An ornate lobby in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, free twice-weekly wine hours, and C.O. Bigelow products in the bathrooms give the Serrano Hotel character, but they don't fully distract from the fact that this 236-room boutique hotel has few features and is located in the semi-sketchy Tenderloin District. The historic hotel could use an overall face-lift; luckily, that's planned for 2017. The boutique Executive Hotel Vintage Court, like Serrano Hotel, occupies an early 20th-century building, but it's even closer to Union Square, and has rooms that have already been renovated.
Historic San Francisco property with a huge, striking lobby and outdated rooms (scheduled for a 2017 restoration)
Originally built as the Hotel Californian in 1923, this boutique hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco. Its Spanish Colonial Revival-style lobby is nothing less than astounding, with its coffered ceilings, intricate ironwork, square red-marble Italianate columns with gold detailing, colorful Venetian furniture, and heavy drapery. Much of the lobby's decor is original to the 1923 hotel. The expansive, elaborate lobby is the setting for the Serrano's free wine hour, which occurs two nights a week and features wine from the hotel's private label and local makers. Sadly, the magnificent Old World appeal of the grand timbered hall doesn't extend to the rooms, which are perfectly functional, but look and feel behind the times. (A hotel-wide restoration in 2017 should bring them up to speed.)
Near Union Square -- a major transportation hub and mecca for high-end shopping -- but within the bounds 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 inhabits. 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, sketchy motels, and congregations of homeless people. 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 Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co., and Louis Vuitton, among others, Union Square is to San Francisco as Fifth 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.
Rooms are colorful (or garish, depending on your point of view) and are ready for their planned 2017 renovations
At 240 square feet, Standard Queen rooms aren't much smaller than average for a San Francisco hotel. Serrano is renovating all of the rooms (in addition to the Standards, there are also 260-square-foot Deluxe King, Queen, and Double Bed rooms, as well as suites ranging from 490 to 510 square feet) as part of its 2017 overhaul -- a good thing, since stains, rust, and nicks in the woodwork are currently visible.
Rooms feature Sealy mattresses, minibars (which offer a few local products), iPod docking stations, 32-inch LCD flat-screen TVs, and decent city views. Coffeemakers are available only on request. Bathrooms are tiny -- the end of the toilet seat is just 15 inches from the facing wall -- even for an urban building constructed in the 1920s, it's a tight squeeze. On the plus side, the showerheads in the shower/tub combos feature strong water pressure.
Serrano offers free cribs and playards, but no rollaways.
Some nice extras are included in the hotel's daily fee
For a boutique in the heart of San Francisco, the Serrano does a good job with its amenities -- but note that they are part of the daily hotel fee (similar to a resort fee imposed by, for example, a sprawling, amenities-stuffed Las Vegas resort; here, it is called an "urban fee"). The Serrano's daily fee covers free morning coffee and tea in the lobby, free bike rentals, in-room Wi-Fi, access to the fitness center and sauna, printing services, daily newspaper delivery, and weekday car service to San Francisco's Financial District (pro tip: book ahead). The fee also covers limited pre-check-in/post-check-out luggage storage, local calls, faxing, and an eat-in discount for Jasper’s Corner Tap and Kitchen, the attached Californian restaurant (not part of the hotel). Jasper's is available to provide catering for meetings and banquets in one of the hotel's six event spaces. The 24-hour fitness center is a cut above most with six Precor cardio machines, a Paramount trainer, dumbbells, exercise mats, and a sauna. Pets are allowed at the Serrano with no restrictions; food and water bowls and dog beds are provided.