Hotel Monaco Rating: 4.0 Pearls
Located downtown, just blocks from Union Square, the Monaco isn't exactly hidden, per se. But given all its higher-profile neighbors -- the stylish Clift, the iconic Sir Francis Drake, and three hotels that made our "Best Values" list -- it's easy to overlook this Kimpton. The rooms are smallish, but they feature wonderful beds, quirky-yet-elegant style, and state-of-the-art technology. The service is rock solid. And the lobby's a great place to hang out, especially for the free wine receptions and morning coffee.
Hotel Adagio Rating: 3.5 Pearls
On first glance, Hotel Adagio might seem like a fairly standard hotel, but it's actually one of the neighborhood's best mid-price options, especially after the 2012 renovations. Its 171 spacious guest rooms have some of the most comfortable beds in their class, as well as iPod docks, 32-inch flat-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi. If putting the basics first means scrimping on things like doormen and designer décor ... well, so be it.
Phoenix Hotel Rating: 3.0 Pearls
The Phoenix is the hospitality equivalent of a cult-classic film: It's not for everyone -- the rooms are sparsely furnished and occasionally noisy; the service is bare-bones; and it's located in the seedy Tenderloin district -- but it's a great find for the right guest. Who is that "right guest?" Usually artsy hipsters and other young folk on a budget, but even A-list rockers make the occasional appearance. The draws? A cheery staff, chill vibe, heated outdoor pool, hip lounge, and a host of freebies, including parking, Wi-Fi, poolside breakfast, and passes to the communal baths at the nearby Kabuki Springs and Spa.
Laurel Inn Rating: 3.0 Pearls
If you look at a map of where the hotels are in San Francisco, you'll see that they're all located in the northeastern corner of the city. Most of them are clustered in downtown San Francisco (Union Square, SoMa, and the Financial District) and Fisherman's Wharf. One of the few outliers is the Laurel Inn. Its location in residential Pacific Heights means you can stroll quiet blocks lined with upscale galleries, boutiques, and antique shops. It's also the closest hotel to the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, and 1,491-acre Presidio, with its miles of hiking trails, bicycle routes, and dozens of historic landmarks.
Kensington Park Hotel Rating: 3.5 Pearls
As long as you're just in town to do business or explore the city -- since only members of the fraternal Elks Club are allowed to use the hotel's pool and spa -- the Kensington Park is a great find. Housed in a historic building owned by the Elks, the Kensington Park offers a classy, comfortable stay in a hotel that successfully mixes the stately (beautiful marble lobby; free afternoon tea and sherry, free morning coffee) with the utilitarian (large, recently renovated rooms with great Serta beds; free Wi-Fi; 36-inch flat-screen TVs). And at rates that are often half those at other Union Square boutiques, the Kensington is a great deal, too.
Hotel Nikko San Francisco Rating: 4.0 Pearls
Clean, affordable, and quiet, Hotel Nikko seems more like a boutique hotel than the mid-size chain it is. The standard rooms, called Petite Rooms, are aptly named -- they are small indeed. But the Nikko succeeds at melding quirky (note the campy cabaret, the Rrazz Room), exotic amenities, and Japanese-inspired service. For the corporate set, there's a well-equipped fitness center, an excellent lap pool, and ample business services.
Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square Rating: 4.5 Pearls
It may seem odd to call a luxury chain hotel a hidden gem, but that's exactly what it is. If you want to be near but not in bustling Fisherman's Wharf, the Fairmont Heritage Place is where you want to be. Given that it sits adjacent to (in)famous Ghirardelli Square, you couldn't exactly deem it off the beaten path, but it's a good three to four blocks from the epicenter of the touristy chaos -- the only hotel in the area boasting that important distinction. And as you can see from the other awards we've bestowed upon it -- Most Kid-Friendly, Best Luxury, and Most Romantic in San Francisco, among others -- it's a phenomenal hotel irrespective of location.
Hotel Rex Rating: 3.5 Pearls
This 94-room Union Square Joie de Vivre boutique, themed after 1920s and '30s literary salons, is a bit quirky, with fairly hands-off service and few amenities. But the tiny quarters are nicely furnished with comfy beds and up-to-date technology, there's a nightly wine hour in the reading-room-style lobby bar, and the on-site bistro offers up well-priced Californian fare.