Laurel Inn, a Joie de Vivre hotel 3.0

Pacific Heights, San Francisco, California
The Laurel claims to have fashioned its rooms "in the style of a modern San Francisco studio apartment," and it largely succeeded. The color scheme -- black and tan with splashes of cobalt blue -- gives the rooms a modern look, but the vibe is softened by touches like down comforters, wooden window blinds, and plush curtains.

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 The Laurel claims to have fashioned its rooms "in the style of a modern San Francisco studio apartment," and it largely succeeded. The color scheme -- black and tan with splashes of cobalt blue -- gives the rooms a modern look, but the vibe is softened by touches like down comforters, wooden window blinds, and plush curtains.
The Laurel claims to have fashioned its rooms "in the style of a modern San Francisco studio apartment," and it largely succeeded. The color scheme -- black and tan with splashes of cobalt blue -- gives the rooms a modern look, but the vibe is softened by touches like down comforters, wooden window blinds, and plush curtains. Because rooms with kitchenettes make it easy to save money on food, they're a real draw for long-term visitors and families. The hotel's many perks include free freshly baked cookies and lemonade in the afternoon, free Wi-Fi, and free coffee and tea all day. At $18 a day, parking is reasonable for San Francisco. The Swank Cocktail Club next door to the hotel is a cozy spot for a drink by the fire. (You might need to warm your bones after a day in San Francisco's chilly, windy weather.) Hotel guests are entitled to a free glass of wine at the Swank Cocktail Club (which is affiliated with the Laurel Inn). On first glance, the Good might be mistaken for an unusually clean and cheerful youth hostel, an impression aided by its popularity among European tourists and visiting rock bands. A step through the hotel's decidedly low-key entrance -- a single glass door on a side street -- is a reasonably priced leap into an atmosphere of brightly colored whimsy and irreverence. The lobby features a photo booth, and an entire wall is plastered with photos of past guests, like a yearbook's worth of goofy outtakes. The large rooms are furnished with bright modern furniture accurately described by the New York Times as "IKEA gone eco." Instead of generic, forgettable art on the walls, each room features a mural depicting a local San Francisco scene. The conservation theme means not much is new, but that's intentional, and not a bad thing. Mundane items have been reincarnated as eco-friendly fixtures: headboards made from reclaimed wood, hanging lamps made of recycled Voss glass water bottles, and throw pillows made from the previous hotel's comforters. Crucially, quality isn't sacrificed for the sake of these gimmicks; in fact, the combination of comfort and quirkiness are what make the Good worth staying at. Given the conservation theme, the Good's bathrooms are something of a showcase. The standout feature is the toilet-top sink. Each flush prompts a stream of clean water from the toilet-top faucet, which flows for a full minute and drains into the bowl to be used for the next flush. As with many Joie de Vivre hotels, the Good doesn't have many on-site amenities but gives guests access to nearby places that do. Guests can use a decent fitness center and impressive heated rooftop pool just across the street at the Best Western Americania. Unlike its colorful, multitalented namesake, the hotel keeps things simple. It offers spacious, newly renovated studio suites one block from the luxury shopping at Union Square, a friendly front desk staff, and a small gym, but not much else. At 425 square feet, the studio suites here rival rooms at hotels that are two and three times as expensive. The rooms are great for families, with pullout sofas, mini-fridges, microwaves, toasters, sinks, silverware, and dishes. The Donatello's Italian restaurant, Zingari, is a sold three-pearl experience. Just like the hotel. And like the hotel, it keeps things simple, but well-executed. Pasta dishes, such as Fettuccine Zingara with sauteed prawns and gypsy peppers, range from $16 to $25, while other entrees, such grilled filet mignon, range from $26 to $32. The Hotel Rex is themed after literary and artistic salons of the 1920s and '30s, and its lobby is decorated with shelves of old books, retro reading desks, and armchairs fit for an afternoon of poring over the classics. Free wine is served to guests in the lobby bar daily from 5 to 6 p.m. With the look of a reading room, the bar feels like it's of a different era. The signature menu of "Writers Vice" cocktails includes the Poet's Nightmares, Moonrakers, and Old Cubans. The reasonably priced bistro-style Café Andree serves Californian fare for breakfast and dinner in a tiny, charming dining room. Despite