August 20, 2021
Tablet is your source for discovering the world’s most exciting boutique hotels — places where you’ll find a memorable experience, not just a room for the night. For over twenty years we’ve scoured the earth, evaluating hotels for every taste and budget, creating a hand-picked selection that’s proven and unforgettable. Now, we’re the official hotel selection of the legendary MICHELIN Guide.
Here are the top 5 boutique hotels in San Francisco, California:
There’s an argument to be made that this is San Francisco’s most central hotel, located as it is at 4th and Market, between the retail center of Union Square and the tech district of SoMa, and a short distance to Chinatown and the Financial District. Here, what was formerly the Hotel Palomar has been given a thorough style upgrade by the Viceroy group, and along with it a new name: Hotel Zelos San Francisco.
Still intact is the classic 1907 façade of the Pacific Building — but the interiors have been brought subtly up to date. A hotel right at the city’s crossroads has to appeal to tourists and traditional business travelers as well as hipsters and tech-industry innovators, so there are limits to its eccentricity in terms of design. Here some well-chosen design accents — pops of color, modernist furnishings — add some visual interest to the rooms’ calm, residential coziness. (For contrast, glance out the window at busy Market Street and see what a difference a few floors’ height can make.)
Despite San Francisco’s long heritage as a counterculture capital, its hotels tend to err a bit on the squeaky-clean side, stylistically speaking. Suffice it to say it’s not a problem the Hotel Zeppelin has. This Viceroy-branded boutique hotel is going all in on the rock-and-roll vibe — the name, presumably, isn’t a reference to an inflatable airship — and the result is one of the city’s edgier, more bohemian offerings.
The rooms, fresh off a thorough renovation, are decked out in an eclectic style, leaning heavily on mid-century inspirations, with a rich, dark color palette that sets a suitably after-dark mood, and bathrooms that are decorated in a sort of monochrome psychedelic motif. This being San Francisco, they start out rather compact, but quickly spread out as you ascend the scale, and the suites are downright expansive.
San Francisco’s hotel scene has always been a bit of a puzzle. This is one of America’s most popular destinations, and it’s a city with a visual identity all its own. Too often, though, its hotels miss the mark — there’s a conservatism to the local design sensibility that’s entirely at odds with the city’s forward-thinking reputation. San Francisco Proper Hotel, however, suffers from no such deficit.
Here, in what’s often described as America’s most European city, designer Kelly Wearstler has drawn inspiration from a number of European design movements, combining the expected Victorian and Art Deco currents with Cubism to Bauhaus and beyond, paying special attention to the graphic arts, with bold patterns and vibrant illustrations adorning the walls.
Elsewhere, the Viceroy group’s boutique hotels and resorts tend toward a pretty unabashed sort of luxury. But in San Francisco, things are different. The locals have a finely-tuned sense for anything that could possibly come off as pretentious — which might be another way of saying that luxury, in San Francisco, means reclaimed wood, salvaged antiques, and a healthy dose of funkiness where an L.A. hotel might opt for glossy glamour. Either way, funkiness is what you get from Hotel Zetta, along with a playful edge that’s inspired by the tech industry, likely Zetta’s main source of patronage.
So instead of gilt and chandeliers — or alongside the gilt and chandeliers, to be scrupulously accurate — you’ll find the lobby dominated by a two-story Plinko game, and a second-floor lounge that features billiards and shufflepuck tables alongside its swanky modernist sofas and chairs. Meanwhile the guest rooms find an added measure of refinement; sure, the modular desks and vintage-hardware lamps are a subtle nod towards DIY culture, but you’re just as likely to be drawn in by the king beds with their leather headboards, or the luxe mosaic-tiled baths.
We’ve long sung the praises of American mid-century motels as raw material for modern boutique hotels, but the Phoenix Hotel has been at it for longer than we’ve been online. San Francisco’s original rock-and-roll hotel was a counterculture haunt in the ’80s and ’90s, and thanks to a courtyard with space to park a tour bus — and a neighborhood that was, shall we say, tolerant of a bit of revelry — it was the lodging of choice for rock stars from David Bowie to Nirvana.
And just when it was beginning to feel like it had lost touch with its roots, it’s been taken over by Bunkhouse, the Texas-based hotel group headed up by Liz Lambert, whose Austin hotels are perennial Tablet favorites. It’s an inspired combination, one that effortlessly improves the Phoenix’s style and atmosphere without sacrificing its rock-and-roll spirit.