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The W San Francisco is a vibrant hotel by day and hip social hub by night. Pros: It has an excellent location close to many museums and other attractions, lots of locally inspired décor and a cool gym. Cons: The guest rooms are due for an update, and many of them face the back of another building.
With basic options such as the Hyatt Centric, more glamorous ones like the Ritz-Carlton and plenty in between, San Francisco has no shortage of hotels that’ll fit most budgets and tastes. When I was planning a recent trip there, I knew I wanted to stay in a hotel that was chic, centrally located and wouldn’t break the bank. All of my research directed me to the W. I’ve had positive experiences with the brand in the past, so l I decided to give the San Francisco property a try. Here’s what it was like to stay there.
Given that the weather is often cooler and rainier between December and February, San Francisco hotel rates are typically much lower than average during that time — much welcomed for my January stay. Additionally, with discounts provided by automobile-association memberships, rates became even more attractive. Thanks to my AAA card, I was able to score a refundable Spectacular Room plus breakfast for two for just $173.41 including taxes for my one-night stay at the W.
In comparison, the Starwood Preferred Guest exclusive prepaid rate without breakfast would have cost about $50 more, and the Preferred+Breakfast package — identical to the AAA one I had booked — would have cost about $100 more.
Alternatively, I could have also booked my stay using points, but with TPG’s points-and-miles valuations in mind, saving my points for a future redemption was a no-brainer for me in this case. As it’s a Category 6 hotel, award nights at the W San Francisco cost between 20,000 and 25,000 Starpoints. Since TPG values Starpoints at 2.7 cents per point, the nightly rate would’ve needed to be at least $540 in order for me to maximize my stay with points.
I paid for my stay using my Chase Sapphire Reserve card which allowed me to earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar for the travel purchase. Additionally, as a standard SPG Preferred member, booking directly allowed me to earn two Starpoints per dollar. If I had the Platinum Card® from American Express, I would have automatically had SPG Gold status and earned 3 Starpoints per dollar, among other benefits.
The hotel was centrally situated in the heart of one of San Francisco’s most famous neighborhoods, the South of Market (SoMa) district. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was right next door, and the Moscone Convention Center was across the street. A block away were the Yerba Buena Gardens, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora and the Children’s Creativity Museum. Assuming you have better luck with the weather than I did, Union Square is also a quick walk away. Needless to say, the location didn’t disappoint.
The W was less than half an hour by car from San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
If you — or a travel companion — are a Chase Private Client account member, be sure to bring your Arts and Culture Card for free admission to SFMOMA, among others. Normally, general admission for adults is $25, but with the card, my companion and I were able to get in for free.
I could enter the hotel from either the corner of Third and Howard streets or through the porte-cochère located on Howard Street.
Once inside, I headed straight to the check-in desks, where I was welcomed by a backdrop depicting the city’s layout with LED lights for the streets.
Given that it was only 10:00am and the usual check-in time is 3:00pm, I wasn’t expecting to get a room right away, but despite that and my lack of SPG elite status, the receptionist swiftly handed me the keys to the room.
After inquiring about the free breakfast included with my rate, I was handed a voucher granting me two entrees and beverages at the hotel’s restaurant, Trace.
Across the check-in desks was the hotel’s signature Whatever/Whenever concierge desk, as well a station with fruit-infused water and fresh apples, which were replenished throughout the day.
The lobby (aka the Living Room) was mood-lit and proved to be a popular hangout spot for guests and locals at night. Its design was inspired by the city’s grid, and the modular seating was meant to rise from the ground like buildings.
It had a DJ booth, fireplace and an arcade table loaded with classics such as “Pac-Man.”
The centerpiece of the lobby was Lumina, a 27-foot-tall light sculpture by the design studio MADLAB. W hotels often try to incorporate décor that reflects the locale, and this piece matched the vibrant, design-centric SoMa neighborhood perfectly.
Another thoughtful touch were the floor mats throughout the hotel — including inside the elevators — that were changed thrice a day to wish guests “Good Morning,” “Good Afternoon” and, finally, “Good Evening.”
After a quick ride up the elevator — which required a key card for access — I arrived at my room, which opened up to a full-length mirror and bench on the left and a frosted-glass sliding door (which did not lock) to the bathroom on the right.
As a Spectacular Room, it was about 300 square feet and available with either one king bed or two full beds. Each room also came with a banquette area by the windows, but since my room was facing the back of the museum next door, the only view I had was of a dull gray wall.
