the urbanist: san francisco

Where the Locals Would Stay in San Francisco If They Weren’t Local

The Kimpton Buchanan Hotel Photo: Laure Joliet/Courtesy of The Kimpton Buchanan

SF is home to the world’s most expensive hotel rooms, averaging around $400 a night. That’s more than you’d pay in Geneva, Milan, Dubai, or London. (Rents are no picnic, either.) We asked four discerning locals — a gallery owner, museum director, event planner, and a linens enthusiast — how best to navigate the outrageously pricey hotel market. The good news: There’s hope for budget(-ish) travelers. The better news: Swanky digs await those with cash to flash.


Hotel Zeppelin Photo: Douglas Friedman/Courtesy of Hotel Zeppelin

Hotel Zeppelin (from $169)
“I am always looking for affordable options in San Francisco, because I have so many curators, writers, and artists in need. Hotel Zeppelin offers all that you want and [it’s easy to] walk up and down the hills or jump on a cable car to explore the city from there. The design is modern eclectic. There is exposed brick, as well as some art pieces that aren’t abstract knockoffs, like a sculpture of a woman made from reclaimed materials by artist Brian Mock.” —Wendi Norris, founder of Gallery Wendi Norris

Hotel Del Sol (from $169)
“The hotel is right in the heart of the Marina, which has tons of restaurants and bars; a lot of young people live there. It feels like an old-school motel in Palm Springs that’s been redone. It’s U-shaped, all of the rooms face the pool, there are tiles everywhere, and palm trees with colored lights. The walls of the rooms are orange and they decorate with blue flowers. It’s very bright and colorful, like a rainbow blew up. And it’s stumbling distance from probably the best restaurant in the city, the Brazen Head, an unmarked, old-school steakhouse.” —Kathryn Kalabokes, owner and creative designer at Dream a Little Dream Events, a boutique company specializing in weddings and private events

The Laurel Inn (from $179)
“The rooms here are done up in pastel colors with a mix of tile and glass; it feels a bit art deco. The hotel is half a block from the totally interesting and cool Sacramento Street, which has become the new center of all things interior design in San Francisco. Allison Caccoma, one of the city’s most sought-after designers, has her offices there. Thos. Moser, which makes beautiful chairs, has its showroom there as well. The only thing I’d warn guests about is the location: The hotel is technically in Pacific Heights, in the western third of the city, so it tends to get foggy in the summer.”—Marc Fleishhacker, president of Julia B Linens

Inn at the Opera (from $149)
“This very small boutique hotel first opened in 1927, but everything is updated. It’s surrounded by the ballet, the opera, the symphony, and SFJazz, so it’s in a great location for popping into restaurants, cafés, and bars. The hotel itself has a very quaint feeling. The rooms are well-appointed but quirky — in a good way — with Edwardian furniture and warm jewel tones.” —Linda Harrison, executive director of the Museum of the African Diaspora


Hotel Vitale Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Vitale

W San Francisco (from $214)
“Many of my clients traveling on business stay at the W hotel. It’s next to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in the heart of the bustling tech community. It’s very modern and clean and a great spot for a breakfast meeting. You can get the standard yogurt parfait or egg white omelet — all very California-healthy, but tasty. You’ll see a lot of other people there for work, but it’s a relaxed environment, not a stuffy business one.” —Wendi Norris

Hotel Via (from $219)
“This is a new hotel in SoMA, right across from the ballpark. It’s on the smaller side, with 159 rooms, and feels very relaxing with its muted gray, white, and blue colors. The Park View suites are clean and fresh-looking, with turquoise accent chairs and views of the city. But the rooftop is the most special feature. There aren’t many rooftop bars in San Francisco, and the Rooftop at Via is open only to guests of the hotel. There are fire pits and lounge-y seating areas with 360-degree views of the Bay Bridge and downtown San Francisco. It serves all local wines and beers, but also seasonal cocktails named for iconic city spots — like the Lombard Street, a mix of gin, raspberry, dill, and yuzu. There’s also a small menu (popcorn with miso-garlic butter, cured trout tacos with caper crema) overseen by an alum of the Michelin-starred Al’s Place.” —Kathryn Kalabokes

