I think of accommodations in three basic genres: corporate hotels, boutique hotels, and quaint/cheap.
Big Corporate Hotels
Generally, visitors will want to be able to walk places, so I recommend something central and around Union Square. While Union Square has shops and access to public transit, it also has its level of crime, panhandlers, dense population of tourists, and no food or dining to recommend. However, the shopping is fun and plentiful, and access to cable cars, busses, the Muni metro and the Financial District is all walkable. The only big hotels I don't recommend are the Fairmont, Mark Hopkins and the Ritz Carlton, but that is solely for their perch atop Nob Hill which is nothing anyone wants to climb casually or repeatedly. Otherwise, they are superb. If you have a driver or a cab, enjoy the opulence. Otherwise, these are the nice places around Market Street/Union Square: The Westin Saint Francis (historic, one of my faves, on Union Square), the Monaco (posh and fun feeling), the Nikko, the Four Seasons, and the Sheraton Palace. The Hilton and the Marriott are convenient if not obscenely huge. The J.W. Marriott is actually quite nice too. The Hyatts are all fine—the Grand Hyatt is on Union Square and the Hyatt Regency is at the Embarcadero with views of the Bay and convenient to Muni, walking, shopping, and ferries. The Clift is uber hip/trendy but frankly uncomfortable and austere if you are not yourself hip and trendy. The Hotel Triton is a fun boutique hotel with small rooms but a lot of character. South of Market features the newer and nicer hotels, and I have been impressed with the new Intercontinental and the Saint Regis. These are all pricey hotels, but friends have found deals as low as $110 using hotwire.com and selecting four star hotels.
Hotel Triton, conveniently located at Bush and Grant, is sort of "funky." The Kensington Park is charming and still located near Union Square. The Hotel Majestic is lovely, but off the beaten path at Gough and Sutter.
Decide in which neighborhood you might like to spend most of your time, or neighborhoods you like, and check out the smaller lodging options and B&Bs. They range from fabulous five room lodgings in neighborhoods like Laurel Heights to Cape Cod-style "Guest Houses" in the Castro. These tend to very few frills, but have that family or comfy feel. Amenities and availability of private bathes vary immensely. Search the web. I've sent many friends to the Fuchsia Tree private apartment (basically, an in-law unit) that is charming, roomy, has a private entrance, garden, and is located at 19th and Castro. I continue to recommend it.
Okay, here's the thing. I may be an eater, but I am not a foodie. I am terrible at knowing what's going on in the food scene. I tend to have a hard time remembering even my favorite restaurants. I have good friends, however, who have their fingers on the pulse of SF's culinary scene and I can refer you to them. We tend to suggest restaurants based on your preference of one or more of the following: (1) price/stars (2) culinary style, or (3) neighborhood. If you're a local, we also consider (4) parking/Muni access.
That being said, here are my recommendations for the SF traveler:
- Very Nice Dinner: Zuni
- Amazing Dinner: The Globe
- Expensive dinner with carefully crafted cocktails: The Salt House
- Fun Dinner: Cuban tapas at Cha Cha Cha
- Tasty, south of Market, off the grid dinner: The Brick House (near the ballpark, although known for lunch)
- Best downtown lunches: Belden Lane (expensive), personally love Taverna
- Best home cooking, fun and family-friendly: Chow (or it's cousin Park Chow). Chow serves beer & wine only, for a full bar go across the street to Home.
- In the Mission: Luna Park
- Cole Valley: Zazie (wonderful French bistro, known for its garden brunch too.)
- Simple, casual tasty, and in a great atmosphere, mostly outdoors: Cafe Flore.
- Favorite burrito & margarita dinner: Puerto Alegre (order the stewed chicken burrito!!)
- Best people-watching brunch on the sidewalk: Squat & Gobble in the Castro
- New favorite casual Thai place: Thai House Express at 19th & Castro (not yet had a bad meal)
- Best Brunk: Harvey's
Friends have also asked me what apps I use for traveling. Here's what's on my phone: