San Francisco in July
May 25, 2010 8:58 PM   Subscribe

Family of four adults, vacationing in San Francisco in July, looking for the perfect lodging. I've spent hours reading previous questions, but you just know I'm a special snowflake...

I've researched this issue to death and am now second-guessing myself. We're spending eight days in San Francisco in July. We all have varying interests. Hippie son is aspiring writer and wants to see Haight Ashbury. Daughter wants to shop and see arts/crafts stuff. DH is a musician and wants to hear whatever is available. We all want to do the touristy stuff such as Alcatraz and maybe bikes across the bridge. We like beer and seafood and we're open to just about anything else. We might rent a car for a day or two, but maybe not. I've looked online at all the different areas and it looks like North Beach would be our best bet. We'll be getting a place from vrbo or because we like the vibe of living in a neighborhood and the convenience of having a kitchen. I'm looking for advice on the perfect area to stay. Is the Union Square area better for our needs or are we right to look in North Beach/Fisherman's Wharf?
posted by raisingsand to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I think it's a pain in the ass to get from North Beach anywhere else in the city and Fisherman's Wharf is even worse. And FW is just t-shirt shops and touristy schlock. Union Square is much more central and has much better transit connections. Also consider Hayes Valley.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:09 PM on May 25, 2010

I agree that being downtown -- closer to BART -- will make your life easier. SF is a small city, and you can get around to everyone on public transportation. But if you start in the middle of all the transit systems, it will be better.

And renting a car is great and all.. but parking in the city is terrible. Famously, joke-version bad. If you're using the car to drive somewhere away from the city, then great, but it's just not worth it for getting around inside the city.
posted by brainmouse at 9:37 PM on May 25, 2010

The Inner Sunset and the Inner Richmond both border Golden Gate Park, which is an enormous part of any decent SF visit -- and they are also very close to the Upper Haight. Plus, they're both very close to MUNI and will get you all the connections to all the other destinations you need (Alcatraz excepted). otherworldlyglow is correct that both the Wharf and North Beach are much more of a pain to use as launching pads to get anywhere in the city. MUNI connections are fewer and farther between and also run more infrequently. Unless you are up for walking, don't stay in North Beach or the Wharf, although North Beach has a lot that's worth seeing.
posted by blucevalo at 9:46 PM on May 25, 2010

Best answer: Don't freak out. North Beach aint so bad, and it does have a lot of charm. I lived in North Beach for three months and, yes, it is slightly more difficult to get around than you might like. But like Brainmouse said, the City is small, so the longest you're stuck walking is until you get to your bus is 20 minutes. Plus, North Beach has a lot of character. (Don't choose north beach because it's close to FW-- that's completely the wrong reason. FW will get old in a few hours.)

I would advise you to not stay in Union Square, as that neighborhood can get a bit sketchy/druggy at night. (Not dangerous, but not that nice.)

Given what you're looking for, I would advise you to spend another 20 minutes looking at places in Nob Hill or Russian Hill. (Look for places on streets that are north of California-- anything south of California gets a little sketchy. California itself is just fine, but it's a noisy street.) Nob Hill is still a real, live neighborhood with real, live residents that commute to work via cable car. (That's me! Well, actually I typically walk, but I could take the cable car.) If you purchase a weeklong MUNI pass that includes the cable car ticket, you are only one transfer away from anything.

Nob Hill and Russian Hill have many of the advantages of North Beach, with the advantages of solid cable car transit service (it comes by once every 10 min or so), decent bus service to BART (19, 47, 49), and walking proximity to Union Square.
posted by samthemander at 9:55 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is my absolute favorite hotel in SF. It's in Union Square. I would book it through Quikbook to save money, if you decide to go with it. It's close to Sears (where you can get a great breakfast) and the Bart and it's just really easy to navigate.
posted by misha at 10:18 PM on May 25, 2010

