The Best Areas to Stay in San Francisco 

A local's guide to the best places to stay in SF in 2024.

karen portrait circle

By Karen

Posted February 23, 2024.

I've spent over 30 years in San Francisco, so I often get asked what the best area to stay in San Francisco is.

Which areas are the safest, or most family-friendly, or best for first-time visitors to the city.

Also, which places are best for those traveling with or without out a car.

So here are my opinions, as a longtime San Francisco resident...

The best areas to stay in San Francisco and hotel recommendations for each area:

In a nutshell:

The safest areas to stay in San Francisco are the Sunset District, Richmond District, the Presidio, Nob Hill, the Marina District, and Fisherman's Wharf.

The best areas for first time visitors to San Francisco to get to the major attractions easily are Fisherman's Wharf, Union Square, and Chinatown.

The best areas for families to stay in San Francisco are Fisherman's Wharf, the Presidio, the Marina, and the Sunset District.

The best areas to stay in San Francisco without a car are Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square.

The best areas to stay in San Francisco with a car are the Sunset and Richmond Districts, the Marina, and the Presidio.

The best areas to avoid staying in San Francisco are the Tenderloin and Mid-Market Street areas.

Gleeful robot working on laptopThe best places to stay in....

I keep finding off-the-wall, travel suggestions written by people who aren't familiar with San Francisco and other articles that were obviously written by AI!

So the following advice is from a real person who is very familiar with the city!

If you want a laugh, I collected some of the better boo-boos in my article on Bad SF Travel Advice.

I earn a small commission if you make a purchase through some of the affiliate links on this page, at no extra cost to you. See disclosure policy. This helps me provide all the free information on the site. Thank you!

Head to the neighborhood sections to see my hotel recommendations and descriptions of the areas.

How did I choose the hotels to recommend?

I looked through the available hotels in each area and picked out some of the more highly-rated ones, and read some reviews, to save you time.

I haven't stayed in the hotels, but I'm familiar with the area they are in. A lot of them I've seen from the outside.

All the ones I've included here are rated 8.0 out of 10, or higher, (from reviews on, i.e. "very good" or above, or the equivalent on Expedia or TripAdvisor reviews.

There are tons of hotels in San Francisco, and it can be pretty overwhelming wading through them!

Hopefully this will make it easier to find one that suits your needs.

Map of the SF Neighborhoods

Map of San Francisco NeighborhoodsSan Francisco neighborhoods map

Good to know...

San Francisco is known for it's variety of neighborhoods, each with a unique character. What's unusual about this city is that the neighborhoods are generally small, and change character significantly within a few blocks. 

But the character of a neighborhood is often unaffected by the different personality of another neighborhood close by. In other words, if one area is next door to a higher crime area, it isn't necessarily affected by it.

Cheaper areas to stay in SF (while not risking your life!):

Generally speaking, hotels in the Fisherman's Wharf area are less expensive than the hotels near Union Square, Nob Hill, or Pacific Heights.

Motels and hotels in the Marina District also tend to be less expensive.

Jump to neighborhood (above) for hotel recommendations.

These areas tend to be areas farther away from the denser urban areas like downtown San Francisco.

Even though some of them are further from some of the attractions, San Francisco's public transit system can get you there pretty easily.

Safest areas to stay in San Francisco mapSafest areas to stay in San Francisco

By safest, I'm generally referring to lowest likelihood of violent crime.

There's always a risk of car break-ins anywhere in the city, though that varies by neighborhood as well.

See my article on crime rates with crime maps in the different San Francisco neighborhoods.

Additional safe areas to stay...

Areas like the Presidio Heights, Pacific Heights, and Noe Valley also fall into the safe category, but they don't have much of a selection in the way of hotels or motels.

More safe San Francisco neighborhoods map

I did find a couple of candidates in these areas:

Pacific Heights is a well-to-do area of mansions and older apartment buildings. Author Danielle Steele (Spreckels Mansion), Larry Ellison (Oracle founder), Gordon & Ann Getty, and Nancy Pelosi own houses there.

This pretty neighborhood sits on a hill above the Marina District. It has some great views of the bay and the bridge, and is generally safe to walk around at night.

Hotel Drisco. 

Charming, older hotel, built in 1903 (survived the 1906 earthquake, always a good sign!).

Modern but luxurious; espresso machine and sound sleep machine in the room. Free continental breakfast in the morning and free wine and cheese (and hot hors d'oeuvres) in the evenings.

On-site fitness center and free transport to Union Square and the financial district on weekdays. Only a couple of blocks to the Presidio hiking trails.

2901 Pacific Avenue. 9.5 rating (exceptional). 

See Hotel Drisco for rates and availability.

Presidio Heights. This neighborhood runs along the southern border of the Presidio. It's an affluent neighborhood with most houses built in the early 1900s. Also generally safe.

The Laurel Inn.

This is one of Hyatt's boutique hotels (their JdV collection, "Joie de Vivre"). Free coffee and tea 24 hours, short walk to nice shops on Sacramento Street nearby, and 5 blocks from the Presidio.

Modern decor, clean and comfortable. On-site restaurant and parking available ($44).

444 Presidio Avenue. 8.2 rating (very good).

See Laurel Inn for availability, photos and booking.

Per day room and apartment rentals through Vrbo would still be a possibility in Noe Valley, Pacific Height and Presidio Heights.

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Insider Tip:

When you're looking at the hotels on booking services like or Tripadvisor, the neighborhood labels given the hotels can be incorrect.

Sometimes a hotel location labeled as Noe Valley may really be in the Mission District (or what locals call "Baja Noe Valley").

Also, sometimes an area is labeled Pacific Heights when it is actually Lower Pacific Heights, a very different neighborhood. Check the map. 

Best areas for the San Francisco attractions & first timers:

Jump to neighborhood (above) for hotel recommendations.

Map of best areas for first-timers

Map of best areas to say in sf  for tourist attractions Best areas for first-timers & attractions.

These areas are the best places to stay in terms of convenience in getting to the major San Francisco tourist attractions. 

Fisherman's Wharf, Union Square, Chinatown and Nob Hill would be good areas for first time visitors to San Francisco.

Fisherman's Wharf is an attraction in itself, and Pier 39 is located there. Many of the bay cruises leave from Fisherman's Wharf, plus the ferries to Alcatraz leave from Pier 33, walking distance from the Wharf.

