Ever since the famous counterculture revolution of the 1960s, San Francisco, USA has been associated with a mishmash of free thinkers, bohemians and the unconventional, and has also been at the forefront of many progressive movements from the beat generation to the revolutionary gay-rights crusade. With its left-field heritage and reputation for being alternative and funky, it’s not surprising that you can find so many unique hotels nestled amongst its hilly districts. From all of our team’s visits over the years here is our collective favourite cool and unusual hotels in San Francisco (in no particular order) guaranteed to inject lashings of colour, fun and uniqueness into your city stay…
Hotel Triton – stylish, playful and flamboyant
Flamboyant and daringly designed, a stay at the four-star boutique Hotel Triton, San Francisco is anything but dull. Located only a five-minute walk from Union Square, from the moment you step inside the lobby you’ll enter a surreal world filled with tomato soup-coloured walls, purple boudoir style furniture and cute rubber ducks residing in the bathtub! With its tireless dedication to creativity, the wonderful hotel has even allowed celebrities (such as comedienne Kathy Griffin and Grateful Dead musician Jerry Garcia) to design a few of their suites. Many of the rooms offer something a little out of the ordinary, for example in the ‘Haagen Dazs’ themed room guests can indulge in cabinets full of ice cream. Hotel Triton is also known for its hosting of unusual events ranging from nightly tarot card readings to drag queen shows taking place in the lobby – just fabulous darling!
- Prices from $120 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Triton
Hotel Zetta – playful, hip and very cool
This new luxury boutique hotel has seen all the coolest magazines falling over themselves to name as one of the best-designed hotels in America. Bright, colourful, arty with enough eccentricity to keep things interesting, the designers haven’t held anything back here! With a fabulous fusion of the old and new, centrally located Hotel Zetta is housed in a refined neoclassical building but the inside has been completely renovated to feature a clever mix of modern design with plenty of classic and arty details – think reclaimed wood and salvaged antiques sitting alongside swanky modernist sofas and chairs. With a more than a little hint of fun, there’s even a two-story Plinko game in the lobby and a second-floor lounge that features billiards and shuffle-puck tables. Also expect a free weekly yoga class, in-room spa services and a 24-hour fitness centre – a very hip San Francisco hotel that has to be seen to be believed!
- Prices from $150 a night
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Zetta
The Clift – luxury, history and high art
This famous San Francisco institution of a hotel is a delicious fusion of luxury, history and high art with pieces by Dali and Roberto Matta rubbing shoulders with traditional Eames chairs and whimsical design by Phillipe Starck throughout. Hotel Clift is eye-grabbing to say the least! I especially enjoyed a signature cocktail in the beautifully restored Redwood Bar which conjured up images of the long-ago jazz era, flapper dresses and a morose saxophone player briefly visible amidst clouds of cigarette smoke! Now, of course, there is no smoke and the saxophone has been replaced by music curated by local DJ’s… Thursday to Saturday it draws in world talent too and a steady crowd of revellers! My room was gorgeous, calm, comfortable with the finest quality bed and bedding and a beautiful view of the city out my window. Location-wise it was perfect! If I jumped on a streetcar up Geary, I got to the ragged coast and ruins of Sutra Baths, if I went in the other direction I soon hit downtown and the financial district and eventually the Bay. An absolutely wonderful place to stay to experience the beautiful bohemian soul of the city with all the sumptuous modern comforts and that you need in life!
- Prices from $190 a night
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Clift
Hotel Zeppelin – sassy hipster boutique
Hmm…it’s tough trying to describe this hotel but I think that’s the intention of its designers! It’s at once kitschy, hip, futuristic and historical… in parts in reminded me of a sci-fi film made in the 1960’s, in others a very clean Frat house and finally also a swish and luxurious spa hotel! Hotel Zeppelin is a beautiful mash-up of both styles and ideas that celebrate the cultural melting pot that is San Francisco, my room, for example, was a gorgeous melange of 60’s colours with lots of contemporary twists. Overall it was super comfy as well as being unique and right in the centre of the city just minutes from Union Square. The service was outstanding and nothing was too much of an ask… all in all just a fabulous, unique and unusual place to stay!
- Prices from $130pn a night
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Zeppelin
The Good Hotel – stylish eco fun
A reasonably priced eco-friendly hotel which still knows how to be fun and stylish. Living up to its name, The Good Hotel claims to be one of the greenest hotels in the city – it’s furnished with reclaimed and recycled products and has bathrooms which feature water-conserving toilets. The rooms are hip and quirkily decorated with all sorts of fun features but being green is definitely still the name of the game! Expect blankets made from recycled water bottles, light shades made with recycled glass bottles, and even bed frames crafted from reclaimed wood. Other amenities include a cool photo booth, complimentary bike use and if you have a hybrid car, you can park for free! Nice!
- Prices from $90 per night
- To book, check prices or availability for The Good Hotel
Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel – historically inspired opulence
Since its inception in 1928 this hotel has been a landmark of opulence and glamour, welcoming through its doors many a celebrity and prominent public figure. Today the Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel it is a much-loved homage to the life of the city. Rich in history and continuing to trailblaze the best service, the most adventurous cocktails and probably the city’s longest-serving doorman at the hotel is a national treasure! What a wonderful place this is, it made me just embrace the theatrical extravagance of San Francisco and I seriously loved it. From the divine cocktails and 360° Views in the Starlight Bar to the hysterical Sunday Drag Brunch I can’t think of a better place from which to experience this iconic city…if you have the budget!
- Prices from $190 per night
- To book, check prices or availability for Kimpton Sir Francis Drake Hotel
Hotel Rex – old school clubhouse chic
Centrally located Hotel Rex is a much loved up-market boutique hotel which perfectly captures the glamour of the 1920’s. The historic building was painstakingly restored to give the feel of an art and literary salon from San Francisco’s past. With dark wood interiors, period furniture and a large collection of interesting objects including antique books and local art, the four-star Rex succeeds in creating a stylish old-school feel that you just won’t want to leave! The rooms are chic and spacious with custom wall coverings, hand-painted lampshades and an excellent range of modern amenities. Other very cool touches include a free nightly wine hour, live jazz and random poetry readings at their on-site Café Andrée, a pretty special great all rounder!
- Prices from $110 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Rex
Phoenix Hotel – the rock n’ roll hotel
Otherwise known as the Rock’n’Roll hotel, this 1950’s style retro motor lodge is said to be where the likes of Little Richard, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead stay when they are in town. A funky oasis located on the edge of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, the classic hotel combines frozen-in-time kitsch with a super caring ethos (they donate a percentage of their profits to local charities for example). Fun is always high on the agenda at the Phoenix hotel and expect to see colourful murals peeking out from the bottom of the pool, quirky statues lining the courtyards and bedrooms adorned with retro seventies bedspreads and fabulous original artwork, very cool indeed!
- Prices from $120 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Phoenix hotel
Hotel Diva – stylish with a little hint of naughtiness
Marketed as a hotel for guests with a big personality, four-star Hotel Diva is a modern boutique hotel with a sleek and slightly provocative design. Definitely one of the hipper hotels in San Francisco, expect a steel-and-glass exterior and equally funky interiors like bright cobalt blue carpets, sculpted stainless steel headboards, luxury bed linens to slumber on and even a fabulous ‘diva’ walk of fame which features signatures of past celebrity guests! Attentive staff aim to cater to all your diva demands and the hotel’s central location will see you based you only minutes away from San Francisco’s best attractions. We promise you, the Diva is anything but dull!
- Prices from $110 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Diva
Hotel Herbert- housed in an old school clubhouse
Originally established as a clubhouse by an eccentric timber merchant in 1909, The Herbert Hotel aims to be a warm, welcoming and characterful home away from home for adventurous travellers on a mid-range budget. If you opt for the economy room you can save money by sharing a bathroom but other rooms do offer en-suites if you yearn for a little more privacy. The hotel is contemporary and bright with classic touches like exposed brickwork and some lovely little boho hints too. A super pleasant place to spend a few nights, with all the city attractions accessible from the doorstep.
- Prices from $95 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Herbert
Hotel Whitcomb – vintage elegance
Hotel Whitcomb is the perfect blend of old-time elegance and contemporary travel. I walked off the streets into the beautiful turn of the century lobby complete with wood panelling and crystal chandeliers and I instantly felt like I was on a set of a period drama. The original character of this historic building has been carefully maintained throughout the rooms and the communal areas and yet it is not stuffy. It is opulent and luxurious, the perfect place to come if you want to feel a bit special but don’t want to break the bank either. It also has a great location for visiting all the delights of the city and using its own words it promises a “unique mix of vintage hospitality and urban convenience.”
