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San Francisco Proper, a Member of Design Hotels

Hotels in San Francisco were not inexpensive for the weekend we were looking to stay. Even using points seemed a bit cost prohibitive. After a few weeks of checking and rechecking hotel prices, we found we could snag a room at the San Francisco Proper, a Member of Design Hotels, for only $210/night. The room we’d select into was a Bunk Room – yes, a room with bunk beds. We hadn’t slept in bunk beds since college and thought it would be a fun change of pace. Plus the price was right for us.  We knew we wouldn’t be spending much time in the room, so even a tight space would suffice.

We checked into the hotel close to midnight after taking BART in from SFO. The public transit connection was easy, as BART goes directly to the Civic Center Station which is just meters from the hotel. The hotel is located in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. If you haven’t been before, know that it isn’t the bright, shiny, area that you see in magazines. This area is gritty, dirty and full of homeless and drug users. As we walked up the stairs from the BART Station we had to step over many people laying on the stairs. We saw people buying and selling various narcotics.  Plus something I hadn’t seen this up close and personal since I studied in London many years ago. We had to step over a man who was actively shooting up, needle dangling out of his arm.

I don’t live in an ivory tower thinking this stuff doesn’t happen, but it was more blatant and obvious than I had seen in years. I’m not going to pontificate on the state of the opioid crisis in America or the horrible state of our mental healthcare system. I will say that this problem is multifaceted and more specifically for this post, be aware of your surroundings when you stay at this property. Other than the difficulty in carrying suitcases upstairs and over people we had no other issues with the people in and around the hotel.

Check-in

The night manager was working check-in when we arrived. She greeted us by name, I’m assuming because we were the last people to check in that day. She was very welcoming and gave us a quick, but thorough rundown of the hotel and reminded us of their award winning restaurant (Villon) and rooftop bar (Charmaine’s).

If we wanted to visit the bar, she suggested we seek a staff member to escort us. At first I thought this was because of the homeless on the streets, but it was actually because the line to get to the rooftop bar was quite long and with an escort we can bypass the line. We opted not to visit the rooftop bar our first night, but did swing by the next day. The bar was lovely, but just too packed and understaffed when we were there. It was an utterly beautiful day in San Francisco, so everyone wanted to be outside enjoying the sun and the warm breeze.

Charmaine’s, the rooftop at San Francisco Proper

A simple beer on a beautiful day. Plus who doesn’t love a cat coaster?

The Room

Our room was exactly as presented, a bunk room. I never really pay attention to square footage stats on hotel websites, I just figure a standard room is a standard room. This bunk room was small, 16m² (175ft²). There was a small table and chair that one could use to work or dine.

The eponymous bunk beds in our Bunk Room

The closet had the minibar, which was properly stocked and had luggage racks, an iron and ironing board. It was tough for us to use the ironing board because we had two suitcases that were taking up much of the room, but we managed.

A surprisingly well stocked mini-bar.

The liquid refreshments in the mini bar.

The room had two TVs though, placed at the foot of each of the bunk beds, and they were controlled by the same remote, efficient, but strange, nonetheless.

A remarkably elaborate system to control the room the size of a shoe box.

The bathroom housed the toilet and the shower, while the sink was in the main living space. It had a rolling barn style door, which doesn’t give you much privacy, but in a room as small as this, there isn’t much privacy period.

Bathroom

Bathroom

Single Vanity in Main Room

The water temperature and pressure were on point throughout our entire stay.

The hotel uses Aēsop bath products, which were in bulk containers. I do appreciate these as I find it so wasteful to have those mini shampoo, conditioner and body wash containers. My biggest concern with the bulk containers is a previous guest messing with the contents (pouring something into the shampoo, for example). These quality products smelled like mint and other herbs. When time comes we may swap out our current guestroom toiletries for this brand. Have you used them before?

We chose not to dine at the Proper, despite the rave reviews of the restaurant. San Francisco is such a great food town, the idea of dining in our hotel was a bit unpalatable. Have you dined at Villon? I’d love to hear your take on it.

