We were duly impressed by San Francisco’s store of really great budget sleeps. With the exception of two or three places of the ho-hum variety, almost every spot we visited had something special going for it, from a storied history to a cute gardens or a fun theme.
San Francisco Hotel Overview
Average rates for a double room at one of our picks in San Francisco run between $60 and $110. Between $120 and $220 will get you a room loaded with extras. For unfussy travelers willing to share a bathroom, there are basic rooms to be had for as low as $40 a night.
While there are hotels scattered throughout the city, the main clusters can be found downtown and around North Beach near Fisherman's Wharf. The most expensive places to stay are up in posh Nob Hill. Lombard Street, in the Marina, is lined with nondescript motels (note that, being the highway, these will almost always be cheap but noisy). The most interesting budget hotels are scattered downtown, in Union Square and surrounding areas, with a handful cropping up South of Market and in the smaller outlying ‘hoods.
When to Visit San Francisco
Rates are at their highest during San Francisco’s peak season, which runs from June through September. These months also happen to be the least desirable to visit the city by the bay—during the summer the fog rolls in and all those folks who flock to the city expecting California sunshine find themselves bundled in hastily purchased Fisherman’s Wharf sweatshirts.
Get the most out of your money and your wardrobe by traveling in spring (April and May) and fall (September and October). The crowds are smaller, the rates lower and the weather is almost guaranteed to be gorgeous. Do note that rates will also sometimes rise when certain major conventions are in town, but most of the hotels we review are small and thus not as affected by these fluctuations.
Budget Hotels in San Francisco: What to Expect
You’ll find few surprises on the San Francisco hotel scene. Even in the older buildings we visited, the rooms, for the most part, had been renovated and outfitted with modern conveniences like Wi-Fi. The cheapest rooms in town will share bathrooms. Many of hotels include a basic breakfast in the room rates, but just as many don’t. The vast majority of hotels are nonsmoking throughout property.
One thing you’ll find missing in most rooms is air conditioning. Even some of the “splurge” hotels we saw did not have A/C on the menu. However, save for the rare 80-degree day (upper 20 degrees Celsius), San Francisco’s weather is temperate, and often chilly, so air conditioning really isn’t necessary. Still, for those very concerned about it, there are a handful of budget spots that offer A/C.
The likliest problem you’ll have with your room is noise. Many budget hotels are in older buildings without double-paned glass, but even soundproof windows will not drown out all the noise in the busiest neighborhoods. Light sleepers should ask for a room at the back or pack ear plugs.
A Note on Neighborhoods
Finally, a word on neighborhoods. In San Francisco’s downtown area, many budget hotels sit on the borders of posh or popular areas and not-so-nice areas. The infamous Tenderloin is known for the unsavory characters that stalk its streets, and because it butts up against Union Square, Civic Center and Lower Nob Hill, it can be easy to unknowingly cross into seedy territory if you’re not paying attention.
That doesn’t mean that the hotels on these edges are unsafe, but travelers are advised to remain aware of their surroundings and, when returning to your hotel late at night, it’s best to take a cab. Same goes for those staying South of Market.