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As bland as it might be (and it’ll remind you of making forts out of refrigerator boxes), this Hyatt Centric is in a great location for first-time tourists to San Francisco. Pros: It’s only two blocks away from Fisherman’s Wharf’s commercial strip and within walking distance of North Beach and Coit Tower, and has friendly, helpful staff. Cons: Fisherman’s Wharf can grow wearisome quickly unless you have kids, and the hotel lacks more than the basic services, or much character.
Booking a hotel has always been a balancing act between finding a central location and paying a reasonable rate. Hyatt Centric, a lifestyle brand introduced in 2015, was designed to address that trade-off, with convenient sites, a streamlined set of services and amenities, advanced in-room technology and local food and art meant to engage “modern explorers” — presumably millennials rather than pith-helmeted Victorians who’ve recently upgraded from steam travel.
To put the corporate philosophy to the test, I booked a standard double room at San Francisco’s 316-room Hyatt Centric in the Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood and found that, though the hotel fulfills its core mission admirably, this particular compromise still comes at a cost.
I booked a standard double room (with tub) for two nights using my AAA membership discount. The total nightly rate came to $206.10 plus 14% occupancy tax and various other fees — like a city assessment of 1.25% to raise funds for the Moscone Center. It’s a category 4 hotel, so you could book the room with 15,000 points if you have World of Hyatt points.
It’s worth noting that there is currently a Hyatt Credit Card offering a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after you spend $2,000 within the first three months of account opening. And if you have an Ultimate Rewards point-earning card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred, you can transfer your points earned from those cards to World of Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio.
There isn’t a huge difference between the standard and higher-end rooms in this hotel; the standards clock in at 300 square feet and the deluxe room tops out at 400 square feet. Aside from a view of the corner of North Point and Taylor streets — and a separate parlor with wet bar — the suites, which measure slightly more than 400 square feet, aren’t radically different from the lower-priced rooms. Considering the general drabness of the hotel, the mediocre views and the likelihood you won’t be spending much time inside, I’d recommend saving points and cash unless you really need every extra square foot of space.
The Hyatt Centric sat on the fringes of the Fisherman’s Wharf area in a block dominated by hotels and otherwise filled with bars, tourist shops and inexpensive restaurants. It was served by the Taylor/Bay Street cable car and the Embarcadero streetcar (both less than five minutes away). It took a little over half an hour to get to the hotel by taxi from San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The nearest tourist attraction was Fisherman’s Wharf, only a couple minutes’ walk from the hotel, with Coit Tower about 20 minutes away and Nob Hill about 30 minutes away by foot.
Heavy fog in San Francisco meant a flight delay of more than four hours from JFK, so I rolled into the lobby of the Hyatt Centric just before midnight. Not surprisingly, the place was as empty as a church on Saturday night, with a lone dutiful desk clerk to greet me. He was friendly, efficient and had me checked in and on my way to my room within a couple of minutes. He also supplied me with a map that he’d X’ed with the locations of five restaurants that were still open for dinner, since the hotel’s eateries had closed at 11:30 p.m. (He also informed me that the hotel, despite the official site and various third-party descriptions, didn’t actually have room service.)
The room came with free Wi-Fi. I ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant, but paid for it. (More on that below.)
My first impression of the hotel was that I’d walked into a giant cardboard box. In other words, all of the streamlining I had read about in the Hyatt Centric press releases was immediately apparent. Although the company has called its Centric line “modern,” “elegant” and “spare,” a better adjective would’ve been “boring.” The rather small lobby and most of the hotel were done up in muted tones of beige, brown and gray, which collectively screamed “no added cost,” and there wasn’t much in the way of a common space or comfortable furniture to lounge on. There were modest nods to the neighborhood’s history as a center of fishing, with mildly nautically themed touches — the artsy close-up photos of ship blocks and tackles or sails, the lobby flooring that resembles the sun-bleached decking — but that was about it for character.
Downstairs — via either a short escalator or a stairway — the bottom half of the lobby’s split-level layout seemed to serve as a staging room for the banquet room and elevator bank (a single elevator was dedicated to the reception level). There was also a small concierge-cum-tour desk that seemed to be mostly unmanned the few times I walked by during my stay. The front desk told me that the hotel’s public areas had gotten a makeover in recent years, but I noticed a crack in one of the elevator’s floor tiles.
It didn’t feel like the most inviting lobby to spend an afternoon in, but then again, this wasn’t a hotel geared toward travelers who plan on staying in.
My fourth-floor guest room was situated down a long, U-shaped corridor of yet more muted tones broken up by the occasional ship-themed photograph, an ice-machine room and a coin-operated guest laundry room. The hotel hallways were quiet during the entire stay.
Inside, the room was dimly lit but comfortably sized, and painted in blues and light grays with sea-blue, weathered wood over the beds and bed lights that vaguely resembled shipboard lanterns — nice touches that lent much-needed personality.
The window overlooked a narrow, mixed-use street and the rooftops of the condos across the way. But San Francisco’s second-most famous structure, the Transamerica Pyramid, stood out in the distance in the left corner, if you knew where to look. During the day, soft light filtered through the window, though the room never achieved the distinction of being well-lit. This wasn’t the place to tackle War and Peace.
Though the nights were quiet, in the early morning it was impossible to ignore the sounds of trucks making their store deliveries on the street below, or of guests in a neighboring room. It was hard to judge what the hotel noise level might’ve been like in a busy season, but at that moment the walls seemed surprisingly thin.
Housekeeping was punctual but perfunctory. On the first night, a foreign hair mysteriously appeared on a pillow; on the second day, one of the beds was only mostly made — the last 12 inches of bedsheet were left untucked and flapping loose, as if the housekeeper had been distracted at the final corner and simply forgotten to come back and finish the job.