I think you should look at the Mission or Dolores Park neighborhoods. Both have great music, shopping, and hipster scenes, neighborhoody feels, and access to BART or Muni. In the Mission, you don't want to get too far below 20th or it does start to get pretty sketchy at all times of day, and personally I think the area west of Mission Street is more comfortable (which blends into the Dolores Park neighborhood). The Mission also tends to get a little less of the fog in the summer. Also you could consider Noe Valley and seconding Hayes Valley.
posted by gubenuj at 10:27 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd second the Mission. I think it's the go-to neighborhood for arts/crafts stuff for your daughter; as far as shopping, she may be a Union Square girl (Gap, Antropologie, etc.), but the Mission has awesome vintage and thrift shops and amazing really cute crafty shops. Haight-Ashbury is definitely the place for hippies, though not much else for tourists; as an aspiring writer, I'd say your son absolutely has to visit 826 Valencia in the Mission (Dave Eggers'/McSweeney's writing center plus pirate supply store).

There's not a lot of lodging in the neighborhood, but I do often pass a really cute (from the outside) place called Parker Guest House right next to Dolores Park and the J line.

In the Mission, you don't want to get too far below 20th or it does start to get pretty sketchy at all times of day, and personally I think the area west of Mission Street is more comfortable (which blends into the Dolores Park neighborhood).

You'll definitely want to stay west of Mission (not because of safety, but because that's where the action and transit is). But I wanted to strongly disagree with the notion that south of 20th is at all dangerous or unpleasant. It's totally rad down here, lower Valencia in particular is really nice (i.e. just as gentrified, charming as upper Valencia). Mission Street itself is kind of sketchy, but that goes for above 20th as well.) Here's an travel just about "lower 24th Street".

Now that I've evangelized for my neck of the woods, a couple general thoughts:

If you stay in Fisherman's Wharf, please leave the northeast corner of the city! I've lived here three years and can barely imagine living anywhere else in the U.S., but on my first visit I stayed in Fisherman's Wharf and actually kind of hated the city and thought I would never visit again.

I've always heard good things about The Good Hotel which will give you a more traditional visiting-SF experience (near downtown, near transit), while also not being touristy even though it's close to all the museums and to Union Square (and is in SOMA, a pretty awesome neighborhood in its own right).
posted by rafter at 12:28 AM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Missed some points from your post. If it's really just either/or, North Beach is great and I'd recommend it over staying in Union Square. It can be hard to get some places from there (not good transit access), but you'll manage. As brainmouse says, renting a car can get really annoying, but a day or too might be good—the drive up to Twin Peaks alone is worth it. And I would 100% recommend biking around Golden Gate Park and over the Bridge.

Oh and, finally. One off-the-tourist-map thing San Francisco does over the summer is close major streets for no reason other than to create a fun public space. A few little booths will be set up, but it's not really a street fair—it's just locals dragging picnic tables into intersections and people on bikes and rollerblades and foot taking over the streets. If you are here July 11th, it'll be in the Mission and they close both the Valencia and 24th Street commercial corridors I gushed about above. It's pretty magical.
posted by rafter at 12:36 AM on May 26, 2010

We'll be getting a place from vrbo or because we like the vibe of living in a neighborhood and the convenience of having a kitchen. I'm looking for advice on the perfect area to stay. Is the Union Square area better for our needs or are we right to look in North Beach/Fisherman's Wharf?

If it is either/or then definitely North Beach. As others have said above, Union Square is more of a daytime shopping area and not as much a residential neighborhood. North Beach is much cuter and I love it because it is one of the few places where it feels like the entire city is there - locals and tourists alike.

Also, as others have said, San Francisco is a tiny city. So it is really hard to make the wrong choice here too.
posted by vacapinta at 1:28 AM on May 26, 2010

And renting a car is great and all.. but parking in the city is terrible. Famously, joke-version bad.

I live out in the Central Valley, but inevitibly end up taking a car to the city for work/pleasure frequently and it is an absolute nightmare. Like literally looking for a parking spot for an hour a few times. NOT recommended.

I don't know much about them but I see Zip Cars stationed all over the city for rent. You might look into that if you are in need of a rental car for a few hours for some reason.
posted by Big_B at 9:03 AM on May 26, 2010

As you’ve seen, Fisherman’s Wharf is generally considered a pretty tacky place, for good reason. But, do see it and get it out of your system.

A few decent decent hotels exist a couple of blocks south of the Wharf, i.e., far enough to avoid the noise at night. But, the neighborhood has little else going for it. North Beach is about a mile’s walk away, uphill.

The immediate Union Square area has plenty of good hotels and expensive shops. Some of the neighborhoods bordering the square can seem a bit dicey and uncomfortable. Check the precise location of a hotel under consideration because hotels will claim a Union Square location when they don’t merit it.

Renting a car is a great way to see something that’s outside the city, but a miserable way to tour the city. If you are looking at driving north up the coast a bit, I’ve rented a couple of times at a small Hertz outlet in Sausalito. It’s about a two-block north from the ferry terminal (leave the ferry, walk over to the main street -- hard to miss -- and go right. PIcking up there avoids driving in the city on pickup and return, although traffic on the 101 is usually heavy.)

Grabbing a ferry over to Sausalito or Tiburon is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
posted by justcorbly at 10:43 AM on May 26, 2010

If you're doing a rental apartment there is NO reason to stay in Union Square. The reason most people stay there is because that's where all the hotels are (and I say this as someone who lives very near US actually).

North Beach is cute, and has lots of great restaurants, but as mentioned it is pretty much the bus or bust. If I were you I'd go with the Mission, or maybe Hayes Valley.
posted by grapesaresour at 3:43 PM on May 26, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much, you guys! I did take the Russian Hill apartment because it had a third bedroom and we thought we would be more comfortable there overall. Looking at the MUNI routes, I think we can navigate pretty much anywhere we need to go. We're arriving on 7/20 and leaving on 7/28, so I'll probably be burning my weekly question with SF subjects. We won't rent a car unless we drive out of the city for a day. I'm compiling my must-do list from the previous posts, and we're really excited. Thanks a million for all your help. I brag about the hive ALL the time.
posted by raisingsand at 3:56 PM on May 26, 2010

Sounds like a plan. Dont forget to wear comfy shoes. You'll do a lot of walking and, yes, the place is hilly. It's the wrong place to break in a new pair.
posted by justcorbly at 4:21 PM on May 26, 2010

Sorry, this isn't lodging, but since you mentioned that "Hippie son is aspiring writer and wants to see Haight Ashbury" I really wanted to suggest some of the City Guides walking tours. They're free (although a donation is appreciated if you're so inclined at the end of the tour) and done by an organization affiliated with the San Francisco Public Library. Every single one I've been on has been terrific. These seemed like they could be of particular interest to you and your family:

Haight Ashbury, every Sunday at 11 am

North Beach, Saturdays at 10 am, 2nd & 4th Tuesdays at 10 am: "Savor a taste of the International District, home to the Latin Quarter of the 1850s, Little Italy since the 1880s, and the stage for turn-of-the-century bohemians and mid-20th century beatniks."

North Beach by Night, SOME Sundays and Mondays at 7 pm (check the schedule): "It's where food, culture, colorful history, and unexpected views all intersect in an erstwhile Italian 'urban village' that was also cradle to San Francisco's bohemia."

Russian Hill Stairways, 1st Saturdays at 10 am, 3rd & 5th Tuesdays at 10 am: "At 345 feet above San Francisco Bay, Russian Hill is a magical neighborhood, with secret gardens and amazing views! Climb hills and staircases to visit the former haunts of writers, artists and other young bohemians."

I mean, if your son wants to be a writer and is visiting San Francisco, checking out the Beat-era haunts of North Beach could be very cool ... and could be fun for a music-lover such as DH, as well.

Enjoy your visit!
posted by kristi at 3:05 PM on May 27, 2010

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