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San Francisco: Where to Stay

Harvey Steiman
Posted: June 28, 2002

The bar at the new Four Seasons Hotel is a tranquil, polished spot to meet just a stone's throw from busy Union Square
  Inside San Francisco
Take it from a local: The best restaurants in San Francisco aren't all trendy, expensive or near your downtown hotel
  Where to Stay:  
  The Fairmont  
  The Four Seasons Hotel  
  Grand Hyatt  
  Hotel Monaco  
  Hyatt Regency  
  Orchard Hotel  
  Palace Hotel  
  Park Hyatt  
  The Ritz-Carlton  
  Westin St. Francis  

The fruit hangs ripe and low in San Francisco these days. Two years ago, top hotels looked like they would stay booked until dot-coms paid dividends. Now there are empty rooms and plenty of tantalizing choices for travelers. Whatever you're looking for -- from sleek, modern style to Gilded Age splendor, from modest to high-end -- you'll find it readily available, often at bargain rates.

Most of the leading hotels are within five blocks of Union Square, a dynamic retailers' mecca that's currently getting a $25 million face-lift, scheduled for completion this July. Two historic luxury properties, The Ritz-Carlton and The Fairmont, are situated just blocks from there, on Nob Hill, once the domain of the railroad barons. If you've ever wondered what $5 million of Gold Rush riches bought in 1907, visit the magnificent Fairmont lobby.

For contemporary-style sumptuousness, it's hard to outdo The Four Seasons Hotel, which opened on Market Street last October. And no one should miss the extraordinary recent renovation of the Clift. It's a hypnotic playground from another dimension, peopled by the hip and the beautiful. Below, we give a cross-section of 14 of the city's best hotels. Remember that prices fluctuate and are frequently negotiable. Midprice hotels such as Orchard and Diva can start at less than $125; standard rooms in the top places can sometimes be had for about $200. So go now, while the buyer's market lasts.

495 Geary St.
Telephone (415) 775-4700
Fax (415) 441-4621
Web site www.clifthotel.com
Rooms 300
Suites 73
Rates $325 to $3,270

The new $50 million Ian Schrager renovation of the Clift struts like a model on a catwalk. Once late-night crowds gather in the bar, admission past the doormen is assured only for hotel guests, though celebrities and especially toothsome eye-candy seem to have a better shot than most. Those who get the nod find a remarkable mélange of cutting-edge contemporary and retro-surreal decor, starting in the lobby with a sofa crafted of ostrich skin and ox horns, set like a safari-king throne, before a bronze Salvador Dali table. The bar, called the Redwood Room, belongs at the top of any shortlist of the city's most captivating spaces. Art Deco to era, inlaid redwood paneling, dim lights shaped like inverted ziggurats and an etched-glass bar create a mood of dreamlike intimacy. The hotel's dove-gray guest rooms are soothing and impeccable, with English sycamore sleigh beds covered with 400-thread-count linen that won't take no for an answer.

440 Geary St.
Telephone (415) 885-0200
Fax (415) 346-6613
Web site www.hoteldiva.com
Rooms 88
Suites 26
Rates $140 to $575

Unobtrusive and hip might sound like oil and water, but Diva makes the combination work. It's easy enough to overlook the entrance of this modestly priced hotel, located in the theater district a few blocks from Union Square. The lobby is spare, with reception behind backlit, cream marble, and the concierge seated in a small black booth. Modern amenities such as WebTV and room service from California Pizza Kitchen appeal to a younger clientele. Edgy and surprisingly spacious rooms have royal-blue carpeting and wire-mesh chairs. Smokers will welcome the fact that, unlike many San Francisco hotels, Diva allows guests to light up on a designated floor.

The Fairmont
950 Mason St.
Telephone (415) 772-5000
Fax (415) 772-5013
Web site www.fairmont.com
Rooms 529
Suites 62
Rates $249 to $10,000

Set like a crown atop Nob Hill, The Fairmont captures the splendor of turn-of-the-century San Francisco. A two-year, $85 million renovation that was finished last year restored the decor of the original 1907 design, including the formidable terra-cotta facade and an expansive lobby, replete with massive, gold-trimmed Corinthian columns.

Guests can choose quietly elegant, high-end rooms in either the original eight-story structure or the 24-story tower, which offers some breathtaking views across the bay at Alcatraz and the Golden Gate. The adventurous won't want to leave without a taste of classic San Francisco kitsch at the Tonga Room, which has been serving mai tais and pupu platters since 1945. The triple-domed interior and mosaic marble floor of the Laurel Court restaurant better reflect the refinement of The Fairmont, which has hosted uncounted celebrities and every American president since William Howard Taft.

