EuroCheapo's own Suzanne Russo took her "hotel reviewer hat" to her home town and was excited to find a San Francisco's cool budget hotel scene. Here, she dishes on the city's eccentric flair, its favorite show and her "happy place."
Reviewing San Francisco
1. What hotel would you recommend to your friend? Your mother?
I saw so many incredible hotels that I have to suggest by friend “type.” For example, I’d send my “artsy friend” to the Hotel des Arts, where every room is curated by a different artist. Truly one of the most unique hotels I’ve ever seen, and really inexpensive.
I’d send my "history-buff" friends to the San Remo Hotel, a sweet, simple property in North Beach that opened to house people after the 1906 earthquake. And for the least fussy friends, I’d say the HI Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s a youth hostel with very basic rooms, but the setting—literally in Fort Mason, with swoon-worthy views of the Bay—is something special.
As for my mother, my parents live just outside San Francisco, but a stay at the Queen Anne Hotel would make for a fun weekend in the city. This hotel can get quite pricey, but if you travel at the right time, rates drop, and it really is a treat—a beautifully restored Victorian with an elegant parlour and lots of fun frills.
2. Budget tips.
Speaking of “booking at the right time...” Don’t go to San Francisco in the summer. People come to expecting sunny California, but the fog rolls in and you can end up with some very chilly days. (When I was growing up, we’d always take jackets when were going to “the city,” because it was almost certain it would be much colder than at home.) Instead, visit in April/May or September/October—you’ll get the city’s best weather and much lower hotel rates.
And one word for shoppers: Ambiance. This cute boutique is my happy place, and stocks a great selection of super-affordable, and stylish, clothes and accessories. I admit I visit on every trip home (and yes, I took a shopping break from hotel reviewing). There are three locations, but my favorite is the Marina store on Union Street. You won’t leave without your own signature black-and-white bag (and money left over for lunch).
3. Favorite guidebook, or recommended reading before a visit to the city.
I love Time Out guides because they do such a good job of situating the visitor in terms of history and culture.
Beyond guidebooks, though, the city has history of great literature.Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin is a San Francisco classic, and San Francisco Stories (editor John Miller) is a great anthology with stories spanning by some of the biggest San Francisco names (Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain, Herb Caen...).
It’s also worthwhile and of course check out some Beat literature, or better yet visit the poetry room at City Lights Bookstore and pick up a souvenir.
4. Funny Story.
A friend recently turned me on to "The Bold Italic". It’s an extensive San Francisco blog (also recommended reading) covering events, attractions and personalities with a focus on the city’s quirkier aspects.
A piece called ”The Royal Family” was especially exciting to me. Having been startled by the “Bush Man” and spotted the identical (and identically dressed) Nob Hill Twins myself, I was thrilled that this site was celebrating the eccentrics that make San Francisco great. Then I visited the Carriage Inn which features caricatures of those same folks (plus a bunch of San Francisco writers). The hotel manager hadn’t heard of the Bold Italic, but I found the crossover highly entertaining.
5. Underrated attraction that tourists usually miss.
I love the Mission District. It’s quirky and a little gritty but also incredibly artistic. Mission Dolores itself is really gorgeous, and Mission Dolores Park has one of the best views of the city. You can see the whole skyline, with the Mission’s Spanish architecture in the foreground.
Another must-see is Beach Blanket Babylon. It’s San Francisco’s longest-running musical revue and a total experience that really captures everything fun about the city. And the best part is that there’s not a bad seat in the house, so even the $25 balcony seats are totally fine.