I used the website Airbnb to book a private room in a local’s apartment when I visited San Francisco for six nights from July 28th to August 3rd, 2015. Airbnb is a website that allows homeowners and renters anywhere in the world, to list their space (it could be a private room, a shared room or an entire house/apartment) along with a nightly or monthly price. Potential guests can browse through these listings, filtering them to fit your specific needs. Some hosts will have a monthly price listed as well, which gives guests the option of staying in one place for longer and renting for a longer term. Airbnb rentals are similar to hotels in that they are a paid service (unlike Couchsurfing which is based on the same premise of staying with locals, but is free). But they are also very different from hotels, in that every listing is unique in their cancellation policies, the amenities they offer, and check in/out times.
I had read a lot about Airbnb prior to my trip to San Francisco and had heard many good things about it, but this was my first time using the website myself. Overall, I had a fantastic experience and I look forward to using it again in the future!
When I first started my research, I knew that I wanted to stay in a less touristy, authentic and unique neighbourhood with some character in San Francisco. I stumbled upon the Mission District and loved the descriptions and photos. I made the decision that I wanted to stay in that neighbourhood, so I filtered the listings to only include those located in the Mission District. It was overwhelming and there were so many to choose from!
After reading the listings carefully to see what was included and what was not, browsing through photos of the various listings and reading many reviews from previous Airbnb guests, I finally decided on one listing that sounded perfect to me.
I messaged the host, Gina, through Airbnb’s built-in messaging service and introduced myself and explained why I would be interested in staying at her place. She was quick to respond to messages and informed me that a private room in her apartment was available during the calendar dates I was looking at. I confirmed with her that the amenities included in the listing would be available, the cancellation policy, I informed her of the time my flight would be arriving in and departing from San Francisco, and inquired about the check in process, directions to the apartment and how to get in.
After finding out this information, I booked a private room in her apartment and paid using a credit card through Airbnb’s website (always pay through the site and not in cash. This ensures that you are protected if something were to go wrong).
A few days before my flight to SF, Gina messaged me on Airbnb and informed me that unfortunately, something had come up unexpectedly with her work and she would be away on a business trip during my stay, returning on my last night in SF. She wanted to make sure that I was comfortable with this. I had no issues.
The day before my flight, Gina messaged me detailed instructions on directions to her apartment, and how to get into the apartment in her absence (information about keys, codes, etc.). Normally, she would be at home during times when she had Airbnb guests and you would be able to press a buzzer on the apartment complex door and she would let you in. However, since circumstances were different, she gave me enough information to be able to check in on my own.
I had no problems with the keys or codes and everything worked out great! It was actually really nice to have the entire apartment to ourselves (my mother and I), for most of our stay. We were able to watch television, relax in the living room, cook our own breakfasts in the kitchen and sleep peacefully in our private room.
Gina’s apartment has two private rooms (this one and this one), and she rents out both of them on Airbnb. My mother and I stayed in one of them (the first link) and during three nights of our stay, the other room was rented out as well. It was not a problem and the guy that rented the other room was very friendly. We chatted in the evenings when we were both at the apartment, but we also gave each other our alone time as well.
The apartment was located on the third floor of an old Victorian building, on a quiet residential street (Albion Street) in the Mission District. It was just steps from Valencia and Mission Streets, the two main streets through the Mission with lots of independent restaurants, bars, cafes, thrift stores, ice cream shops, street side markets, small convenience/grocery corner shops and more. The apartment was only 1.5 blocks from the underground BART train/subway station at the corner of 16th Street and Mission, which was super convenient, as we often took the train to SF’s downtown area (Market Street). There were plenty of MUNI bus stops everywhere in the Mission, which made public transport was very easy in this neighbourhood. The Mission District is a grungy, vibrant and eclectec neighbourhood with a diverse population. I loved it! You will find young people, business professionals, addicts and homeless people. Although the Mission has a large population of Hispanic people, there is also lots of diversity in the ethnic backgrounds of the people living there. The Mission is very close to The Castro and Noe Valley neighbourhoods for further exploring.