Chinatown is on the cable car line, and is one of the most popular attractions. It's walking distance from North Beach and Union Square.

Union Square is in the heart of the downtown area and walking distance to Chinatown, plus close to popular shops, restaurants, and the theater district. The cable car lines run right past the square.

Nob Hill is just uphill from both Chinatown and Union Square.

The California cable car line runs through it, and the Powell and Hyde lines run right past it. 

Jump to neighborhood (above) for hotel recommendations.

Fisherman's Wharf is a great area for families with kids.

There are lots of fun things to do at the Wharf that kids would like.

The sea lions are at Pier 39, and there are rides to go on, like The Flyer and 3D simulations.

Try out Magowan's Maze and the musical stairs, or ride on the cool carousel and watch a magic show. 

Musee Mechanique's quirky games are here, and there's a WW2 submarine to explore.

The Bay Aquarium is at Pier 39, and the yellow Go Cars have a rental office at the Wharf.

Fisherman's Wharf is more laid back than areas like Union Square and better for walking around with kids.

See Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39 for details on activities.

The Presidio is a park-like setting; it's spacious and has lots of room to run around safely, far from the more urban areas.

There's a new playground that kids really enjoy and the Walt Disney Museum is there. Plenty of parking as well.

The Marina District is pretty close to the action at Fisherman's Wharf and has lots of nice motels and places to park cars.

It's safe to walk around there, has plenty of restaurants, and great views of the bridge.

The Sunset District is peaceful and residential, and is close to Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, and the SF Zoo. Parking is a lot easier out there.

There's tons of things for kids to do in Golden Gate Park. Plus there's easy public transportation to take you back to the heart of San Francisco. 

Jump to neighborhood (above) for hotel recommendations.

The Sunset and Richmond Districts are residential so it's much easier to park out there. (But keep and eye out for signs for 2-hour parking limits for non-residents that crop up here and there, and especially for street cleaning days - big ticket!)

The Presidio is a big park, so driving and parking are stress-free. And the Marina motels generally provide parking for guests (but check).

Neighborhoods like Fisherman's Wharf, Union Square and Nob Hill are tough for parking, especially overnight. Often the hotels in these areas will provide parking, either on-site, or more likely nearby in public garages, but they tend to be very expensive ($60 per night and up).

You can get to other areas of the city pretty easily on public transportation if you want to leave your car at the hotel or motel.

Best areas to stay without a car:

Jump to neighborhood (above) for hotel recommendations.

Both Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square are right on a number of bus and streetcar lines, so public transportation is very convenient.

Also, many attractions are within walking distance of both areas.

Jump to neighborhood (above) for hotel recommendations.

Map of lively areas to stay in SF

These areas are for the more adventurous. I realize people vary on how much risk they are willing to take on, or what they are comfortable seeing, and some areas are less family-friendly than others.

I'll be frank. Hayes Valley and the Mission are not as safe as some of the other areas in terms of violent crime. Hayes Valley is close to the Civic Center area which has serious drug and homeless problems. And the Mission has one of the highest violent crime rates in SF.

The Haight is fairly safe, but depending on how you feel about drugs, there may be merchandise in the shops that you may not want your kids to see. And the Castro has some shops with items that many would say are not kid-friendly. Nuff said.

Hotel Recommendations by Neighborhood

The Sunset District 


  • safety
  • quiet 
  • kid friendly 
  • Golden Gate Park & Ocean Beach nearby 
  • Easy parking


  • farther from Fisherman's Wharf & Union Square
  • foggy in summer

But it's easy to get back to the heart of San Francisco by public transportation.

Row of houses in San Francisco's Sunset DistrictSunset District houses

The Sunset District is a large, semi-suburban area on the western edge of San Francisco.

The area is a mostly residential neighborhood of single-family row houses, facing the Pacific Ocean, and famous for its foggy summers.

It doesn't feel like being in a city. It's a quiet, safe neighborhood that most visitors to the city have never heard of. But it takes up a sizable chunk of San Francisco real estate.

It has a bit of the casual beach vibe close to the ocean, with surf shops and surfers.

I lived in this neighborhood for decades and can vouch for it as one of the safest and quietest neighborhoods in San Francisco. Crime stats back this up as well.

Lodging suggestions for the Sunset District:

The Ocean Park Motel

Ocean Park Motel in Sunset District San FranciscoOcean Park Motel

The Sunset, as locals call the area, doesn't have much in the way of hotels, but it does have a great little motel.

The Ocean Park Motel is a charming place to stay, with a 1930s retro vibe, some rooms with kitchens, plus a hot tub and a little play area for kids. Clean, friendly, and definitely unique!

It's a short walk to the beach, and the Muni street car that takes you downtown is literally outside the door. 

2690 46th Avenue. Trip Advisor rating 4.5/5 (very good).

Check out my page on the Ocean Park Motel for more info and photos, or visit their website to check availability and book (they do it by phone or contact form).

2-bedroom home on 19th Ave

Beautiful, 2-bedroom home, highly-rated, just steps from the entrance to Golden Gate Park.

Walk to the Japanese Tea Garden, the de Young Art Museum, the Botanical Gardens, the Academy of Sciences Museum, or rent a boat at Stow Lake.

Great location and close to fun activities.

1270 19th Avenue. Rated 9.3 (wonderful).

Check out the photos and availability at 19th Ave home.

1-bedroom apartment in home on 31st Ave

Cute, clean, modern apartment in a home, with a patio and a separate entrance. Highly rated.

In the middle of the Sunset District. Close to Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park. Two blocks from the streetcar line that goes to downtown.

2190 31st Avenue. Rated 8.5 (very good).

Check photos and availability at 31st Ave home.

The Richmond District


  • safety 
  • close to Golden Gate Park, Lands End, Ocean Beach, & the Cliff House 
  • parking okay


  • Farther from downtown and Fisherman's Wharf attractions
Row of houses in Richmond District San FranciscoRichmond District homes

The Richmond District is the other western, residential neighborhood in San Francisco that stretches out to Ocean Beach.

It's also a very quiet, safe area and close to some great attractions.

Golden Gate Park creates the southern border of the neighborhood and it also borders the Presidio and Lands End, more great areas to explore.

It's far from the urban bustle of San Francisco, but it's only one direct bus ride from there back to the center of everything.

Check out the historic Cliff House restaurant (great views, soon to reopen) and the cool Sutro Baths ruins nearby.

