Where to stay in San Francisco for first time: 6 Safe areas

Hi guys, on my website, I already wrote an article about staying in San Francisco without a car (I will put the links to it at the end of this article). In today’s article, I will help you to find the best places to stay in San Francisco for first-time visitors and tourists.

I will share with you what I believe are the best and safe areas to stay in San Francisco for first-timers and tourists, along with a helpful map and areas to avoid. I’ll also share where I stayed in San Francisco and recommend some of the best hotels for various budgets.

Before get into the detail of the main topic, let’s look at some facts about San Francisco:

San Francisco (SF) is a popular tourist destination located on the west coast of the United States in California. It is famous for its iconic Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, the Painted Ladies (a row of colorful Victorian houses), and Lombard Street (known as the crookedest street in the world).

The city is a major hub for the technology industry, with Silicon Valley located nearby. Many tech companies, including Apple, Facebook, and Google, have their headquarters in the region.

It has a well-developed public transportation system, including buses, trams (cable cars), and a subway system. San Francisco International Airport is a major gateway for international travelers.

Popular tourist attractions in SF are the Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, and the historic Haight-Ashbury district. You can also enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking in nearby parks and enjoying the city’s waterfront.

The city is known for its diverse culinary scene. It is famous for dishes like clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls and has a thriving food truck culture.

Is San Francisco safe to visit?

Yes, San Francisco is generally safe for tourists, but like any major city, it has its share of safety considerations. The city has a visible homelessness issue. While most homeless individuals are not a threat to tourists, it’s a good practice to avoid confrontations and to be respectful.

Popular tourist areas such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, and the Golden Gate Bridge are generally safe. But, there are pickpockets, so it’s wise to keep an eye on your belongings all time.

It is recommended to always be aware of your surroundings, stick to well-lit populated areas, avoid poorly lit areas at night, and secure your belongings against petty theft.

Where to stay in San Francisco for the first time?

The best and safe areas to stay in San Francisco for first-timers and tourists are Marina District, Nob Hill, Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Financial District, and North Beach/Chinatown. It’s important to take common-sense precautions wherever you stay. 

Union Square is the most popular choice for first-time visitors who want to be in the center of the action, close to theaters, shops, and a wide range of restaurants. It’s also a transportation hub with easy access to other parts of the city.

The Marina District is a safe and budget-friendly area for first-timers who want to be near the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge and close to recreational activities in the Marina Green and Crissy Field. It is also a great base for travelers with a car as many hotels here offer free parking.

Nob Hill is a safe and upscale neighborhood with historic hotels and grand architecture. It offers stunning views of the city and is close to attractions like Grace Cathedral and Huntington Park. It’s a quieter and more luxurious option.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular tourist area with many seafood restaurants, shops, and waterfront attractions like Pier 39 and Alcatraz Island. It’s a bustling and lively area with a lot of tourist-oriented activities.

The Financial District is the city’s business center and has a more corporate feel. It is a great base for tourist and business travelers who want central location and close proximity to the Embarcadero, where you can find the Ferry Building and waterfront views.

North Beach is San Francisco’s historic Italian neighborhood, known for its cafes and nightlife. Chinatown is the oldest and one of the largest in North America. Staying in this area will give you easy access to delicious food, cultural experiences, and a vibrant atmosphere.

While San Francisco offers many wonderful neighborhoods and attractions, being mindful of certain areas can help you make the most of your visit. 

The Tenderloin district, known for its high crime rates and homelessness issues, is one such area to avoid, especially after dark. Parts of the Mission District and the Civic Center can be less desirable due to crime and homelessness concerns. 

During my trip to San Francisco, I stayed at the HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel. It was a good value for money hostel that has a super central location. It was only a 5 mins walk from Union Square, Chinatown, and Westfield Mall. I was able to explore most things on foot. 

Below is a map of the popular areas in San Francisco for first-time travelers. You can scroll down to view the live map.