Hotel Vitale (from $265)
“Hotel Vitale has a phenomenal location, a block away from the Embarcadero and a block and half from the Ferry Building. And from the Ferry Building, in half an hour you’re in Sausalito, Tiburon, or Oakland. The hotel itself is part of the Joie de Vivre brand and they have lovely rooms, each of which tends to be a little different in its design. The last time I was there, I had a room with a rooftop deck, and those nice outdoor heaters that you often need in San Francisco because the weather changes a couple of times an hour.”—Marc Fleishhacker

The Kimpton Buchanan Hotel (from $156)
“This little hotel in Japantown is über modern. The rooms are smaller and they don’t have a restaurant, but the hotel makes a point of showing you on a map where all the great restaurants are in Japantown and the nearby Fillmore district. Literally 50 yards from the hotel is a plaza with little Japanese shops and bakeries that sell old-school Japanese sweets. And then right nearby are the bigger Japantown center with a Japanese bookstore [Kinokuniya] and the absolutely fantastic Kabuki theater, where you can drink cocktails in the theater.” —Linda Harrison


The St. Regis Hotel San Francisco Photo: Joe Fletcher Photography/Courtesy of The St. Regis San Francisco

Cavallo Point (from $390)
“This is an old military housing facility in Sausalito. It’s not technically in the city, but it’s right on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge and very accessible. They’ve renovated the barracks, but they still have a rustic charm. Some have front porches, for example. It’s very peaceful. They have morning yoga in the sanctuary on site and the food in both restaurants — Murray Circle and Farley Bar — draw the local crowd as well. You can enjoy a nice big glass of red wine by the fire pits under the stars, looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline. I’m a certified spa junkie, and the spa there is great. There’s a coed outdoor area with a pool, where you can sit in between treatments, and a jacuzzi under the eucalyptus.” —Wendi Norris

The Fairmont Heritage Place (from $675)
“A lot of people don’t know about the Fairmont Heritage Place, which is tucked away in North Beach, close to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s basically luxury apartments, with one-, two-, and three-bedroom options. They’re spacious and very well-furnished — like a mix of Pottery Barn and West Elm. The balconies on the Bay side look right over Aquatic Park. They even stock the kitchens for you. You can usually find [metered street] parking here, which is unusual for hotels in San Francisco; usually you have to pay their $50- to $75-a-night rate. Fairmont still has all the luxuries of a hotel: room service, breakfast in the morning, wine hour in the evening, a bellhop — but you don’t have to be limited to one room. The suites at the main Fairmont on Nob Hill are amazing, but they cost upward of $4,000 a night. These rooms you can get for under $1,000 a night.” —Kathryn Kalabokes

Hotel Drisco (from $399)
“My favorite hotel in San Francisco is Hotel Drisco in Pacific Heights. My father grew up at 2600 Pacific Avenue and I spent most of my youth going to dinners at my grandparents’ house three blocks away. The location is fantastic, it’s easy access to the whole Fillmore scene, which is a fun street full of good shops and restaurants and interesting people. The hotel also [shows] great discretion. I have been there more than once and they’ve never implied during the check-in process that they’ve seen me before. The staff understands service at that level. The rooms are done in soft hues and the linens are beautiful and sumptuous. I’m not somebody who wants to feel I’m in the middle of a fashionista hotel; here, the lobby feels like an old Victorian mansion, which is a classic San Francisco style.”—Marc Fleishhacker

The St. Regis Hotel San Francisco (from $395)
“I absolutely love this five-star hotel in the Yerba Buena arts district because if you happen to be there on a Thursday or Friday at five or six o’clock, you’ll see a sommelier open a bottle of great Champagne and a give a glass to anyone who is watching. The lounge/lobby is really nicely done with a two-sided fireplace, and it’s arranged in a way that you can actually hear your conversation. There’s also a wonderful art collection in the lobby and throughout the hotel—they’re committed to the art scene.” —Linda Harrison

The Best Hotels in San Francisco for Every Budget