- Prices from $100 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Whitcomb
Mystic Hotel – retro/modern chic boutique
The Mystic Hotel really embraces the famous San Franciso vibe with its cool blend of vintage and urban chic and thoughtful approach to space. All the rooms are different and mine was a wonderfully comfortable mix of industrial edge and contemporary refinement with extravagantly luxurious bedding and a big bay window offering dramatic views of the city. The food dreamt up by executive chef Luke Knox was an innovative and delicious twist on classic west coast cuisine, using local seasonal ingredients, served up in the cool prohibition style Burritt Room and Tavern (which we loved)! This is a great hotel to absorb the legendary San Franciso bohemian attitude as well as soak up some of the city’s finest cocktails and incredible history.
- Prices from $110 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Mystic Hotel
The Red Victorian – fabulous bohemian community guesthouse
Situated in Haight-Ashbury, the birthplace of America’s counter-culture, there’s arguably no hotel that epitomises the city’s original hippy spirit more than the Red Victorian. Housed in a wonderfully striking red-bricked building dating from 1904, it actually opened as a guest house in 1977 by owner Sami Sunchild (now aged 82) with the aim of becoming a gathering place for revolutionaries, artists, and travellers. Today the bohemian community hotel and hostel is nothing short of being a true city treasure! There are eighteen colourful, themed rooms in total, all individually decorated and all featuring eclectic decor ranging from antique fireplaces to illuminated window gardens. Other much-cherished highlights include the Peaceful World Center, a museum founded by the longtime proprietor/artist and an art-focused gift shop – wonderful!
- Prices from $90 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Red Victorian
Hotel Zephyr – hip nautical-themed hotel
Hotel Zephyr is right bang smack in the middle of Fishermans walk but it is no ordinary tourist trap! It is, in fact, an upscale boutique hotel that celebrates the industrial maritime heritage of the city and throws in plenty of fun too! As a former hosteller, I loved this place because it’s laid out to encourage interactions, from the cool outdoor courtyard with a fire pit, food truck and giant board games to the quirky yet luxurious lobby complete with portholes and furniture made from old dock signs! I loved it! It’s comfortable too and there are loads of nice little touches that make it unique… for example, alongside the usual smart TV we spotted backgammon and chess in our room as well as a balcony offering some fabulous views over the city. This place is cheeky, quirky and fun but also uncompromising in comfort, for seafarers and landlubbers alike, we would recommend it wholeheartedly!
- Prices from $130 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Zephyr
Hotel Boheme – pays a wonderful homage to the beatnik era
Full of cosy charm and character, this intimate hotel perfectly captures the Bohemian flair of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Beat era – a post-war literary movement which heavily influenced American culture and politics. The hotel has been thoughtfully put together by award-winning interior designer Candra Scott, Boheme Hotel has attracted many writers, artists, filmmakers and deep-thinking travellers over the years. All of the 15 rooms have been uniquely decorated with strong colours, comfortable but striking cast-iron beds, muslin canopies and period black-and-white photos which instantly transports you back to that wonderful bygone era. Oh and as it’s located in Little Italy, you’ll also have immediate access to a huge number of authentic Italian delis and excellent Jazz and Blues Clubs to perfectly complete your authentic beatnik experience…
- Prices from $150 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Boheme Hotel
Hotel Vertigo – Hitchcock inspired mystic
This unique San Francisco hotel boasts a very intriguing past, the building (which is located in the posh Nob Hill area) was once a prohibition-era speakeasy and then the setting for the Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film Vertigo – yes seriously! With a hip new revamp and a name change, the fabulous Hitchcock inspired ‘Hotel Vertigo‘ was born. With the mysterious movie theme running throughout the hotel you can also expect to find leather wing-back chairs, horsehead bedside lamps and Vertigo branded bathrobes creating a wonderful film set experience. Contrasting the classic decor is sophisticated in-room technology which includes a flat-screen HD TVs, iPod docking station, and free Wi-Fi. Definitely one for the film buffs!
