A fun-and-games theme and free happy hours give the Hotel Serrano character, but they don't hide the fact that this boutique has few amenities, could use an overall face-lift, and is located in the less-than-ideal Tenderloin District. Luckily, it's less expensive than other area hotels and it has an attached restaurant serving California cuisine for convenient dining.
Brightly colored rooms, a tarot card reader, and a blackjack "Check-in Challenge," in which guests can win a room upgrade, can't cover up this hotel's lack of amenities and somewhat sketchy locale.
The theme of the Hotel Serrano is "fun and games," which is why the room colors aren't subtle, Scrabble boards are at the ready, and upon arrival, guests can take the "Check-in Challenge" -- a game of 21 where winners get free drinks, appetizers, or upgrades, and losers are encouraged to donate to the SPCA on behalf of the house. It's cheeky, but not forced. About half the guests play blackjack, some by their request, others by the clerk's guestimation of who would be into a bit of front desk gaming. (Honeymooners, yes; weary conventioneers, not so much.)
Every afternoon, the hotel opens a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine for guests in the expansive lobby. Like its nearby sister property Hotel Palomar, the happy hour is lively and well attended. And while the library of vintage board games may walk a kitschy line (apologies to Sorry! fans), there were two people at the free happy hour playing chess, so it isn't entirely a gimmick. (However, it doesn't take a psychic to predict that dropping $20 on a "mini" tarot card reading at the wine tasting only portends future bankruptcy.) Sitting down in the playing-card chairs while sipping free vino in the spacious, ornate lobby is a nice way to wind down (or get started up), even if nobody breaks out the Jenga.
The rooms, however, have some problems. They're either colorful or garish, depending on your point of view, and a bit worse for the wear. If visitors are simply looking for a centrally located San Francisco crash pad, the Handlery is cheaper and has a pool, if not the whimsical ambience. For a true boutique, though, the Serrano is less expensive than other Kimpton hotels in Union Square like the Hotel Palomar and Sir Francis Drake. Keep in mind, it's more or less in the Tenderloin, which is rarely the home of fun and games, at least the respectable kind.
Near Union Square, but also part of the seedy Tenderloin neighborhood
Part of the appeal of the Serrano's fantastic lobby is that it provides a respite from the Tenderloin, the down-and-out neighborhood the hotel adjoins. The porters do a good job of keeping tabs on the street in front of the building, but right around the corner are massage parlors, seedy motels, and homeless congregations. There are also a few lower-end youth hostels in the general vicinity, so there are a lot of street-roamers at night.
Union Square, three blocks away, is known for couture shops and not much else. With enormous outposts of Niketown, Saks, Tiffany, Macy's, Louis Vuitton, and Neiman Marcus, among others, Union Square is to San Francisco as 5th Avenue and Rodeo Drive are to New York and L.A., respectively. Locals don't hang out here, but the square is great for people-watching, nonetheless, and occasionally plays host to small festivals and demonstrations. Still, if shopping isn't a priority, you might prefer a neighborhood closer to the city's biggest attractions, like Nob Hill or Fisherman's Wharf.
Fairly dead after dark, except in the Tenderloin, but you're on your own then.
A few blocks from Union Square, a major transportation hub and known for high-end shopping
Far from the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, and Haight-Ashbury
Discount day-of theater seats available at the Union Square ticket kiosk
Rooms have unique color schemes, but need a face-lift.
You might have to adjust your eyes upon entering the 240-square-foot standard queen room, as the yellow walls and red-and-white striped curtains certainly live up to the hotels' purported "fun and games" ideal. It takes a bit of getting used to, but these rooms are vibrant in a way hotel rooms rarely are. The silly accoutrements, like the deck of Bicycle playing cards, wee Etch A Sketch, and branded yo-yo are a kick, but the smiles they elicit didn't make up for the room's shortcomings. Though they're not much smaller than average for a San Francisco hotel, rooms haven't been renovated in almost a decade -- stains, rust, and nicks in the woodwork are prevalent. Some aging is to be expected, but the pet hair on the desk chair should have been vanquished by housekeeping.
Comfy Sealy mattresses made specifically for Kimpton hotels
Bathrooms are tiny -- the end of the toilet seat is just 15 inches from the facing wall -- even for an urban building constructed in 1926, it's a tight squeeze; at least it was clean with strong water pressure.
For a boutique in the heart of San Francisco, the Serrano does a good job with its amenities. Be it the practical (an impressive fitness center with sauna and free Wi-Fi) or the whimsical (vintage games and tarot card readings), the hotel has a lot to offer.
The bright colors and sense of silliness may appeal to the young, or young at heart, but the small rooms, lack of kid-friendly features, and Tenderloin locale keep the Serrano from being a prime family spot.
Like many boutiques, the Serrano doesn't have an eatery right inside the hotel, but guests can access Jasper's Corner Tap & Kitchen through the hotel lobby. The restaurant serves up Californian cuisine, using local ingredients to give visitors "a true taste of San Francisco."
Though generally clean overall, there are some maintenance issues. The standard queen room had a handful of stains on the wall and rust on the ceiling. There was also a lot of dog hair on the desk chair, which should be a cleaning priority in a pet-friendly property.