Where to stay in San Francisco without a car: 9 Best areas

Hi guys, as usual, on my website, I cover topics for car-free travelers. Today, we will explore San Francisco and help you find the best places to stay in San Francisco without a car

I will share my recommendations for the top areas to stay in San Francisco without a car, along with a helpful map. I’ll tell you where I stayed in San Francisco (SF) and suggest the best hotels for visitors with a range of budgets.

San Francisco is a major city situated on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula and is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge, which connects the city to Marin County.

The city is known for its iconic landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Lombard Street (known as the crookedest street in the world), and Chinatown, which is one of the oldest and most vibrant Chinatowns in North America.

If you are asking “Can you stay in San Francisco without a car?”, my answer is, “Yes, you can absolutely stay in San Francisco without a car. San Francisco is a very walkable city with an extensive public transportation system, making it easy to get around without a car.”

San Francisco has a comprehensive BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system that connects the city with various parts of the Bay Area, including the airports. You can use BART to explore different neighborhoods within the city and the Bay area.

The San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) operates buses, light rail, and cable cars throughout the city. Muni is a convenient way to get around within SF and reach many popular destinations.

San Francisco is famous for its historic Cable Cars, which is a fun and nostalgic way to travel short distances within the city.

Taxis and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are also available in San Francisco if you need to cover short distances. Great option if you travel as a group.

The city is a very pedestrian and bike-friendly city. You can rent a bike or simply explore various neighborhoods such as Downtown, North Beach, and Fisherman’s Wharf on foot.

If you want to explore areas around San Francisco, there are public ferry services that can take you to places like Alcatraz Island, Sausalito, and more.

While you may not need a car for most of your stay, if you plan to take day trips outside of the city, you can easily rent a car for those specific occasions.

It’s important to note that parking can be expensive and limited in SF, so not having a car can actually be more convenient and cost-effective for getting around the city. Many popular attractions are easily accessible by public transportation or on foot, so you can enjoy SF without the need for a car.

Where to stay in San Francisco without a car?

The best areas to stay in San Francisco without a car are Union Square, South of Market (SOMA), Financial District, Chinatown, Embarcadero, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, Nob Hill, and Hayes Valley.

These areas are very walkable and well-connected to public transportation, so you can easily get around without a car.

In my opinion, Union Square is the most convenient location for car-free travelers because it is a central hub for shopping, dining, and entertainment. It’s well-connected to public transportation, including BART, buses, and cable cars, making it a great base to explore the city.

During my trip to SF, I stayed at the HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel, a very good value for money hotel, featuring both private and dorm rooms. It is centrally located in the downtown area, easy walking distance to major attractions, restaurants, and shops.

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

Map of the best areas to stay in San Francisco without a car
Map of the best areas to stay in San Francisco without a car

Let’s get into the details of the recommended areas to stay in San Francisco, especially for travelers without a car. I’ll explain to you how to reach each area and how to get around. I’ll also 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.

9 Best areas to stay in San Francisco without a car:

1. Union Square

Union Square is a popular and convenient area to stay in San Francisco, especially for travelers without a car. Union Square is located in the heart of San Francisco, making it a great starting point for exploring the city. 

Union Square is within walking distance of many popular attractions, including theaters, shopping districts, and dining options. It is also well-connected to public transportation. You can easily access BART and Muni lines, making it convenient to explore other parts of the city.

Union Square is a shopper’s paradise, known for its high-end shopping, with flagship stores of well-known brands and department stores like Macy’s.  

The neighborhood is home to several theaters, including the historic Geary Theater and the Curran Theatre, making it a great choice for theater enthusiasts.

There are plenty of dining options in and around Union Square, ranging from upscale restaurants to casual cafes, catering to various tastes and budgets.

Nearby cultural attractions include the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the Museum of the African Diaspora. The Asian Art Museum is also within walking distance.