- Prices from $120 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Vertigo Hotel
Orchard Garden Hotel – serene luxury eco boutique
Reflecting the city’s progressive ideals is this ultra-green modern boutique hotel. The Orchard Garden Hotel is only one of four hotels in the world to win the LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification – which basically means it adheres to the strictest of environmental standards. Both luxurious and popular, the hotel boasts chemical-free products (including all the products used to clean with), energy-saving rooms and a restaurant which only uses organic and locally sourced ingredients. Other highlights include spacious rooms, a state-of-the-art fitness centre and a delightful rooftop garden. A stylish hotel with a heart and a conscience, very rare indeed!
- Prices from $140 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Orchard Garden Hotel
Hotel des Arts – funky creative fun
Part hotel, part art gallery, the reasonably priced Hotel Des Arts dedicates itself to featuring the contemporary work of international artists. Located in the city’s creative French quarter, this fab down-to-earth boutique hotel promises comfortable modern interiors embellished with more than just a dash of visual stimulation! For the last year, some of the world’s top emerging artists have been allowed full artistic control over many of the guest rooms and materials showcased in the decoration include wall-mounted vinyl records, graffiti, all manner of different fabrics and even three-dimensional artwork. The result is a fabulously eclectic range of rooms! An affordable but hugely interesting accommodation experience in San Francisco and one not to be missed.
- Prices from $110 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Des Arts
Hotel Kabuki – all very zen…
Hotel Kabuki is a stylish blend of Eastern convenience and Western aesthetics and the owners have succeeded in creating something really unique! I was immediately hit by the tranquil atmosphere of the hotel despite it being just a mile away from downtown San Francisco. The gorgeous décor combines Japanese prints and colours with lots of natural light and thoughtfully designed spaces for a truly authentic twist on a boutique hotel experience. I found I had plenty of time to contemplate life in the serene Japanese garden and soaking in the deep Japanese style bbathtuband I left feeling thoroughly rejuvenated despite a rigorous itinerary of city sightseeing! Definitely a cool and unusual gem of a hotel.
- Prices from $140 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Hotel Kabuki
Staypineapple@The Alise – wonderful luxury kitsch
Located right on Geary Boulevard and close to everything I wanted to see in the city, this little ray of sunshine was a real pleasure to stay in! Super friendly staff and comfy luxe rooms with a wonderfully quirky yellow pineapple theme that made it impossible not to feel happy at Staypineapple...I mean who can seriously feel glum wrapped in a yellow gingham bathrobe gazing out at a fabulous view of San Francisco? The rooms had a very high standard of décor which was bright, cheerful and a touch kitschy with all the mod cons I needed including a Bluetooth/iPhone dock, Signature seersucker bathrobes, and a very swish marble bathroom complete with a walk-in shower. The communal areas were equally as warm and welcoming and I enjoyed a glass of Californian wine (okay maybe two) in the bar as well. I thought about hiring one of the vintage yellow pushbikes too but decided I would never make it up and down the San Francisco hills. No detail is forgotten here, a joyful place to stay!
- Prices from $160 a night.
- To book, check prices or availability for Staypinapple@The Alise
More unique, unusual and cool hotels in San Francisco
- Calista Organic Hotel – popular organic boutique hotel with all organic products from $110pn
- Hotel G – Stylish and tasteful boutique hotel near Union Square from $190pn
- Nineteen 06 Mission – eco-friendly modern B&B housed in Victorian from $150pn
- The Mosser – Urban budget retreat even comes with its very own recording studio from $150pn
- The Adagio Hotel – Trendy four-star hotel with unique, elegant decor from $200pn
- The Hotel del Sol – Colourful, trendy hotel with green credentials from $180pn
- Hotel Union Square – Sleek boutique hotel with cool urban style rooms from $150pn
- White Swan Inn – Vintage romance in the style of an English country Inn from $190pn
- W San Francisco – Grand luxurious hotel with superb contemporary decor from $250
- Hotel Carlton – Eclectic and quirky international style in Nob Hill from $130pn
- The Hotel Monaco – Kimpton hotel and spa with an ultra-glamorous style from $220pn
- Hotel Metropolis – Trendy family-friendly budget hotel from $130pn
- Petite Auberge – Popular romantic French-style boutique hotel from $230pn
- Green Tortoise Backpackers Guesthouse – Cool backpackers hostel with an excellent reputation from $50pn