Unique Hotels in San Francisco
By Hassina Obaidy
Photos by Erica Marquez and Andy Sweet
Location, cleanliness, and price are usually the top three things guests think about when booking a hotel room. But what about the uniqueness, or the historic, elegant touch that most of these hotels embody? We’ve compiled the top five unique hotels that make guests feel at home, feel like they’re a star, or just feel like they’re living in an art gallery. Literally.
From Japantown to the shopping district of San Francisco, five boutique hotels stand with distinct themes differentiating themselves from others. Their history, ambiance, and services give guests a whole new experience in visiting the city.
Hotel Des Arts
447 Bush St San Francisco, CA 94108
Guests are taken up five floors of this art gallery incorporated hotel on Bush street near Chinatown’s gate. In each room, the walls are painted by local artists, and throughout every hallway, different kinds of artwork hang and are changed out every two to three months. From black and white photography to abstract paintings, the majority of the artwork displayed is for sale and open for the public as well.
In 2002, the building was purchased as The Good Luck hotel then became Hotel Des Arts in 2004 when the previous owner and art curator, John Doffing decided to bring in emerging artists from around the world to paint each room differently, says Samantha Felix, General Manager of Hotel Des Arts. During this time, some of the artists such as David Choe were just starting to take off and Doffing helped select people who have since become very popular, but the rooms have not been repainted since. The hotel works with an art curator who helps select the artwork and bring in more artists from around the Bay Area.
Room rates range from $79 to $299 per night, varying based on dates. Depending on the season and availability, Hotel Des Arts offers special packages and discounts like their Facebook fan page discount of 15 percent off, or AAA discount of 10 percent off.
“We not only offer a comfortable stay, we offer you an experience,” says Felix. “We want our guests to have the experience of sleeping in a gallery and to live the art. You’re in a room and you’re inside the painting.”
111 Mason St San Francisco, CA 94102
Travel back in time to classic Hollywood in San Francisco’s Hotel Bijou. Portraits of old Hollywood actors, such as Marilyn Monroe, along with pictures of old-school movie theaters in San Francisco are displayed in the hallways of this classic cinema-themed hotel. Right across the reception desk and waiting area is a built-in theater room- Le Petit Theater. With its vintage themed decor and deep purple velvet seating for eight, the classic theater offers free movies for their guests every night at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., and complimentary popcorn and soda are provided. Movies that were filmed in San Francisco such as The Pursuit of Happiness, The Joy Luck Club, Escape from Alcatraz, and more are played in Le Petit Theater.
Hotel Bijou opened in 1998, but has had new ownership since 2008. The previous owner generated this theme to celebrate old world San Francisco and classic cinema. All sixty-five rooms are named after a movie that was filmed in Northern California. For example, room 202 is named The Birds and includes a framed still of the original movie with general information about the film. Although the rooms may not be themed, they are adorned with jewel-toned bedding and spacious area.
Rates range from $89-$259, including special offers such as shopping packages, an Alcatraz package in the summer, and a San Francisco pass package. Inspired by Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hotel Bijou offers Breakfast at Bijou’s every morning. Considering that there are only sixty-five rooms at this hotel, it’s named Hotel Bijou because of its small aspect.
Blanca Zelidon, General Manager of Hotel Bijou. says that the demographic is a little bit on the older side, but gets some young visitors as well. Hotel Bijou is a very quaint and pleasant hotel to stay at with not a lot of roughness.
“The Bijou just creates a docile environment here where our guests feel safe,” she says.
The Mosser Hotel
54 4th St San Francisco, CA 94103
Located in the shopping center on Market and Fourth street and just a block away from Union Square and The Moscone Convention Center, The Mosser Hotel has been standing since 1913. Original marble flooring, modern light fixtures, detailed carved ceiling, and original woodwork in the lobby helps bring out the “hip-historic” element that the hotel embodies.
“We are a hip historic,” says Charleen Murphy, director of sales and marketing. “We cater to a fun, hip clientele, but we keep our historical roots and backbone.”
