Budget San Francisco hotels

By Laura Chubb, San Francisco-based travel writer 

Main image courtesy of The Marker

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January 2018

Whether you want bay views, pool time or city-slick, stays in San Francisco and Oakland needn’t break the bank. San Francisco resident and writer Laura Chubb offers five budget favourites. 

For views of the water: Argonaut

The lowdown: With a plum spot right on the waterfront by Fisherman’s Wharf, the Argonaut’s location takes some beating. The hotel also has plenty of personality, with its fun nautical theme and lots of exposed red brick (the building was previously a cannery warehouse). There are views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, and you can hop on a cable car just a block away.

Stay for: Bay views and creamy crab chowder served in an edible bread bowl at the hotel’s Blue Mermaid restaurant.

In the know… Stroll over to the yacht harbour and walk to the end of the jetty. Here, the ‘Wave Organ’ is a musical sculpture ‘played’ by the bay, 25 pipes reach down into the water and make eerie sounds as waves crash into them. It was sculpted with marble and granite from a demolished cemetery.

Here, the ‘Wave Organ’ is a musical sculpture ‘played’ by the bay, 25 pipes reach down into the water and make eerie sounds as waves crash into them.

For city buzz: The Marker

The lowdown: The colourful rooms at The Marker will make you want to linger (who doesn’t love stripy wallpaper?), but there’s too much going on outside to hunker down for long. Smack-dab in the middle of Downtown, you’re surrounded by buzzy bars and restaurants, and Union Square’s designer shops and theatres.

Stay for: Meet and swap tips with fellow travellers at a daily social hour in the living room-cosy lobby (there’s free wine).

In the know… The Marker is only two blocks from one of San Francisco’s best bars, Bourbon & Branch. This speakeasy is hidden behind an unmarked door – reserve ahead to receive the password.

  • Lose yourself in a world of interactivity at the Color Factory, San Francisco

    Simple selfies 

    This multi-hued pop-up gives guests a card upon entry that, once scanned at photo booths within the exhibit, automatically emails all images to the cardholder. Fly from London to San Francisco from:£306 return

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  • Take a stroll around the Oakland Museum of California’s garden sculptures © Terry Lorant


    Head to the Oakland Museum of California on the first Sunday of the month, where each afternoon sees the Council on Architecture lead an educational tour of the museum’s gardens.

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  • Base yourself in San Fran’s historic Fisherman’s Wharf at the Argonaut

    Square of chocolate 

    Five minutes from the Argonaut Hotel, you’ll find the Ghirardelli Square, a National Historic Landmark, and home of the famous Ghirardelli Chocolate. Book flights to San Francisco, plus a seven night stay at The Argonaut from:£932 pp

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For poolside vibes: Waterfront Hotel

The lowdown: On the other side of the Bay Bridge, Oakland makes a good base for exploring San Francisco, and has plenty to offer of its own (gondola rides on Lake Merritt, an urban wine trail and the awesome Fox theatre for a start). Jack London Square, where the boutique Waterfront Hotel sits, is a hub for harbourside dining and drinking.

Stay for: The soothing heated pool, which overlooks the harbour.

In the know… Next door to the hotel, Rosenblum Cellars is a tasting room by Oakland’s original urban winery, which started up in a warehouse in the 1970s. Try the bubbly tasting flight – it includes a strangely blue sparkling wine.

  • Enjoy some downtime at the Hotel Carlton 

For casual cool: Hotel Carlton 

The lowdown: Close to the well-to-do Nob Hill neighbourhood, on Sutter Street, Hotel Carlton offers bright rooms and an East-meets-West theme. The 1920s building’s original mouldings hint at European grandeur, while photographs of Nepalese peaks and temples reveal the owner’s passions (he’s a keen traveller and mountaineer).

Stay for: The excellent restaurant and draught house, Phlox Commons. Husband-and-wife team Ryan and Georgie are often behind the bar, serving up masterful fried chicken and interesting California beers.

In the know… Also on Sutter, the Color Factory calls itself a museum, but is probably more accurately described as a giant Instagram opportunity. The 15 interactive exhibits include rainbow staircases, ball-pits and balloon rooms – all of them begging for a hashtag.

For the best of both worlds: Courtyard by Marriott Oakland Downtown

The lowdown: The Courtyard offers the best of both cities by the bay. The hotel is barely a block from the BART train, whisking you to San Francisco’s Union Square in just 12 minutes, while its Downtown location puts you within walking distance of Lake Merritt, Jack London Square, and Uptown’s shops and theatres.

Stay for: The lobby’s ‘media pods’ are a fun, social spot to gather with friends and watch the game (go Raiders!).

In the know… On the shore of Lake Merritt, the Oakland Museum of California has brilliant, interactive exhibitions about the state’s chequered past – you can even try out what it was like to live in an unused sewer pipe during the Great Depression.