Best places to stay in SF in Union Square without a car:

  • Luxury ($$$): Hotel Nikko San Francisco, popular 5-star hotel, centrally located within a short walk from Union Square, easy access to major SF attractions and public transportation.
  • Mid-range ($$): Hyatt Regency San Francisco Downtown SOMA, great 4-star hotel in a central location, short walk from Union Square, SOMA, Chinatown. Lots of restaurants and shops nearby.
  • Budget ($): HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel, 3-star popular hotel, conveniently located within walking distance from Union Square with lots of shops and restaurants. Also within walking distance from Chinatown Gates and Westfield Mall on Market Street.

2. South of Market (SOMA)

South of Market, often abbreviated as SOMA, is a diverse and dynamic neighborhood located right next to Union Square. It is an excellent choice for those looking to be centrally located with easy access to cultural attractions, dining, and transportation options.

The neighborhood is home to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). These venues host art exhibitions, performances, and cultural events.

SOMA has a lively nightlife scene with numerous bars, clubs, and music venues. It’s a great neighborhood for those looking to experience San Francisco’s nightlife.

SOMA is well-connected to public transportation, including BART and Muni lines. This makes it easy to explore other parts of the city and the Bay Area.

Best places to stay in SF in SOMA without a car:

  • Luxury ($$$): Palace Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Francisco, 5-star hotel, conveniently located within walking distance from Union Square and SOMA. Easy access to cable car to visit Fisherman’s Wharf.  
  • Mid-range ($$): The Clancy, Autograph Collection, 4-star hotel, located in Downtown SF, in SoMa, surrounded by museums and tech titans, close to Oracle Park and the Chase Center.
  • Mid-range ($$: Hotel Zelos San Francisco, 4-star eco-friendly hotel located within easy walk from the transport hub Union Square, Powell St. BART station, and Yerba Buena Gardens.

3. Financial District

If you’re visiting for business or prefer a more urban atmosphere, the Financial District may be a good choice. It’s also well-connected to public transit and close to the Embarcadero and waterfront.

The Financial District is home to some historical landmarks, including the Transamerica Pyramid and the Old Federal Reserve Building. Exploring these sites can be interesting if you have an interest in history and architecture.

The Financial District has a bustling urban atmosphere, with tall skyscrapers and a mix of professionals and tourists. If you enjoy the energy of a city center, this neighborhood may be a good fit for you.

The Embarcadero waterfront is within walking distance, offering scenic views, parks, and attractions like the Ferry Building Marketplace, where you can enjoy artisanal food and local products.

Best places to stay in SF in Financial District without a car:

  • Luxury ($$$): Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco at Embarcadero, 5-star hotel in Downtown SF, short walk from Chinatown and  Embarcadero BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station. It has  service to San Francisco International Airport.
  • Mid-range ($$): Hyatt Regency San Francisco, 4-star hotel, centrally located in the Financial District, short walk from Ferry Building shops and ferries to Alcatraz. Also close to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Budget ($): Hotel Griffon, great 3-star accommodation, only a few mins walk from Ferry Building Marketplace, a 20 mins walk to AT&T Park, which is home of the SF Giants baseball team.

4. Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the oldest and most vibrant in North America. Staying here allows you to immerse yourself in Chinese culture, from the architecture and street markets to authentic Chinese cuisine.

Chinatown is a highly walkable neighborhood, and many of its attractions are within easy walking distance. You can explore the colorful streets, visit historic temples, and enjoy traditional tea shops and restaurants.

Chinatown is well-connected to public transportation. Nearby stations like Montgomery Street and Powell Street BART stations are within walking distance or a short bus ride away, providing access to other parts of the city.

You’ll find numerous shops and markets selling a wide variety of goods, including souvenirs, herbs, spices, and traditional Chinese products. The shops along Grant Avenue are particularly popular for shopping.

Chinatown is a food lover’s paradise. You can sample delicious dim sum, Peking duck, and a wide range of regional Chinese dishes. Don’t miss exploring the local bakeries for treats like buns and pastries.

Be sure to visit historical sites like the Tin How Temple and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, which provide insight into the neighborhood’s history and traditions.

Best places to stay in San Francisco in Chinatown without a car:

  • Luxury ($$$): The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, popular 5-star hotel, in a great location, short walk from Union Square, Chinatown, and Financial District
  • Mid-range ($$): Omni San Francisco, 4-star hotel, located at the corner of California Street and Montgomery Street, within walking distance from Montgomery Street BART Station.
  • Budget ($): ITH Pacific Tradewinds Hostel, great value for money backpacker hostel, centrally located, easy access to top attractions and public transportation.

