When I stay in hotels, I’m normally a Hilton man, but on our trip to San Francisco for Valentine’s Day weekend, the opportunity presented itself to mix things up a little bit. The Argonaut Hotel (a Kimpton property) was offering a great deal, and since both my wife and I love older boutique hotels, we decided to give Kimpton, a purveyor of boutique hotels nationwide, a try. Our primary motivation, besides the price, was the hotel’s location at the western end of Fisherman’s Wharf. Given that we only had about 24 hours in the city, and our laundry list included lots of crab eating at Fisherman’s Wharf, a visit to Ghirardelli Square, and a cable car ride, finding a hotel in or near the Wharf was critical to maximizing time on our short stay. Only a block or two from all three, the Argonaut fit our needs prefectly.
Argonaut, a Kimpton Hotel
- 495 Jefferson Street at Hyde Street, San Francisco, CA
- Features: free WiFi and $10 bar credit (for Kimpton Karma reward program members), free wine reception from 5-6 P.M. daily, in-room spa treatments available, fitness center, complimentary yoga accessories
At the western end of Fisherman’s Wharf, and one block southeast of Ghirardelli Square. I highly advise against driving in San Francisco – and I say this as an avid road tripper – but if you do bring your car, take the 101 freeway north to downtown SF (if coming in from the east via the Bay Bridge, follow the 80 to the 101 north), then exit at Van Ness Avenue and continue north on 101. At Lombard Street, continue straight; do not turn left to stay on 101. Turn right at Bay Street, then left at Hyde. Finally, turn right at Jefferson, and the hotel and valet will be on your right. If coming in from the east, do not try to come up the Embarcadero, especially during rush hours or on weekends; it is horribly congested because of Pier 39 traffic. BEWARE: parking is very expensive, at $50 per night.
If you are a mass transit user, be aware that the nearest BART stations are down on Market Street, in the Financial District. You can take the “F” line historic streetcar, sometimes supplemented by buses, from Market Street to the corner of Jefferson and Jones Streets a couple of blocks away, but on the weekend we were in town, both the streetcars and buses were completely packed, making the ride difficult if you were toting luggage. You could walk along the Embarcadero from the Embarcadero BART station, which takes 30-40 minutes depending on the shape you’re in. Or just request an Uber from Market Street.
Date of Stay: February 14, 2015
Since it was a holiday weekend, our room wasn’t ready when we made it to the hotel around 2:00, but the desk clerk promised it would be ready by 3 and that she would call us once it was. No problem, as we were both starving, so we headed over to the Franciscan Crab down the street for lunch (review to be posted soon). Just as promised, the clerk called a few minutes before 3 to let us know our room was ready.
In typical Bay Area fashion, the Argonaut bills itself as a “hip San Francisco boutique hotel”. After all, what in San Francisco isn’t modern and hip? I don’t really get that vibe, though. The hotel is situated in a restored 1907 building in San Francisco Martime National Historical Park – the visitor center is literally next to the front desk – and the theme inside borrows heavily from the area’s seafaring history. It’s nicely done and historically appropriate, but I wouldn’t call the style “modern”, which to me is something like the W or Aloft chains. But anyway, you can decide for yourself from the photos.
Exterior of hotel from Powell-Hyde cable car turntable
King-sized bed with lots of stars
A comfy chaise-lounge and porthole mirror; also notice the original wood beams
Traditional shower/tub combo
Juxtaposition of old and new, with original wood beam next to marble tumbling in the sink area
More nautical theming in the hallways
We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the room, but it was spacious, especially for a large city boutique hotel, and comfortable. The chaise-lounge by the window was a comfy spot for, well, lounging around, and the bed was quite comfortable. The free WiFi was also fast and reliable, both Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Remember, WiFi is only free if you’re a Kimpton Karma rewards program member, but sign up is easy on the Kimpton Hotels website. Some junk e-mail is worth the free WiFi and bar credit, if you ask me.
The most unique feature of this hotel is the daily wine reception from 5-6 P.M. A different mix of California varietals, both white and red, are on offer, and you are free to sample as much as you want in an hour. Best of all, the reception is absolutely free to all hotel guests. We didn’t get back from our stroll down Lombard Street and Pier 39 until about 20 minutes to 6, but fortunately I did have time to sample a glass of the white before the reception ended. I don’t remember the name of the wine or the varietal, but it was good. This is a nice little perk for wine drinkers, as a glass runs $9 minimum at the Blue Mermaid restaurant in the hotel. I did take a few minutes to snap a few photos of the lobby while enjoying my glass of wine, and you’ll notice more of the nautical theme.
Porthole-style windows in the lobby area
Cozy fireplace, with a ship’s wheel for good measure
Sailboat painting and sculpture, along with a large sitting area (and a guy who drank too much wine it seems)
There is one restaurant on-site, the aforementioned Blue Mermaid Chowder House & Bar. As you would expect from a restaurant in the Fisherman’s Wharf are, the specialty is seafood. We ate dinner there on Saturday night, and both my wife and I enjoyed it. It’s a relatively small dining room, which I prefer, the prices are fairly reasonable, and the food was very good. But a late lunch left us both not very hungry, so we weren’t able to enjoy very much. I’m planning to write a full review of the Blue Mermaid later, but in the meantime, here are a couple of photos from inside.
This was my first stay at a Kimpton hotel, but I was impressed with the level of service. As mentioned earlier, our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, but the front desk clerk promised a call by 3, and she delivered as promised. The bellhop on duty was also quite helpful, offering up several suggestions of things to do in the area that evening and humoring my weather geekiness by chatting with me for a few minutes about the abnormally warm weather at the time. The hotel also focuses on the little things that make guests feel valued – the free WiFi and wine reception were nice, of course, but so were the Ghirardelli chocolates left on the pillow and the personalized letter welcoming us to the hotel.
But the hotel’s best feature is its location, at least if you’re looking to stay somewhere close to Fisherman’s Wharf. Ghirardelli Square and the Powell-Hyde cable car turntable are both literally next door, and Lombard Street and Pier 39 are 10-15 minute walks away. It’s also a short walk to Fort Mason and the Marina District, along with the San Francisco Bay Trail if you’re looking for a place to hike or bike. Just be aware that if you’re lugging bags, mass transit can be difficult due to the overcrowding on “F”-line streetcar during peak times.
Overall, I’d recommend the Argonaut if you have a trip planned to the City by the Bay and enjoy smaller boutique hotels. It’s not the place for you if you’re looking for opulent luxury, but the combination of service, location, and some nice extras makes it a solid choice.
NOTE: This is part 3 of a multi-part series about our short Valentine’s Day weekend in San Francisco. Other parts of this series (not necessarily in this order):
- Flight Review – Virgin America Main Cabin, DAL-SFO-DAL
- Sightseeing at 35,000 Feet – Dallas to San Francisco
- Hotel Review – The Kimpton Argonaut Hotel, San Francisco (this post)
- A Delightfully Exhausting 30 Hours in the City by the Bay
- Restaurant Reviews – San Francisco Crab Food Fight – The Franciscan Crab and the Blue Mermaid
- Restaurant Review – Hang Ah Tea Room, San Francisco