From world-class shopping districts to cultural hotspots or can’t-miss culinary destinations, San Francisco has a neighbourhood perfect for every type of traveller. If you’re looking for the best area to stay in San Francisco, read on for our ultimate San Fran neighbourhood guide.
San Fran one of my favourite US cities hands down, with chill vibes, an incredible gastronomic scene, bars and clubs for every type of night out, and high end designers through to local boutiques, plus it’s surrounded by next level views and hikes that nature-lovers will fall in love with. San Francisco is truly an all-rounder!
The inner city is made up of loads of different neighbourhoods with distinct vibes, from the ultra-stylish Nob Hill to the rainbow-friendly Castro or SOMA’s buzzing nightlife, with tech havens and hipster hangouts slotted in between.
Famous for its diversity, wandering around the city’s suburbs can sometimes feel like you’re in a totally different country. There’s Chinatown, Japantown, North Beach (Little Italy), the Mission District (the heart of the Latino community) and Little Saigon, all within walking distance, so it’s easy to walk off the dumplings, pasta, sushi, burritos or pho you just ate. Make sure you pack stretchy trousers!
Original hippies and new-age hipsters alike will love Haight-Ashbury’s colourful streets, with its famous Painted Ladies (a row of beautifully bright houses), Summer of Love vibes, eclectic eateries and funky vintage shops. Shopaholics can’t look past the bustling Union Square, home to thousands of shops for all budgets, loads of restaurant options and next to the theatre district. Fisherman’s Wharf is a major tourist destination that’s home to super cute sea lions, delicious sourdough bread and classic seafood chowder. Yum!
Home to only 880,000 people, this Northern Californian gem is about 49 square miles so it’s pretty tightly packed compared to some of the USA’s sprawling major cities. While that means a denser population, it also means it’s easier to get around. One of the greatest things about this city is that the majority of the main attractions are within easy walking distance, with less than two miles between Little Italy, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and Union Square, with loads more must-sees in the middle.
If you’re in a hurry, or just want to rest your feet, the public transport system has been designed with visitors in mind so it’s super easy to navigate. You can buy a 1, 3 or 7 day Muni Passport which gives you access to buses, cable cars and trolleys, or just buy a ticket each time you ride. San Fran also has Skip and Scoot e-scooters available for rent, or JUMP e-bikes, but note that helmets are compulsory and you can only ride on the road or bike lanes.
When you’ve had enough of the bustling inner city, there’s fresh air and exercise not too far away. A cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic must-do for any traveller, and nearby there’s the Presidio hiking trails if you want an extra work out or the Golden Gate Park if you want to chill instead. Twin Peaks and Mount Davidson are another two walks that should be on any hiker’s list.
There are way too many mini villages in San Francisco that it would take hours to read all about them, so I’ve chosen four key locations perfect for backpackers. Here’s the lowdown on four of the best areas to stay in San Francisco.
Jump straight to:
- What to do in Fisherman’s Wharf
- Places to eat in Fisherman’s Wharf
- Best hostels in Fisherman’s Wharf
1. Fisherman’s Wharf: the best area to stay in San Francisco for ticking off the bucket list
This historic fishing port turned tourist hotspot is an iconic must-visit for any traveller coming to San Francisco. Let’s be realistic, it’s a busy place, but among the thousands of other visitors you’ll find fresh bakeries selling mouthwatering sourdough, boats offering tours of the bay or out to Alcatraz, and even sea lions basking in the sun at the marina.
It’s accessible from any part of the city, by foot or by cable car, and is easily explored in a few hours, plus another hour or two if you want a sit down meal. Head to Pier 47’s Fish Alley first thing in the AM to see the fishermen bring in their catch of the day, then opt for a fresh seafood lunch to try famous San Fran delicacies like clam chowder in a sourdough bowl. If you’re on a budget, you’ll find cheaper eats (still fresh!) at the stalls lining the sidewalk. Aside from eating your way around the wharf, there’s loads of things to do and see at this waterfront spot. Stock up on tacky yet unique souvenirs for nieces and nephews back home at one of the hundreds of souvenir shops, watch street performers and artists or catch a ferry across the bay.
