The San Francisco Proper Hotel, with its whimsical common spaces and clever guest rooms, is unlike any other hotel in the city — but the gritty neighborhood might not be a fit for all
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- Since debuting in 2017, the San Francisco Proper Hotel has made a name for itself as one of the city’s most original, memorable hotels full of out-of-the-box artistic cachet.
- Rooms and common spaces boast a hip, whimsical approach to design, and both travelers and locals flock to the Proper’s rooftop deck, Charmaine’s, and popular on-site restaurant, Villon.
- I stayed in a Deluxe Queen room which starts at $175 per night in the low season but can skyrocket in mid-summer and fall to $550 per night. The room was small but mighty, with plenty of style and comfort.
- Read all Business Insider hotel reviews here.
Since its debut in 2017, Proper Hotels, a boutique brand with a lively, artistic take on travel rooted in West Coast-cool mystique, has taken the San Francisco hospitality scene by storm.
Housed in a 111-year old Beaux-Arts flatiron building, the Proper is dripping with the bizarre-but-beautiful style of Kelly Wearstler. The talented designer somehow weaves patterns and prints that have no business going together into stunning, playful tapestries that fill the space with sophistication and whimsy.
The hotel’s painstakingly thoughtful details include abstract paintings and a life-sized stone Great Dane in the lobby, and extends to rooms that each serve as little works of art, accented by high-tech gadgets and artisan treats.
I’ve long been intrigued by the hotel, and when I finally booked my overnight stay, the lobby hummed with small groups of guests lounging in gallery-like “living rooms” and behind the bar at Villon, the hotel’s chic baby-blue restaurant. The crowning jewel is, appropriately, on the roof – an indoor-outdoor deck lined with fire pits and views that stretch to the San Francisco Bay. It all crafts an experience that takes place beyond the confines of your room.
I stayed in a Deluxe Queen room, the Proper’s standard room, which was comped for review. At just 200 square feet, the space was cozy, especially for two people, but well designed. Prices in low season (winter and spring) start at $175 per night, but surge to $550 in summer and fall, and that’s not including a daily resort fee.
Yet this hotel stands out in a sea of traditional brands as a beacon for millennials and art lovers looking for an innovative and experiential property. The surrounding neighborhood is gritty, and not everyone will feel comfortable, but the Proper has done an impeccable job curating an atmosphere that embraces the eclectic beauty of the city.
Need more hotel suggestions? Read our list of the best hotels in San Francisco.
Keep reading to see why I was so impressed by the San Francisco Proper Hotel.
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caption The hotel’s historic exterior. source Shoshi Parks/Business Insider
It’s no secret that San Francisco is experiencing an unprecedented level of homelessness and the blocks around the San Francisco Proper are not immune. Approaching the McAllister Street entrance at 5 p.m., though signs of the city’s ongoing tragedy were visible. I did not feel threatened or in danger, and most on the streets kept to themselves during both daylight hours and after dark. But those less used to this kind of neighborhood aesthetic might not feel as comfortable, and that’s something to strongly consider when booking this hotel.
However, the Proper does have a valet posted at the entrance and another staff member that mans the Market Street entrance to ensure security at all times.
That valet was on hand to open the door and welcome me to the Proper. Stepping over the threshold was like stepping through the looking glass into an imaginary world: A sophisticated French salon filtered through the fever dream of Alice in Wonderland, all pops of color, perfectly-mismatched pattern and vibrant art.
There was no line at check-in but I did have to wait as three gracious staff members tried, and failed, to find my reservation. Eventually, the manager came to kindly clear up the mistake (computer-system issues, she said) and apologize profusely. Finally, key in hand, I headed to the elevator.
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caption The room was small but made smart use of the space, especially the clever decor. source Shoshi Parks/Business Insider
Six floors up, my Deluxe Queen was the hotel’s lowest standard room. Despite the entry-level category, it was impeccably styled despite the small size at just 200 square feet.
The entire hotel was designed by West Coast maven Kelly Wearstler and while I was already impressed by the lobby, the room converted me into her biggest fan.
Each of the room’s four walls was covered in different but complementary statement wallpapers in shades of grey, black and white. Behind the houndstooth fabric headboard of the handmade queen-sized bed, bloomed a flower motif. On the wall to the right, where a large window looked out onto Market Street below, the wallpaper was patterned in a geometric print wholly different from the design on its black-out window shade. The other two walls were flowered and abstract.
It should have been too much for such a small space but somehow it was perfect. I’ve never seen another hotel with so many artistic details in San Francisco or elsewhere.
In front of the window, a bench-style couch, small black-and-white chair, and stone-topped table just barely fit. A 50-inch HDTV with Google Chromecast was mounted to the wall facing the bed and in the hallway, a curated minibar filled with artisan goodies and craft spirits was hidden behind a closet door. High-tech amenities were laid out around the room including a handsome Bluetooth speaker and an in-room tablet with a virtual concierge.
The Aierloom mattress swathed in Italian linens was soft and cozy and electrical plugs on both sides of the bed instead of just one meant I could read my news app on a fully-charged phone in the morning without having to get up. My boyfriend experienced his biggest disappointment in the cool light of day, however, upon discovering that there was no in-room coffee maker. Luckily, the hotel provides coffee and tea downstairs beginning before the sun comes up (as long as you’ve paid the $30/day amenities fee – more about that below).
caption The bathroom was small but mod with subway tile and brick. source Shoshi Parks/Business Insider
The tiled bathroom wasn’t large but had everything I needed without feeling cramped. The shower was stocked with luxury Aesop shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in eco-friendly large format bottles (instead of wasteful single-use bottles) and, combined with a rainfall shower, made getting ready a real pleasure. Patterned, lightweight Kelly Wearstler-designed bathrobes fit me well but made my boyfriend look like a 1970s adult film star.
Besides its compact but ultra-stylish design, the thing that impressed me most about the room was that it was remarkably quiet, despite looking out a major thoroughfare through downtown San Francisco. In part, this was due to the fact that the city recently closed the corridor off to regular car traffic (buses and streetcars still run) but even so, I can’t recall hearing more than the occasional passing siren during my stay. There was a little noise from activity in the hallways and neighboring rooms, but it was no more than what I’d expect from a busy hotel.
I stayed in one of two entry-level room options. The alternative is a 172-square foot European-style “Bunk Room” with built-in wooden bunk beds and the same techie amenities as the Queen Deluxe.
For a bit more space, the next level up includes the Premier Double and Premier King, both of which are only slightly larger (around 30 square feet) than the standard rooms for around $25-40 more per night. The Proper also has two suite options starting at around $700 per night. Given that the more expensive Premier rooms are only marginally larger with the same amenities, I would absolutely book the Queen Deluxe again for the strongest value.
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caption The sleek on-site bars and eateries are worth a look, or better yet, a full meal. source Shoshi Parks/Business Insider
The San Francisco Proper Hotel is as much a destination for travelers as it is for locals thanks to the hotel’s ground-floor restaurant Villon or, more likely, the glamorous rooftop bar and lounge, Charmaine’s. I knew in advance that Charmaine’s, in particular, would be the place to see-and-be-seen on a Saturday night and made a very necessary reservation.
Because it was a cold night – as most San Francisco nights are – we opted to sit inside the glass-walled lounge near the glow of a blazing fire. But thanks to fire pits scattered around the roof’s exterior and complimentary blankets, sitting outside would have been fairly cozy as well. I still braved a little February wind to step out for a birds-eye view of the sparkling city.
Like at the full-service Villon downstairs, Charmaine’s menu – which is made up of snacks and bites – is the brainchild of a brand new executive chef, Jason Fox. Most of the bargoers were a well-dressed bunch of Millenials and Gen Xers that were busily Instagramming the space, and cocktails.
While the bar felt exclusive and many were dressed up, I did not feel out of place in my cozy sweater and clogs. I did feel invisible, however, when I shimmied past the main bar to use the restroom where those who had walked in with no reservation were congregating and drinking with abandon. My advice, if you’re over 35, this place is most enjoyable if you’ve reserved seating.
caption The lobby lounge spaces are the best examples of the hotel’s intriguing design scheme. source Shoshi Parks/Business Insider
The next morning, my head thick from an evening of artisan cocktails, I enjoyed my morning tea in one of the lobby’s several lounge spaces. These areas felt like whimsical galleries hung with dozens of eclectic paintings and mismatched seating that paired velveteen couches with sculptural chairs. These lounge areas were easily my favorite part of the hotel. Plus, they looked great in photos.
Villon, painted in shades of turquoise with fabric jellyfish-like overhead lighting, was hopping with Sunday morning brunch-goers.
Meanwhile, in the basement, a weekend-warrior couple lifted free weights in a well-appointed gym stocked with Peloton Bikes, elliptical machines and more.