the hotel's low-tech literary theme, rooms are modern. Wall-mounted, 36-inch flat-panel TVs and iPod dock alarm clock/radios are impressively up to date, and pillow-top beds are plush and comfortable. This Union Square boutique stands out for its smart decisions about where to put its money: Rather than being one of those midpriced hotels where everything feels just good enough, the Adagio makes sure the basics are first rate. Spacious rooms come with the right up-to-date luxuries -- pillow-top mattresses, iPod docks, 32-inch flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi, full minibars, and good-size bathrooms with upscale toiletries. The fitness center is small but well equipped. The small business center stays open 24 hours. Kabuki is a highly stylized Japanese costume drama, so it's a bit ironic that the San Francisco hotel sharing its name is so serene. Located in the heart of Japantown, the Hotel Kabuki offers an escape from the drama of high-traffic city areas. Until 2007, the Hotel Kabuki was the Radisson Miyako. The new owners have made a lot of improvements. New 26-inch LCD televisions, Serta Concierge bedding, and accent vinyl on the wall behind the bed, come together with the traditional touches like the lacquered fusuma panels, rice paper shoji screens, and tea kettles for a comfortable night's stay. The Japanese soaking tub is one of the room's best features. It's 3.5-feet deep and comes with eucalyptus bath salts. The shared balconies are dirty and weathered, but the views on a clear San Francisco day are spectacular. The traditional Japanese garden with bonsai and a koi pond enhances the hotel's Zen vibe. About a half-dozen chain hotels vie for tourists around Fisherman's Wharf, but the Radisson stands apart for value and convenience. It's both cheaper and closer to the wharf than the Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton, and Holiday Inn. Thanks to a recent renovation, the large pool, surrounded by palm trees and boasting an outdoor bar, palm trees, and plenty of deck chairs, is one of the nicest in San Francisco. The electric firepit and cabana bar are fine places to unwind before heading out to a seafood dinner along Fisherman's Wharf or on Pier 39. The Radisson is conveniently located across the street from the Fisherman's Wharf waterfront, and near the docks where ferries leave for Alcatraz, Sausalito, and Tiburon. The Tomo stays faithful to its Japantown locale with colorful furniture, anime in the lobby, and Japanese pop art throughout the hotel. Kitschy, sure, but it works. The Tomo boasts colorful, up-to-date, well-designed rooms that are larger than those at city hotels charging twice as much. They still feel fresh two years after a 2007 renovation, and are full of pop art and upscale touches like free Wi-Fi, bathrobes, iPod docks, and flat-screen TVs. The restaurant, Mum's, serves up quality Japanese fare that draws locals as well as Tomo guests. The signature dish, shabu-shabu, means "swish-swish" in Japanese, and refers to the sound of the meat cooking in boiling water. It's as fun as it is tasty. The Tomo sits in the heart of Japantown, a small, sleepy neighborhood -- sub-neighborhood, really -- about a half-mile west of Nob Hill and its collection of upscale hotels. It's a relatively central location, geographically speaking: You're actually closer to the major sites in the western and northern reaches of the city (e.g., the Golden Gate Bridge) than you'd be if you stayed downtown. This 136-room historic hotel has a swanky Nob Hill address and an attentive and discreet staff. For a four-and-a-half-pearl property, it's an excellent value for the money. Elegant, comfortable rooms are just as large as those at the hotel's pricier neighbors. The bathrooms have high-end toiletries. Turndown service includes free bottles of water. And fresh off a 2009 renovation, the design is appealing: avocado- or teal-colored walls, dark wood furniture and tangerine armchairs, ivory keyhole artwork, and striking photographs by local artists. The bright, airy indoor pool is big enough for laps, and guests can warm up in the Jacuzzi or poolside fireplace after a swim. The hotel spa is one of the best in San Francisco, due partly to its vantage point: From its perch high on Nob Hill, the spa has city views that can be enjoyed from the breezy outdoor patio (as well as the lounge and pool area). Named for the four tycoons who built the Central Pacific Railroad (C.P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker), the Big 4 Restaurant is a high-class affair, replete with vested servers who quietly appear when a wine glass needs to be refilled. Green leather booths, dim lighting, dark wood, and railroad memorabilia on the walls give the impression of a tavern, but this is a fine-dining institution helmed by chef Gloria Ciccarone-Nehls, known for her specialty in exotic wild game.