Picking your San Francisco hostel: Your guide to San Fran’s neighborhoods

From shopping hotspots and hippie hangouts to a thriving gay sector and a Financial District, San Francisco has something for everyone. However, with as many as 100 different neighborhoods to choose from (depending upon who you believe) it can be difficult to pick the right San Francisco youth hostel to suit your needs.

To help you avoid getting stuck in a hostel in an area that isn’t what you wanted, we’ve come up with a guide to some of San Fran’s neighborhoods along with a few suggestions of possible hostels to stay at including the award winning Elements Hostel.

We can’t guarantee we’ve got the perfect hostel for you but hopefully we can point you in the right direction!

North Beach

North Beach is San Fran’s version of the Red Light district. Unsurprisingly, it is packed to the rafters with more bustling bars, rickety restaurants and seedy strip joints, earning it a reputation as one of the best places to go to sample San Francisco nightlife.

This doesn’t make it everyone’s cup of tea- and it does have its knockers- however it is a great place to stay if you want to be in the thick of the action.

It’s also worth considering that in amongst the numerous garish neon-lights and dark alleys, there are some real hidden gems to be found like Tai Chi in Washington Square and the City Lights Bookstore– you just have to keep your eyes open for them!

North Beach Attractions: Filbert Steps, Columbus Tower, Washington Square Park and North Beach Museum.

Good for: Dining, drinking, clubbing, sight-seeing, general atmosphere

Bad if: You’re looking for somewhere quiet to stay away from all the tourists.

Recommended place to stay: Green Tortoise Backpackers. In all honesty, this is our only hostel in North Beach! Fortunately, it’s also one of our most popular hostels in San Francisco and has a customer review rating of 93.3%

Check availability and find out more about Green Tortoise Backpackers on the HostelBookers website.

Fisherman’s Wharf

As the most visited area of San Francisco, you won’t be surprised to hear that there is no shortage of things to do (or tourists!).

As a working wharf, Fisherman’s Wharf is every fish and maritime lover’s idea of heaven with fishermen regularly coming in and out of the harbor. If you can rouse yourself out of bed early enough in the morning, you’ll see the fishermen at work in Fish Alley.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a great place to go if you’re into museums and nature as it has an aquarium and more museums than you can shake a stick at!

It’s also home to the infamous Pier 39 which is your portal to San Fran’s number one tourist attraction- the infamous Alcatraz prison.

Fisherman’s Wharf Attractions: Pier 39, the Wax Museum, San Francisco Maritime Museum and Fish Alley.

Good for: Museums, sight-seeing, families

Bad if: You’re looking to avoid the tourists and want an authentic San Fran experience.

Recommended place to stay: Hi-San Francisco – Fisherman’s Wharf. Arguably nearer to the Marina neighborhood than Fisherman’s Wharf (just!), Hi-San Francisco – Fisherman’s Wharf provides clean, comfortable accommodation at no nonsense prices and offers stunning views of both Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

Check availability and find out more about Hi-San Francisco – Fisherman’s Wharf on the HostelBookers website.

Union Square

Union Square is the shopping and retail hub of SF. This is where you’ll find all the big stores like Macy’s, Saks, Levi’s and Louis Vuitton as well as plenty of trendy cafes and bistros where you can grab a bite to eat.

It’s also the center of San Francisco’s art and musical theater scene. The Xandau Gallery featuring works by contemporary artists and works by the likes of Picasso and Chagall is housed here, along with several traveling Broadway and off-Broadway shows.

Union also has a reasonable nightlife though the venues are up market and have prices that reflect this (think Sloane Square or New York’s meatpacker district or Chelsea Village); certainly not a place to go out for a drink if you’re planning on doing your trip on a budget.

Union Square Attractions: Cable Car Turn-round, Union Square, The Geary Theater

Good for: Shopping, theaters, bars, central location

Bad if: You don’t like shopping and busy crowds.  It’s not the cheapest of areas either.

Recommended place to stay: USA Hostels San Francisco. There is no shortage of places to stay in and around Union Square but USA Hostel San Francisco is probably your best bet, coming highly recommended by fellow backpackers.

Check availability and find out more about USA Hostels San Francisco on the HostelBookers website.

The Mission

The Mission is the place to stay if you’re a fan of all things Latin American as it’s the very center of San Fran’s large Latino community. Here you’ll find a whole host of authentic Latin restaurants, bakeries and specialty shops and taquerias as well as some of San Fran’s oldest building- the Mission Dolores.

The atmosphere is laid back and friendly and is popular amongst San Fran’s cool cats thanks largely to its cheap food and drink.

This is a great place to stay and be a part of if you like socializing and is also excellent if you don’t want to break the bank while eating out near to your hostel.

Mission Attractions: Mission Dolores and Dolores Park

Good for: Eating out on a budget, site-seeing, thrift stores

Bad if: You’re looking for an upmarket place to stay or like being at the heart of the nightlife. That said, you are only twenty minutes from Union Square at most.

Recommended place to stay: Elements Hostel. Not the highest ranked hostel we have in San Francisco but great value for money at just $16.46 a night and gay friendly.

Check availability and find out more about Elements Hostel on the HostelBookers website.


Home to warehouses, nightclubs and leather bars by the dozen, SoMa is the nightclub capital of San Fran and is where the vast majority of the young and the beautiful San Franciscans go to let their hair down in the evenings.

Aside from the scores of bars and clubs, SoMa has some nice green areas where you can sprawl out or take a walk in the sunshine including South Park and the Yerba Buena gardens.

During daylight hours it’s also a good place to go shopping for bargains.

SoMa attractions: Cartoon Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Giants Ball Park

Good for: Nightlife, leather bars, shopping for bargains

Bad if: You’re looking for somewhere quiet and scenic suitable for a romantic getaway or a relaxing break.

Recommended place to stay: AAE S.F. European Hostel. Affordable and friendly, AAE S.F. European Hostel provides clean, comfortable accommodation right in the heart of the SoMa district.

Check out availability and find out more about AAE S.F. European Hostel on the HostelBookers website.

SoMa, The Mission, Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to places to stay in San Francisco.

There are loads of other great places to stay and we have accommodation in several of them.

If you’re looking for gay friendly accommodation then Castro is the place to go.

If you need accommodation near the airport then we have two hostels within ten minutes of San Francisco airport. We also have accommodation near Chinatown and Noe Valley.

Even if we don’t have a youth hostel or budget hotel that you want in San Francisco, the key thing to remember is that you should hunt around to find the hostel and neighbourhood that suits you best.

Thanks to Jen SFO-BCN, jimg944, sanchom, Ed Bierman, Tostie14 & jondoe41 for the Flickr images.

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