Final Thoughts

While the Bunk Room at the San Francisco Proper doesn’t come close to rivaling the Mosaic Suite at the Prince de Galle Hotel in Paris, or quite frankly the AC Hotel Portland Downtown by Marriott, it was a fun experience to try a Bunk Bed and a beautifully designed hotel. I would consider staying here again, but I think I’ll steer clear of the small Bunk Room.

Have you stayed at the Proper before? What did you think of the neighborhood? What about your room? Did you get a bunk bed? Speaking of, when was the last time you slept in a bunk bed?

Redwoods Road Trip – An Introduction

For the past couple of years we’ve been taking some time each summer to explore the national park system. This year, we had to be in Portland, Oregon for a wedding the weekend following the Independence Day Holiday, so we decided to couple this joyous occasion with a trip to the Redwood National and State Park in Northern California.

Redwood National and State Park

Regular readers know that I loathe a good road trip. Most people say a road trip gives them an unparalleled sense of freedom, for me it is the opposite. I feel trapped. I feel completely out of control. I’m just not a car nor a road trip guy. That being said, you can’t really fly into Redwood National Park, and it would be cost prohibitive to fly from Chicago into the smaller airports near the park, then fly to Portland then back to Chicago. So a road trip it is.

We started by flying into San Francisco, staying a couple of days, then driving up to Mendocino Country, where we have an uncle with a home where we could stay for a couple days. The trip continued up the coast to the Redwood National and State Parks, then ultimately up to Portland for the wedding, ending with our often taken United Flight 464 from PDX to ORD (that afternoon flight feels like home to me, since I’ve probably taken in at least two hundred times over the past two decades.

Some of the trip isn’t worth writing about, like the flights to and from Chicago, and some things that are worth writing about, don’t warrant an entire post, so I’ll end up grouping things together, hopefully these posts can help you plan a trip through this beautiful part of the country. Over the next few weeks I’ll write about:

Our trip wasn’t a luxury vacation, but a chance to see friends, family and explore a beautiful and based on our visit, extremely underutilized part of the National Park System.

Have you explored this park?  What are your favorite things to do in San Francisco or Portland?

AC Hotel Portland Downtown

For frequent readers, you’ll know I’m a Starwood guy. I’ve been a Starwood Platinum Elite (staying 50+ nights a year) for the past 6 years (Gold for even longer), so I try to remain loyal for the benefits and the requalification. I needed to spend a week in Portland, Oregon and the Starwood selections are pretty slim. The Westin recently changed hands and the only other Starwood Property downtown is The Nines, a Luxury Collection Hotel, which I’ve stayed in at least half a dozen times and love it. Unfortunately, The Nines was going for $600+/night, which is well outside of my company’s expense policy and honestly, just outrageous.

Since Marriott acquired Starwood and is slowly integrating the business, I decided to extend my hotel options to the Marriott brand. Stays and points will be combined between Marriott and SPG later this year, so I won’t be losing any elite qualifying credits by jumping ship. Based on the pricing of the properties and the location, I decided to stay at the AC Hotel Portland Downtown. This hotel is just a couple blocks from our office and is relatively new. Plus, the AC sub-brand has a bit more character than traditional Marriott Properties, in my opinion.

I enjoy clever decor…

…and perfectly curated bookcases.

We arrived at around 16h00 after taking an early morning flight and working a good portion of the day. Moments before we arrived, the hotel called me to confirm I was actually going to show up, which I thought was strange. They didn’t do this for my colleague who was staying as well. I thought it was because I put in a special request and they were going to ensure that it was acted upon before my arrival. Spoiler Alert: It wasn’t.

We chose to park across the street at a Smart Park location, in lieu of valeting with the hotel. The self-park option was only $10/day while the valet was $45. Yes, the company was paying for it, but this doesn’t make sense for me to spend an extra $35/night on parking.

Strolling into the lobby, we were greeted by three reps at the check-in desk. Two were helping a confused and angry woman who was arguing about something – I never could figure out what her problem was and I think the Marriott folks were having the same issue. She’d complain about something, they’d offer a solution and she’d poke holes in that solution with a completely separate and distinct problem. She was an angry and toxic guest and the Marriott folks were doing everything they could to satisfy her – no one could make her happy.

Check-in was relatively smooth, if not a bit robotic. After I checked in, I wasn’t given my keys until they could confirm that my room had been de-feathered. I loathe feather pillows in hotels. I have a very mild allergy that makes me quite congested while I sleep. Swapping out he pillows is an easy fix that gives me a pretty good night’s rest. My allergy isn’t catastrophic, but the hotel staff always treats it as such and won’t let me enter the room if there is a feather pillow in the area. So I waited about 15 minutes while they confirmed the room was feather-free. I appreciate the effort, but I just wanted to sit down and relax after such a long day. Kudos for heading THIS request.

I was given a room on the 12th floor, away from the elevators, which is also my preference (high floor, away from the lifts). The room was pretty modern with a king bed and a pull-out sofa.

The room wasn’t huge, but had ample space.

The desk was big enough for me to work and spread out all of my papers. The desk chair was like a dining chair, it wasn’t on wheels, which I think is the first time I’ve come across this in a hotel. It was perfectly fine, just different from what I was expecting.

The desk area – without my special request

The bathroom was big and bright with a very large walk in shower and single vanity. The room was very well lit and had great water pressure and ample hot water.

Lovely large walk in shower.

 

Sleek and modern vanity and super modern toilet.

The minibar was stocked with a single small bottle of complimentary water. I do love an ice cold water, but I’d rather have two bottles a day. The chill was nice though.

Less stocked minibar, but with chilled water.

The view was unobstructed, not all that inspiring. Some views in Portland are absolutely stunning – the mountains or the river and bridges, but the big windows brought in a ton of natural light.

My view wasn’t too shabby.

The room did seem a little bare though, with only one piece of wall art. I’m not expecting a miniature museum, but it did strike me as odd that there was so much blank space.

The single piece of art on the wall.

Each time I interacted with a staff member on the main floor, I was addressed by name – which never happens at a Marriott for me. I get this at a St. Regis or a Parker or the Ritz…never at a Marriott. I asked for a couple recommendations from staff members too on this trip and was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t get awful recommendations for common chain restaurants. Every time I asked for something, I was offered a local option, within quick walking distance AND most importantly a personal anecdote about a recent experience at these restaurants. SCORE.

I’ve stayed at the AC chain by Marriott a couple times before and have enjoyed it. This stay in Portland was really quite lovely and I’ve already booked a return stay in a few weeks because of my experience. I slept really well (the bed was surprisingly comfortable too) and had very positive interactions with the staff the entire stay.

The hotel is located in downtown Portland, just a couple blocks from the Willamette River, the MAX (light rail system) and hundreds of amazing restaurants and shops. You really can’t go wrong with the location and if the service stays at this level, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better Marriott in the area.

Where do you stay when visiting downtown Portland?

Hotel Special Requests

I recently spent a few days in Montréal, celebrating a friends 40th birthday. There were 18 of us, staying at various hotels downtown and the Village. I chose to stay at the Le Meridien Versaille. The other Starwood loyalists stayed here and at the W.

One of the guys at the W realized that he may have had a bit too much to drink when he originally booked his room. In the “Special Requests” section of his booking, he asked for “A framed picture of Kenya Moore, Miss USA 1993 on the night stand”. He didn’t remember this until he received an email confirmation that they had delivered.

Be careful when booking rooms while drunk.

When staying at the W, their motto is “Whatever/Whenever” and boy did they deliver. I can’t imagine what the hotel staffers were thinking when they saw this request. I’m not sure if they thought it was a joke and they had a good laugh about it, or if they thought it was an extremely creepy request…maybe a little from Column A and a little from Column B.

Miss Kenya Moore

Since this guy was so lucky with this oddball request, I decided to try something similar during my next hotel stay. I was not staying at the W – there aren’t any in Portland, but I was staying at the AC Marriott. I went back into my reservation and asked for something simple: A Framed Photo of Barrack Obama on the desk. The day of check in, I received a phone call at around 16h00 asking if I was going to actually check in and stay at the property that night – I totally thought they wanted to make sure the photo was in the proper room. I was stoked.

I get to my room, throw open the door and what do I find?

The desk area – without my special request

Nothing. They did not fulfill my request. There wasn’t a note or a comment about this request either.

Sure, I’m disappointed. Was it a crazy, silly request that really meant nothing – absolutely. Will I continue to try for something like this in the future – without a damn doubt!

Do you ever put in special requests like this? What’s your hit rate? Any suggestions for a future stay? I’m going to make this part of my normal hotel reservation process.

Westin Riverwalk San Antonio

Those who follow me on other social media outlets know that I recently spent time in San Antonio. It was my first visit to the nation’s 7th largest city – yeah, I was shocked by that stat too (New York City, LA, Chicago, Houston, Philly, Phoenix then San Antonio). There were just a couple of Starwood properties in this city and since I was there for a major conference most of the hotels were going for about the same price. I chose the Westin on the Riverwalk, it looked nicer than the Sheraton must down the street.

We arrived around 22h30 and were greeted by the signature Westin scent (White Tea) that is piped throughout the building. I always love this smell when I arrive and after I return from a long day but it does start to wear on me after a while. Two people were working reception and as we made our way through the lobby they turned on their huge smiles and both welcomed us.

I didn’t get the 10 minute run down of all the hotel amenities, which I appreciated. We were offered breakfast or points as our welcome amenity, I chose points as I’m not really a breakfast guy and since I was traveling for work, I could expense the breakfast, if I chose to take one.

We were offered a standard king room on the 15th floor, so I asked about any Platinum Upgrade options. She typed a way for a bit, wrinkled her nose and said she had a Studio Suite on the 4th Floor, but the street noise may be annoying. Since I was going to be here for six days, I really wanted a bigger room. I told her we’d take the bigger room and if it was too loud we would change – she had no issues with that plan so she gave us our keys and as we walked away told us the hours of the pool, the gym and the spa, all located right next to our room. This gave me more pause as I don’t want a loud gym crowd keeping me up, but it ended up being a total non-issue.

The room was exactly as she described – a King Studio Suite. As you walk in, the bathroom is immediately to your right. The bathroom was large with a single sink in the vanity, a separate tub and walk-in shower. The toilet was tucked into a little alcove – not completely separate or private, but tucked away.

The bathroom was quite large, but I really don’t dig the sliding door.

Large separate tub and walk in shower – the tub didn’t get used this trip though.

Single vanity with standard Westin amenities.

The toilet was secluded in a far corner.

As you enter the main room, you find a ton of space. There was a sitting area with a couch, side chair and a coffee table, positioned so you could watch the TV.  The furniture was a bit old and rough, but was comfortable enough. I ended up working from the couch as often as I worked from the desk area.

The couch looked a little grungy, but it was comfortable enough – we may have put towels down when we sat on it.

The seating area was a nice touch in this large studio suite.

The desk area was quite large and allowed me to get a lot of work done in this trip – I was even able to have my papers strewn all over the place. There were a ton of outlets on the desk too – a power strip on top and another affixed to the side. It was easy to keep all my devices charged and close at hand while working.

The bed was a proper king bed, unlike those false queen beds I had at the Embassy Suites O’Hare a few weeks ago (those were full/standard, definitely not a queen). The bed was relatively comfortable, but the pillows were utterly awful. They felt like feathery bricks. I asked twice for the pillows to be swapped out for different feather free pillows, which never happened. There weren’t any accessible outlets near the bed either, which is definitely one of my big pet peeves at a hotel.

The king size bed with feather/brick pillows.

I visited the pool a couple times on this trip too and despite the pool bar using mixes for the piña coladas, they were really great. I asked for double dark rum floaters on each beverage and they really made the pool all that much more enjoyable. The bartender at the pool even came out to see if we needed refills while we were in the water. It was lovely.

The only other thing of note was the hotel internet. I got back to my room one evening and wanted to get some work done, but the internet was down. I called the front desk and they said that they do a nightly audit on internet access (basically making sure that people using the network are still staying at the hotel). This process takes a few hours and access is restricted. I have never heard of this before. A late night internet disruption likely doesn’t impact many people but it sure is frustrating. When I checked out I commented on the internet issues and the woman working reception said she never heard of such and audit, but they did have some frequent internet outages. Which is more frustrating, I don’t know?

All in all, I would return to the Westin Riverwalk during my next visit to San Antonio. It was centrally located, had a lovely pool and pretty great service. The main hiccups are the pillows and the internet.

Where do you stay in San Antonio? Do you think the Riverwalk is a bit overrated too?