There is so much to do and see in the Mission. There are beautifully painted colourful murals located down Clarion Alley, Balmy Alley, many other alleyways along 24th Street as well as on the Women’s Building on 18th Street. The Mission Dolores Park is a great place to relax and people-watch, while getting stunning views of the city from the top of the hill. The park gets busy in the evenings and on weekends, and is full of young people smoking marijuana, drinking openly, having picnics, reading, sleeping, playing sports, having family get-togethers as well as homeless people sleeping underneath heaps of blankets and tarps at the base of the park. I loved the multitude of street-side fresh fruit and vegetable markets that could be found everywhere as well as the delicious and authentic Mexican taquerias. I ate tacos almost every day from a few different places and they were also so tasty! The famous Bi-Rite Creamery ice cream shop is located nearby on 18th Street and Guerrero. I also frequented this place almost every day and it’s the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted! There is a line-up around the corner all the time.
I felt mostly safe walking around in the Mission District during the day, however, be aware that it can get sketchy at night. The further east you get from Valencia, the seedier it seemed to get. I witnessed a punching fight between a couple during a Sunday morning walk through the Mission, where the police had to show up. After 5 or 6 pm, I definitely wouldn’t feel safe walking anywhere in the Mission. That is the time when you started to hear the police and ambulance sirens going strong all night long. There are a lot of homeless people and drug/alcohol addicts in the neighbourhood, but I didn’t experience any problems with them. You will see them sleeping on bus stop benches, sorting through dumpster and garbage trash on the sidewalks, and hanging out on certain corners and in and around the BART station. The Mission is known to have lots of gang and drug problems, so just keep that in mind. It would get noisy during the weekend nights, and you could often hear loud parties, music and obviously lots of sirens. That being said, none of this would deter me from staying in the Mission on a future visit. I loved the grittiness and authenticity of the neighbourhood and the fact that I felt like we were some of the only tourists there. If you take the general common sense precautions that you would take anywhere in the world, you will be fine. My biggest tip for solo females would be not to go out after 6 pm or so. Valencia was usually fine, but Mission Street and farther east? Not recommended at night.
I paid $702 total for six nights to stay at this Airbnb ($117 USD per night). That is the going rate for hotels and Airbnb’s in San Francisco. I thought the price was very reasonable and was cheaper than a lot of the downtown hotels. Staying at this apartment was a very good value for the money.
The actual apartment looked exactly like the photos in the listing and the description of the listing was bang-on.
Upon walking into the apartment, one of the first things I noticed was how clean and spotless everything was! I didn’t want to touch anything to mess it up. The private room, kitchen, guest bathroom and living room were beautiful and tidy.
Arrival and Check In Process: Everything went very smoothly. My Airbnb host provided me with detailed instructions for how to get to her apartment and how to get inside using the key and code, in her absence. I had no issues figuring it out.
All of the amenities outlined in the listing were provided. They included: a kitchen, cable TV, wireless internet, and a guest bathroom with shower and clean towels. The Wi-Fi was super fast which made it enjoyable to update to update social media and upload photos to my blog in the evenings. The host rents out two bedrooms on Airbnb so there is a possibility that you will have other guests in the apartment at the same time as you. It was nice that towels were provided, as I am used to staying in hostels where you have to bring your own! The TV was also great in the evenings and there were lots of channels to choose from to watch movies or shows. I really enjoyed using the kitchen and utensils to cook breakfasts in the morning, and the fridge to store our food.
Our bedroom was gorgeous! I loved the red and grey colour theme. Everything was clean and the mattress and pillows were very comfortable. There were plenty of outlets for charging electronics, a nightstand with an alarm clock and lamp, a small table with plants, window, small couch, and a mirror and dresser. It was perfect and provided everything I needed for a good night’s sleep and a relaxing evening inside.
Our host, Gina, was away on business for most of my stay. However, she returned on our last night in San Francisco and we got the opportunity to meet her and chat in the evening. She was friendly, warm and welcoming. It shows that she cares about her guests! It definitely would have been nice if she could have been at home while we were there, so that we could ask for tips and recommendations for places to eat and things to see and do, but I still had an amazing time!