Access to the gym, as well as to a fleet of Shinola bikes for tooling around the city, morning coffee and tea service in the lobby, bottled water, premium Wi-Fi and priority admission to Charmaine’s require an additional $30 per day amenity fee. The fee technically isn’t mandatory, but if you decline you’ll miss out on some basic, and coveted, perks without it.
Unfortunately, I just missed the reopening of the Proper’s European-inspired cafe La Bande after undergoing renovations this winter.
The Proper is also dog-friendly, as long as they are under 35 pounds (sorry, no cats allowed). There’s a $100 per dog fee (two dogs max per room) but in exchange, your best friend will be provided with food and water bowls and treats. A portion of every pet fee is donated to Best Friends Animal Society.
Valet parking is also available for $65 but if you don’t have a lot of luggage, save yourself some cash by parking at the garage at Civic Center two-and-a-half blocks away. They permit overnight parking for $35 per day. Don’t bother asking the hotel for directions, though. I was told over the phone that not only could they not recommend a garage but that it would cost the equivalent as an overnight with their valet.
Though this section of Market Street is gritty, especially after dark, there’s actually a huge host of things to do. Within a one-block radius is the Alonzo King Lines Ballet, the music venue The Warfield, and the SHN Orpheum Theatre, which hosts the Broadway productions that come to town.
A few blocks further afield are the Asian Art Museum, Union Square, and the turnaround for the city’s iconic Cable Cars at the intersection of Powell and Market streets.
There’s also no shortage of excellent restaurants and bars near the Proper. We stopped for a beer at Danish brewery franchise Mikkeller Bar on Mason and Turk Streets (less than a 10-minute walk) before heading to Charmaine’s for our reservation. The Michelin starred Kin Khao, the brunch favorite Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, and the new multi-floor French concept ONE65 are all just a short walk away.
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The San Francisco Proper Hotel has earned rave reviews from most of its past guests. On Trip Advisor, it has a solid 4.5 out of -star rating.
“Stunning property,” commented one reviewer. Another called her time at the Proper “the best hotel stay I’ve ever had.”
The tough scene outside the hotel’s doors was by far the biggest complaint. “The homeless littered the streets and drug deals and people shooting up were happening before our eyes,” commented one guest.
The neighborhood does have a large homeless presence. That said, I never once felt unsafe walking around outside the Proper and I saw several young families enjoying their stay that barely seemed to notice the neighborhood’s rough edges. The hotel does have staff posted at both entrances into the night, as well as at the entrance to Charmaine’s to keep an eye on things.
Read reviews, compare prices, and book the San Francisco Proper Hotel on Trip Advisor
Who stays here: Hip millennials and style aficionados will love the unexpected design and techie amenities in the rooms. I also saw a surprising number of young families with children that seemed to get a kick out of the lobby’s eclectic art.
We like: The artistic elements woven into every corner of the hotel. Staying the night here was like a lesson in interior design thanks to Kelly Wearstler’s innovative ability to combine patterns, dress up small rooms, and create intimate lounges
We love (don’t miss this feature!): The rooftop bar and lounge, Charmaine’s, is a glamorous place to spend an evening with excellent food, cocktails, and an epic view. But if you don’t want to be wedged between heavy-drinking Millenials all night, be sure to make a reservation for seats in the indoor lounge or on the deck.
We think you should know: The neighborhood is gritty with a large homeless presence. Staying here is safe, but some people might just not feel comfortable regardless. The Proper has staff posted at all doors though, so you can rest easy.
We’d do this differently next time: Hop on a Shinola bike for a ride down the now car-free Market Street corridor to the historic Ferry Building at its east end. It would make good use of the amenity fee, and would be a fun way to see the city.
The San Francisco Proper Hotel is beautifully-designed, from the bright whimsy of the lobby “living rooms” to the layered patterns of guest rooms, plus the sophisticated-but-fun Restaurant and glamorous rooftop.
The neighborhood does have its problems, but the Proper’s central location near some of San Francisco’s best arts and culture is a bonus. And while there are plenty of fantastic bars and restaurants within a few blocks, with the excellent food and cocktails at Villon and Charmaine’s, there is really no reason to leave after dark.
Luxurious but playful, whether you’re in town for business or pleasure, the Proper Hotel is an unforgettable destination. At a reasonably priced $175 per night in the low season, the amenities and atmosphere far surpass other hotels near Union Square for the same price, with far less character.