Last December, when we were trying to find hotels for our trip to San Francisco, we found it nearly impossible to do so. The first problem was our last-minute mindset. Being a popular time of year to visit (just before the Christmas holidays), most of the hotels throughout the city were completely sold out. Add to that the notoriously high prices (in general) of San Francisco hotels, and finding a place to stay proved to be extremely difficult.
We didn’t really know which area of San Francisco was good or not, so we turned to the online community to give us a hand. Nicole, from La Mia Vita, who runs a beautiful blog about her life in San Francisco, gave us enormous help. She mentioned that Union Square was a great place to stay, due to its central location and the abundance of hotels. In terms of budget hotels, the Grant Hotel was said to be quite nice. She also gave us tips on which areas to avoid, like anything East of Taylor Street, which starts getting you into the sketchy Tenderloin area.
Another great source of information was Kristin, from Camels & Chocolate, who lives in San Francisco also. She suggested looking at the Joie de Vivre properties, which came highly recommended. In terms of B&Bs, Chateau Tivoli near Alamo Square was suggested too.
Since we were renting a car for the duration of our stay in San Francisco, it didn’t matter which location we ended up in, but we preferred something relatively central. It also had to come in under budget (which was about $100 per night). Yes, I know, that’s very cheap for staying in a hotel in San Francisco, but we were determined to make it work. After scouring the regular sites like Kayak.com and Expedia.com, we hit a roadblock. All of the hotels that were at least 3 stars were well over our price range. It just seemed wrong to fork over $150+ for a two star hotel…
So what did we do? We turned to the wonderful world of online reverse auctions and new travel-booking gimmicks. After many loooong nights of looking for hotels online, we figured we’d just take our chances and see what we ended up with. The first leg of our trip was in San Francisco, and we needed a hotel for 4 nights. After many failed attempts to secure something cheap and nice on Priceline.com, we decided to try out Travelocity’s new service: Top Secret Hotels. You’ve all seen the photos of the Travelocity gnome, enjoying some luxurious spa treatments at a hotel he paid half price for, right? We thought that would be our experience! Uh…no.
We decided to narrow our search down to 3+ star hotels in Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square area. These are relatively touristy areas, and we thought it would be nice to stay in them during the first few days of our trip. We only booked 4 nights because we didn’t want to be stuck for 12 days in a hotel we blindly chose. After inputting the price we wanted to pay (around $90 per night) and the limitations, we waited as Travelocity processed our request. Voila! A match! When the hotel revealed itself, it was none other than….duh, duh, duhhhh….the Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf. Huh. I have to admit, at first I was pretty bummed. I wanted something that was independently-owned, something a bit quirky and had some character. I typically don’t like staying in hotel chains, unless of course they are run by Fairmont or Westin (hah!). Although we were scheduled to stay in a cookie-cutter hotel that you can find anywhere in North America, I was just relieved to have found accommodations for our pending trip.
Next on the agenda was finding a place to stay for 2 days while wine-tasting in the Napa area. Again, Kristin from Camels & Chocolate had lots of great recommendations. She suggested avoiding Napa itself and staying in the surrounding areas, like Yountville or Sonoma. Feeling a bit disappointed with our Holiday Inn purchase, we decided to try another site. Back to Priceline.com we went, and bid on any 4+ star hotels in the entire Napa valley region. Our bid price? Only $89. And guess what? It was accepted! The Vino Bello Resort in Napa was more than happy to accept our offer. When we arrived to a beautiful resort, we were welcomed with concierge services, free wine in the room, and a shuttle that would take us back and forth to the town of Napa. Since we were only in Napa for one night, we didn’t mind that the resort was a bit farther away than the others. Our room was really nice, and even had a kitchen and laundry inside.
On our last portion of the trip back in San Francisco, we decided to forgo the online bidding altogether, and just book a hotel directly. We ended up finding a good deal on a boutique hotel in the Financial District. Since we had already experienced all the touristy stuff in Fisherman’s Wharf, we didn’t mind being a bit more removed from the action. In fact, we kinda liked the change in pace of the Financial District, so it all worked out well. We stayed at the Hotel Griffon, for about $120 per night. This was the most expensive portion of our stay, and definitely the most comfortable. Our room had a king-sized bed, and was completely renovated (even though the hotel itself was very old). It had all been modernized, and I was definitely loving the exposed brick wall. The hotel had a great restaurant attached, and every morning there was free coffee and fruit to grab on your way out of the hotel. On especially chilly evenings, the hotel staff had set up an apple cider bar in the lobby, and you could refill your mugs as much as your heart desired. For someone who loves apple cider as much as me, this made me fall in love with Hotel Griffon!
What would we do differently if we could do it all again? Well, for starters, we would probably start our hotel search earlier so that we could capitalize on the lower prices. In addition, we would likely stay in another area near Napa, not Napa itself (we didn’t find the town center particularly impressive). Although we loved the Vino Bello Resort, it was a tad far away from the main action. Finally, the Hotel Griffon was wonderful, and we’d stay back there in a heartbeat. I’d also like to stay in an area near Union Square, or perhaps even China Town, the next time we visit.
Wow, that was a long post. Hopefully this is helpful to someone who is looking for hotels to stay in in San Francisco!