The Four Seasons Hotel
757 Market St.
Telephone (415) 633-3000
Fax (415) 633-3009
Web site www.fourseasons.com/sanfrancisco
Rooms 231
Suites 46
Rates $469 to $3,900

Expect contemporary opulence at The Four Seasons, which opened in San Francisco last October. Price clearly wasn't a major concern here, given the luxury of the 24-karat, gold-leaf, barrel-vault ceiling in the lobby and the exquisite Brazilian cherry-wood floor of the bar. The rooms are sophisticated, uniformly bright and very spacious (at least 460 square feet), with 24-hour in-room dining. Hotel guests have complimentary access to the ultramodern LA Sports Club on the fourth floor, which includes weight and cardio equipment, a pro-size basketball court and a swimming pool. Although the Market Street location does not match the splendor of the interior, Union Square is only two blocks away.

Grand Hyatt
345 Stockton St.
Telephone (415) 398-1234
Fax (415) 392-2536
Web site grandsanfrancisco.hyatt.com
Rooms 653
Suites 32
Rates $129 to $1,400

Inveterate shoppers couldn't pick a better-situated pied-à-terre than the Grand Hyatt on Union Square. Designed in 1973 by renowned architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the hotel offers Asian-influenced decor with warm rust, beige and walnut tones both in the 685 guest rooms and the public spaces. Amenities such as early-morning town-car service to the Financial District appeal to the predominantly corporate clientele, though all guests will appreciate features such as small-screen TVs in the bathrooms and a fitness center with 10 cardio machines. Coffee, hefeweizen beer on tap or a tumbler of single malt are best enjoyed in the aptly named Grandviews Restaurant overlooking the city and the bay from the 36th floor.

Hotel Monaco
501 Geary St.
Telephone (415) 292-0100
Fax (415) 292-0111
Web site www.monaco-sf.com
Rooms 167
Suites 34
Rates $229 to $599

The Monaco is a reasonably priced blend of whimsy and opulence that recalls Alice in Wonderland and King Arthur's Court. The 25-foot-high vaulted ceilings in the foyer have murals of biplanes and balloons in a summery blue sky, and the hotel is full of novelties that look like they might have been collected on the voyages of Marco Polo. Partial-canopy beds grace all the rooms, which have a busy, rather nervous energy.

Guests can workout in the fitness center, can choose from a full range of spa treatments, even get a complimentary 15-minute back and shoulder massage. Pets are welcome, and anyone longing for (legal) companionship can request a goldfish for their room.

Hyatt Regency
5 Embarcadero Ctr.
Telephone (415) 788-1234
Fax (415) 981-3638
Web site www.hyatt.com
Rooms 761
Suites 44
Rates $139 to $1,500

Think vast open spaces. The Hyatt Regency's massive atrium, shaped roughly like an isosceles triangle, is the largest hotel lobby in the world. Even the 40-foot spherical sculpture, made from 4 tons of aluminum piping, seems a bit undersized on this stage. Cor- porate travelers, drawn in large part by the 67,000 square feet of meeting space, comprise more than two-thirds of the guests.

But leisure patrons will also enjoy the location (virtually all public transportation is within a block), as well as easy access to the shopping of Embarcadero Center. Rooms are modestly priced and spacious, with relaxing beige, taupe and cream tones and fine views over the city and the bay. But the best vantage is from Equinox, the revolving rooftop restaurant that makes a 360-degree circuit every 45 minutes.

Orchard Hotel
665 Bush St.
Telephone (415) 362-8878 Fax (415) 362-8088
Web site www.theorchardhotel.com
Rooms 96
Suites 9
Rates $109 to $499

This 105-room property, which opened in November 2000, was built from the ground up with the value-oriented business traveler in mind. It's located half a block from the Powell/Hyde cable car lines and two blocks from the shopping of Union Square. Standard rooms are modest in size -- about 250 square feet -- while the suites are nearly double that. Although rates are reasonable, the designers did not scrimp on comfort -- double-paned windows ensure quiet, and DSL lines, DVD and CD players fully meet leisure and business needs. Every room has Frette linens and furniture imported from Bali, while the bathrooms have cream marble floors, black granite countertops and Aveda toiletries. Money saved on the hotel bill can go toward dinner, perhaps at Masa's, which is just across the street.

Palace Hotel
2 New Montgomery St.
Telephone (415) 512-1111
Fax (415) 543-0671
Web site www.sfpalace.com
Rooms 519
Suites 34
Rates $129 to $4,400

One has to wonder about the Maxfield Parrish mural in the Palace bar. Commis-sioned for the 1909 hotel reopening, the painting depicts the Pied Piper of Hamelin luring away the children of the deceitful villagers. Surely, after the 1906 earthquake and the ensuing fire that ravaged the interior of the 1875 structure, the hotel proprietors had to feel that they, like the people of Hamelin, had paid with interest all karmic debts. Whatever the artist's intent, the richly evocative mural suits the luxury of the surroundings. The Palace is one of San Francisco's most elegant historic hotels, this quality shining brightest in its public spaces. Breakfast, lunch and Saturday tea are served in the magnificent Garden Court, with its soaring 50-foot, stained glass and lead latticework ceilings. Patrons have access to workout facilities, spa services and a superb, heated indoor pool with a dramatic, barrel-vault glass ceiling. The rooms are rather arid, but quite spacious. For $4,400 a night, guests can live like dignitaries in the presidential suite.

12 Fourth St.
Telephone (415) 348-1111
Fax (415) 348-0302
Web site www.hotelpalomar.com
Rooms 182
Suites 16
Rates $379 to $1,108

Upon entering the Palomar lobby there's an impulse to tread gingerly, so convincing is the trompe l'oeil geometric pattern of the parquet floor. But this feeling quickly subsides as guests soak in the 1930s-inspired sophistication of this hotel, which is probably best known as the home of Fifth Floor restaurant, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner. The accommodations are quite spacious, with leopard-pattern carpets and neutral raffia wall-coverings. Fax-printers, Nintendo and CD players are standard in every room.

Sleek, cream-colored sofas and dim lighting from softly backlit beveled glass foster comfort and intimacy in the "living room," adjacent to the concierge area on the fifth floor. This beautifully conceived space, which is open to the public during restaurant hours, has an art deco flair that seems to demand shaken not stirred.

Park Hyatt
333 Battery St.
Telephone (415) 392-1234
Fax (415) 421-2433
Web site parksanfrancisco.hyatt.com
Rooms 285
Suites 75
Rates $209 to $4,000

Want to escape the crowds and jostling of Union Square? Then don't overlook the 24-story Park Hyatt, three blocks from the Embarcadero. Monday through Thursday it bustles with business patrons, who welcome amenities such as 24-hour room service and complimentary chauffeur service to any destination within a 2-mile radius. But weekend travelers also appreciate those resources, along with the Park Hyatt's walking-distance proximity to most San Francisco destinations. The rooms, lobby and restaurant have soothing caramel tones of Australian lacewood. There are also stylish modern touches, including the spiral staircase encircling a three-story bronze sculpture. The rooms, particularly those above the 16th floor, have great views over the Financial District and across the bay.

The Ritz-Carlton
600 Stockton St.
Telephone (415) 296-7465
Fax (415) 291-0288
Web site www.ritzcarlton.com
Rooms 292
Suites 44
Rates $279 to $5,200

This imposing nine-story Neoclassical structure on Nob Hill dates from 1909, when it was built to house the headquarters of Metropolitan Life Insurance. Expect affable, attentive service here -- there are 550 employees for the hotel's 336 rooms. The decor has the typical Ritz-Carlton refinement, with discreetly integrated modern amenities such as high-speed Internet access. An extra $100 per night gets you access to the Club Lounge on the top two floors, which includes a buffet from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Treatments, steam and sauna are available at the spa, and exercise facilities include weight and cardio equipment and a 20-by-40-foot lap pool. Guests can dine alfresco at The Terrace, or choose the more elegant surroundings of The Dining Room, which has a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.

181 Third St.
Telephone (415) 777-5300
Fax (415) 817-7823
Web site www.whotels.com
Rooms 417
Suites 5
Rates $229 to $1,800

"Our rooms are foreplay," asserts a hotel spokesman. Indeed, the W does deliver edgy cool, with a slick flair that is complemented by its South of Market location next to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. All the rooms integrate contemporary design with welcoming touches such as plush down comforters and 350-thread-count Italian sheets. Every detail of the W -- from blue light in the elevators to the superb Bar at XYZ on the second floor (with its acorn-colored mohair banquettes designed for sotto voce propositions) -- seems calculated to make patrons feel more hip, clever and sexy than they might be on the outside. Guests validated in that self-assessment will find condoms in every minibar.

Westin St. Francis
335 Powell St.
Telephone (415) 397-7000
Fax (415) 774-0124
Web site www.westin.com
Rooms 1,130
Suites 65
Rates $119 to $12,000

A San Francisco landmark since it opened in 1904, the 1,195-room St. Francis occupies the better part of a city block on Union Square. The Beaux Arts lobby is straight out of the Gilded Age, with dark-green Corinthian marble columns and a richly detailed ceiling. Several luxury retailers have shops in the property, which also houses the hotel spa, workout facilities and two restaurants. The original structure contains more than 600 Empire-style rooms, most of which vary in size from a diminutive 145 square-feet up to more than double that. Accommodations in the 32-story tower, accessed by way of high-speed glass elevators best avoided by the vertiginous, are more spacious and modern.

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