In-room amenities felt very much geared toward the 21st-century traveler: free Wi-Fi, a Keurig coffeemaker, an alarm clock with Bluetooth speakers, an iron and ironing board, and a 47-inch television with basic cable. Inside the TV hutch, along with an empty mini-fridge, was a standard four-digit room safe.
The bathroom, which came with a shower tub, felt reasonably sized. The hotel touted its BeeKind toiletries, an environmentally conscientious Gilchrist & Soames organic line that shuns artificial ingredients and plastics and donates part of its profits to the University of California at Davis honeybee research program. There was also a Drybar hair dryer, a rainfall shower head, surround mirror lighting and thick and plush towels.
The Hyatt Centric is a pet-friendly hotel, but you have to tell them at least three days in advance, you’ll be charged a $100 fee, and you can only bring one dog of up to 50 pounds or two with a combined weight of 75 pounds or less.
The restaurant connected to the hotel served a dual function, acting as the Wardroom, for the breakfast buffet, in the morning and then converting to the Brick & Beam, a lunch and dinner place, after 11:00am. The space was accessible from the street and through a hallway past the lobby bathrooms.
For breakfast, I skipped the buffet and, obeying all public commandments to “Eat Crab” in the neighborhood, ordered the Dungeness crab omelet a la carte. It wasn’t the most prettily turned-out omelet, but it was filling, loaded with mozzarella, spinach and delicately sweet crab, and topped with a big dollop of avocado ($19).
I returned at night with a local friend and his young daughter to witness the transformation into the Brick & Beam, essentially a fancified sports bar with the aforementioned red brick and dark wood beams peeking out from the few spots not plastered with flat-screen TVs blaring sports. The restaurant’s gimmick was that you could request a small tower speaker for your table and set it to whatever game you wanted to watch. The Golden State Warriors were off that night, so we settled in for snippets from the Australian Open.
The clientele were mostly small families of tourists, traveling businessmen and a handful of local sports fans. The Brick & Beam was strictly a place to catch a game or a quick bite, not a setting for a date or a business meeting.
Going with the sports theme, we ordered plates of Buffalo wings ($14), pepperoni pizza ($16) and ahi tuna poke with wonton crisps ($15). Good bar food comes out before you’re halfway through your first beer, and these came out even faster. The wings were moderately spicy (though it was hard to tell the difference between the blue cheese and ranch dips), the small pizza came mouth-searingly hot, and the poke was well-seasoned (though the crisps had sat in grease for too long). We washed them down with Lagunitas IPA, a local brew ($7, $5 at happy hour), and soda pop for the kid. (We weren’t charged for the soft drink.)
We finished off the meal with a Meyer lemon tart atop a drizzle of caramel ($12). It, too, came out quickly, and proved a nice way to cut through the salt and fat of the wings and pizza.
As hotel restaurants go, the Brick & Beam would do in a pinch, especially if you were obsessed with catching a game you couldn’t watch at home. As bar food goes, the food was perfectly serviceable, but the real draw was the convenience and the TVs. Besides, if you were truly looking to explore San Francisco’s exceptional dining scene, you’d be headed to loftier options anyway.
The Hyatt Centric didn’t have room service; rather, there was a small shop off the lobby (near a cubby and two desktop computers, aka the business center) peddling snacks, microwave meals and travel necessities. There was also no gift shop, salon, shoeshine or courtyard seating. There was, however, a pool, but it was closed for renovations during my stay.
Here’s a travel tip: If you’re ever on an exhausting family trip and need solitude, pronto, go to the hotel fitness center, which is where New Year’s resolutions go to die. The Hyatt Centric gym felt no different, with untouched treadmills, exercise bikes and weight-training equipment stacked up in perfect rows, as if waiting their turn to be shipped out of a small, mirrored warehouse. It had almost everything you needed for a basic workout, including towels and a small fridge with bottle water, but no bathroom.
So the hotel was bare-bones. The Hyatt Centric’s biggest perk, however, was completely free. Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions and only two blocks away from the hotel, was a colorful, bustling bazaar of the outrageous and pedestrian, the crass and striking.
The Wharf was undeniable cheesy, but also irrepressibly fun, especially with children — from the arcade weirdness of the Musée Mécanique to the barking, basking sea lions of Pier 39 and even to the in-on-the-joke hokeyness of the San Francisco Dungeon haunted house. It also remains a working harbor, so once you’d waded through the throngs of tourists and buskers, you could see the heart of the city’s fishing industry hard at work in the mornings.
I couldn’t help but wonder whether the blandness of the Hyatt Centric were intentional — a beige-colored respite for travelers who return overexcited by the frenetic commercialization of the Wharf, like having tummy-soothing milk toast after winning a chili-dog-eating contest. Its stark contrast was apparent every time you walked through the entrance.
Once Fisherman’s Wharf wore out its welcome, I was glad to know that other destinations lay near the hotel, like North Beach and Coit Tower, both within walking distance.
Once you’ve unpacked, there’s no reason to linger at the Hyatt Centric Fisherman’s Wharf, which hits all the requisite points as a hotel but has about as much personality as Zeppo Marx. Instead, you’ll want to walk out the door and explore nearby neighborhoods like the vibrant Wharf area and North Beach. And after you’ve exhausted the possibilities at the Wharf — or once your kids hit their teens — you’ll probably want to find a hotel in a less crassly touristy part of the city.
What are your opinions of the Hyatt Centric line? Do you have tips on going to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf? Share your thoughts below!
All images courtesy of the author.