Lodging suggestions for the Richmond District

1 BR apartment near Lands End & Sutro Heights.

Highly-rated (9.9, exceptional), 1-bedroom apartment with washer/dryer and kitchen, free wifi. Close to Lands End trailhead, Cliff House, Sutro Baths and Ocean Beach. Quiet and private.

See 1BR Apt near Lands End on for info and availability.

Seal Rock Inn. Great location across the street from Lands End trailhead, a block from the Sutro Baths and Cliff House.

Close to the ocean. Decor a bit dated, but clean and comfortable; gives it a retro look;) Quiet neighborhood, but close to transportation back into the city.

545 Point Lobos Avenue. Rated 4.0/5 (very good).

See Seal Rock Inn for more info and booking on TripAdvisor.

Seal Rock Inn San FranciscoThe Seal Rock Inn

Gigi's Bed & Breakfast. Very charming and cosy home close to the beach, Lands End, and Golden Gate Park. 1 bedroom plus living area, private entrance. Breakfast prepared by Gigi. One block from bus to downtown. 

543 43rd Avenue. Rated 4.8/5 (excellent) per Google reviews.

See Gigi's B&B for more info and booking.

2 BR Bed & Breakfast. Pretty 1926 Edwardian home, living area plus 2 bedrooms. Balcony, sun terrace and private parking.

826 32nd Avenue. Rated 10 (exceptional).

See Edwardian Homestay on for more info and availability.

The Marina District


  • safety 
  • views
  • fairly close to Fisherman's Wharf, Presidio & Golden Gate Bridge
  • parking


  • farther from Union Square & downtown attractions
Homes in San Francisco Marina DistrictMarina District

The Marina District is between The Fisherman's Wharf area and the Presidio, on the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Palace of Fine Arts, Saint Francis Yacht Club, and the Wave Organ are here.

It's long been known as an upscale, residential neighborhood ( that still a thing?). The Marina District faces the water, as you might guess. 

It's one of the safer areas of the city, close to some of the attractions, and one of the few areas in the city with motels (nice ones).

The motels are mostly along Lombard Street, the main artery though the neighborhood, which connects Fisherman's Wharf with the Golden Gate Bridge.

It's a safe area to walk around at night, and there are some nice restaurants and shops along Chestnut Street that runs through the district.

This neighborhood was hard hit by the 1989 earthquake, but it recovered quickly.

Chestnut Street shops San Francisco Marina DistrictChestnut Street, Marina District

A blast from the past: in the olden days, before internet dating, the Marina Safeway grocery store was a local hot spot for singles to meet each other. There were lots of jokes about it;)

Lodging suggestions for the Marina District:

The Marina District is unusual for San Francisco, in that it has lots of motels. That means a more casual vibe, but with parking lots or garages.

Most of the motels are along Lombard Street, the main street coming off the Golden Gate Bridge, heading towards Fisherman's Wharf. A very different stretch than the crooked block of Lombard, but still the same street.

The Marina Motel. This is my favorite one, partly because it's so cute, but also, because the rooms have their own garages. Unheard of!

Like most of the Marina District motels and hotels, it's on a busy street (Lombard Street), but this charming little motel is built around a courtyard, so the rooms away from the street should be quiet.

Entrance to Marina Motel San FranciscoMarina Motel

Free parking. Airport shuttle. Rooms with kitchens available.

2576 Lombard Street. Rated 8.3 (very good).

See Marina Motel for more info, reviews and booking.

Marina Motel in San Francisco showing inner courtyard with garage below the unitMarina Motel courtyard (garages!)

La Casa Inn. Newly remodeled, free parking. Convenient location, 6 blocks from Fisherman's Wharf.

1530 Lombard Street. Rated 8.4 (very good).

See La Casa Inn for info, reviews, photos & booking.

Infinity Hotel. Modern, stylish, clean hotel with a restaurant and fitness center. 24 hour front desk. Breakfast provided, but no onsite parking.

2322 Lombard Street. Rated 8.3 (very good).

See Infinity Hotel for info, photos, availability and booking.

Cow Hollow Inn & Suites. Large motor inn, free parking under the motel. Suites offer kitchens and a fireplace. 24-hour front desk.

2190 Lombard Street. Rated 8.0 (very good).

See Cow Hollow Inn for more info, reviews and booking.

Cow Hollow Inn Marina District San FranciscoCow Hollow Inn, parking underneath

Mel's Drive-In is across the street from the Cow Hollow Inn - for breakfast, etc. American comfort food!

Mel's Drive In, Marina District, San FranciscoMel's Drive-In

Hostel in Fort Mason. Very nice hostel in the Marina, next door to Fisherman's Wharf. Great location, safe, quiet, and less expensive, if you are open to staying in a hostel. Pretty area, nice views.

Both private rooms and dormitory rooms available. Very popular. 

Free parking & WiFi. 

240 Fort Mason. Rated 8.3 (very good).

See HI Fisherman's Wharf Hostel for more info, reviews and booking.

SF Bay view of Alcatraz behind Fort MasonView from behind the hostel

The Presidio


  • safety
  • quiet 
  • views 
  • attractions 
  • open space
  • parking


  • farther from downtown attractions
The Lodge at the Presidio San FranciscoThe Lodge, at the Presidio

The Presidio started as a Spanish Fort in 1776, and was later taken over by the U.S. Army when California became part of the United States.

Currently, this area is managed by the National Park Service. The Presidio now has acres of parks, and the former military buildings are now being used by non-profits and other businesses.

The Yoda statue is here, in front of the Lucasfilm HQ building.

The Walt Disney Museum is also here, and a new children's playground, Presidio Tunnel Tops, recently opened on the area covering the main road entering the city. 

There are great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and some charming vintage hotels to stay in.

A free shuttle runs from the Presidio to downtown SF.

Lodging recommendations for the Presidio

The Lodge at the Presidio.

This hotel and the other Presidio hotel below were part of the U.S. Army post located here.

If you're looking for a boutique hotel with old-fashioned charm and history in a quiet neighborhood, with great views and lots of parking, this is it.

Walk to the Golden Gate Bridge, with a free shuttle to downtown SF. Free breakfast, plus a wine and cheese welcome.

See The Lodge for availability and rates.

View from front porchof the Lodge, Presidio San FranciscoView from the front porch, The Lodge

Inn at the Presidio.

The other boutique hotel at the Presidio. Formerly bachelor officers' quarters at the army post, now a charming inn for guests.