The room itself had a much less vibrant color scheme than the rest of the hotel and felt like it could have used a facelift. The Asian-inspired décor felt a bit out of place.
That being said, the room was still comfortable and did the job for my one night. One good thing about having a room not facing the street was that outside noise was not an issue, and I had no trouble falling asleep on the signature pillow-top bed.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when hotel rooms don’t have any bedside power outlets you can access without having to move furniture around, and that happened to be the case here. After taking a look behind the nightstand, I decided to skip the hassle of rearranging cords and just plugged my devices into the room’s other outlets — which there were surprisingly plenty of.
I later noticed that the clock on the nightstand had two USB plugs that could be used to charge small devices, though I preferred having actual outlets to charge larger ones.
Below the 37-inch TV was a desk with many easily accessible outlets and a chair. There was even a wooden foot massager underneath, which I thought was a nice touch.
To the left of the work space was a minibar stocked with a large selection of overpriced snacks, beverages and travel accessories.
There was a Nespresso machine and one complimentary bottle of water (given to me as an SPG member). Unlike the $5 bottles of smartwater in the minibar, this one was Dasani. There was even a cocktail kit.
While it didn’t show much wear — for instance, the shower head looked fairly new — the bathroom’s design was basic and felt more like what you’d find in a Hilton than in a W. It didn’t have his-and-her sinks, but it did have plenty of counter space for toiletries.
As is standard with W hotels, the toiletries were provided by Bliss. Although there was a soap dish, a bar of soap was initially missing, but housekeeping brought one up within 10 minutes of when I called the Whatever/Whenever line to request one.
Unfortunately, the shower probably wouldn’t pass the TPG shower test, and the water pressure left much to be desired. To be fair, San Francisco is known for its water-conservation initiatives, but I’ve had better experiences at other hotels in the city.
The closet held a W bathrobe and an in-room safe. There was also a reusable tote bag, but you could only use it if you paid the $4 to purchase it. Given the amount it rains in San Francisco, I was surprised that there was no umbrella in the room, but I was able to borrow one from the front desk, with a $20 deposit.
Because I was an SPG member who’d booked directly through the Starwood site, I got free Wi-Fi, which worked well throughout my stay. Normally, in-room internet costs $14.95 a day.
Food and Beverage
The hotel had a total of two bars and one restaurant. In the lobby was the Living Room Bar.
It looked even more impressive at night, when it was fully lit. On weekends, there was a live DJ.
On the mezzanine level was the Upstairs Bar. It was closed during my visit, but from what I’ve heard, this is the place to be Thursday through Saturday. On one side, there was a DJ booth (not the one on the lower level) and lounge area overlooking the lobby.
On the other side were a bar and more intimate booths that overlooked the hotel’s restaurant, Trace.
On the ground floor, Trace was open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. The space was bright and featured modern décor.
Since breakfast was included with the rate I had booked, my companion and I could each order an entree and beverage of our choice. Although the certificate I was given listed alcohol as the only exclusion, our server explained that the two juice-bar options were also excluded.
I ordered the avocado toast, which was topped with a fried egg, sunflower sprouts, shallots, Arbequina olive oil and a lemon wedge. It was quite tasty as a whole, but I could have gone with a bit less olive oil.
My companion went with the warm red quinoa bowl, which came with kale, avocado, two poached eggs, olive oil and a splash of honey-bee hot sauce. It was OK, but nothing special.
On the fourth floor was the hotel’s FIT gym. It was open 24 hours a day and offered a decent selection of exercise equipment. Towels, towelettes, headphones, fresh apples and a water station were also available. The rings of color-changing lights provided a cool effect and suited the hotel’s image perfectly.
Although aesthetically pleasing, the gym had a large lounging area in the middle that could have been utilized better — after all, the hotel had 404 rooms, so more equipment would’ve been useful.
Here’s what it looked like at night — even the gym had a clubby atmosphere once the sun set.
Note that there used to be a Bliss Spa next to the gym, but it closed its doors on Dec. 31, 2017. The hotel said that it will have a “fresh and elevated spa” in 2019.
I enjoyed my stay at the W San Francisco and was able to score a great rate by taking advantage of the AAA discount. The location was perfect, and all of the staff were friendly.
Although the hotel’s public spaces were quite chic, though, the guest rooms are definitely due for an update. That said, with the right rate, I wouldn’t hesitate staying at the hotel again, though I’ll definitely be asking for a room with a view next time.
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