Of the 166 rooms, all of which are non-smoking, thirty-two of these rooms (five on each of the eight floors) have a shared bathroom, but are just a few short steps away from the room. A vanity sink and mirror are included in the European style rooms. Murphy says shared bathrooms were considered fashionable and it’s the way things were built in the early 1900s. The Mosser Hotel was originally opened as The Keystone Hotel, a premier hotel of its time, then was purchased in 1981 by Charles W. Mosser who renamed it to its current name after a multi-million dollar renovation in 2003 and continued its soft and hard renovations in 2001, 2005, and 2012.
Room rates range from $69 to $249 per night, with an average rate of $145 for private baths and $79 for shared baths. Annabelle’s Bar and Bistro, which is owned by The Mosser, is connected to the lobby and provides room service to their guests when asked for. After taking charge of the hotel, Mosser, a playwright and songwriter, built an on-site state of the art music studio, which has sponsored festivals such as Noise Pop and Treasure Island Music Festival, and works with many indie bands. The Mosser is the only boutique and three star hotel in a five star area.
“It is so cute, if it had cheeks I could pinch them,” says Murphy. “It is very unique because it is not a cookie cutter hotel. If you’re coming here, you’re looking for something different, and we are a family owned property.”
The hotel will be celebrating its 100th birthday kicking off in May with an upcoming event in July as the celebrations continue throughout the year.
940 Sutter St San Francisco, CA 94109
Hotel Vertigo is one of those buildings that definitely shouldn’t judged by its location. From the looks of the exterior, there is an instant doubt that this hotel could possibly add sophistication to its interior. However, it’s beautifully designed to its modern sophistication, adding a “hitchcockian design,” says Nick Dalisay, director of sales and marketing. Simple yet opulent, the clean white marble flooring, sheer orange curtains, porcelain white animal statues, and white and orange contemporary furniture create an elegant ambiance for its guests the moment they enter. Behind the receptionist desk, a flat screen television is repeatedly playing the classic Alfred Hitchcock film, Vertigo.
First opened as the York Hotel in the 1920s, it eventually transformed to Hotel Vertigo in 2009. The exterior of the building was shot in the film when “Judy walks down Sutter street and Scotty follows her and she enters the building,” says Dalisay. “Then she is seen across the street by Scott from her window.” Her room number was 501, which is now room 401 in the hotel.
There are one-hundred-two guest rooms in this ten floor mysterious hotel with an orange and cream theme in every room “to give it a bit of chic type of feel without getting too gotti,” says Dalisay. Room rates range from $129-$299 with a complimentary morning coffee and tea in the lobby and wine hour from 5:30-6:30 p.m., Monday thru Friday. The hotel will also be opening a restaurant soon.
1625 Post St San Francisco, CA 94115
Located in the heart of Japantown, Hotel Kabuki offers an elegant Japanese style touch to its decor. A boutique hotel, its spacious rooms and lobby catches the eyes of guests for a comfortable and peaceful stay. Looking out the large window from the receptionist desk, guests will find a beautiful, serene green garden and a Koi pond where they can take a walk and relax. The guestrooms are designed with sophistication and elegance with strong Japanese influence and make guests feel at home. Some rooms have private balconies looking out to the city and a Japanese style deep soaking tub as well as a sauna. Each room is painted with Japanese artwork on the walls and an exterior window with paper Shoji screens. With two hundred and eighteen rooms, and sixteen floors, Hotel Kabuki has various rooms that fit guests’ needs, including a traditional Japanese suite with a low-level futon style bed and private gardens.
Adjacent to the lobby, the O Izakaya Lounge offers Japanese style plates and cocktails. For a traditional and exotic spa, guests are welcome to Kabuki Springs and Spa, a Japanese influenced bathing facility. Although the spa is a separate business from the hotel, they are still managed by the same corporation. Rates range from $89 to $550 depending on the season and offers packages that include complimentary parking and complimentary breakfast.
The main building opened in 1968 then the second building opened in 1973 along with the annex to the meeting space. Japantown was in definite need for a full service hotel and it’s the only full service hotel west of Van Ness and the only Japanese hotel in San Francisco, says Ben Lawson, assistant general manager.
“It is a very serene, tranquil property,” he says. “The music that we play in public spaces is very strings oriented-asian themed, very peaceful. Often times during a slow day you can look through the lobby and two or three people are sleeping on the lobby chairs.”