What to do in Fisherman’s Wharf
Pier 39 and its surroundings are a classic tourist spot, with bustling streets packed with entertainment, dining options, shops and activities. We’d recommend starting your day early, getting there before the rest of the city wakes up and soaking up fresh air with a walk around the port. It’s a stunning place for sunrise!
Fish Alley on Pier 47 is a fantastic place to get a taste for the old school San Francisco, where local fishermen unload their haul early each morning just as they have for the past 100 years. If your San Francisco adventure is in November, you might even catch the festivities that surround the kick off of the Dungeness crab season, where the streetside seafood stalls light their cauldrons as they wait for the first crab catch to be dropped off.
In terms of attractions and activities, Fisherman’s Wharf is brimming with them, from escape rooms and wax museums to historic warships and science centres. Alcatraz: The Breakout is a super fun group activity, perfect for a bunch of travel buddies or hostel friends to try your luck at escaping the fabled prison. There’s also the San Francisco Dungeon for a look into the city’s dark past and the National Maritime Museum on Hyde Street Pier.
If you’re keen to take a cruise around San Francisco Bay, Fisherman’s Wharf is the perfect place to start. For day-trippers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city, there are ferries that will take you to other, quieter parts of the Bay Area, like Oakland or Sausalito. Nature lovers could jump on a boat trip over to Angel Island, a California State Park that boasts hiking and biking trails, along with historical tours all about the ex-immigration station.
The ferries to San Francisco’s most infamous island, Alcatraz, also depart from Fisherman’s Wharf. Alcatraz is an absolute must for any San Fran visitor, and I’d recommend setting aside half a day at least to give yourself time to explore the creepy island. Just looking to spend some time on the water with no particular destination in mind? Fisherman’s Wharf has plenty of Bay cruises that take you under the Golden Gate Bridge, going at all hours of the day.
Places to eat in Fisherman’s Wharf
Um, how about all over the entire wharf?! This place is a foodie’s heaven, especially if you have a love of seafood, bread, chocolate, or all of the above. Prices here are typically higher than the rest of the city but for a classic, fresh-out-of-the-ocean hearty seafood meal it’s worth it.
Let’s kick this off with a local delicacy, the Dungeness Crab. Jefferson Street is home to endless stalls selling fresh crab for actually decent prices, but be prepared to deal with long lines. If you want to treat yourself to a fancy-ish sit down meal, Scoma’s has been cooking up super fresh crabs caught off their own fishing boat since 1965 and the staff are locals with loads of tips to share for your San Fran trip.
For a feel-good meal that’s both delicious and eco-friendly, Fog Harbour is San Francisco’s first restaurant to serve a 100% sustainable menu, approved by the conservation team at the nearby Aquarium of the Bay.
For something less fishy, Fisherman’s Wharf is also a top contender for the best sourdough bread on the planet. If you fancy yourself a dough connoisseur, you’ll love Boudin’s renowned recipe that they’ve been baking since way back in 1849. Watch the bakers at work through a huge glass window, complete with an intercom system to ask and have answered any questions you might have about the bread-making process. Then get that bread (literally), opt to sit at the casual café or the classy restaurant up top with epic Bay views, and dig in to the ever-so-slight tang of fresh sourdough.
After all that, surely it’s time for dessert? In the USA you’re never short of options for sweet treats, but Fisherman’s Wharf is home to somewhere extra special… Ghirardelli Square! Once a huge chocolate factory for the famous Ghirardelli chocolatiers, the Square now houses a chocolate shop with an ice cream shop attached, and a couple of other restaurants.
While Ghirardelli choccies can be found at supermarkets all through the city, for some reason we all love buying the goodies from the original shop, as if it makes them taste better (spoiler alert: it doesn’t). Ghirardelli gives out yummy free samples to every customer so it’s the ideal place for a stop between meals if you want a sugar boost, and the ice cream shop, while expensive, offers creamy, chocolatey sundaes and cones.
Best hostels in Fisherman’s Wharf
After a hard day’s work of eating loads of food and fighting your way through the crowds, you’ll need somewhere nearby to rest your head, your feet and your belly. Enter HI Fisherman’s Wharf…
Located smack bang in the middle of the Fort Mason Center, just a short walk from Pier 39, HI Fisherman’s Wharf is the perfect place to stay if you want to be close to the hustle and bustle of the piers, as well as the many seaside walking trails.