Communication with the host before arriving was easy using Airbnb’s messaging system! Gina was accessible and very responsive to messages. Even during our stay, she messaged me to make sure that everything was going alright, since she was away, which was thoughtful and demonstrates her commitment to making sure her guests are happy and comfortable.
It was overalls very positive experience. On the weekends, be prepared for it to be noisy at night with the sounds of sirens, people partying, yelling and loud music. The walls in the apartment are so paper thin and the apartment buildings are so close together that you can even hear the neighbour’s conversations at times as well as them taking showers!
There was one night when we had just gone to bed and shortly after laying down, we heard someone knocking loudly on, what sounded like, the neighbour’s door. Then this individual started knocking and pounding loudly on our door, or so it sounded! It was freaky and my heart was definitely pounding, especially since we had the apartment to ourselves and were alone. We didn’t know the person’s intentions so we stayed as quiet as possible and waited for awhile. Thankfully, we had locked the doors. It took a little while to fall asleep but everything seemed fine in the morning.
I definitely wouldn’t let this incident deter me from staying at this Airbnb again or from coming back to San Francisco. It was just a product of the neighbourhood and we don’t know who the person was that was knocking, what their intentions were or if they were even knocking on our door. For all we know, it could have been a neighbour who locked themselves out of their house!
Here is a link to the Airbnb listing that I stayed at:
Reasons Why I Love Airbnb:
– You feel like a local and have the opportunity to meet and stay with people who actually live in the place you’re visiting – Staying in the Mission District, I was one of the few tourists around. It is not a neighbourhood where many tourists come to visit or stay. I enjoyed wandering around and visiting some of the many locally owned produce markets on the streets with fresh local ingredients, buying groceries where the locals shop, eating at local taquerias and navigating the public transport system. When you stay in someone’s apartment, it almost feels like you’re living there. With Airbnb, you have a greater variety of neighbourhoods to choose from, as opposed to hotels which are often concentrated in certain areas. With Airbnb, you can choose to stay in neighbourhoods farther away from the touristy and crowded areas.
– You have access to a kitchen – I loved buying groceries and cooking breakfast in the mornings and fixing up some snacks in the evening. It was nice to be able to use all the utensils and appliances.
– The comforts of home and privacy – As I just mentioned, it feels like you’re living in your destination city. It is really nice to be able to have a comfortable place to relax after climbing hills and exploring the city all day long, and to be able to watch TV or use the internet. If your host is home, you have the option of going to your bedroom to enjoy some privacy as well.
– When searching for listings, make sure to be specific when you are filtering them. If Wi-Fi is a must-have for you, then check that off in your filters.
– Don’t wait until the last minute to book. The most popular places are usually booked up from one to three months in advance.
– Make sure to read all of the reviews of a listing as well as look at the star ratings.
– Read the listing thoroughly to know exactly what is included.
– Read through the cancellation policy. Each host can set their own cancellation policy from flexible to super strict, so make sure you know if and when you can cancel and the type of refund you would get if you had to cancel.
– Check your host’s profile and verification. Contact your host and ask them questions about the listing before you commit to booking. This way you will know what exactly you are committing to.
– Make sure to look through the photos provided for the listings. If there aren’t many photos, message the host and request that they send you some more photos so you can get a good idea of what the place looks like.
– Always leave an honest review after your Airbnb stay. Hosts also write a review for you, which appears on your profile, so make sure to be a considerate guest and respectful of your host’s home.
I will definitely use Airbnb again. Although it is often more expensive than staying in a hostel, it is a good alternative to a hotel and allows you to choose from a variety of local neighbourhoods in which to stay, instead of just the main hotel/hostel areas that are usually more touristy. Airbnb is worth it if you are staying somewhere for more than just a few days (3+ nights) because of the other fees involved (cleaning fee, Airbnb fee, etc.).
If you are looking for the more authentic experience of living with a local in an often less touristy neighbourhood with more character, and you are comfortable with sacrificing some privacy (if the host is home or if they have more than one room to host guests), then I definitely recommend browsing through the listings on Airbnb!
Click this link to create an account with Airbnb and get a $25 credit on your first stay!
Here are some photos of the Airbnb apartment that I stayed at: