Japanese deep soaking tub at Hotel Kabuki Japantown San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Japanese deep soaking tub at Hotel Kabuki Japantown San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

If I had US$1.00 for every time someone said to me, “I wish I could afford to live in San Francisco,” I might actually HAVE enough money to live in San Francisco!

Alas, my tech IPO cash out hasn’t arrived, nor have I won the lottery, so I can only visit….but for an experience as wonderful as the City by the Bay, that is enough.

There are plenty of hotel rooms in San Francisco – even affordable ones – plus plenty of rentals from SF-based Airbnb, but I’ve found two that are a nice combination of atmosphere, location and price.

Hotel Kabuki, Japantown

Located in historic Japantown (six blocks crammed full of Japanese culture, shopping and dining) the Hotel Kabuki is part of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain but never feels generic.

There is a beautiful little Japanese garden tucked right into the middle of the property, its waterfall and koi pond making soothing splashing noises that you can hear in the small lounge area next to the welcome desk.

Kimono on display next to shoji screen in Hotel Kabuki Japantown San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Kimono on display next to shoji screen in Hotel Kabuki Japantown San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

My room had nice Japanese touches like sliding shoji screens and a deep soaking tub; ask for a Traditional Suite if you want to experience a full-on ryokan-style tatami mat room with a futon on the floor.

Tokonoma with obi and vase Hotel Kabuki Japantown San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Tokonoma with obi and vase Hotel Kabuki Japantown San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The elegant traditional tokonoma decorative recess in my room contained a hanging embroidered obi sash and vase, but it brought back memories of my fellow American Navy neighbors living out in town in Sasebo; we often put our TV sets into our house’s tokonoma, much to the tut-tutting of Japanese landlords.

If you prefer a more colorful anime/manga-tinged experience, the Kabuki’s sister property Hotel Tomo is only a few blocks away.

Japantown is about a 5-10 minute cab or bus ride from Union Square.

Sir Francis Drake Hotel, Union Square

(Disclosure: my room at the Drake was free because some of my travel expenses were covered as a tourism conference speaker, but I’d definitely stay there again on my own dime. I ran prices and there are AAA, government and AARP discounts plus packages that get the Drake’s price below $200 a night, which is good for that location in San Francisco. I paid for my own room at the Kabuki.)

I’m a sucker for historic hotels that don’t feel fusty or stuck in the past; the elegant but friendly Sir Francis Drake Hotel is an older gal who still knows how to kick up her heels. Opened in 1928 and now part of the Kimpton chain, it’s decorated in a nice mix of Art Deco, mid-century modernish and wildly colorful overstuffed velvet brothel styles.

When you see a doorman dressed in bright red Beefeater attire, you’ll know you’re at the Drake; the lobby bar even has a giant red glass Beefeater sculpture standing guard over the liquor bottles.

The location is killer – right off of Union Square, the heart of the city and easy to reach via public transportation.

Sir Francis Drake Hotel Union Square San Francisco desk area (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Sir Francis Drake Hotel Union Square San Francisco desk area (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

My room was smallish (as most urban hotel rooms are; I don’t know why people complain when space is so obviously at a premium) but very comfortable.

I was particularly pleased with the free WiFi and plentiful electrical plugs in the desk area – better than many more “modern” places. This hotel knows that its guests are packing gear.

Door hanger Sir Francis Drake hotel San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Door hanger Sir Francis Drake hotel San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

So many hotels have boring door privacy hangers, but not the Drake.

I can also recommend a restaurant right across the street: Sears Fine Food.

Many recommended it for breakfast (they have a signature Swedish pancake dish) but I ended up there for a late lunch, eating steamed mussels at the bar following by a ridiculously decadent homemade butterscotch pudding dessert.

Sears Fine Food at the bar off Union Square San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Sears Fine Food at the bar off Union Square San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Any eatery opened in 1938 that features classic crooner Tony Bennett memorabilia near the entrance, including his receipt from dining at Sears, is my kind of place.

The staff was super-friendly and fast, too.

Tony Bennett memorabilia at Sears Fine Food San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Tony Bennett memorabilia at Sears Fine Food San Francisco (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Where do YOU stay when you visit San Francisco? Tell us down in the comments!

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