With restaurants, bars and cafés surrounding the hostel on all sides, you’ll never be left a hungry backpacker, and there’s free breakfast too, plus self-catering facilities if your wallet needs a break from tourist food prices.
They’ve got free Wi-Fi, a cinema-style movie room, a sun deck for soaking up the afternoon rays and a cosy lounge complete with a gas stove for winter nights.
If you’re up for a bit of city fun, HI Fisherman’s Wharf also offers pub crawls, walking tours, museum visits and can help you suss out a bike to rent if cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge is on your bucket list.
The hostel has free parking, ideal for a California road trip and very, very hard to find in this traffic-crazy city. It’s easy to get to from the airport and the hostel has facilities for disabled guests too.
With the perfect mix of being close to a tourist hub but set amongst a sprawling park with bay views, HI Fisherman’s Wharf gives you the best of both worlds.
2. Union Square: the best area to stay in San Francisco for shopaholics
Hi, I’m Alexx, and I’m a self-confessed shopping addict. Literally give me the choice of where to stay in any city and I’ll opt for the hostel that’s right amongst department stores, local boutiques and outlet shops, despite being on a tiiiiight budget.
No surprises then, that on my last visit to San Francisco I chose to rest my head (and shopping bags) in the middle of the best shopping district in town, and arguably one of the best in the world. And before you ask, yes, I had to wear multiple layers of clothing on the plane to avoid extra luggage fees.
Union Square is packed full of shops for all different budgets, from backpacker to baller, and on top of that there are theatres, eateries, events throughout the year and classy cocktail bars. If you venture slightly further out of the Square you’ll reach SOMA and its Museum of Modern Art, Chinatown, the Financial District and the Civic Center, home to the iconic City Hall.
Union Square and its neighbouring suburbs are easily visited by foot, so wear comfy shoes and get out and about. Take a stroll through the shopping streets and find a bargain or five, then pop into a casual eatery for a spot of lunch and people-watching.
If you want an activity to keep you occupied and away from the temptation of alluring retailers, you can visit one of the nearby museums, galleries or theatres, or grab a fancy cocktail from a sophisticated speakeasy straight out of the 1920’s.
What to do in Union Square
Regardless of how much spending money or space in your luggage you have (let me guess, none of either?), the Union Square shops need to be seen to be believed. From giant department stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, to mega malls housing all the classic retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic and Victoria’s Secret, to flagship stores for elegant designers and jewellers like Tiffany’s or Louis Vuitton, these streets are densely packed with opportunities to spend all your cash. If it’s time to refresh your wardrobe, then it’s probably worth paying a visit to the massive Westfield shopping mall, just three minutes away on Market Street, where you’ll get to visit the all-American clothing stores and won’t need to up your credit card limit.
Summertime in Union Square brings loads of public events, like fashion pop-ups, outdoor movies, food trucks and music sessions, and if you’re visiting over the holiday season then you’re in for a treat too. With a huge ice skating rink, window displays, sparkling Christmas trees and one of the best festive takeovers at Macy’s, Union Square in December is absolutely magical.
For anyone who prefers buying experiences over buying things, Union Square has your back! Theatre geeks need to visit the American Conservatory Theater, a historic theatre-turned-acting school with next level performances that will blow your socks off.
Museums more your kinda thing? Visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which reopened in 2016 after a three-year renovation tripled its size. And for a different type of museum entirely, jump into the kaleidoscopic Museum of Ice Cream, an immersive, sensory experience that is difficult to explain and best understood by visiting it yourself. Let’s just say it involves installations that include a slide into a pool full of sprinkles, the most Instagrammable rooms you’ve ever seen, and, of course, ICE CREAM. We recommend the Queen Bee, honey-flavoured ice cream with English toffee, chocolate-covered honeycomb and almonds. Divine.
Places to eat in Union Square
The gastronomic scene around Union Square is totally buzzing, and the drinking scene doesn’t disappoint either.
For bar bites that won’t break the budget, Golden Gate Tap Room is one of our faves. It’s especially ideal for travellers who want to hide away from all the shops, with live sports games shown on the bar’s 20 TVs, over 100 beers to choose from, and arcade-style games like skee-ball, shuffleboard and pool.
