is like. I'd love to know where locals tell their friends to stay when they visit, and why those areas and hotels are special. Thanks!

7 Answers

top answer by
Kristal from San Francisco

Hi Tatum,

The beauty of SF is in all the different neighborhoods. However, I can definitely see how it can get overwhelming quickly. To be honest, there aren't necessarily certain super central areas since SF is already so packed and small you can stay in various parts and feel completely part of the city. However, each area provides a different feel and it depends on what you like and are looking for. I will break down the main areas which might make your decision easier - and might give you a better idea of where you want to explore.

Union Square - while this is where most tourists stay I would advise against it. It's an area you can venture into when exploring; however it's mainly filled with tourists and lots of shopping, also the traffic is heavily congested there and they always seem to be doing construction.

Financial District - no one actually stays here unless you're here for business, but there are good restaurants in the area (La Fusion, Cotogna, Yank Sing, The Barrel Room, Bask, Sauce:Belden

- North Beach - Also known as Little Italy, this area can get very congested as well, usually with tourists. If you are looking for some good eats, this is a place you can come although I wouldn't recommend staying here.

San Francisco Chinatown - one of the largest in the world I think, it's super fun to walk around and find hidden gems and cheap eats, however, I wouldn't stay here - a little smelly and kind of hectic. 

Mission District - an up and coming neighborhood with lots of eats (both cheap and pricey), good Mexican food, lots of cafes and cute boutique shops. I wouldn't stay here, but I would definitely recommend you visit. You'll find La Taqueria - best burritos, Craftsmen and Wolves - good bakery, balompie - cheap and good pupusas, Tartine bakery - one of the most well known bakeries in SF, Little Star - best deep dish pizza. 

Hayes Valley - this is one of my favorite places in the city and definitely one you can stay at. They have great restaurants, cute cafes and nice shops. You can get my favorite cake in this area, honey cake from 20th Century Cafe, for good sushi there's Otoro, I also really like Chantel Guillon for macarons. There are beer gardens, lots of people walking around, eating out. I really like this neighborhood.

SOMA - what we call the area south of Market Street, this area has great restaurants, still kind of businessy, but also filled with cafes, bars etc. With this area and Union square (as well as the Financial District) you'll notice a lot of homeless and I would caution to make sure you stay away from the Tenderloin - it's a fine place to go grab a bite during the day, but it's not a nice area to be walking around at night. Here you're close to Moscone Center, ATT park, Yerba Buena Gardens, SF Moma. There is also a great range of hotels here. 

Presidio - Great area, nature filled and although it's close to a lot it feels very different staying here because you're surrounded by trees. A little oasis in the city.

Noe Valley and Castro St are right next to each other and provide a good central location. They are safe and filled with cute stores and restaurants. 

- Nob Hill - another great neighborhood, you could stay around this area and make sure to check out Hyde St for restaurants like Frascati and Seven Hills. In a stretch of 5 blocks, you'll find some of the best restaurants. Great hotels. 

Marina District - very young, college aged locals. Lot's of bars and restaurants. Chestnut St is nice if you're looking for food. You can stay in the area or Pacific Heights and you'll be close to the bridge, Lombard street, Crissy Fields, and the water. 

Haight-Ashbury - if you're looking for an eclectic area where you want to stay away from tourists and embrace the quirky and funky side of SF, this may be for you. 

I know this was really long, but I figured a little snippet of each main area might give you a better idea of where to stay and explore. 



Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Union Square (attraction)
  2. Financial District (attraction)
  3. North Beach (neighborhood)
  4. San Francisco Chinatown (attraction)
  5. Mission District (neighborhood)
  6. Hayes Valley (neighborhood)
  7. SOMA (neighborhood)
  8. Tenderloin (attraction)
  9. Presidio (neighborhood)
  10. Noe Valley (neighborhood)
  11. Castro St (attraction)
  12. Nob Hill (neighborhood)
  13. Hyde St (attraction)
  14. Frascati (restaurant)
  15. Marina District (attraction)
  16. Chestnut St (attraction)
  17. Pacific Heights (neighborhood)
  18. Haight-Ashbury (attraction)
6 thanks

answered first by
Krista from San Francisco

Hi Tatum,

Awesome that you're coming to SF! I think your best bet would be to stay somewhere pretty central, in a place that locals love. I recommend checking out Airbnb rentals in Cow Hollow (Home to Union St and super close to the Marina), North Beach ("Little Italy" of SF), Russian Hill (good middle ground, home to trendy Polk St), Mission District (creative vibe, a bit "hipster" with lots of sunshine) and Hayes Valley. Haight-Ashbury (old stomping ground for SF 'hippies') is also very cool.

