With stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, iconic turn-of-the-century architecture, and opulent interiors, San Francisco’s luxury hotels are worth the splurge. However, if you’re looking for something high-end, but don’t have a large budget, don’t worry, as we’ve rounded up some of the most upscale properties in San Francisco and offered a cheaper, but similar, alternative. Broken down into categories, our list celebrates everything from the city’s historical past to its hip present, providing a range of stays to suit the destination’s eclectic charms.
The Historic Hotel Pick: Palace Hotel
Originally built in 1875, then rebuilt in 1909 following an earthquake in 1906, the aptly named Palace Hotel is the city’s oldest property. The grand property radiates opulence and old-world grandeur, while elegant mid-century rooms add contemporary comfort. Located close to Union Square, the landmark hotel is well-positioned for luxury shopping and seeing cultural attractions -- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Powell-Market Cable Car Turntable are both within walking distance. Be sure to enjoy afternoon tea in the spectacular Garden Court, where marble pillars and crystal chandeliers set the scene. Oh, and make the most of the heated indoor pool, a luxury you won’t find in many San Francisco hotels.
The Alternative: Intercontinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco
Another grand dame in the city, the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco is a great alternative to the Palace Hotel, if you want a historic property for half the price. While this hotel might not hit the same luxury level as the Palace, it has plenty going for it, from the stellar views on display from the classically styled rooms to the Top of the Mark bar on the 19th floor. The location in the ritzy neighborhood of Nob Hill is another factor contributing to the value here, and while neighbors like the Fairmont and the Ritz-Carlton represent more luxurious alternatives to the Palace, neither can beat the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins on price.
The Hip Hotel Pick: W San Francisco
The W San Francisco is the ideal pick for guests looking for a slightly edgier luxury experience. From curated fragrances that fill public spaces to mood-lit shared workspaces, this 404-room hotel creates a hip ambience from check-in to check-out. Sleek, modern rooms come with great tech features, the Living Room bar is perfect for people-watching, and the Bliss Spa offers pampering treatments. Located in arty SoMa, this property offers both style and substance.
The Alternative: Hotel Kabuki, a Joie de Vivre Hotel
Eclectic interiors featuring Japanese-inspired touches, cool industrial architecture, rustic wooden ceiling beams, potted plants, and vinyl-covered walls contribute to the hip experience at Hotel Kabuki, a Joie de Vivre hotel. W San Francisco may be the more famous name, but the lower prices at Hotel Kabuki don’t correlate to any lack of quality. Smart and stylish rooms are elevated with pops of art and neat Japanese details, such as graphic prints and characters painted on the walls. Plus, all are well-equipped with modern amenities. A hip lobby bar and courtyard garden with a koi pond and firepit are selling points. And while there’s no full restaurant, there’s always the dining delights of surrounding Japantown.
The Bay View Hotel Pick: Loews Regency San Francisco
No other hotel in San Francisco guarantees incredible views quite like those on display at Loews Regency San Francisco. Occupying the top 11 floors of San Francisco’s third-tallest skyscraper, this hotel offers the highest rooms in the city. And while views of the Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and the city skyline are a large part of the attraction, interior features are just as impressive. The downtown location is best for business visitors, but all types of guests can rely on the great dining, spa, and fitness facilities within the hotel. In the large, luxuriously appointed rooms, neutral tones are employed to frame the views from the big windows.
The Alternative: Hotel Vitale, a Joie de Vivre Hotel
No hotel in the city can compete with the Loews Regency for sky-high views, so the alternative is to get closer to the action. Hotel Vitale has an ideal waterside location across the street from the famous Ferry Building. From here, guests can get up close and personal with views across the Bay. Rooms are stylish and comfortable, with soothing neutral colors, plus they have upscale amenities like Bose sound systems and Nespresso machines. Guests will also want to make time for mingling on the hotel’s terrace bar or rooftop patio to soak up the dramatic sights.
The Romantic Hotel Pick: The Fairmont San Francisco
Opened in 1907, the Fairmont is one of the oldest hotels in the city. It's perched atop Nob Hill -- overlooking the city -- meaning awesome views can be had. Even the views from street-level are stunning. Views aside, what separates this property from its luxury competitors are the beautiful, well-appointed rooms. Oh, and the fact that movies like "Vertigo" and "Dirty Harry" were filmed here. Overall, this property fuses the history, cachet, and decor of a turn-of-the-20th-century grand old dame with modern amenities and technology.
The Alternative: White Swan Inn
Delivering a more immediate sense of romance with its cozy, intimate interiors that feature floral wallpaper, heavy dark wood furniture, and patterned carpets, the White Swan Inn is all about that Victorian London look. Here, guests can make believe they’re at the center of their own vintage love affair, enjoying time together in the retro public areas of the hotel. There is no full restaurant, but guests are served food, including baked goods and tea and biscuits, throughout the day. On top of the vintage vibes, a cozy courtyard garden offers a serene outdoor space in the city.
The Boutique Hotel Pick: Hotel Zetta San Francisco
Hotel Zetta combines the sort of hip, stylish credentials you’d expect from a boutique hotel (funky repurposed furnishings and trendy staff uniformly dressed in black) with extra details that take it into luxe territory. These include a retro TV lounge, a must-see two-story Plinko game, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and a restaurant serving adventurous British cuisine. As for where guests lay their heads, the 116 beautifully sleek rooms are decorated with Asian patchwork rugs on wooden floors, contemporary artwork, and leather-tufted headboards.
The Alternative: Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel
Famous designer Philippe Starck is responsible for the slick, creative interiors at the Clift Royal Sonesta, which underwent a renovation in 2001. What was once a historic Art Deco space is a modern boutique hotel today. Well-designed rooms full of high-tech features take on a more minimalist look than the public spaces, and intimacy kits add a steamy touch. Despite the relative lack of amenities here, guests keen on enjoying a hip, boutique vibe won’t be disappointed, thanks to the dimly-lit lobby bar featuring sharp designer furniture and super-cool Redwood Room bar.
The Spa Pick: The St. Regis San Francisco
Built in 2005, the St. Regis offers the best in luxury: rooms with great beds and bathrooms, 24-hour butler service (for suite rooms only), and Remede Spa. Speaking of the latter, the 9,000-square-foot spa features beautiful facilities, an extensive service menu, and a serene 24-hour saltwater pool with poolside food and drink service and impressive views of San Francisco. For a daily fee, guests can use the locker rooms (where the whirlpools, steam rooms, and saunas are located) and relaxation rooms (chocolate truffles and Champagne are served). The treatment menu ranges from mani/pedis to brow-tinting to day-long packages.
The Alternative: The Scarlet Huntington
There are plenty of boutique hotels in San Francisco, but the Huntington stands out for its stellar spa. The three-level space starts on the ground floor and goes underground, but even so, its breezy patio looks down over the rooftops. The spa offers a full menu of services and includes an indoor infinity pool, a whirlpool, steam rooms, and saunas that are free for guests. However, keep in mind that the space, including the pool, is only open to guests 16 and over.
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