Parker Guest House

One of the better hotel experiences we have had in San Francisco was at the Parker Guest House.  Since affordability usually ensures SF visitors will be staying down by the Wharf or in the Tenderloin, it was nice to find a place away from the hubbub and, well, hookers.

The Parker Guest House is a gay (and straight) friendly “Edwardian-style” hotel located only a few blocks from both the Mission District and the Castro.  Originally opened in 1997, the B&B began as only one structure until the former owner of the adjacent property died a few years back and expressed, as her final wishes, that the owners to buy her home and expand the hotel.  Now over 5,000 sq. feet in total, the Parker Guest House offers 21 clean, upscale rooms that have an almost boutique feel to them.  (We really enjoyed those high-end products in the bathroom!)  Nevertheless, the overall vibe here is very relaxed and comfortably casual.  Sounds too good to be true?  It’s not, however, during our February 2011 stay, it was a bit too cold to enjoy the handsomely groomed outdoor courtyard.  Instead, we stayed inside, enjoying the cozy fireplace, daily “Wine Time” happy hour and steam room facilities.  (Other amenities included terry-cloth robes, free wi-fi and breakfast nook lounges that included fresh fruit and coffee!)

We really enjoyed our stay, particularly the friendly and attentive staff that assisted us in a manner which proved they were not just motivated by tips.  We would highly recommend the Parker Guest House to anyone who prefers “the personal touch” when visiting a city as large as San Francisco.  The warm welcome immediately put us in a very laid-back mode upon entering their somewhat difficult-to-find hidden driveway gate!

Set of Drifters tip:  Don't forget to check out Mission Delores over on 16h Street.  It's so close that you can squeeze this, and a coffee, in right before your check out at noon.  We promise!  (See "sights" for more information.)

Parker Guest House - 520 Church Street, San Francisco, CA  94114, (888) 520-7275

Hotel Carlton

With saving money foremost on our mind, we chose the reasonably-priced “Joi de Vivre” property Hotel Carlton during our September 2010 trip to San Francisco.  The hotel is located in what we like to call “Tenderloin Heights,” though you will see the phrase “Union Square adjacent” in its brochures and on-line media.  Basically, “Tenderloin Heights” is the geographic zone located smack dab in between the lowest depths of the Tenderloin and the elite heights of Nob Hill.  It is also where Set of Drifter Brady lived while in San Francisco for college in the mid 1990’s.

While the property is clearly an older hotel that has been renovated with “boutique" flair to capture the interest of spendthrift Europeans, it ultimately feels more straight-laced than the retro-fit designers had probably hoped.  (Having both worked in a “boutique hotel” in the early 2000’s, it is indeed interesting to see how the concept has pretty much crossed over into the majority of accommodations on offer to travelers across the world.  Some of them get it right, while others do not.)  Pan-Asian artifacts are a nice touch in the lobby though the floor-to-ceiling maps of the world that are pasted to the interiors of the tiny elevators are jarring, if not an easy way to avoid eye-contact with strangers on the way to your room.

Hotel Carlton takes much of its cues from the mixing of traditional and modern furnishings.  The rooms are bright and clean with red and orange accents, and while not too large in size, were certainly more comfortable than many of the boutique properties we have seen that barely have enough room for a queen bed and a television!

We enjoyed the “wine hour” downstairs as a great people-watching experience though the wine on offer was certainly sub-par to the Napa Valley possibilities only a few hours north!  (I think we may have been the only English-speaking people down there as everyone seemed to be chatting in some Scandinavian tongue!)  Aside from the price and general centralized location, the best part about Hotel Carlton had to be its restaurant “Saha,” a clever mix of “Classic California” cuisine with Arabic twists.  (See “eats” for more information.)

Hotel Carlton - 1075 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA 94109, (415) 673-0242

Hotel Bijou

The name says it all.  During a visit to San Francisco way back in 2008, we felt it prudent to check out the hotel that shares its name with Set of Drifter Brady’s alter ego.  The fact that the property is literally dripping in Brady-approved artwork certainly didn’t hurt matters either.  Who doesn’t love black-and-white photographs of classic Hollywood mavens like Marlene Dietrich, or large scale lithographs of Art Deco paintings by Tamara de Lempicka?  I mean really.  Was this place decorated solely to attract one Mnsr. Bijou Clochard?  (Apparently not.  It was clogged with Euro bargain-hunters.)

All kidding aside, the Hotel Bijou does come with some flaws.  For starters, it is located in the heart of the Tenderloin, the “wretched heart.”  Here, at the corner of Mason and Eddy, gunshots are just a part of any afternoon!  (Okay, so we’re stretching a bit for humor... but not that much.)  Then, there is the room size.  “Cozy” and “quaint” are words often used by boutique hotels to downplay miniscule square footage, but this is ridiculous... and we had a corner room!  Still, the quarters were tidy and somehow they managed to fit a tub and shower in the bathroom!

Elsewhere, the hotel does feature some clever extras.  The “Petit Theater” is free for all guests and presents a nightly double feature of San Francisco-themed movies!  A “Bijou Breakfast,” same-day laundry service, free wi-fi can complete your stay dependent on individual package reservations.  (We bet many choose the one that limits the hefty $32 USD overnight parking charge!)  Ultimately, we recommend the Bijou due to its affordability... though only if staying in town for a night or two.  The neighborhood is sketchy, and unfortunately, the decor is not quite special enough to lift the property out from its more depressing surroundings.

Hotel Bijou - 111 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA  94102, (800) 771-1022 or (415) 771-1200

We also recommend:

Hotel Triton - 342 Grant Avenue, San Francisco, CA  94108, (415) 394-0500,

The Phoenix Hotel - 601 Eddy Street, San Francisco, CA  94109, (415) 776-1380,

The Fairmont San Francisco Hotel - 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA  94108, (415) 772-5000,