San Francisco Gay Hotels Guide: Castro, Hayes Valley & Mission Edition

The vast majority of hotels in San Francisco are downtown and in the Financial District, or just across Market Street in nearby SoMa. However, the heart of the city's famed gay scene is the Castro neighborhood, where you'll find some of the nation's most famous gay bars. If your lodging preference is larger, mainstream hotels, stick with downtown or SoMa - you'll won't find these options in the Castro or other nearby gay-popular neighborhoods like the Mission District, Noe Valley, Hayes Valley, and the like, except for a few mid-priced and budget chain options around and south of Civic Center (and Van Ness Avenue and Market).

That being said, the Castro and its surrounding neighborhoods are hardly without overnight accommodations. You'll find several lovely, in some cases gay-owned, B&Bs and inns in this part of town, offering everything from basic and clean economy rooms with shared baths to over-the-top lavish suites with antique canopy beds and whirlpool spa tubs. Beyond these sometimes funky, typically quite charming smaller properties, there are also a few boutique hotels, quirky and basic budget motels, and other assorted hostelries in this part of San Francisco. Again, these neighborhoods are a good base for proximity to great restaurants, fun gay bars, and indie shopping, but they're also 2 to 4 miles from Union Square and downtown attractions. Fortunately, San Francisco does have plenty of efficient and convenient public transportation options, and you can always call a cab - the fare from the Castro to Union Square is about $15 to $20.

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    Beck's Motor Lodge
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

    It's hard to beat the location, or the rates, at the old-school, retro-inviting Beck's Motor Lodge (2222 Market St., 415-621-8212), which is smack-dab in the middle of the Castro, is extremely popular with LGBT guests, has a popular sundeck for mingling, and has undergone extensive renovations over the years. There was a time, not terribly long ago, when Beck's was more of a bare-bones last resort than a desirable lodging option, but rooms have been completely redone with sleek and simple contemporary furnishings (do keep in mind that as of this writing, renovations were ongoing, resulting in occasional noise and inconvenience - inquire ahead if you're concerned about this).With the improvements, rates have gone up a bit - it's still a good deal, especially compared with downtown hotels, but Beck's is now mid-priced by San Francisco standards rather than budget-oriented. The rates do, however, include complimentary off-street parking and free Wi-Fi.

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    Near Alamo Square, itself famous for its "painted lady" Victorian houses lining the east side of the park, Chateau Tivoli (1057 Steiner St., 415-776-5462) is one of the most ornate Victorian houses in the city. Built in 1892 and decked in multiple colors of paint, distinctive turrets and dormer windows, and countless other architectural elements and details, this upscale B&B contains eight guest rooms and suites, including some lavish and spacious suites with spacious sitting areas and carved canopy beds that are perfect for special, romantic getaways. There are also a couple of economical rooms that share one bathroom, so just about every budget will find options here. The inn is on the edge of the city's Western Addition neighborhood, a short walk north of Hayes Valley's hip restaurants and lounges, and about a 25-minute walk from the Castro. It's also handy in terms of access to Pacific Heights, Polk Gulch, Civic Center, and a few other interesting neighborhoods.

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    Hotel Kabuki
    ••• photo courtesy of Kimpton Hotels

    It's a little farther from the Castro than most of the other properties included in this guide, but Hotel Kabuki (1625 Post St., 415-922-3200) is one of the more interesting lodging choices in the city, and it is fairly close to Hayes Valley and a 45-minute walk or 10-minute cab ride from the Castro. Its location in Japantown also makes it handy to Pacific Heights and even downtown, as Union Square is just a 20-minute walk east. Billed as the city's "East meets West" hotel, this 218-room hotel (formerly the Miyako) is done with a calming, artful decor that reflects a Japanese aesthetic - the snazziest rooms have deep soaking tubs. Shoji screens, sitting areas, mp3/iPod docking stations, and balconies are some of the perks you'll find, depending on the room. Nab a Deluxe View Corner Room for an especially impressive city panorama. The hotel is part of the hip Joie de Vivre brand, which has several design-minded boutique hotels around the city, including Hotel Vitale, Hotel Rex, the Galleria Park, and the Phoenix.

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    Inn at the Opera lobby
    ••• photo courtesy of Inn at the Opera

    A terrific 48-room upscale boutique property in Hayes Valley, right by the iconic performing arts venue for which it's named, the Inn at the Opera (333 Fulton St., 415-863-8400) is one of San Francisco's loveliest little gems - it has an upscale, European vibe, and rooms are sumptuously decorated and equipped with pillow-top mattress, wet bar, fluffy robes, coffeemakers, iPod docks and CD players, and free Wi-Fi. The surrounding neighborhood, while not too far from downtown, has a relatively quiet and more relaxed vibe - several excellent restaurants are in the vicinity, including the hotel's own Pläj (pronounced "play"), which serves farm-to-table contemporary Scandinavian fare. A Continental breakfast is included in the rates. There is valet parking, but it's a bit limited, so call first if arriving by car.

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    A favorite with the LGBT community, the gay-owned Inn on Castro (321 Castro St., 415-861-0321) is set inside an art-filled, comfy Edwardian house that's just a few doors up Castro Street from Market Street, a five-minute walk from countless gay bars and hangouts. Guests can get to know each other a bit in an attractive living room with a fireplace, and rates include full breakfast, served in a sunny dining room. The eight accommodations offer a fun, eclectic mix of options and styles - the simplest rooms share a bath and start at just $125 nightly (for two). But there are also two spacious suites, and three self-catering apartments that make good sense if you're in town for several days and would like the option of dining in some of the time. The apartments can be configured into two-bedroom units, with room for three or four guests - a nice option for friends traveling together. Every room has Wi-Fi, CD player, and cable TV with DVD.

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    Inn San Francisco
    ••• copyright Inn San Francisco

    Although it's on busy and somewhat less-than-charming South Van Ness Avenue, the Inn San Francisco (943 S. Van Ness Ave., 415-641-0188) is beautiful1870s Victorian mansion with stunningly appointed rooms, and it's one of the only accommodations in the city's hip, queer-popular Mission District. The location is safe and central, and the bustling dining and retail along Mission and Valencia streets is just a couple of blocks away, and the Castro is about a 25-minute walk. Rates at this lovely inn include an impressive breakfast buffet and start around the $130s, but there are some fancier and much bigger suites - as well as a separate cottage - that run into the $300-and-up range. Note that there's a rooftop sundeck with fantastic views of the city skyline.

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    The 24-room, eco-friendly Metro Hotel (319 Divisadero St., 415-861-5364) is an excellent base for exploring the Haight - it's really one of the only options in this part of town. But this very gay-welcoming, affordable boutique hotel is also just a handful of blocks up Castro Street (which becomes Divisadero) from the GLBT scene in the Castro District. Each of these simply but tastefully furnished rooms has a private bath, and although they're on the small side and you need to climb 20 stairs to reach the first level and 20 more stairs to reach the next, you really can't beat the price (starting at just $88). Rooms do have flat-screen TVs, complimentary Wi-Fi, and ceiling fans. There are lots of great dining and shopping options nearby. Service is friendly and helpful, too.

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    Gorgeous gardens and artful, sophisticated decor are hallmarks of intimate Noe's Nest (1257 Guerrero St., 415-821-0751), a wonderful little pet-friendly B&B with eight rooms and suites, all with private marble bathrooms containing either a standing shower or deep spa tub. This dapper Victorian house is right at the border between charming Noe Valley and the hipster-favored Mission District - El Rio gay bar is a 10-minute walk south, the Lexington Club lesbian bar is a 15-minute walk north, and the many cool places to dine and drink along Valencia and Mission streets are just a little farther north. Walk west on 24th Street, and you'll find a bunch of fun cafes and hangouts in Noe Valley. Rates include an expansive breakfast buffet, and two larger suites have kitchenettes for limited self-catering. Although upscale, considering the size and stunning decor, Noe's Nest offers plenty of value.

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    Parker House B&B
    ••• photo by Andrew Collins

     One of the most stylish and inviting small hotels in the city, the Parker Guest House (520 Church St., 888-520-7275) also enjoys a fab location in the Castro, right near the border with the Mission - you're a quick walk from dining and bar-hopping in either neighborhood. Additionally, this 21-room property comprising two yellow Edwardian houses is gay-owned, and although it's easy enough to keep to yourself and find privacy, the inn is also ideal if you're hoping to meet and mingle some other gay and lesbian guests. The Continental breakfast included in the rates is served in a pretty little sun room, and there are also pretty gardens, decks, and patios - plus a steamroom - for guests to enjoy.

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    Willows Inn, San Francisco
    ••• copyright Willows Inn

    Located just at Duboce Triangle, on the northern edge of the Castro and just steps from cool bars and restaurants like Churchill, Chow, and the Pilsner Inn, the very reasonably priced Willows Inn (710 14th St., 415-431-4770) occupies a large Edward house containing a dozen warmly furnished, clean, and sunny guest rooms, all of which have shared baths (hence the great rates - starting at just $120). Each room does have a sink; down the hall are separate toilets as well as showering rooms, and they're all kept meticulously clean (in each guest room, cozy bathrobes are provided). Rooms facing the street can get a little noisy, so factor that into your choice when booking. The staff here is super-friendly and helpful, and the rooms all have direct-dial phone, mini-fridges, WiFi, and TVs. It's a perfect choice if you're alright with not having a private in-room bathroom.