While the City by the Bay might be best known for its startups, bakeries, views, and expensive hotels (with rooms averaging a cool $397 a night), we found seven affordable stays that don't compromise style or location.
This newcomer in Fisherman's Wharf pays homage to the nautical history of its storied district, but with an innovative twist to your predictable waterfront hotel. The 361 rooms incorporate tasteful maritime accents—a sea-blue palette, porthole windows, many with views of San Francisco Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz—all to mimic the feeling of staying aboard a ship. The public spaces have industrial touches like colorful shipping container walls, and the focus is on upping the social fun, with backgammon boards, outdoor courtyard with fire pits and more.
Tucked away from the crowds and high-rise hotels of downtown, in a quiet area of the country’s third-largest Japantown is Kimpton Buchanan. While this new boutique stay takes strong cues from its setting (think Japanese touches like shibori pillows and kimono robes in the rooms), the modern light fixtures and a big statement chandelier in the lobby add contemporary urban flair. Bonus: the hotel is within walking distance of some of the city’s best restaurants including Pizzeria Delfina, Out the Door, and SPQR, as well as glitzy Pacific Heights shops.
Phoenix Hotel, a Joie de Vivre Hotel
This motor lodge turned stylish motel is full of music history and has hosted dozens of rock stars over the last five decades. While the property still pays tribute to its rock 'n' roll roots, it now has a dose of midcentury-modern appeal and retro-chic décor, with rooms overlooking the interior courtyard and its party-friendly pool and cabanas. Looking to mingle? You’ll find plenty of locals at the adjoining restaurant and bar, Chambers Eat+Drink, especially on late weekend nights and during Sunday brunch.
Inn at the Presidio
Set inside Presidio, a 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 city. The property is surrounded by cypress and eucalyptus trees, quiet hiking trails, and rolling fields with views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The historic Georgian revival-style brick building has been restored as a charming lodge, now with 22 sophisticated rooms (done up in wooden rattan chairs and antiques) as well as a white porch lined with rocking chairs. For an additional fee, you can bring your pet.
There’s a lot to love about the new Tilden Hotel, and we're not just talking about the inexpensive rate. The ground floor feels more like a living room than a lobby, and its soon-to-open restaurant and curbside coffee shop promises to be the Tenderloin neighborhood’s new social hub. Until then, eateries like Mr. Holmes Bakehouse for gourmet carbo-loading and Liholiho Yacht Club for trendy Hawaiian-inspired fare are within a stone’s throw. But you might find yourself never wanting to leave: the restored 1928 building has charming surprises like a hidden garden and local artwork, and a Scandinavian-like urban minimalism give it a sleek-yet-homey feel, with cherry wood and white walls, framed plant artwork, shuttered windows, and bathroom products by Malin + Goetz.
The crowd at South of Market’s Hotel Zetta toes the line between business and pleasure travelers, perhaps owing to the property's playful décor—color-splashed murals, a game room with shuffleboard and pool, a chandelier made of sunglasses—as well as the seriously wired business amenities. Rooms are simple yet sophisticated, while in-room spa services like seaweed detox wraps and custom massages for busy globetrotters in need of some R&R up the luxe factor. Early evenings welcome a mix of locals and guests to the lounge bar and adjoining popular British pub, the Cavelier. Given its ideal location in SoMa, the price tag (which hovers around $200) is beacon of accessibility in an otherwise wealthy tech neighborhood.
This eco-friendly hotel takes a do-gooder approach to hospitality. Bed frames are made with recycled wood, the toilets are water conserving, and, at $89, the budget-conscious prices are one of the lowest in the city. Don't expect much from the décor—motel-style rooms inside a brick building are basic yet tasteful, with bolts of cheeky colors and accents—but the perks more than make up for it: hybrid cars receive complimentary onsite parking while two ZipCars are available for guests to check out by the hour.