Most of the rooms are suites with a fireplace (lucky officers!). Free continental breakfast, and a wine and cheese do in the afternoon. Patio in back with a fire pit, and rocking chairs on the front porch. Parking area for guests in back. Bikes available to explore the trails. No elevator.

See the Inn at the Presidio for availability and rates.

The front of the Inn at the Presidio san FranciscoInn at the Presidio

Nob Hill


  • atmosphere 
  • attractions 
  • cable cars 
  • safety


  • on a steep hill
  • expensive
Nob Hill cable car and Fairmont Hotel, San FranciscoCalifornia Street on Nob Hill. Fairmont Hotel.

Nob Hill is a well-to-do, residential area sitting high on a hill above the Union Square area. 

This was the area where the wealthy San Franciscans of the 19th century had their mansions. The 1906 earthquake devastated it, mainly from fires, but some of the buildings survived and it once again became an exclusive neighborhood.

The Flood Mansion still stands (reputedly haunted), now a private men's club, along with Grace Cathedral, a beautiful Episcopal church with a labyrinth.

The entryway to another Nob Hill mansion that didn't survive now decorates a lake in Golden Gate Park, as Portals of the Past.

Two of the grand old hotels of San Francisco are perched up on Nob Hill: The Fairmont Hotel and The Mark Hopkins Hotel.

Union Square shopping and restaurants are just down the hill.

All three cable car lines climb up to Nob Hill.

Lodging recommendations for Nob Hill

The Grand Old Hotels

Nob Hill was the home of the wealthy San Franciscans pre-1906 earthquake. Three of the older San Francisco hotels reflect that history.

The Fairmont Hotel.

This is probably the grandest, historic hotel in San Francisco. Favorite of presidents, princes, and celebrities. You never know who'll you will run into here.

Years ago I was attending a conference at the Fairmont and saw a pile of monogrammed luggage outside with "JB" on them. Walking into the lobby, there was James Brown himself, checking out at the front desk.

The lobby is a great place to visit over the Christmas holidays: they put up an enormous gingerbread house and a beautiful tree.

Fairmont Hotel front view, on Nob HillThe Fairmont Hotel, entrance.

The Fairmont also has one of the coolest tiki bars in the city: the Tonga Room. A long-time favorite with both locals and visitors.

Enjoy the requisite jungle atmosphere, tropical drinks with umbrellas, and even periodic rain showers. Delightfully cheesy. You don't have to be staying there to visit it.

Tony Bennett statue at the Fairmont Hotel in San FranciscoTony Bennett statue at the Fairmont (with holiday scarf)

Tony Bennett sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" for the first time in 1961 at the Fairmont.

The Fairmont has luxurious rooms and suites, with marble baths, and many rooms with incredible views of the Golden Gate, Alcatraz and the city.

Full-service gym and spa, and two restaurants, plus the famous tiki bar, the Tonga Room. All three cable car lines go by the Fairmont.

950 Mason Street. 8.0 rating (very good).

See Fairmont Hotel for rates, availability, and photos.

Mark Hopkins Hotel.

Mark Hopkins Hotel entranceMark Hopkins Hotel

The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel is designated as an official San Francisco Landmark. The hotel was built in 1926, and sits high above the city on the top of Nob Hill.

All three cable car lines go right by it, and the famous Top of the Mark cocktail lounge on the top floor has one of the best views of San Francisco.

View of downtown San Francisco from the Top of the MarkView of downtown San Francisco from the Top of the Mark

During WW2, service members heading to the war in the Pacific used to meet their sweethearts at the Top of the Mark lounge to have a final drink before they left, hoping to reunite there after the war.

999 California Street. 8.2 rating (very good).

See Mark Hopkins Hotel for rates, availability, and photos.

Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Want to stay at the Ritz? This is a beautiful luxury hotel in a nice neighborhood. Two restaurants on site, parking available, fitness center, and gorgeous marble bathrooms. Grand entrance and lobby. Expensive, not surprisingly.

Right near the cable car line, and a block from Chinatown.

600 Stockton Street. 9.0 rating (wonderful).

See Ritz-Carlton Hotel for more info, photos and availability.

Powell Place. This is a "condo hotel" in a charming, Edwardian-style building; very San Francisco. These are apartments with kitchenettes, available as studios or one bedrooms, but rented like hotel rooms.

Have your own place on Nob Hill, as the cable cars climb the hill outside your window. They have private parking available, an ev charging station, and an elevator. 24-hour front desk.

730 Powell Street. 8.8 rating (excellent).

See Powell Place for booking, rates and availability.

Boutique Hotels on Nob Hill

Petite Auberge. 

Very cute, French-style bed and breakfast. Free breakfast, elevator, parking available. Cosy lobby where they serve complimentary wine and snacks.

Union Square, Chinatown and the cable cars are within a 10 minute walk.

863 Bush Street. 8.5 rating (very good).

See Petite Auberge for info, photos and booking.

White Swan Inn.

Charming rooms with a fireplace, quaint decor, breakfast and wine included. Hang out in their cosy library.

Short walk to Union Square, cable cars, and Chinatown.

845 Bush Street. 8.9 rating (excellent)

See White Swan Inn for rates, photos, availability and reviews.

Stanford Court.

Charming older hotel that has been modernized inside. Sits next to the junction of all three cable car lines.

Located right next to the Mark Hopkins Hotel and across the street from the Fairmont (try out the Top of the Mark lounge or the Tonga Room tiki restaurant next door).

There's a bar and lounge in the hotel, and laptops and iPads available for guest use in the business center.

Just a few blocks from Union Square and Chinatown.

905 California Street. 8.5 rating (very good).

See Stanford Court for Rates, photos, and availability.

Fisherman's Wharf


  • waterfront attractions
  • safety 
  • kids' activities 
  • views 
  • restaurants


  • crowds
  • a little cheesiness
Fishing boats at Fisherman's Wharf San FranciscoFishing boats at Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf is one of the most popular attractions in San Francisco and a lot of fun activities are located here.

Touristy? Definitely, but still a fun and light-hearted place to explore.

It has a more informal, less urban feel than Union Square, and it's known for its fresh seafood. The sea lions are at Pier 39, at one end of the Wharf.

There's lots of activities at Wharf: Madam Tussauds, Ripley's Believe It or Not, Boudin Bakery, virtual rides at Pier 39, Aquarium of the Bay, and lots of shops.

There are tons of things that kids would enjoy doing here.

Tip: Pier 39 has the best San Francisco souvenir shops.

Most of the bay cruises leave from here, one of the best things to do in San Francisco, imo.

The Alcatraz ferries for a visit to Alcatraz Island are a short walk from here, and you can rent bikes to cross the bridge or Go Cars to see the city on your own with GPS guidance.

Ghirardelli Square is in Fisherman's Wharf as well. And the North Beach neighborhood next door to the Wharf has a great selection of authentic, old-time Italian restaurants and cafes. 

It's generally safe to walk around Fisherman's Wharf, day or night, and it has a festive atmosphere. Just be careful not to leave anything in your car; break-ins are epidemic here.

Lodging recommendations for the Wharf

There are a number of good hotels right in Fisherman's Wharf with easy access to all the activities in this area. The hotels here will mostly be less expensive than the ones in Union Square or Nob Hill.

But parking is going to be tough...and expensive. Better for visitors without a car.

The Argonaut Hotel.

This is my favorite hotel in Fisherman's Wharf. It's in an attractive brick building at the quieter end of the Wharf, near the cable car turn-around. The location is very convenient, and it's in a less crowded area of Fisherman's Wharf.

The interior is very pretty as well, with rooms and lobby decorated in a charming, nautical theme (see photos on

A stay comes with a free newspaper, fitness center, and free yoga accessories. Valet parking available.

There's a good seafood restaurant in the building, The Blue Mermaid,  where I had the best crab chowder of my life. Ghirardelli Square, with some good restaurants, is a couple of blocks away.

495 Jefferson Street. Rating 8.7 (excellent).

See The Argonaut Hotel for more info, photos, and availability.

The rest of the hotels on the list here don't have the charm of the Argonaut, but they are comfortable (and less-expensive) and highly-rated by guests, and convenient to all the Fisherman's Wharf activities.

Hotel Caza.

Modern hotel with a lounge with games for kids (and adults). Free coffee, friendly staff, convenient location, right in Fisherman's Wharf.

They have an outdoor swimming pool, garden, fitness center, free bikes for guests, and a restaurant. 

1300 Columbus Ave. 8.4 rating (very good).

See Hotel Caza for availability and rates.

Hotel Zephyr.

Attractive, nautical themes in rooms; some rooms with great views. Friendly staff, clean facility. Parking available on site (expensive).

Courtyard in back with fire pits, fun game and activity room, free coffee in the lobby. Close to Pier 39 and water.

250 Beach Street. 8.3 rating (very good).

See Hotel Zephyr for rates and availability.

Kimpton Alton Hotel.

Clean, comfortable, spacious rooms. Convenient location, close to the water and wharf attractions.

Restaurant and fitness center on-site. Happy hour with complimentary wine for guests, record player in room and LP's to check out. No coffee or tea in the room, coffee station in morning.

2700 Jones Street. 8.6 rating (excellent).

See Kimpton Alton Hotel for rates and availability.

Courtyard by Marriott Fisherman's Wharf.

Clean, comfortable, modern hotel in Fisherman's Wharf. Friendly staff, spacious rooms, restaurant and fitness center on site. Convenient location. Laundry facilities. In 'n Out Burger next door. Valet parking available (expensive).

580 Beach Street. 8.5 rating (very good).

See Courtyard by Marriott for rates and availability.

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Fisherman's Wharf.

Modern hotel close to all the Fisherman's Wharf attractions. Friendly staff, clean rooms and facilities, coffee in the rooms, nice gym, elevator, breakfast available. On-site parking in garage (expensive).

550 North Point Street. 8.4 rating (very good).

See Holiday Inn Hotel for rates and availability.

Union Square


  • central location 
  • attractions 
  • shops 
  • restaurants 
  • bars
  • theaters


  • very busy area
  • some homeless
Union Square San FranciscoUnion Square. St. Francis Hotel & stores.

Union Square is near downtown San Francisco, surrounded by the big hotels and high-end shops like Tiffanys and Saks.

There are lots of restaurants and bars nearby, and the theater district is a short walk if you want to catch a performance while you're in town. 

This is one of the most popular areas to stay in the city. It's right in the center of things, close to Chinatown, the cable cars, the Ferry Building and the Embarcadero.

And it's easy to travel from here to other areas because of the network of transit: buses, streetcars, and the subway (Muni and BART below ground). See getting around SF.

Is Union Square a safe area to stay in?

In short, I think it is, in spite of being next door to the notorious Tenderloin district.

Union Square has the highest concentration of hotels in the city, many of them highly rated. Most visitors to SF probably stay in this area.

But it's important to know that the Tenderloin district starts just a block or two west of Union Square. The Tenderloin area has the highest crime rate in the city.

Union Square itself is generally safe, but the farther you go west, the sketchier the neighborhood gets. The hotels I recommend below are either right on Union Square, or north or east of the square. 

There are some really nice hotels a few blocks west, and some are very highly rated. It looks like most guests have a good experience staying there. But at street level, especially after dark, it's not great. I feel bad for those hotels; they can't help where they are located (not that hotels have feelings;).

The Tenderloin has always been an iffy area but it has gotten a lot worse in the last years. It's on San Francisco to do something to clean up that area; hopefully that will happen at some point. In the mean time, I don't feel comfortable recommending those hotels (but I also have a low risk tolerance, so that's based on my feelings).

You can see which ones I'm talking about if you look at one of the maps on that shows the hotels in the downtown area. Find Union Square; the Tenderloin starts a block or so west (left on the map). Many consider Mason Street the beginning of the Tenderloin.

Lodging recommendations for Union Square

Hotels on Union Square

Westin Saint Francis Hotel.

Westin Saint Francisco Hotel on Union Square, San FranciscoThe Westin Saint Francisco Hotel on Union Square

This historic, luxury hotel is right in the heart of things in downtown San Francisco. Choose between opulent, period furnishings in the original building or modern decor in the tower.

Restaurants and bars on site; fitness center, laundry and parking available.

335 Powell Street. 8.4 rating (very good).

See Westin St. Francis for rates, availability, and photos.

Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Modern hotel right on north side of Union Square, next door to Tiffanys. Restaurant and bar on site, plus a 24-hour gym.

Nice city views from many of the rooms. One block from the entrance to Chinatown. Valet parking available ($80 per night -ouch!).

345 Stockton Street. 8.4 rating (very good).

See the Grand Hyatt for rates and availability.

Stores and Grand Hyatt Hotel on Union Square, San FranciscoUnion Square stores and Grand Hyatt on end

Beacon Grand Hotel.

This historic hotel used to be the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, a SF icon with a costumed doorman at the entrance. Purchased and remodeled, reopened in 2023. Very classy. Cable car line runs past the entrance.

Fitness center and a restaurant and bar on site. Parking nearby provided (but expensive). Some guests thought the rooms were a bit small.

450 Powell Street. 8.7 rating (excellent).

See Beacon Grand Hotel for availability and rates.

Orchard Hotel.

Traditional, boutique hotel, 2 blocks north of Union Square. Onsite restaurant and cardio room. Convenient location, easy walk to Union Square shops and restaurants, cable cars and Chinatown.

665 Bush Street. 8.9 rating (excellent).

See Orchard Hotel for rates and availability.

Orchard Garden Hotel. 

A newer addition to the Union Square area. Built in 2006, modern, comfortable rooms and a rooftop patio/garden. Warm, wood decor inside. On-site breakfast restaurant and cardio room. 24 hour desk, and a tour/concierge service.

It's right next to the Dragon Gate entrance to Chinatown and has some nice city views from the roof garden.

466 Bush Street. 8.9 rating (excellent).

See Orchard Garden Hotel for booking and availability.

Chancellor Hotel.

Convenient boutique hotel on the cable car line, a half block from Union Square. Classy, older hotel with 24-hour coffee, cookies and apples in the lobby. Happy hour in the bar daily, and a choice of 12 specialty pillows (I especially liked that!).

Easy walk to Chinatown, theaters and shopping. Public parking available nearby ($35/day). 

433 Powell Street. 8.7 rating (excellent).

See Chancellor Hotel for rates and availability.

Two attractive boutique hotels, the Petite Auberge and the White Swan Inn, are just a couple of blocks north of Union Square, near Nob Hill. Very nice, and worth a look.

See the section above for more info on them. 



  • attractions 
  • food 
  • shopping 
  • safety


  • crowded
  • street parking impossible
Waverly Place, San Francisco ChinatownWaverly Place, Chinatown

San Francisco's Chinatown is one of the most popular and interesting areas of the city.

It's the oldest Chinatown in the U.S. and has a fascinating history

In wandering the streets, you'll feel like you have traveled to a different country, and it's a fun neighborhood to explore.

Eating in the restaurants and trying out the dim sum and Chinese pastries is one of the best parts of visiting here. The Chinatown shops are fun to check out as well.

Chinatown is right in the heart of San Francisco (it actually was the first area of the city settled). This neighborhood is walking distance from Union Square, downtown, and North Beach, and is on two of the cable car lines.

It's still a reasonably safe area to stay in and to visit, and has some decent parking garages. Probably not a good location for traveling with a car, but convenient for public transportation.

Lodging recommendations for Chinatown

SW Hotel.

Hotel on the border between Chinatown and North Beach; easy access to both neighborhoods. Less expensive, very clean.

Doesn't look particularly attractive from the outside, but in a good location, safe area, and highly-rated. Older decor.

Has parking underneath the hotel ($35); very unusual in Chinatown.

615 Broadway. 8.2 rating (very good).

See SW Hotel for availability, rates and booking.

Hilton SF Financial District.

There aren't a lot of highly-rated hotels in Chinatown, so I included this one (7.5).

The Hilton is just across the street from Portsmouth Square in Chinatown, so it's actually on the border of Chinatown and the Financial District. The Transamerica Pyramid is right behind it.

This is in a safe area and is just a couple minutes walk across the foot bridge into the heart of Chinatown. 

Foot bridge from Hilton Hotel to Chinatown SFPedestrian bridge from Hilton Hotel to Chinatown

North Beach and the Financial District are a short walk from the hotel.

There must be some great views from the windows because it shoots straight up, many stories high.

financial district Hilton Hotel with Transamerica PyramidThe Financial District Hilton

There's a restaurant, fitness center and parking (very expensive, but secured at night) on-site.

Kudos: good location, clean, great views, comfortable rooms.

Negatives: thin walls, no refrigerator in room, decor outdated.

750 Kearny Street. 7.5 rating (good).

See Financial District Hilton for rates and availability.

Hotels close to Chinatown:

The Orchard Garden Hotel.

The Orchard Garden is literally next door to the Dragon Gate entrance to Chinatown on Grant and Bush Streets, though most of the Chinatown shops start a couple of blocks into the neighborhood. 

466 Bush Street. 8.9 rating (excellent).

See more on Orchard Garden above in the Union Square section.

The Omni San Francisco.

This is a luxurious hotel a couple of blocks from Chinatown. 1920's ambiance, elegant decor. On-site restaurant and fitness center. Friendly staff.  Expensive. Minimum 2-day stay.

On the California cable car line. 7 blocks to Union Square, and 6 blocks to the Embarcadero, Ferry Building.

500 California Street. 8.9 rating (excellent).

See Omni San Francisco for rates and availability.

ITH Pacific Tradewinds Hostel.

This is a popular hostel just a block from Chinatown. Clean, dormitory rooms. Shared lounge with karaoke, movie nights, and game room. Breakfast included. A/C, Laundry. Very inexpensive. 

680 Sacramento Street. 8.8 rating (excellent).

See Pacific Tradewinds Hostel for rates, booking and availability.

Hayes Valley


  • ambiance 
  • restaurants 
  • shops 
  • close to performances


  • close to Civic Center area, sketchy at night
  • good luck parking overnight!
Hayes Street, Hayes Valley neighborhood San FranciscoHayes Street, Hayes Valley neighborhood

Hayes Valley is an older, residential and commercial area close to the Civic Center area where the opera and symphony houses are located, along with San Francisco City Hall and the Asian Art Museum.

The architecture is charming, and there are lots of fun shops and restaurants in the area.

Not too long ago, this area was pretty seedy, but it's come up in recent years. Still not the safest area to walk around in late at night, but fine during the day and early evening when lots of people are about.

It's kind of become the "in" or cool place to hang out, mentioned in a lot of "best places to stay in SF" lists, but keep in mind that the Civic Center area nearby is rather rough. 

Lodging recommendations for Hayes Valley

The Grove Inn. 

One block from Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies of Full House fame. Easy walk to Civic Center and the opera and symphony halls.

Quiet area, a bit less expensive than other nice hotels. Some rooms have sitting areas. Free wifi, flat screen, coffee machine.