Pinecrest Diner is another classic all-American diner if you’re keen to rest your feet with a burger, fries and shake, and it’s open 24 hours so perfect for an after-club meal.
Union Square is also home to some global culinary delights if you want to spice up your life. Tacorea sells Mexican-Korean fusion food, Shalimar Restaurant is an Indian-Pakistani eatery with one of the best tikka masala curries in the city, and Kin Khao boasts one Michelin star for its fresh and authentic Thai dishes.
While a lot of the eateries near Union Square are targeted towards higher incomes than we travellers have, there’s some decent cheap eats to satisfy any hungry (and poor!) backpacker in the Tenderloin, a neighbourhood right next to Union Square which has fantastic cheap food but a less-than-fantastic reputation. In past years it’s been known for crime rates, drug deals and homelessness, and I recommend avoiding wandering through the area late at night or if you’re by yourself, however during the day or if you’re in a group you are less likely to get hassled. If you do venture into the Tenderloin, some of the best budget bites are Lers Ros ultra-spicy Thai, Mensho Tokyo which has ramen absolutely worth waiting in line for, and Jane on Larkin, a bakery that specialises in toast with fancy toppings!
After a hard day of shopping, you’ll definitely deserve a drink or five. Nite Cap is a somewhat classy dive bar (if that exists) that offers cheap beer and local sports games on TV, and Whitechapel is a London-inspired gin bar with over 400 gins to choose from, along with hearty pub fare and curries.
For a cocktail treat you could visit Rye in the Tenderloin, Pacific Cocktail Haven for a tropical twist, or Wilson and Wilson speakeasy, where you enter through a bathroom if you’re lucky enough to know the password.
Best hostels in Union Square
Located right in between Union Square and the Tenderloin, USA Hostels San Francisco is one of the most kitted-out hostels in the city. With mixed and female-only dorm rooms, plus private rooms with either shared or en-suite bathrooms, there’s something to suit everyone.
When you stay at USA Hostels SF, you can look forward to super-comfy pod beds, which means you’re guaranteed to get a decent night’s sleep. Your bed has a reading light, shelf and power outlet to make sure you’re fully charged for the next day of exploring, and there’s lockers for your backpack with extra power ports inside too.
Private rooms are especially fancy, each with cable TV, a fridge and a microwave. Hostel goals!
Breakfast is included, with free fruit, baked goodies and all-you-can-make pancakes and toppings, and there’s free hostel dinners on Mondays and Fridays, plus a full kitchen for you to cook your own food all other nights of the week.
The hostel is super social with plenty of opportunities to make friends with other travellers, whether that’s in the games room, the chill out room, the reading room or the yoga studio.
Looking for some suggestions on exploring the city? The hostel hosts free walking tours and pub crawls, or they can help set you up with bike rental or hiking plans around the city’s nature trails.
3. Chinatown: the best area to stay in in San Francisco for foodies
As the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, you could be forgiven for forgetting that you’re in the US at all when you step foot into San Francisco’s Chinatown. It’s the oldest in North America and the biggest Chinatown in the world, made up of 24 blocks packed to the brim with dim sum restaurants, tea houses, ethnic shops, karaoke bars and even a hidden fortune cookie factory.
Aside from the fact that dumplings tend to be a traveller’s favourite, you’ll love Chinatown for its backpacker-friendly prices compared to the rest of the city. You’ll find unlimited buffet meals for less than a chain restaurant starter on Pier 39, and if you’re really tight on money you can stock up on fresh produce and Asian ingredients at one of the Chinese grocery stores.
Grant Avenue is the main stretch of Chinatown, with the start of the sub-city marked by an emerald-tiled entrance way called Dragon’s Gate. Wander down this road and you’ll find yummy authentic restaurants and exotic shops probably packed with tourists, but for a truly local experience pop across to Stockton Street which runs parallel to Grant, a little off the beaten track with lower prices and less people. You may not hear or read much English in this part of the neighbourhood, but embrace it and enjoy feeling like you’ve teleported to another continent.
Once you’ve filled your tum with dim sum, I’d recommend jumping onto a free walking tour to be shown some hidden gems and learn about the Chinese history of the city. More people visit Chinatown each year than the Golden Gate Bridge, and you’ll soon find out why!
What to do in Chinatown
Eat, eat, eat! Make the most of somehow making your way to Asia without a single flight and eat your way around the historic neighbourhood. I’ll get more into where and what to eat later.
Outside of meal times, Chinatown is still an epic place to be, humming with shopkeepers, patrons and visitors all day every day. For a spot of quiet check out the Taoist Tin How Temple, built in the mid-19th century and one of the oldest Chinese temples in the United States. Note that this is still a working temple, so it goes without saying that you should be respectful if you do visit.
History and culture buffs should add the Chinese Historical Society to their Chinatown bucket list, a museum that houses exhibitions all about San Francisco’s Chinese background. If you want to learn about Eastern medicine, there’s plenty of herbal shops and apothecaries that offer a huge range of Chinese herbs and can recommend something to try for any ailment. Grab some ginseng from Hop Hing Ginseng Company and you’ll feel refreshed immediately, guaranteed.
If your trip happens to coincide with Lunar New Year (late January to early February) then expect to be wowed, with the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia. There will be parades, dancers, floats, fireworks, musical performers and even a Miss Chinatown beauty pageant! The San Francisco Chinese New Year celebrations have been running since way back in 1860, so you can be sure they know what they’re doing.
For something a little different, there are plenty of tea houses that offer a vast array of tea varieties, from herbal to black to matcha to oolong and everything in between. Vital Tea Leaf is a local favourite, and they have tea tastings where you’ll get to see the proper preparation of an authentic Chinese tea, and the super knowledgeable staff will help you find your perfect cuppa.
Tired after all that exploring? There are beauty parlours dotted throughout the suburb that offer the cheapest foot, neck and head massages in the city.
Places to eat in Chinatown
The more appropriate question would be what not to eat in Chinatown. Home to arguably the best and most authentic Chinese food outside of Asia, we’d recommend slotting in at least a couple of different meals here during your San Francisco adventure.
Those who prefer the spicier side of life will fall in love with Chong Qing Xiao Mian, a noodle house that’s particularly famous for their Sichuan-style cold noodles, and has been named as one of the best Asian restaurants in the city.
If you’re on a travel mission but need some fuel to keep you going, say nǐ hǎo to Good Mong Kok Bakery who will pack you a little dim sum box to go. Make sure you get the char siu bao (pork buns), har gow (shrimp dumplings) and authentic Hong Kong egg tarts. The lines are long for a reason, the staff are infamously impatient, but the food is 100% worth it. Perhaps head down to Portsmouth Square to try and find a picnic spot on the grass in between the locals’ daily tai chi practice.
For a sit-down dim sum experience you can’t go past Barack Obama’s favourite, Great Eastern, where you can choose from over 80 dim sum options. Top recommendations would be the xiao long bao a.k.a. soupy dumplings or deep-fried seaweed rolls with fish. Wrap up the meal with mango pudding or black sesame balls for dessert.
Sam Wo is another one worth adding to your list if you’re a night-owl, as it serves some of the city’s most-loved Chinese porridge until 4am on weekends.
If you want to dine on something a bit quirkier, try the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory with its many flavours of cookie, Begoni Bistro for French-Chinese fusion (and some insanely delicious Peking duck), Far East Cafe for genuine Chinese flavours coupled with local San Franciscan seafood, and Ming Lee Trading, a snack and candy store packed with Chinese packaged treats.
And for a tipple, make sure you visit China Live’s second floor and check out Cold Drinks, a classy cocktail bar. If you’re around in February then they even have a dedicated Chinese New Year menu with 12 themed cocktails!
Best hostels in Chinatown
Chinatown accommodation is basically entirely reserved for Chinese locals but there’s a fantastic accommodation choice just on the outskirts of the neighbourhood and directly opposite Dragon’s Gate: the Urban Hotel.
With single, double or dorm rooms to choose from, communal bathrooms, workstations in the private rooms and computer benches in the common area, this place is a hybrid hostel/hotel ideal for anyone wanting to be amongst the action but with a comfy home to return to at the end of the day.
You’ll be within a short walk of Union Square and the Financial District too, with plenty of cheap eats, bustling shops and buzzing nightlife right on your doorstep. I’d recommend popping into Café de la Presse just across the road for a great coffee and fresh croissants if you want a break from Asian cuisine.