Map of the safe areas to stay in San Francisco first time
Map of the safe areas to stay in San Francisco first time

Let’s get into the details of the recommended areas to stay in San Francisco, especially for first-time visitors. I’ll provide you with some suggestions for the best places to stay in each area, catering to every budget. 

All hotels in San Francisco have been carefully selected by me, with guest review scores of at least 8.0 or higher at the time I chose them. If you don’t like my suggestions (perhaps they don’t suit your budget or preferences), you can click the “MORE HOTEL DEALS” button where you can choose your own hotel.

6 Safe areas to stay in San Francisco for first-timers and tourists:

1. Marina District

Marina District is one of the safest areas to stay in San Francisco for first-time visitors who want to be near the waterfront and have easy access to outdoor activities and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. 

You can enjoy the scenic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay while taking a leisurely stroll or having a picnic at Marina Green. It’s a great spot for relaxation and outdoor activities.

Chestnut Street is the main thoroughfare in the Marina and offers a wide variety of shops, restaurants, cafes, and the Marina Market. You’ll find everything from boutiques to popular chain stores.

This area is home to the Palace of Fine Arts, an iconic neoclassical structure, which is not only a beautiful architectural landmark but also a great place for photography.

Just a short walk from the Marina, Crissy Field is a fantastic place for a bike ride, jog, or simply enjoying the beach and scenic views. You can rent bikes and explore the area along the Bay Trail.

The Marina District is known for its excellent dining options. You can explore local restaurants for seafood, Italian cuisine, and other diverse culinary experiences.

The Marina has a lively nightlife scene with bars and clubs, making it a great place to unwind in the evening.

Best places to stay in SF in Marina District for first-timers:

  • Budget ($): Chelsea Inn, popular 3-star hotel located in a central location between the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf. It is within walking distance to many attractions, bars and pier. It has a 24-hour front desk and free parking, which is a bonus for those who have a car.
  • Budget ($): Coventry Motor Inn, great 3-star accommodation located on Lombard Street, within walking distance/ short bus ride from major attractions. It has spacious rooms and free, secure parking. 
  • Budget ($): Infinity Hotel San Francisco, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, 3-star hotel located in Marina District, 6 mins Uber/Car ride from the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Also easy access to the historic Alcatraz Island and Fisherman’s Wharf.

2. Nob Hill

Nob Hill is a prestigious and safe neighborhood that is known for its upscale character, historic landmarks, and stunning views of the city. Great base for a quieter atmosphere while still being close to the heart of San Francisco.

The neighborhood is famous for its elevated position, providing breathtaking panoramic views of San Francisco and the Bay. Take a walk along the streets and enjoy the vistas.

Huntington Park offers a peaceful retreat with green spaces, fountains, and lovely landscaping. It’s a great place for a leisurely stroll or a quiet picnic.

The area is home to the impressive Gothic-style Grace Cathedral, which features beautiful stained glass windows, a replica of the Chartres Labyrinth, and serene outdoor spaces. 

Nob Hill is home to several iconic hotels, including the Fairmont and the Mark Hopkins. Even if you’re not staying at these hotels, you can visit their famous bars and restaurants for a taste of classic San Francisco luxury.

The famous Powell-Hyde cable car line runs through Nob Hill. You can take a ride on these historic cable cars to enjoy a quintessential San Francisco experience.

The neighborhood boasts excellent dining options, from upscale restaurants to cozy cafes. Explore the culinary scene and enjoy fine dining experiences.

While not in Nob Hill itself, Union Street is nearby and offers a wide range of shops, boutiques, and eateries. It’s a pleasant area for a leisurely walk.

Nob Hill is centrally located, making it easy to access other parts of the city. You can use public transportation or rideshare services to explore San Francisco.