5. Embarcadero

Embarcadero is an excellent choice for those looking to enjoy beautiful waterfront views, explore iconic landmarks, and have easy access to public transportation. 

The Embarcadero boasts stunning views of the San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge, and the waterfront. It’s a picturesque area that’s especially beautiful during sunrise and sunset.

The Embarcadero features a scenic promenade where you can enjoy leisurely walks, jog, or ride a bike. You can take in the views, visit public art installations, and even watch street performers.

Ferry Building Marketplace is a food lover’s paradise, with a wide array of artisanal food vendors, restaurants, and shops. It’s a great place to sample local and international cuisine.

The Embarcadero is a convenient starting point for taking a ferry to Alcatraz Island, one of San Francisco’s most famous attractions. Be sure to book your tickets in advance, as they often sell out.

If you’re a baseball fan, the home of the San Francisco Giants, AT&T Park (now known as Oracle Park), is located nearby. Catching a game here can be a memorable experience.

The Embarcadero BART station provides easy access to other parts of the city and the Bay Area. Additionally, Muni buses and historic streetcars run along the Embarcadero, making it easy to explore San Francisco.

The Ferry Building hosts a popular farmers’ market on Saturdays, featuring fresh produce, artisanal products, and prepared foods. It’s a great place to sample local flavors.

Best places to stay in SF in Embarcadero without a car:

  • Luxury ($$$): 1 Hotel San Francisco, 5-star hotel, offering views of Embarcadero waterfront, comfortable rooms, great location for car-free travelers.
  • Mid-range ($$): Club Quarters Hotel Embarcadero, San Francisco, 4-star hotel, centrally located, only 10 mins walk from Embarcadero and the Ferry Building.
  • Mid-range ($$): Harbor Court Hotel, 4-star accommodation situated between the Financial District and Oracle Park, on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. Easy access to major landmarks, restaurants, and shops.

6. North Beach

North Beach is a great base if you’re interested in a lively and historic area known for its Italian heritage, vibrant nightlife, and proximity to popular attractions.  

North Beach is often referred to as San Francisco’s Little Italy. It’s known for its Italian restaurants, bakeries, and cafes. You can enjoy delicious pasta, pizza, and Italian pastries in this neighborhood.

North Beach has a rich literary history and is home to many iconic cafes and bookstores. City Lights Bookstore, famous for its Beat Generation connections, is a must-visit.

Washington Square Park in North Beach is a great place to relax, people-watch, and enjoy the community atmosphere. It’s also home to St. Peter and Paul Church, a notable landmark.

North Beach comes alive at night with numerous bars, clubs, and live music venues. You can enjoy jazz, blues, and other live performances in this neighborhood.

North Beach is a great neighborhood to explore on foot. Consider taking a guided walking tour to learn about the history, art, and culture of the area.

North Beach is well-connected to public transportation, including buses and cable cars, making it easy to reach other parts of the city without a car.

Coit Tower is perched on top of Telegraph Hill and offers panoramic views of San Francisco. It’s within walking distance from North Beach and worth the climb for the stunning vistas.

Best places to stay in San Francisco in North Beach without a car:

  • Mid-range ($$): Columbus Inn, 3-star hotel, located on Columbus Avenue, North Beach, a short walk from major tourist attractions such as Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, and Pier 39.
  • Mid-range ($$): Hotel Boheme, this accommodation located in the middle of the historic North Beach, close to Little Italy and Chinatown. Short walk from many Italian restaurants, cafes, clubs and cable cars.
  • Budget ($): Green Tortoise Hostel, popular hostel in North Beach Little Italy district, a few mins walk from City Lights Bookstore and the entertainment district. 

7. Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular choice for tourists, as it offers easy access to many iconic attractions, seafood dining options, and a lively waterfront atmosphere. 

