Want to experience a new neighborhood in SF? Stay in one of these cozy boutique hotels, then explore your surroundings.
Inn at the Presidio, the Presidio (pictured above)
Housed in a handsome brick colonial where bachelor army officers once bunked, the Inn at the Presidio is now a fortress of comfort with simple yet elegant décor that reflects its rich past. Surrounded by woods, manicured lawns and historical buildings, the inn feels miles away from the city.
Hike or bike: The Presidio’s network of trails and paths are ideal for easy and more challenging hikes and bike rides. Many trails lead to overlooks with magnificent vistas of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco National Cemetery, Alcatraz, and other area landmarks. If you’re in the mood to cycle but didn’t bring your own wheels, rent a bike at Sports Basement in Crissy Field. Follow the flat multi-use path that meanders through Crissy Field and along the Marina for an easy, scenic ride. For a tougher but exhilarating adventure, pedal up to and across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Grab a bite: You don’t have to venture beyond the gates of the Presidio for a delicious lunch or dinner. Enjoy California-Spanish fusion cuisine at The Commissary, savory comfort food at the festive Presidio Social Club, or upscale Mexican food at Arguello.
Indoor Fun: Score a strike at the Presidio Bowling Center or bounce on giant trampolines at the House of Air. Drop by the Officers’ Club museum to learn about the Presidio’s history or visit the Walt Disney Museum to learn about the man who created the Magic Kingdom.
Insider Tips: Rates begin at $250 and include a hearty breakfast and afternoon wine. The inn fills up fast, so book your room well in advance. On-site parking is available for $7. Get around the park on the free PresidiGo shuttle.
Hotel Kabuki, Japantown
Hotel Kabuki is a tranquil haven in the middle of bustling Japantown. With a blend of sleek western furniture and Japanese art, shoji sliding screens and deep soaking tubs, this boutique property’s guest rooms exude a soothing, contemporary Asian vibe. The hotel also connects to Japan Center, a shopping mecca for all things Japanese.
Explore Japan Center: Locals and visitors flock to the double malls, linked by the Peace Plaza with its giant pagoda spiraling into the sky. Get lost in the maze of aisles exploding with useful and kitschy sundries at Daiso Japan; pick up a box of mochi at Nippon Ya; or browse the huge selection of Japanese books at Kinkuniya Bookstore. Feast on sushi, noodles and other Japanese fare at one of the many restaurants or order a cone-style crepe and tapioca drink at Belly Good Café & Crepes.
Pamper Yourself: Soak, scrub, and steam your way to a state of bliss at Kabuki Springs & Spa. Along with an extensive menu of massages and other services, the spa features communal warm and cold baths; a sauna and steam room; and complimentary sea salts. The baths are open to women and men on alternating days and to both sexes on Tuesdays.
Catch a Flick: Pick your extra-comfy, reserved seat when you buy your ticket at the anything but average 8-screen Sundance Kabuki theater. In addition to the usual movie snacks, the concession stand features gourmet treats like baked goods, Humphrey Slocombe ice cream, and espresso drinks. There’s also a bistro serving more substantial fare and a full bar. Enjoy a glass of wine—in a real glass—while watching one of the daily shows designated for adults 21 and older.
Insider Tips: Room rates start in the $200 range (but can be lower with special deals) and include afternoon sake and passes to Kabuki Springs & Spa, a $25 value. Valet or self-parking is available in the Japan Center garage.
Washington Square Inn, North Beach
North Beach’s Washington Square Inn is the perfect place to savor la dolce vita. As its name implies, the cozy 15-room bed and breakfast is across the street from Washington Square, the heart of this vibrant Italian neighborhood.
Stroll the square: Watch the locals practicing tai chi; check out the art shows happening on most weekends; and marvel at the luminous Saints Peter and Paul Church rising above the square.
Climb to Coit Tower: The famous landmark is a short but steep walk from the inn. Pay to go to the top of the tower or just check out the beautiful murals depicting Depression-era life in California on the ground floor for free. Outside, take in stunning panoramic vistas of the city and bay. Then follow the steps and paths that wind past the enchanting gardens and homes clinging to Telegraph Hill.
Dig the beatniks: Head to Caffé Trieste to sip some of the best espresso in the city and soak up the ambience of the place where Beat Generation writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg held court in the '50s. After your caffeine fix, walk to City Lights Bookstore for a beatnik literary fix. The renowned indie book seller helped Beat poetry flourish. Then cross the street and bop into the Beat Museum.
Explore Upper Grant: This quaint, narrow street boasts an eclectic mix of appealing shops nestled between bakeries and cafes. Al’s Attire; Aria Antiques; Knitz and Leather; Mashka and Therapy are just a few that are worth a peek.
Insider Tips: Rates start at around $250 and include a continental breakfast and afternoon wine. Some rooms have shared baths. For a spontaneous visit, call the inn on the day you want to stay and get a “Carpe Diem” discount if rooms are available. The inn offers a parking pass for a nearby garage.
Most of us will never live in a multi-million dollar Pacific Heights mansion. But you can get a taste of life in one of San Francisco’s swankiest neighborhoods when you check into the gracious and inviting Hotel Drisco, a 5-story, butter-colored Edwardian perched on a corner of Pacific Avenue.
Ogle eye candy: No matter which direction you wander, you’ll be rewarded with grand Victorian, Classic Revival and Art Deco gems. If you want to go behind the doors of one of them, visit the Haas-Lilienthal House. It’s open to the public on Wednesdays and weekends. On Sunday’s, the mansion is also the starting point for a guided walking tour of Pacific Heights. You can create your own tour by downloading an SF Heritage map, complete with facts about featured homes.
Park it: Stroll to Alta Plaza Park, a hilltop sanctuary with towering Monterey pines, a playground, tennis courts, and benches sprinkled throughout. Linger with a book, watch dogs romp, or just admire the views of the bay and city.
Hit Upper Fillmore: The land of upscale boutiques, cafes and restaurants is a short walk from the Drisco. Even if you can’t afford the hefty price tags in many stores, it’s a great place to window shop and get a bite. Dozens of dining options cater to every taste and budget. Locals brunch and lunch at Jane on Fillmore and The Grove. 1300 Fillmore, Chouquet’s, and uber-hot SPQR are a few of the numerous choices for dinner.
Insider Tips: Rates for Hotel Drisco start at around $300 and include a lavish breakfast buffet and afternoon wine; special rates and packages are available. Parking is on the surrounding streets, but the hotel staff will move your car for you as needed.