San Francisco: a city known for its free-spirited hippies, its bohemian artists, its quirky architecture, its innovative startups. It’s eclectic, vibrant, surprising, sexy. And it has the hotels to match.
Accommodations in San Francisco range from pricey 5-star luxury to bargain basement motel dives. The ritziest guests stay at the St. Regis, the Four Seasons, and the Fairmont. Cash-strapped travellers hole up in gritty Tenderloin hostels. But to experience the city at its best – to fully immerse yourself in what makes the City By The Bay so special – a unique, boutique-minded, design-forward hotel is the only way to go.
We’ve rounded up 10 of the coolest hotels in San Francisco for travellers who want more than a bed and complimentary breakfast. Check yourself in next time California calls.
The Battery is an ambitious private club that aims to “play host to bright minds with big ideas, provide an atmosphere that’s simultaneously stimulating and relaxing, and offer cocktails, cuisine and culture worthy of discussion.” Fortunately for the masses, non-members can make hotel reservations and receive full club membership privileges for the duration of their stay. A peek at the masculine, ultra-hip interiors should be all the convincing you need to book one of the 14 suites (including a penthouse with views of the Transamerica Pyramid and the Bay Bridge).
Hotel des Arts
The Hotel des Arts lives up to its name. Its rooms sport works from a variety of artists – Including Buff Monster, Dave Kinsey, Tim Gaskin, Plasticgod, and Shepard Fairey – in a range of materials. The lobby doubles as an art gallery that regularly refreshes the pieces on display. Aside from the visual stimulation, the Hotel des Arts keeps it simple. The hotel offers few amenities beyond breakfast, but it’s reasonably priced for an expensive city and well-located at the crossroads of Union Square, the Financial District, and the Chinatown Gate.
Checking into the Hotel Vertigo is like stepping into a Hitchcock movie – literally. Half a century ago, when it was the Empire Hotel, the building at 940 Sutter Street played a cameo role in Hitchcock’s classic, Vertigo. These days it has a new name, but the film plays on a loop in the lobby and the furnishings take their tangerine and white colour scheme from the movie’s promotional materials. Wielding an incomparable eccentricity, style, and playfulness, Hotel Vertigo is a sophisticated, multi-sensory sanctuary where “equilibrium is overrated.”
Located near the notoriously touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, this boutique stay takes a nauti-but-nice approach to SF accommodations. The hotel occupies the renovated Del Monte cannery, a behemoth of a building that now sports nautical décor and flatscreen TVs alongside original brick and timbers. If you can stomach the intense maritime theme, you’ll be treated to amenities like free bike rentals, a yoga mat in every room, and six “Tall Rooms” with extra-long beds and raised shower heads.
Hotel Triton exemplifies the essence of San Francisco: spunky, spirited, and utterly individual. The hotel’s 140 guest rooms are bold and bright, with eco-friendly bath amenities and an honour bar stocked with healthy organic treats. A handful of celebrity-designed suites offer one-of-a-kind experiences. Our favourite? That would be the Hãagen-Dazs Sweet Suite, which boasts a custom ice cream cabinet stocked with an unlimited supply of classic Hãagen-Dazs flavours (plus new releases), bowls, scoops and spoons.
For big personalities only. From floor to ceiling, Hotel Diva is unapologetically dramatic. The sleek and provocative décor includes cobalt blue carpet, stainless steel headboards, and sexy custom shades. Visitors enter via a shrine to past celebrity guests called the ‘Sidewalk of Fame’. Two of San Francisco’s finest performing arts venues, the American Conservatory Theatre and Curran Theatre, are just across the street. An attentive staff is on hand to ensure all your diva demands are met. Whether you’re in town for business or pleasure, Hotel Diva treats every guest like a star.
Hotel Zetta blends sophistication and service with a relaxed California attitude. The vibrant design and sustainable architecture lend an innovative and creative vibe, while the high-tech conveniences and oversize guestrooms keep things luxe. Repurposed materials are everywhere (perhaps a nod to San Francisco’s serious commitment to recycling), but the hotel’s real highlight is its sense of fun. A two-storey Plinko game presides over the lobby, while the Playroom features a pool table, shuffleboard, ping pong, giant Jenga, and multiple gaming consoles.
With a name taken from the emcee of a reading series that launched the Beat Generation, Hotel Rex has a strong legacy of cool to live up to. The cosy interiors evoke the literary salons of the ’20s and ’30s with retro writing desks and armchairs that beg you to curl up with a book. If you forget to pack your own reading material, head to the bookshelf-lined lobby or the Library Bar (where you’ll also find readings, art shows, live music, and cocktails with literary themes). The old-school glamour of Hotel Rex is a refreshing departure from the edgier accommodations that occupy the rest of this list.
Did someone say Philippe Starck? The French designer extraordinaire is behind the chic demeanor of the Clift Hotel, a property that’s high on style and scene in equal parts. The soaring lobby sports chairs from Ray and Charles Eames, a coffee table by Salvador Dali, and a surreal stool by Roberto Matta (inspired by René Margritte). The plush Living Room offers the comforts of an old English club. As for the centerpiece of it all, that would be the legendary Redwood Room – a bar outfitted in digital art, wood paneling from a single redwood tree, and an ultra-hip crowd.
Was that Radiohead in the lobby? Are Pearl Jam by the pool? At the Phoenix Hotel, rock ‘n’ roll dreams come true. Owner Chip Conley transformed the formerly seedy “no-tell motel” into a crashpad for creative spirits in 1987. Since then it’s become a cherished stop for rockers passing through SF, with a star-studded guest list that includes the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Killers, David Bowie, and more. Resist the temptation to toss a television out a window.