Staying right next to Chinatown means you can make the most of early mornings where the food is fresh and the streets are the quietest they’ll be all day. If you’re planning on making this area your home during your stay, I’d recommend learning the basics in Mandarin (hello, goodbye, thank you, I would like ten dumplings please, etc.) to show some respect for the culture and lock in your place as favourite traveller at your local eatery of choice.
4. North Beach: the best area to stay in San Francisco for casual living
Some travellers prefer their adventures to be slower paced, with charming streets, locally-owned boutiques, lush parks and super chill cafés higher on their bucket lists than fancy shopping districts or historical museums. If that sounds like a bit of you, then North Beach is your place.
The moment you step into this neighbourhood you feel more relaxed, with the hordes of tourists and briefcase-toting men of the rest of the city replaced by athleisure-wearing mums, low key hipsters and digital nomads who have carved out their office for the day in their favourite coffee shop.
North Beach is north of the Financial District, Chinatown and Union Square, and just to the east of Fisherman’s Wharf, but it feels a lot more local and relaxed than other parts of the city. It’s home to San Francisco’s Little Italy too, so you know the food is guaranteed to impress.
A day in North Beach could entail a morning brew, as this neighbourhood boasts some of the city’s best coffees, then a stroll around the lanes looking for some antiques or handmade crafts. Don’t forget to visit the City Lights Bookstore, famous for being the hub for the Beat Generation literary movement in the 1950s. Check out the poetry room, pick up a travel guide or see which renowned authors are holding book signings or readings that weekend.
In the evenings there are bars with live music, authentic Italian trattorias with fresh pasta and woodfired pizza, Washington Square Park for a picnic dinner, fancy cocktail saloons and entertainment venues galore.
What to do in North Beach
Despite its casual chill vibes, North Beach has more than enough going on to fill a backpacker’s itinerary. And, better yet, most of it is free!
The best way to immerse yourself into this suburb is to find a sit-down café with tables and seats on the sidewalk, and people-watch while you sip an espresso and plan the rest of your day. Chat to the baristas, read local newspapers to find the best events around town and top up your energy for a busy day of relaxation, relaxation and more relaxation.
The shopping in this area is fantastic, with exquisite antique stores, funky stationers, flea market-esque vintage shops, boutique clothing retailers and even a place with fully bespoke fashion, Al’s Attire, where Al and his team will kit you out in custom-made hats, shoes, suits and everything in between.
If you want to make one purchase in San Francisco to take home with you, you need to visit Schein & Schein, a San Franciscan institution with thousands of antique, vintage maps of destinations all over the globe. Their goods range from 14th century works of art through to $5 bargain bin souvenirs, so they’re ideal for picking up a special gift for someone back home, or a way to remember your trip.
North Beach is the perfect spot to soak up fresh air and beautiful views too. Washington Square Park is a picnic paradise, where you could easily forget you’re in the second most densely-populated city in the States. Head over to Little Vine first, a European-style deli and grocery store that sells cheese, meats, cheap Italian wines and more, and rent one of their picnic baskets to take with you for the afternoon.
When you’re ready to start walking off the delicious Italian food you’ve been scoffing, consider going up the Filbert Steps, three blocks of steep steps past art deco buildings and beautiful gardens. When you reach the top you’ll be rewarded with stunning views over the city.
And on the off chance that you’re in need of a haircut, guys and gals alike can tame that travel mane at Public Barber Salon, an insanely cool hair salon boasting full wall bookshelves, with high ceilings but low prices (compared to the rest of San Fran at least). Men can get a buzz cut for $25 or a beard trim for $20, and ladies cuts start at $50.
Places to eat in North Beach
Little Italys are always a backpacker fave, with carby goodness for prices generally lower than touristy areas, and San Francisco’s Italian neighbourhood is no different.
For coffee, I’d recommend Caffe Trieste, thought to be the first place on the USA’s West Coast to sell espresso back in the 1950s. The place is a hit with North Beach locals, with sidewalk chairs and tables set out for morning yarns with your travel buddies, and their pastry selection is fantastic too.
You can’t be in Little Italy without eating pizza, pasta, focaccia and gelato, so here are some of our favourite spots for the classic Italian fare. Liguria Bakery boasts deliciously fresh focaccia bread covered in everything from olives to tomatoes to raisins, and they even provide the bread for some of the famous restaurants nearby. It’s family-owned and has been running for over 100 years! Don’t be put off by the line, it moves quickly and it’s absolutely worth the wait.
Professional pasta critics will love Baonecci Restaurant, a hidden gem that seems to still be under the tourist radar. Their menu is packed with homestyle dishes, with fresh pasta and sauces made from scratch, and the first thin crust pizza in the city.
You’ll find good pizza all through North Beach’s charming streets, but one of the local pizzerias really takes the cake… Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Tony’s won awards in both the US and in Italy for his pizza masterpieces, and he’s even branched out to nail his technique on classic New York and Chicago-style pizzas. It’s normal to wait an hour or so for a seat at Tony’s so try and go early to snap up your spot.
When it’s time for a sugar boost, there are gelato and pastry shops around every corner. The cannolis from Mara’s Italian Pastry are mouth-watering, Victoria Pastry boasts arguably the best tiramisu in town, and Cafe Jacqueline is a lush sit-down restaurant with a menu full of souffles. Visit for a full meal of both savoury and sweet eggy goodness, or just pop in for dessert.
Not only is the food scene impressive here in North Beach, there’s loads of dive, cocktail and sports bars to satisfy your beverage cravings too.
Tony Nik’s is a genuine 1930s cocktail bar, styled the same as when it first opened in ‘33. It’s the perfect spot for a classy tipple before or after a meal. Craft beer lovers need to check out Church Key, who have a huge and varied beer list and soul DJs on Wednesdays. Then there’s Specs, a dive-bar-slash-museum that’s so weird and wonderful it has to be seen to be believed.
And if you choose just one place to visit for a bevvie in North Beach, it’s got to be Comstock Saloon, one of the oldest bars in the city. Opened in 1907, Comstock Saloon has live jazz all week, cosy booths, an extensive drinks list and makes beautiful vintage cocktails. They do a brunch too, with oysters, poutine, and a $20 mozzarella stick complete with caviar, gold leaf and saffron aioli. Maybe share that one with your hostel mates!
Best hostels in North Beach
You know what they say… Pizza all day, party all night! If you’re looking for a fun, social, good vibes only type of place to stay in San Francisco then you’re in luck.
The hostel has both female-only and mixed dorms, with comfy beds and linen included, as well as four charging ports per bed. The shared bathrooms are super clean and there’s organic lavender shampoo, conditioner and body wash for guests to use. Want a bit of privacy? There are private rooms too.
The location is excellent, with an easy walk to both Little Italy and Chinatown for your cuisine of choice, and they also offer day trips to Yosemite and other California hot spots. Wi-Fi is fast and free, there’s a laundry room, and check out isn’t until 11am so you’ve got time to sleep in and pack up your stuff the morning after a big night.
You’ll love the free breakfast each morning, there’s free dinner three times a week and there’s a ballroom with giant Jenga, foosball, pool and musical instruments.
This hostel is definitely one for the social butterflies and is perfect for solo travellers looking to make new friends.
San Francisco, you beauty! While the city is full of little neighbourhoods and people from all different walks of life, these are some of the pockets I really, really love. And because it’s so easy to get around, no matter where you stay you’ll be within easy reach of other hot spots anyway. Make sure you visit the LGBT-friendly bars in the Castro neighbourhood, classy eateries in Nob Hill, the spicy Latino-inspired Mission District or the bohemian vintage shops that line the streets in Haight-Ashbury.
So, are you being pulled towards the iconic must-sees and dos at Fisherman’s Wharf, or the endless dim sum dinners of Chinatown? Can you see yourself shopping till you drop in Union Square, or does North Beach’s endless good vibes sound like your kind of place? Hopefully by now you’ve figured out the best area in San Francisco for your travel style, along with the best hostels to stay in each neighbourhood.
Have we missed off your favourite place in San Francisco? Tell us in the comments below!
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Alexx is a Kiwi traveller obsessed with finding the ultimate things to see, do and eat in each place she visits. She’s a cheese addict, loves a travel planning spreadsheet, and is allergic to desk jobs. She’s about to take off on an epic 52-week, 52-country travel project, and you can follow her adventures at @findingalexx.