Avoid Union Square, the Tenderloin + SOMA - these neighorhoods are centered around offices and tourist activity. I also recommend avoiding the Sunset District and Outer Richmond for accommodations - they're a bit far from popular locations.

Hope this helps!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Cow Hollow (neighborhood)
  2. Union St (attraction)
  3. North Beach (neighborhood)
  4. Russian Hill (neighborhood)
  5. Polk St (attraction)
  6. Mission District (neighborhood)
  7. Hayes Valley (neighborhood)
  8. Haight-Ashbury (attraction)
  9. Union Square (attraction)
  10. Tenderloin (attraction)
  11. SOMA (neighborhood)
  12. Sunset District (attraction)
  13. Outer Richmond (attraction)
4 thanks

answered by
Jordan from San Francisco

What Krista said is perfect. 

Unfortunately, SF does not have a very dispersed hotel scene. Having said that, I would check out renting an Airbnb while you're in SF. It's the best  way to get the local feeling you're looking for. 

Look for a place walking distance to a grocery store and  you'll have a good time.

Pacific HeightsDuboce TriangleCow HollowMission District

The first bar/restaurant you find yourself in, ask someone who looks your style where they'd go. When you live in San Francisco, you love to talk about San Francisco. Hope this helps.

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Pacific Heights (neighborhood)
  2. Duboce Triangle (attraction)
  3. Cow Hollow (neighborhood)
  4. Mission District (neighborhood)
3 thanks

answered by
Kim from San Francisco

Russian Hill - best views in the city

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Russian Hill (neighborhood)
1 thanks

answered by
Fritzi from San Francisco

If money were no object, I would stay on Nob Hill at The Fairmont San Francisco or the InterContinental San Francisco. I would enjoy the beautiful views and then take Muni to explore the various neighborhoods. Hayes Valley is my favorite. 

One option I would consider is the Hotel Kabuki in Japantown. It is very centrally located and has traditional Japanese baths. 

I have stayed many times at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis and W Hotel San Francisco next to Moscone Center in the SoMa (south of Market) neighborhood. Since SF is so small it is easy to get around from there. 

Avoid Union Square. It is a zoo. 

Many foreign visitors book at Le Méridien San Francisco. It is quiet, in the financial district. 

Both the Parc 55 Wyndham San Francisco - Union Squareand Hotel Nikko San Francisco are downtown and your basic business hotel. 

The Palace Hotel has lots of old world charm. 

Good luck booking at a decent rate: SF hotels are expensive.

1 thanks

answered by
Scott from San Francisco

You'll likely stay somewhere near Union Square and the Financial District downtown, mainly because that's where most of the hotels are and because it's close to the public transit hubs.  It's also centrally located near San Francisco ChinatownSOMAFerry BuildingNorth Beach and even Fisherman's Wharf which I don't care for, but I know that nothing I can do will stop a first time visitor to SF from going there at least once.   And from there you can even take the Muni Train or bus up to Haight-Ashbury , Hayes Valley, and The Castro.  That said, each of the other neighborhoods have their own distinct character and staying in Union Sq. or Downtown isn't quite indicative of what it's like to live in SF.  

Pro tips:  

Dress in layers.  It goes from cold, to rainy, to warm, to cold again in a blink of an eye.  

Wear comfortable shoes, walking up hills isn't urban legend.  You will traverse hills - and as per above, you'll go from cold to sweaty quite quickly.  

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Union Square (attraction)
  2. Financial District (attraction)
  3. San Francisco Chinatown (attraction)
  4. SOMA (neighborhood)
  5. Ferry Building (attraction)
  6. North Beach (neighborhood)
  7. Fisherman's Wharf (attraction)
  8. Haight-Ashbury (attraction)
  9. Hayes Valley (neighborhood)
  10. The Castro (attraction)
1 thanks

answered by
Anna from Athens

I visited San Francisco last March for the first time too. We booked an Inn in Lombard Street (ok not so near the crooked part). We had car for one day, but for the rest of our stay we relied on public transportation. Plus it wasn't that far to walk towards North Beach.

For local flavor (going out) try the Ferry building and vicinity, North beach and Mission District!

Mentioned in this answer:

  1. Lombard Street (attraction)
1 thanks

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