Fog-wrapped San Francisco is rich with historic sites, architectural gems, prohibition-era speakeasies and retro pizza joints. The characterful City by the Bay may seem like an out-of-reach option for those on a budget, but thankfully there are plenty of low-cost hotels in neighborhoods like Hayes Valley, Tenderloin and the Marina District that won’t break the bank.
Yotel San Francisco resides in a 1904-built redbrick building in the heart of the Mid-Market neighbourhood. Inside, the chain sticks to its minimalist aesthetic with sci-fi-style Sky Cabins, cleverly designed with mezzanine levels, adjustable smart beds and mood lighting to make the most of space and comfort. Premium rooms are just one level with striking city views, while the suites have plenty of space within their exposed brick walls. Get an early morning workout in the gym or wander over to see Alamo Square’s Instagram-worthy painted ladies – a row of colorful Victorian houses.
Tucked amidst charming bookshops and boutiques, the Hayes Valley Inn is minutes from San Francisco’s grand 1930s opera house and the buzz of Union Square. The European-style inn offers seven rooms (ranging from twin beds to deluxe queen) that are diversely decorated in a mix of ’50s-style florals, Parisian posters and rich chocolate satins. The bathrooms are shared and a complimentary breakfast and afternoon tea is served daily. And when you’re out and about, you can spend all the cash you’ve saved on that tour of Alcatraz or a delectable French dinner at the neighboring Absinthe Brasserie & Bar.
Like the Hayes Valley Inn, the Metro Hotel is nestled in the center of a hip neighborhood and doesn’t offer anything excessive in terms of accommodation. The Lower Haight establishment is known to be one of the most-affordable boutique hotels in the city and urges visitors to “live like a local.” Situated between Haight-Ashbury, Alamo Square and the Panhandle park, the small, environmentally friendly hotel is in easy range of numerous shops, restaurants, bars and attractions – without the touristy feel of Union Square.
Built in 1926, the Spanish Colonial Revival building that houses the Harbor Court Hotel was an Army-Navy residence in its previous life – serving soldiers who had returned from war. The future-meets-past rooms include Bluetooth speakers and a minibar stocked with organic treats. Sip complimentary beer and wine each evening at the hotel café, before treating yourself to a Japanese dinner at the on-site restaurant Ozumo. Next door, the YMCA is free for hotel guests – fitness studio, full-size pool and all. The striking structure sits on the Embarcadero, just a short amble from the Ferry Building.
The Ocean Park Motel is the perfect option for sun-worshippers and aspiring surfers who are in town for the salty breeze and golden sands. San Francisco’s first ever motel, the 1930s-era establishment is located in the Sunset neighborhood, just a block away from Ocean Beach. The lagoon-blue facade is a shell to rooms that mingle Art Deco and nautical vibes – some with kitchen units and others with just a microwave and fridge. All guests are welcome to enjoy the two secluded gardens and hot tub – a quiet spot to relax with a beer in the sun.
Hotel Zephyr is an affordable option for those who want to stay by the water, especially anyone with kids in tow. From its colorful maritime theme and art-filled courtyard to its indoor game room, which includes ping-pong and billiards, this hotel is perfect for younger travelers (it even has an on-site food truck.) For older guests, the room views can’t be beat. The Bay is just outside the window and the view stretches as far as the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge. Zephyr’s proximity to Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 shopping center and the beach at Aquatic Park are also major perks.
Nineteen 06 Mission was built following the devastating earthquake of 1906, and has since been restored as an eco-focused hotel. Rooms are lit by energy-efficient lighting and minimally furnished with repurposed building materials and calming slogan art. There are also organic Terra Nova toiletries to use in the shared bathrooms and extra blankets for the colder months. A complimentary continental breakfast is served every morning, and evening libations can be enjoyed by the patio’s wood burner.
The King George Hotel is decorated with a British-inspired collection of delicate floral teapots, old-world portraits and top-hat-shaped lighting fixtures. The theme is continued in the bar, which is kitted out with quintessential pub fixtures like a dart board, a pool table and even a shuffleboard. Gulp down a draft pint of local craft beer or a hoppy brewtail (beer cocktail) and take a picture beside the classic red telephone box to go full English. Upstairs, rooms with gold silk runners and harlequin lamps are stocked with candy jars and eco-friendly bath products.
Located in the waterfront Marina District, Infinity Hotel is a stone’s throw from the Palace of Fine Arts, a Neoclassical landmark. Rooms are practical but cosy, pairing warm lighting with geometric-print carpets, a microwave and a clock radio. There are also in-room tea and coffee facilities to help you rise and shine, before heading out to see Pier 39’s basking sea lions and snap shots of storied Alcatraz. Finish off your day with jerk chicken and piña coladas in tropical restaurant Palm House, found on Union Street.
The Hotel Triton oozes bohemian flair – funky chairs, glass-encased butterflies and a twisting burl wood root slab desk are just a few of the pieces found in the lobby. The library is stacked with travel books that echo the collection of globally-curated art and rooms add luxury touches like super-smooth Frette bed linens and Carrara marble bathrooms. The hotel is flanked by two popular eateries: the 1930s-style Cafe De La Presse serves up classic Parisian fare like steak frites, while at Herlen Place you can tuck into a breakfast of vanilla French toast with warm berries.
Palihotel San Francisco adopts the warm Californian style with its own distinct vintage twist.Rooms are decorated in a soft, earthy palette and feature potted plants, a retro phone and a treat-stocked minibar, while a bespoke table and chair set sits in the bay windows. The all-day restaurant, Fisher Loft, doubles as a Wes-Anderson-style bar with an assortment of art mixed among the liquor bottles. Slide into a floral booth to sip on the tequila-infused Monk’s Delight cocktail. Movie buffs might also like to wander into the back alley to see the plaque dedicated to fictional character Miles Archer, who died in the same spot in film noir The Maltese Falcon (1941).
The Kimpton Buchanan Hotel fuses elements from its Japantown neighbourhood with nods to the storied Barbary Coast. In the lobby, an art installation of 3,100 vintage Japanese whiskey bottles stretches across the ceiling into the moodily-lit living room (reminiscent of a smoky jazz club) where forest-green, wood-paneled walls display a cluster of rich-colored paintings. The rooms are stripped back, but some include quirky touches like a TV on an easel and a yoga mat. Head down to the gym for a high-energy workout or unwind in the courtyard with a game of bean-bag toss.
With a name that means “hope” in Latin, Hotel Spero endeavors to be eco-conscious, mindful and philanthropic all at once. Its green-fueled choices span bathrooms stocked with organic BeeKind products (including soap recycled and then donated via the Clean the World Foundation), as well as eco-friendly cleaning products and composting programs. Each room features a seed pencil (which grows when planted), natural wall hangings, geometric headboards and large picture windows that look out onto the cityscape. The high-end fitness center includes Peloton bikes and Jasper’s Corner is a great spot for morning mimosas and Bloody Marys.