On my recent work trip to San Francisco I was staying in the W Hotel — a chic, downtown pad that towers over Yerba Buena Gardens. Fun fact before I get to the review: the week prior to my stay, the W hosted Barack Obama during a jaunt to the city. So if it was good enough for the US president, it surely must be good enough for me — right?
I was staying in room 711 (and I wasn’t immune to the suggestion of Americana the number evoked). I’ve stayed in some gorgeous hotel rooms, some funky hotel rooms and some vast hotel rooms that leave me feeling at a loss with what to do with all that space. While many leave me feeling impressed, very few make me feel genuinely at home. There was something about light, bright room 711 at the W that made me feel so comfy though.
I can’t put my finger on exactly how it managed this. Perhaps it was the window seat with a view of the Moscone Centre and downtown San Francisco. (I also had one of these at the Park Lane Hilton in London, but the room wasn’t as nice or as spacious). Perhaps it was the glowing buddha or the fact that the room was the perfect size for me. Or maybe it was just something as simple as how all the things — from the plug sockets to the stationery to the glass cupboard with little draws of sweets — were so intuitively arranged that it was easy to relax.
I spent a lot of time in my room working as the event I was attending was held at the hotel. I had a desk, but sometimes I worked perched on my window seat, watching the sun rise and set over the city beyond.
This also meant that I ordered my fair share of room service. One day I pre-ordered breakfast the night before so it would arrive directly after an early-morning workout session in the gym. What I ordered was poached eggs, bacon and an English muffin. What I got was an English muffin bigger than any I’ve ever seen in England, poached eggs, bacon and a massive side of potatoes. Because America.
Another day I had an ace steak sandwich.
Back to room. If you were here to party (as some of my neighbours were) you could have an amazing time because the room was stocked with full-sized bottles of premium spirits. In the bathroom were Bliss toiletries, which were so nice that I used them instead of my own — something I rarely do. Obviously I spent a lot of time chilling in my W-branded dressing gown too.
The staff left very considerate notes about parties the hotel was holding and the fact that the clocks were changing. Considering I was back and forth to the room pretty much constantly, they managed to nip in and tidy things up very discreetly, without me bumping into them even once.
Things I liked:
The lifts! The rugs in them are changed three times a days so that they greet you with Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening at the appropriate time of day. The walls were also decorated with that corrugated plastic material that makes the picture on it dance around when you view it from different perspectives. Jazzy.
The gym! The gym, which I did use, is on the second floor near the Bliss Spa, which I sadly didn’t have time to use. It’s in a circular room with a big glass roof, meaning there is plenty of light, but no-one looking in at you while you are getting all sweaty. I only used the treadmill, but it was one of the really fancy ones that lets you plug your iPhone or iPod in (pre-lightning connector). The room is well air-conditioned and in the middle is a station with cold bottles of water, fresh towels and a big bowl of apples — exactly what you want after a long workout.
The conference facilities. Businessy, I know, but I liked the fact that the board rooms had little bowls of miniature candies for us to snack on. There was also a lovely room to socialise in with a terrace. One evening they served a selection of Californian cheeses with bubbly, and that was pretty much the best.
Things I didn’t like:
The reception. It was really dark with loud music playing. When I arrived, I actually walked in through the bar as it wasn’t clear where the entrance was. Then again, I was there on Halloween weekend and there were a few parties happening in the hotel, so it might not usually be that bad. It must be said as well that the staff were polite and really helpful, especially when I locked myself out of my room on the same day I arrived.
The ambience. Generally outside of my room, which was a haven of cosiness, the hotel felt a bit like a club. In the evening it was cool — if you like that sort of thing — but in the morning it all just felt a bit much.
Wi-Fi. You had to pay for it and sometimes it would log you out. I don’t care if it makes the price of staying at a hotel I tiny bit more expensive — I’m adamant that free Wi-Fi is something all decent hotels should offer in this day and age.
The location of the W is quite mixed. It’s in the downtown SoMa area, which is convenient for getting to other parts of the city, but didn’t seem to have much of a life of its own.
Saying that, across the road is The Thirsty Bear, an organic brewery with super-friendly staff and a great range of local beers. It’s also only a short walk to the Ferry Building (great for Saturday brunch) and Union Square. Head east/south east however and you’ll find yourself in the Tenderloin and surrounded by crack addicts. Be sure to ask locals or staff which specific streets or areas to steer clear of if you’re heading out on foot after dark.
Would I stay at the W if I came to San Francisco again? Absolutely yes. Thanks to party vibe it strikes me as more of a pleasure hotel than a business hotel, despite it being a great place to end up on a business trip. I would stay for either reason. There are great transport links to the rest of the city, and I really enjoyed my stay.
Disclaimer: I didn’t pay to stay at the W as I was there on business, but the hotel was unaware I would be writing this review and all my views are my own.