Fisherman’s Wharf is home to several famous attractions, including Pier 39 (known for its sea lions), Ghirardelli Square (home to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory), and Madame Tussauds San Francisco. Alcatraz Island is also nearby, and you can catch a ferry to visit this historic prison.

The area is renowned for its seafood restaurants and clam chowder served in sourdough bread bowls. You can enjoy fresh Dungeness crab, clam chowder, shrimp, and other seafood dishes along the waterfront.

Located at Pier 39, the Aquarium of the Bay is a family-friendly attraction that allows you to get up close to marine life from the San Francisco Bay.

You can take various bay cruises from Fisherman’s Wharf, including sightseeing tours, dinner cruises, and trips to Alcatraz Island. It’s a convenient location if you plan to explore the bay by boat.

Explore historic sites such as the USS Pampanito submarine and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

Fisherman’s Wharf is well-connected to cable cars, buses, and historic streetcars (F-line). You can easily travel to other neighborhoods and attractions in San Francisco.

There’s often street entertainment along the waterfront, including live music, magicians, and street performers. It adds to the festive atmosphere of the area.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular tourist destination and can get crowded, especially during peak travel seasons. Keep this in mind if you prefer a quieter atmosphere.

Best places to stay in SF in Fisherman’s Wharf without a car:


8. Nob Hill

Nob Hill offers a more upscale and residential experience compared to some other areas. It is known for its stunning views of the city and the bay. Many of the city’s classic postcard views can be enjoyed from this neighborhood.

The neighborhood is filled with historic buildings, luxurious hotels, and beautiful old mansions. It has a rich history and a refined atmosphere.

Nob Hill is served by the famous cable car lines, making it easy to access other parts of the city, including downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Grace Cathedral is a notable religious and architectural landmark in Nob Hill. It’s worth a visit to explore its stunning architecture and enjoy the labyrinth in its courtyard.

Huntington Park in Nob Hill offers a peaceful green space where you can relax, have a picnic, or simply enjoy the surroundings.

Nob Hill has a more relaxed and residential atmosphere compared to some of the busier tourist neighborhoods like Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square. It’s a good choice if you prefer a quieter setting.

Best places to stay in San Francisco in Nob Hill without a car:

  • Luxury ($$$): Fairmont San Francisco, 5-star hotel, located on Mason Street, Nob Hill, conveniently located at where 3 cable car lines meet, easy access to attractions and amenities.
  • Mid-range ($$): Stanford Court San Francisco, 4-star accommodation, located very close to the Powell and California cable car stop, short walk from major landmarks.
  • Budget ($): Holiday Inn San Francisco, 3-star hotel, close to San Francisco’s famous cable car system, as well as Golden Gate Bridge and Union Square 

9. Hayes Valley

Hayes Valley is a great choice for those who appreciate a trendy and artistic atmosphere, boutique shopping, and a vibrant culinary scene. 

Hayes Street is the main commercial thoroughfare in the neighborhood, lined with cafes, restaurants, and shops. It’s a great place to explore and dine.

Patricia’s Green is a small park in the heart of Hayes Valley that often hosts art installations and events. Nearby, you can also explore the more extensive green spaces of Alamo Square Park.

Hayes Valley is well-connected to public transportation, including buses and streetcars (F-line), which can take you to other parts of the city with ease.

Hayes Valley is close to the Civic Center area, home to government buildings, museums like the Asian Art Museum, and the War Memorial Opera House. It’s also a hub for cultural events and festivals.

Hayes Valley is highly walkable, making it easy to explore the neighborhood on foot. It’s also a bike-friendly area with bike lanes and rental options.

If you choose to stay in Hayes Valley, I suggest you book your accommodation at the mid-range The Grove Inn, a great 3-star hotel, in a quiet safe area, close to public transit and within walking distance to restaurants.

In conclusion, Union Square, SOMA, Financial District, Chinatown, Embarcadero, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Nob Hill are the best places to stay in San FranCisco without a car.  These are central walkable areas, so you can easily access to attractions and amenities on foot or by public transportation.

There you have it, my recommendations for the popular areas that you can stay during your trip to San Francisco. I hope you found my article helpful and enjoy your holiday!

You can continue reading about SF in these articles:

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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