You'll need at least two things if you're traveling to San Francisco: a flower in your hair and a place to stay. For those not interested in crashing with ex-boyfriends or estranged acquaintances, please consider these hotel options.
First, the bad news: you don't have too many options if you want to stay in The Castro, the heart of gay San Francisco. Now the good news: the limited options are perfect for those on a limited budget. The Parker House's ($159+) sophisticated though never stuffy luxury is by far the most spectacular and well-adorned of the options, and the sunny grounds around the Edwardian building help you envision what life was like in San Francisco of yesteryear, while the proximity to the Castro will keep you rooted in a very real and unabashed gay nightlife. The onsite steam room meanwhile provides release from any such obligations. The rate also includes breakfast and a wine social where you can make new friends before hitting the town.
Another Edwardian edifice elsewhere in the neighborhood, Inn on Castro ($115-$125+), hides away eight uniquely decorated guest rooms and recently renovated bathrooms. One of the rooms, it's worth noting, has a shared bathroom, but, again, that's another opportunity to make a new friend. The Inn's owner also operates two apartments down the road that can be rented. Call for details.
24 Henry on Henry Street also has a shared bathroom situation, though not throughout and considering the unbelievable rates— about $75/night if you play your cards right — a little shared space is a small price to pay. And Willows Inn B&B offers uncomplicated homey rooms for around $110-$120 and up, though still suffers a bathroom deficit. There's no such problem at Beck's Motor Lodge (less than $125), but the rooms lack air conditioning, which could be good if you're looking to get sweaty.
Sweat or no sweat, your best bet for hotels is downtown, closer to the museums, wharfs, and waterfront. Those looking for the most luxurious experience may want to check into the predictably swank Ritz-Carlton (no less than $500/night) in Nob Hill or take in the view or stroll the English gardens at the Mandarin Oriental (at least $400/night). Then again, those chains have outposts all over the world and can be enjoyed elsewhere.
Not like Clift Hotel ($350+), a sultry inn run by industry legend — and former Studio 54 owner — Ian Schrager. And interior designer Philippe Starck left no swatch unturned in finding the appropriately poppy yet approachable oranges and greens to spice up the plush hotel's cool grey, cream and lavender color base. The hotel's Asia de Cuba outpost also means you'll be fed well while here, and the Redwood Room bar will keep you well lubricated, too. And all within throwing distance of Union Square!