Best places to stay in SF in Nob Hill for first-time travelers:

  • Luxury ($$$): Fairmont San Francisco, 5-star hotel centrally situated on Mason Street, easy access to the 3 cable car lines. Short cab ride from the Ferry Building and Golden Gate Bridge.  
  • Mid-range ($$): Stanford Court San Francisco, 4-star boutique accommodation, set on California Street, Nob Hill, steps away from the Powell and California cable car stop, 10 mins walk from Union Square, North Beach, and Chinatown.
  • Budget ($): Holiday Inn San Francisco – Golden Gateway, 3-star hotel, located in the quaint Nob Hill district, easy access to the famous cable car system and minutes away from popular Union Square and Chinatown. It has an Outdoor swimming pool and laundry services.

3. Union Square

Union Square is an excellent choice if you want to be in the center of the action, with a wide range of shopping, dining, and cultural experiences right at your doorstep.  

Union Square is a shopper’s paradise, with numerous department stores, boutiques, and flagship stores of famous brands. You’ll find everything from high-end fashion to unique San Francisco souvenirs.

If you’re interested in the arts, Union Square is home to several theaters, including the historic Curran Theatre and Geary Theater. You can check out the local theater scene for a show or musical performance.

Union Square Park itself is a great place to people-watch, relax, and maybe catch an outdoor event or art installation. It’s a hub of activity in the city.

The Powell-Hyde cable car line begins at the intersection of Powell and Market streets, just a short walk from Union Square. You can take a cable car ride to Fisherman’s Wharf for a classic San Francisco experience.

Union Square has a vibrant nightlife scene with bars, clubs, and entertainment options for those looking to enjoy the evening.

Union Square is a transportation hub with easy access to buses, cable cars, and BART, making it convenient for exploring other parts of the city.

Union Square is centrally located, making it a great base for visiting other San Francisco attractions like South Of Market, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Financial District.

Best places to stay in SF in Union Square for first-time visitors:

  • Luxury ($$$): Hotel Nikko San Francisco, popular 5-star hotel, in central SF, a short walk from Union Square with its shops and restaurants. It has an adults only swimming pool and 24-hour front desk.
  • Mid-range ($$): citizenM San Francisco Union Square, popular 4-star good value for money hotel, centrally located in the heart of SF, great base for first-timers to explore the city. It has Very good breakfast according to around 3000 guests’ reviews.
  • Budget ($): Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel Union Square, great 3-star accommodation, conveniently located in downtown SF, 5 mins walk from Union Square, the city’s public transportation hub. 10 mins walk to Powell Street BART station, for trains to the airport.

4. Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a lively and popular neighborhood in San Francisco, especially for tourists. It’s known for its seafood restaurants, waterfront attractions, and a lively atmosphere.

Pier 39 is one of the most popular attractions in Fisherman’s Wharf. Pier 39 offers a wide range of restaurants, shops, street performers, and, of course, the famous sea lions that lounge on the docks.

You can enjoy some of the city’s best seafood at the many restaurants and crab stands in the area. Try clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl or fresh Dungeness crab.

You can take a ferry from Fisherman’s Wharf to visit the historic Alcatraz Island, once home to a maximum-security federal prison. Be sure to book your tickets well in advance.

Explore the marine life of San Francisco Bay at the family-friendly Aquarium of the Bay. It’s an excellent place to learn about the local underwater ecosystems.

Visit the Hyde Street Pier and explore historic ships, including the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha. It’s a fascinating maritime experience.

Located just a short walk from Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square is a historic chocolate factory turned shopping and dining complex where you can indulge in delicious chocolate treats.

The area is also home to the Exploratorium, a hands-on science museum that’s fun for all ages. It’s located on Pier 15 and offers interactive exhibits and experiences.

You can consider taking various tours, including bay cruises, bike rentals, and guided walks. These can provide a deeper understanding of the neighborhood and the city’s history.

Best places to stay in SF in Fisherman’s Wharf for first-time tourists:


5. Financial District

The Financial District is the city’s main business and financial hub. Great base for business travelers and tourists who want central location, and proximity to waterfront along the Embarcadero and the historic sites in Jackson Square

The Embarcadero Center is a prominent commercial complex in the Financial District, offering shopping, dining, and entertainment options. It’s a convenient place for retail therapy and dining.

