Great Places to Stay in San Francisco

A sampling of some of the best gay-friendly hotels in the city

San Francisco shines when it comes to atmospheric accommodations, with luxurious old-world lodgings on a par with the best grand dames of Europe; charming small hotels rivaled only by those in New Orleans; and the best selection of gay-friendly B&Bs of any big city in the country. North America’s boutique-hotel craze started in San Francisco and continues to thrive today – the city has dozens of first-rate properties with highly personalized staff and clever decorating themes.

Most of the city’s best gay-popular hotels are downtown, close to Nob Hill and Union Square. Here, you’re a 10-minute cab ride from the Castro and an even shorter ride (or a manageable walk) from the nightclubs in SoMa (South of Market); you’re also close to many of the city’s top attractions. If you wish for proximity the Castro, consider the neighborhood’s many appealing guest houses. Wherever you plan to stay, keep in mind that hotel rooms in San Francisco fill up quickly in summer and on holidays – book at least a couple of months ahead when possible.

What follows are a sampling of some of the best gay-friendly hotels in the city, from top of the line to budget-oriented:

A San Francisco Treat
Several luxury hotels occupy the downtown’s fanciest address, Nob Hill, but for the ultimate in cushy amenities, superior service, and lavish furnishings, stay just down the hill at the Ritz-Carlton, which is one of the finest urban retreats in America. Guests inside this gorgeous neoclassical 1920 building enjoy an immense fitness center and two outstanding restaurants. Another high-caliber downtown option, the whimsical The Marker’s distinctly Parisian flair has made it the talk of the city. The lobby, with its soaring vaulted ceilings, tromps l’oeil murals, and sweeping staircase, is magnificent. You’ll find the guest rooms similarly captivating, with faux-bamboo writing desks, high-back chairs, four-poster beds, and wallpaper striped in bold colors.

Trendy Trappings
Among the San Francisco properties run by the illustrious and gay-popular Kimpton Group, the Hotel Triton might as well have a pink-triangle welcome mat outside the front door – it markets very enthusiastically to the queer community. The lobby is famous for its abstract lamps, chairs, and pillars, and rooms have fanciful designs and whimsically hand-painted walls. You can grab espresso, dinner, and a newspaper at Cafe de la Presse, which has one of the best periodicals selections in the city. The seven suites were each decorated by a different celeb designer, from Joe Boxer to Suzan Briganti. Joie de Vivre is another gay-friendly local chain, and its swanky Hotel Rex adds a touch of Roaring ’20s style to Union Square, with murals and portraits depicting sophisticated salon society. There’s even an antiquarian bookstore on the premises.

Downtown Charmer That Won’t Break the Bank
It is possible to find pleasing lodgings downtown with rates starting at under $150 nightly. Consider the Andrews Hotel, an intimate 48-room property with a great little restaurant, an always-smiling and gracious staff, and lovely rooms with pastel-peach walls, white-lace curtains, and quilted bedspreads.

Calling all Eccentrics
As you walk through the ornate lobby of Chateau Tivoli, a riotously bizarre 1892 “painted lady” whose exterior glows with 22 vibrant colors, it’s difficult not to find yourself humming the opening bars of the Addams Family theme song. Rooms are decked top to bottom with fanciful antiques and collectibles (including more than a few stuffed and mounted animals). Another offbeat pick is the The Phoenix, a cult favorite that bills itself as the city’s “creative crossroads.” It’s also the gateway to the seedy Tenderloin neighborhood, but don’t hold that against it. All kinds of fabulous celebs and gay icons have stayed here, including John Waters, River Phoenix, Keith Haring, Faye Dunaway, and Keanu Reeves. This ’50s-style motor lodge has funky rooms, a groovy on-site bar and restaurants, and one of the city’s most distinctive swimming pools.

Great Things in Small Packages
You’ll find dozens of small historic inns throughout San Francisco, each oozing with personality. A four-story former girls boarding school built in 1890 high on a hill in Pacific Heights, the elegant Queen Anne Hotel has 48 rooms, each furnished differently, with a mix of well-chosen antiques; many have fireplaces and wet bars. Parker Guest House is a splendidly restored 1919 Edwardian B&B fringing the Castro and Mission neighborhoods – you can make considerable use of the lavish public areas and appreciate the antiques, rich fabrics, and modern conveniences (voice mail, modem hookups) in the five sun-filled rooms.

Castro Bargains
When all you seek is a clean room and a convenient location, go with a┬áBed & Breakfast. Rooms at the Willows have shared baths; but they do come with sink basins, kimono bathrobes, and very nice toiletries, and the hall baths are each self-contained and clean. It’s an economical choice with a convenient if not particularly scenic location, and the innkeepers are pleasant and easy-going. If you can stand the hilly 15-minute walk from both the Castro and Hayes Valley, go with the super-cheap Metro Hotel. This no-frills place isn’t for everybody – furnishings are seriously dated and the rooms a bit stale-aired, but the funny, helpful staff keeps things clean and pleasant as can be. Rates are the same no matter how many people you cram into the room, so the triples and quads can be real bargains. Cafe Metro, on the ground-floor, is a delight whether for coffee or a full meal.

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