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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!
The nearby and homier Prescott Hotel, one of the Kimpton Hotel Group's many properties in Frisco, offers four-star service and well-adorned though manageable for $390/night and over in peak season. Elsewhere in Kimpton's holdings you'll find The Hotel Monaco ($285+), a massive space only two blocks from Union Square, The Hotel Palomar ($215+ if you book early) offers guests a more elegant experience and five-star service high-above the SoMa district. That's South of Market, btw.
The more whimsical Serrano Hotel ($325+) is a great fit for those who want to be close to the theater district. For those who want to stay in their boutique-sized room and flex their noggins, the Serrano also has a great board game menu. And an edgier, poppier experience meanwhile can be found at Hotel Triton, where green guests may get off on staying in one of this colorful fantasia of a hotel. Check website for rates.
Eco-conscious visitors will also be interested in looking into The Orchard Garden ($200-$300/night depending on availability), where organic materials, recycling and non-toxic everything coexist alongside luxury. And any fan of Mark Twain, he who famously called San Francisco a "city of startling events," must at least visit the restaurant at the airy, animal-friendly Union Square hotel named after the famous author ($170-$215/night).
The 16-floor Hotel Adagio's ($400+) Moorish-meets-modern design keeps it elegant but relaxed in a space dating back to 1929, an era also invoked at The Hotel Rex ($150-$230+), where eclectic paintings by local artists and deep, cozy chairs all lend themselves to the old world salon aesthetic. If the Rex and Adagio transport guests to the 20s and 30s, the admittedly irreverent and fun-loving Phoenix ($100-$200+) is all about the rocking, rolling and at-times kitchy 50s, even down to the Hawaiian print comforters.
Travelers looking for less rock and more relaxation may be intrigued by yoga and spa treatments at Hotel Vitale ($250-$500 depending on season) on the Embarcadero Waterfront, where the staff strive to give guests "fast peace for your fast-paced traveling lifestyle."
The very affordable Good Hotel ($89-$139) on 7th Street, offers bohemian chic rooms for bargain prices (less than $100 a night). The Best Western Americania offers similar prices across the street, and has the added benefit of Custom Burger and Custom Lounge on the bottom floor.
We've also had great success with Metropolis ($130-$160) an equally budget-friendly, more new-age, funkier option in a circa 1911 building. Rooms are cramped, yes, but that should encourage you to get out and enjoy the neighborhood. Meanwhile, down the road a bit in Pacific Heights, you'll find the gay-popular Queen Anne ($150-$350), a hearty melange of Victorian decor and cosmopolitan modernism that's fit for — well, you know.
If you're more artsy than regal, check out the very gay-friendly The Renoir Hotel on McAllister, near the Civic Center. It's affordable and always packed on pride. And those of you into theatrics who opt out of the Serrano, why not investigate Halcyon Hotel ($80-$100+) a 1912 building that has rooms with small kitchenettes should you decide on staying in San Francisco for a longer spell, which is a distinct possibility.
All rates fluctuate depending on season and rooms, so check with hotels before booking.