The Transamerica Pyramid is a recognizable landmark in the Financial District. You can’t miss it, and you can often take tours to visit its observation deck for panoramic views of the city.

Located along the Embarcadero, the Ferry Building is a gourmet marketplace with artisanal food shops, restaurants, and a bustling farmer’s market. It’s a great place for food lovers.

A short walk from the Financial District, you can explore San Francisco’s vibrant Chinatown for authentic cuisine, shopping, and cultural experiences.

The Financial District is well-connected by BART and Muni, making it easy to explore other parts of the city. The Embarcadero BART station provides a direct link to the airport.

Best places to stay in SF in Financial District for first-timers:

  • Luxury ($$$): Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco at Embarcadero, great 5-star good value for money hotel located in the Financial district, close to the Embarcadero, offering stunning city views. Only 6 mins walk from Embarcadero BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station.
  • Mid-range ($$): Hyatt Regency San Francisco, popular 4-star accommodation located within a short walk from Ferry Building shops and ferries to Alcatraz. It is 15 mins walk from Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Budget ($): Hotel Griffon, 3-star hotel, conveniently located on Steuart Street, offering views of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Within walking distance from Ferry Building Marketplace and the AT&T Park, home of SF Giant’s professional baseball team.

6. North Beach/ Chinatown

North Beach is often referred to as San Francisco’s “Little Italy.” You can explore the neighborhood’s Italian heritage through its numerous Italian restaurants, bakeries, and cafes. 

North Beach is known for its coffeehouses and sidewalk cafes. It’s a great place to enjoy a cappuccino, people-watch, and soak in the European-style ambiance.

This area is home to the historicCity Lights Bookstore, founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is a famous literary landmark and an excellent place to explore the beatnik culture of San Francisco.

Washington Square Park is the central park in North Beach offers a pleasant place to relax, often hosting events and festivals. You can also visit the Saints Peter and Paul Church nearby.

North Beach has a lively nightlife scene with bars and jazz clubs. It’s a great place to enjoy live music and entertainment.

Chinatown is located next to North Beach. Grant Avenue and Stockton Street are The heart of Chinatown is bustling with shops, markets, and authentic Chinese restaurants.  

The ornate Dragon’s Gate at the intersection of Grant Avenue and Bush Street serves as the main entrance to Chinatown and is a popular spot for photos.

You can visit the Chinese Culture Center for exhibitions, programs, and events that provide insights into Chinese-American history and culture.

Visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, a small factory on Ross Alley to see how fortune cookies are made and even sample some fresh ones.

You can also Discover the Tin How Temple, a historic Chinese temple, dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu, nestled in the heart of Chinatown.

Bothe North Beach and Chinatown are conveniently located near other attractions, such as Coit Tower and the Embarcadero, making it easy to explore the broader city.

Best places to stay in SF in North Beach/ Chinatown for first-time visitors:


In conclusion, Marina District, Nob Hill, Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Financial District, and North Beach are the best places to stay in San Francisco for first-timers and tourists. They are safe, central, and well-connected areas that provide plenty accommodations for all budgets.

You can continue reading about SF and other popular cities in California in these articles:

There you have it, my recommendations for the most popular and safest neighborhoods that you can stay during your first trip to San Francisco. I hope you enjoyed my article and find it both informative and helpful.

If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Your feedback is invaluable and helps me continue to create more quality content.

About Author: Ocean Cameron

I'm Ocean, founder and main editor of travelhotelexpert.com. I’m a passionate traveler who specializes in uncovering the best hotels and locations in every city, especially for first-timers, all without the need for a car.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. This means that, at absolutely no additional cost to you, I'll earn a small commission if you click through and purchase something I've recommended. I only recommend products that I use myself or firmly believe in. Thank you!

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