No parking provided; some street parking.

890 Grove Street. 8.7 rating (excellent).

See Grove Inn for booking, availability and rates.

The Castro District


  • Victorian architecture
  •  shops
  •  gay vibe
  • Castro Theater 
  • good transportation


  • can be noisy 
  • parking can be challenging
Castro Street, Castro District San FranciscoCastro Street, Castro District

The Castro District is the famous gay neighborhood of San Francisco. It's got charming Victorian architecture and lots of shops and restaurants.

The Castro Theater is a fun place to see a film, or go to a sing-along performance.

There's aren't a lot of hotels in the area, but there's a popular motel and a number of houses and apartments available for short-term rentals.

From the Castro, it's easy to get downtown via streetcars on Market Street, or with the Muni and BART rail systems underground (it's a subway in this neighborhood). There's a Castro Street Muni and BART Station at the Castro and Market Streets intersection. 

The Castro is adjacent to Dolores Park, popular for picnics and great city views.

Also, it's next door to the Mission District: a great area for Mexican and other Latin American restaurants.

Lodging recommendations for the Castro District

Parker Guest House.

Quaint Bed & Breakfast in the Castro in a pretty, older house. The hotel has a lovely garden with a patio, and breakfast is included.

Enjoy wine and cheese every afternoon in their pretty sitting room with a fireplace. Near Dolores Park. Close to transport options on Market Street. Check out the photos.

520 Church Street. Rated 9.3 (wonderful).

See Parker Guest House for rates, availability, and booking.

Beck's Motor Lodge.

Large motel on Market Street, short walk to the Castro shops and restaurants. Good-sized rooms, updated decor and furnishings, clean, comfortable, no frills. Can be noisy (busy street).

On-site, free parking. Elevator, and sun deck for guests. Right on the street car line, convenient transportation. Reasonably priced.

2222 Market Street. Rated 8.4 (very good).

See Beck's Motor Lodge for rates, availability and booking.

The Hotel Castro.

A modern boutique hotel in the heart of the Castro. Digital check-in (no lobby). Clean, comfortable beds. Close to restaurants, bars and shops. Has A/C and an elevator. Rooms tend to be small, bar in the lobby next door. Nice views, private balconies.

4230 18th Street. Rated 8.3 (very good).

See Hotel Castro for availability, rates and booking.

Haight Ashbury


  • pretty Victorians
  • hippie vibe 
  • vintage shops
  • close to Golden Gate Park


  • some drug use & homelessness
Ganesha Shop, Haight Ashbury San FranciscoHaight Street, Haight Ashbury neighborhood

The Haight Ashbury neighborhood is hippie central, well-known for the Summer of Love celebration in 1967, high point of the hippie movement. The hippie vibe definitely still lingers here!.

This is a fun area to explore: lots of tie dye, head shops, vintage clothing stores, and Amoeba Records, a vinyl-lover's dream. Time travel back to the 60's!

Stand at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets, where the clock always reads 4:20.

The Victorian architecture is charming, with street after street of Painted Ladies, and you can head out to find the houses where the 60s rockers lived. 

The Haight is right next to Golden Gate Park, and has it's own brewery, Magnolia, for beer lovers to enjoy.

The two hotels here are vintage Victorians, loaded with charm.

Lodging recommendations for the Haight Ashbury

Stanyan Park Hotel in Haught Ashbury Area of San FranciscoStanyan Park Hotel

Stanyan Park Hotel.

Classic Victorian hotel on the Nation Registry of Historic Places. Across the street from Golden Gate Park and one block from the shops and restaurants on Haight Street.

Attractive location, suites with kitchens, wine and cheese evenings on weekdays. Quaint, clean rooms, pleasant staff. Basic breakfast included. Elevator and disabled accessible. No air conditioning. No coffee maker in rooms, breakfast uses plastic utensils. Rooms rather small (Victorian).

Walk to deYoung Art Museum, Japanese Tea Garden, Botanical Gardens, Conservatory of Flowers, and California Academy of Sciences Museum. And a really cool children's playground nearby in the park (Koret Children's Playground) & carousel.

750 Stanyan Street. 8.3 rating (very good).

See Stanyan Park Hotel for rates, availability and booking.

The Metro Hotel.

Modern, artistic decor in a Victorian hotel on the edge of the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. 

No parking on-site (street parking), laundromat nearby. No elevator, but short walk to shops and restaurants on Haight Street. No air conditioning (needed for about three days a year). Visitors mentioned small rooms, but it's a Victorian.

319 Divisadero Street. 8.1 rating (very good).

See the Metro Hotel for rates and availability.

The Mission District


  • nightlife 
  • Mexican food 
  • Hispanic vibe
  • colorful murals


  • street crime, especially after dark
  • drugs & homelessness
24th Street in San francisco Mission District24th Street, Mission District

The Mission District is known for its Hispanic flavor, currently home to a large population from Mexico and Central America.

It's named for the actual Spanish mission church, one of the oldest buildings in San Francisco, well worth a visit (including the graveyard).

The Mission is one of the oldest areas of the city and the architecture is mainly Victorian era, giving it a charming look. This is a good area for coffee shops as well.

If you like Mexican or Central American cuisine, this is the place to get it. The mission is also known for it's colorful murals.

Unfortunately, the Mission has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the city. The presence of Latin American gangs has contributed to violence in the area. But it's generally safe to visit in the daytime or early evening. There are usually lots of people around then, but late at night it's probably not a good idea to wander around, especially alone.

Tip: the area around the intersection of Mission Street and 24th Street has gotten particularly bad. I would avoid using the BART station there. A whole industry of people selling stolen goods has arisen there; the city is trying to deal with it, but they are getting resistance. 

Lodging recommendations for the Mission District

Inn San Francisco.

Bed and breakfast in a pretty Victorian home. Period decorations in the rooms, friendly host, great breakfasts.

Includes, hot tub, garden, game room and laundry facilities. On site parking available. 4 blocks from Dolores Park and city views.

943 South Van Ness Avenue. 9.2 rating (wonderful).

See Inn San Francisco for availability, rates, and booking.

Noe's Nest Bed & Breakfast. 

Charming Victorian home, filled with antiques, and an amazing period atmosphere. Nice host, delicious breakfasts.

Nice area of the Mission District, walk to great shopping streets: 24th Street in Noe Valley, starting 4 blocks west, and 24th Street in the Mission, starting just around the corner.

Street parking (4 hour limits on weekdays). Better for visitors without a car.

1257 Guerrero Street. 8.7 rating (excellent).

See Noe's Nest for availability, rates and photos.

Unique places to stay 

Here are a few places to stay that aren't associated with the above neighborhoods but are worth a look.

The Chateau Tivoli. Cool-looking, highly-rated, bed and breakfast near Alamo Square and the Painted Ladies of Full House fame.

I stumbled upon this hotel accidentally when I was over at the Painted Ladies and was really impressed. It's a couple of blocks from the famous row in an attractive area.

It looks like someone's vintage mansion, complete with turrets, and the decor inside is gorgeous. There's an on-site coffee shop as well.

1057 Steiner Street. 9.2 rating (wonderful).

See the Chateau Tivoli for availability, rates and amazing photos.

Chateau Tivoli Bed and Breakfast San FranciscoChateau Tivoli Bed and Breakfast

The San Remo Hotel. This is a real charmer, right in the heart of North Beach, San Francisco's Italian neighborhood. The hotel is located in a pretty Victorian with a popular Italian restaurant, Fior d'Italia, on site.

This is a rare find, a surprisingly inexpensive hotel in a safe area. Why is it so reasonable? There are shared bathrooms. A real vintage feel; you're entering a time machine! Not for everyone. But it's a great location; take a look at the photos of the building and rooms. On a quieter street.

Best for visitors without a car; parking is tough in this area. It's a only few minutes' walk to Chinatown. And lots of great Italian restaurants nearby. Only 2 blocks from Fisherman's Wharf.

2237 Mason Street. It didn't quite hit the 8.0 rating cutoff, but 7.8 is close enough for a bargain like this one.

See the San Remo Hotel for availability and rates.

San Remo Hotel North Beach San FranciscoSan Remo Hotel

Green Tortoise Hostel.

Popular hostel in the heart of North Beach. Choose from single rooms or dormitories. Big ballroom where musicians can play, plus pool table and lots of games. Great place to meet fellow travelers. Young vibe. Not expensive.

Kitchen for guests, hearty breakfast included. Laundry facilities and shuttle back to airport available. Social events every night.

494 Broadway. 8.7 rating (excellent).

See Green Tortoise Hostel for booking and rates.

The North Beach area is an attractive, historic San Francisco neighborhood, a short walk to Fisherman's Wharf.

An alternative to staying in the city: Sausalito

Stay in Sausalito, across the bay. The charming seaside town of Sausalito is just a 30 minute ferry ride from San Francisco. Quiet, safe and cute, with lots of good restaurants, shops, art galleries, and pretty views. 

Hop on a ferry to get to the city and enjoy the gorgeous ride, leaving your car behind (in safety, haha). Amazing views of the Golden Gate, Alcatraz and the city skyline on the way over.

The Blue and Gold Ferry takes you to Fisherman's Wharf, and the Golden Gate Ferry takes you to the Ferry Building and downtown.

Both ferries leave from the center of town. Avoid driving or parking hassles in the city. $28 round trip.

The hotels listed below are right in the town and very close to where the ferry docks.

Most of the restaurants and shops are on the main street of Sausalito, the Bridgeway, which runs along the water.

More on Sausalito

The Gables Inn Sausalito.

Attractive, quaint older hotel. A bit old-fashioned. No A/C. Short walk to all the restaurants and shops in Sausalito. On-site parking ($20)

62 Princess Street. 8.4 rating (very good).

See Gables Inn for availability and rates.

Hotel Sausalito.

Charming older hotel on the waterfront. Close to the ferry terminal and Sausalito's restaurants and shops.

16 El Portal. 8.2 rating (very good).

See Hotel Sausalito for availability and rates.

Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa.

Luxury hotel overlooking the marina. Beautifully designed. Also close to all the shops and restaurants, as well as short walk to the ferry.

On-site spa, restaurant and fitness center. More expensive.

801 Bridgeway. 8.4 rating (very good).

See Casa Madrona Hotel for rates and booking.

Where not to stay in San Francisco

Map of Tenderloin and civic Center San FranciscoBoundaries of Tenderloin, Civic Center and Mid-Market areas

Anything in the Tenderloin area I personally would avoid. There are some very nice hotels there, with many satisfied guests, so it really comes down to individual risk tolerance, and what you are okay with seeing.

The Tenderloin is the highest crime area of San Francisco, plus there is large-scale, open, drug dealing and drug use there. This area also has the highest concentration of homelessness and the visibly mentally ill. 

The areas are an estimate; no set boundaries.

Another bad area is Mid-Market Street. There are a lot of crime and drug problems along both sides of Market Street between 5th Street and 8th Streets.

Also, if a hotel seems unusually cheap by SF standards, there's probably a good reason. There's aren't many real bargains in an expensive city like San Francisco, so look closely at the location and the reviews on, Tripadvisor,  or Expedia if it seems too good to be true.

A cheaper way to stay here are in hostels, but pick one in a good area, like the one at Fort Mason mentioned above in the safe areas section.

Note: in spite of the news, San Francisco is not a dangerous place overall. It is largely dependent on which area you are in.

The crime rate varies tremendously depending on where you are in the city. So with awareness and reasonable precautions, you should be okay.

But be very careful about leaving things in your cars! That's the problem you are most likely to encounter. Sorry!

See my article on crime in San Francisco for maps of the dangerous areas.

Tips for travelers:

Quick links

Need to rent a car? Check out Discover Cars for good deals.

Considering travel insurance? See Safety Wing for options.

What are the best places to stay in San Francisco near the beach?

The Ocean Park Motel in the Sunset District, and the Seal Rock Inn in the Richmond District, are both nice places to stay near Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Are there inexpensive places to stay in San Francisco?

Not many, but you can try the local hostels. An especially nice one, in a pretty and safe area, is the HI Fisherman's Wharf Hostel, in Fort Mason on the bay.

Generally speaking, the hotels in Fisherman's Wharf and the Marina District tend to be less expensive than the hotels in Union Square or Nob Hill. 

Which San Francisco hotels have free parking?

Some of the motels and hotels in the Marina District have free parking, along with Beck's Motor Inn in the Castro.

Out in the Avenues (Sunset and Richmond Districts) there's a good chance of finding free parking on the street.

Otherwise, in the denser areas like Union Square, Financial District, Nob Hill and Fisherman's Wharf, overnight parking is often available but at exorbitant prices.