After experiencing the City by the Bay’s candy-colored Victorian townhouses and rustic cable cars, award-winning art and food scenes, and neighborhoods both leafy (the Presidio) and techy (Mid-Market), it’s easy to see why Tony Bennett’s famous ballad “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” rings home for more than just its residents. Whether you’re visiting for business or pleasure, the 10 best San Francisco hotels measure up.
1. Proper Hotel
In the newest addition to emerging Mid-Market, interiors by designer Kelly Wearstler could not be more of a departure than the 1907 building’s flatiron-shaped red-brick façade. A mash-up of styles, colors, and patterns dominates every corner: bold wallpaper clashes with plaid upholstery and bare wooden floors, staff wear checkered suits and floral ties. It’s bohemian and eclectic and, somehow, it all works. Arguably, even more emphasis was placed on the hotel’s social spaces—‘gram-worthy interiors outshined only by their food and drink. The neighborhood’s cool crowd pours into Villon, the salon-style lobby restaurant, for seasonal American cuisine; on the rooftop, cocktail lounge Charmaine’s seduces with fire pits, city views, and fabulous libations like Let Me Touch Your Mind (made with Banks 5 rum, coconut cream, pineapple, and lime, topped with a Negroni).
2. Hotel Kabuki
One of the biggest reasons to stay in underrated Japantown: Hotel Kabuki, a trendy 225-room sleep fresh from a $31 million renovation. Its 1960s building is now a refreshing take on mid-century modern design with a Japanese twist: a glassed-lobby lobby opens out onto a bonsai garden, rooms are artfully decorated with orchids and edgy pop art, and a feeling of Zen pervades in guest rooms in the form of framed calligraphy, sisal carpeting, and shibori-crafted cloth headboards. Along with an authentic bathhouse, there’s a trendy lobby bar, where you’ll find more than 20 varieties of sake to pair with fusion bites. Of course, the neighborhood itself is a treasure trove of ramen restaurants, sushi joints, and karaoke bars for even more cultural immersion.
3. Inn at the Presidio
Tired of the traffic and the crowds? Set inside Presidio, a 1,400-acre former U.S. army outpost turned National Park site, the Inn at the Presidio is where to stay if you want to feel far away from the noise of the city. The historic Georgian revival-style brick building was restored as a charming lodge and now has 22 sophisticated rooms done up in wooden rattan chairs and antiques as well as a white porch lined with rocking chairs where you can look out onto the property—an oasis of cypress and eucalyptus trees, quiet hiking trails, and rolling fields with views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Even better than the views, though, are the warmth of the staff and your surrounds, where complimentary continental breakfast and an evening happy hour with wine and cheese keep guests close to home.
4. Fairmont San Francisco
A San Francisco institution, the Fairmont holds pride of place at the top of Nob Hill and remains as stately as it was when it opened back in 1906. Opulent interiors include a jaw-dropping lobby with towering columns and decorative ceilings, three restaurants (including one that hosts afternoon tea), a private garden patio, state-of-the-art wellness spa, and 658 classy rooms and suites equipped with Keurigs and MP3 docking stations and—from almost every one of them—sweeping views of downtown San Francisco. Don’t miss the basement Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, a tiki bar famous for its floating band (yes, there’s a man-made lagoon in there), spontaneous thunderstorms (à la The Rainforest Café), and coconut-cradled Mai Tais.
5. Tilden Hotel
SF’s gritty yet fast-changing Tenderloin district might explain the reasonable room rates behind the Tilden Hotel, but this is far more than just your basic budget find. The ground floor’s low-slung couches and natural lights make it feel more like a living room than a lobby, and there’s more surprises in store in the form of a hidden garden and local artwork. Upstairs, a Scandinavian-like urban minimalism—courtesy of Brooklyn-based design firm Studio Tack—give guest rooms a sleek-yet-homey feel with cherry wood and white walls, framed plant artwork, shuttered windows, and bathroom products by Malin + Goetz. Pecking? Order up room service (tater tots; Wagyu beef burgers) from ground-floor cocktail lounge The Douglas Room—or grab an espresso and croissant to go from the curbside café, which is fast becoming one of the area’s go-tos for morning coffee.
6. The Alise
Steps from Union Square, this cute, whimsical property was designed for the new generation of travelers hoping to find style, affordability, and next-level amenities all in on package. The Alise delivers on all of it: rooms are small but comfortable and well-designed (psst—there’s free WiFi), the open lobby is full of conversation-sparking art pieces, guests are treated to daily cupcake happy hours as well as complimentary bicycles for pedaling around the waterfront, and there’s even an elevated bistro and lounge for rendezvousing with fellow travelers, friends, family, or whomever you’ve brought for the ride.
7. The Kimpton Buchanan
Set away from the downtown, the Kimpton Buchanan marries details inspired by its Japantown setting—shibori pillows and kimono robes in Zenned-out guest rooms; daily wine and sake mixers—with chic, urban touches in the form of modern light fixtures, video installations in the lobby, and glad-they-have-them extras like yoga mats and umbrellas. You’ll feel like you’re living in a real neighborhood here—Buchanan is well within walking distance of incredible restaurants like Pizzeria Delfina as well as Pacific Heights—but we could see you just as easily spending time right where you are, enjoying the peace (and lawn games) of the private interior courtyard and chowing down on shabu shabu at second-floor restaurant Mums.
8. Hotel Drisco
As far as neighborhoods go, it doesn’t get much fancier in San Francisco than Pacific Heights, whose streets are lined with politician-owned mansions, international consulates, and some of the prettiest townhouses in the Bay Area occupied by some of its wealthiest residents. Hotel Drisco lets you pretend like you’re one of them. Outside, it looks like an expensive apartment building; inside is unsurprisingly posh—all dark wood furnishings, rich textiles, and gold fixtures—with spacious guest rooms overlooking the city served by staff in waistcoats and next-level inclusions like evening wine receptions in the parlor. Worried you’re too far from town? Drisco’s complimentary town-car service is on hand to get you whenever you need to go.
9. The St. Regis San Francisco
Anyone talking about urban luxury is surely talking about the St. Regis San Francisco, which occupies a 40-story SoMa tower within spitting distance of the Museum of Modern Art near the financial district. This is the socialite’s sleep of choice, and it’s no wonder: personal butlers escort guests to their rooms, which are minimal but sumptuous with leather walls and deep soaking tubs. The place to see and be seen is the lobby bar, where San Francisco’s business-minded movers and shakers come for stiff drinks and live jazz before dinners at Grill. If it’s privacy you seek, you’re better off booking an appointment at the two-floor Remède Spa, which has its own 50-foot lap pool and relaxation rooms stocked with truffles and champagne.
10. Laurel Inn
Some might balk at Laurel Inn’s address, tucked away at the edge of the Presidio instead of downtown, but anyone looking to swap city living for a cozy home away from home should look no further. A studio-style redesign has given new life to this 1950s-era former motor inn—think mid-century modern furniture, original art by Bay Area locals, and even kitchenettes in some of the 49 rooms—while thoughtful extras include around-the-clock coffee and tea, a music- and movie-lending library, and on-site parking. Bonus: the area’s best restaurants and shops are less than a block away on Sacramento Street.