Travel & Day Trips

Where to Stay in San Francisco Without a Car

San Francisco, a city known for its vibrant culture, iconic landmarks, and stunning bay views, is also famous for its challenging parking and steep hills.

You can absolutely visit San Francisco–or even live here–without a car! If you’re visiting the city without a car, choosing the right neighborhood to stay in is crucial.

This post will guide you through some of the best areas in San Francisco that offer accessibility, convenience, and fun.

Union Square – The Heart of the City

Night view of brightly illuminated facade of the flagship Macy’s department store on Union Square in San Francisco, California on Christmas day, December 25, 2018.

Union Square is a shopper’s paradise and a central hub for public transportation. Here, you’ll find countless shops, restaurants, theaters, and galleries.

The neighborhood is well-connected with buses, trolleys, and the BART system, making it easy to explore the city.

They have been issues with crime and homelessness in Union Square, so it’s important to be vigilant. But a lot of that is smash-and-grab car break-ins, which is even more reason to skip the car!

Stay Here For:

  • Access to public transportation
  • Shopping and dining options
  • Vibrant nightlife

Fisherman’s Wharf – Scenic and Touristy

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of San Francisco’s most famous tourist areas. With stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the bay, it’s perfect for first-time visitors.

Cable cars and F-line streetcars make it easy to travel to other parts of the city.

Yes, it’s super touristy! It there’s a reason people have been visiting Fisherman’s Wharf for generations. It’s a beautiful spot, and you can easily grab a tour bus to Muir Woods or even Yosemite or Napa without needing to rent your own car.

Stay Here For:

  • Iconic San Francisco attractions
  • Seafood dining
  • Picturesque bay views
  • Easy access to tours and day trips. Many your companies pick up at Fisherman’s Wharf

The Embarcadero – Elegant Waterfront Living

Located along the eastern shoreline, The Embarcadero is an upscale area known for its waterfront views and historic landmarks. It’s perfect for those who prefer a quieter atmosphere while still having easy access to public transportation.

If you stay on the China Basin side, you can even walk to Oracle Park and catch a Giants game.

Stay Here For:

The Mission District – Culture and Cuisine

Photograph of cars parked and driving along Shotwell Street in the Mission District in San Francisco, California, December 25, 2020.

The Mission District is the place to be for a taste of San Francisco’s diverse culture. With its colorful murals, historic sites, and a plethora of dining options, it’s an ideal spot for the culturally curious.

It’s also a fantastic culinary destination, with bakeries like Tartine and shops like Koka nearby.

Buses and BART make it easy to navigate the city. There are stations at both 16th street and 24th street.

Stay Here For:

  • Cultural diversity
  • Unique dining options
  • Art and history

Nob Hill – Classic San Francisco Charm

Guests approach the entrance to the iconic Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco, California, December 25, 2018.

Nob Hill, one of the city’s signature neighborhoods, offers a more residential feel. With its classic architecture, beautiful parks, and cable cars, it’s a charming place to stay. Though hilly, it’s well connected via cable cars.

This is a pricey place to stay! But if you can afford it, Nob Hill’s iconic hotels like the Fairmont are beautiful.

Stay Here For:

  • Classic San Francisco architecture
  • Quiet, residential atmosphere
  • Stunning views

Hayes Valley – Trendy and Central

Hayes Valley is known for its trendy boutiques, art galleries, and gourmet eateries. Its central location and access to multiple transit lines make it a convenient option for travelers without a car.

Stay Here For:

  • Trendy shopping and dining
  • Art and culture
  • Central location

Where Not to Stay

With all that said, there are a few places in San Francisco that you probably shouldn’t stay without a car (unless you don’t mind taking a lot of Ubers.)

Anything on the Western side of the city is not served by BART and has limited transit options. Yes, you can take buses, but it can take a lot longer to get around.

If you’re looking for eminently walkable neighborhoods, I’d recommend looking more towards the BART-server Eastern side of the city vs the west.

Wrapping Up

San Francisco has a neighborhood for every type of traveler. Whether you’re looking for the hustle and bustle of Union Square, the iconic views of Fisherman’s Wharf, or the cultural richness of The Mission District, this city has it all.

And the best part? You don’t need a car to enjoy what San Francisco has to offer. Just pick your perfect neighborhood and start exploring!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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