San Francisco is an expensive city to stay, so a place at $80 a night that includes breakfast and dinner is bargain that can’t be ignored.
The Kenmore Residence Club is a slightly run down Victorian building in the Pacific Heights neighbourhood, just over a mile from San Francisco’s Union Square.
Given the price and location, it would be unfair to judge the place on its looks. Its 65 rooms vary from doubles with ensuites for $140 a night to singles with shared bathrooms for $80.
The singles with shared baths are surprisingly large rooms with a double sized bed and a walk in wardrobe. Also included in the room are a fridge, wash basin and flat screen TV. Sheets are changed twice a week along with the included hand and bath towels.
As almost always with cheaper hotels and hostels, Wi-Fi is included in the room rate and is surprisingly good throughout the building. In the room I stayed in, 308, the internet access was sufficient to work with and stream radio although Skype required sitting in one of the hallway sofas.
In other rooms patchy Wi-Fi may also be a problem as many of the other guests – which seemed to be mainly Japanese and German backpackers – were working on laptops in the hallway sofas.
Working in the room was fine with a basic desk, a not uncomfortable chair and plenty of power points. The view of the opposite peeling paint on the opposite wall meant there was little to distract an attention deficient worker.
Those German and Japanese tourists mean the two shared bathrooms on each floor are quite clean – apart from one unfortunate morning where someone had been sick. This wasn’t such a problem as it was always possible to find a vacant room. Soap dispensers are in the bathrooms but for showers it’s probably best to buy your own.
On the ground floor the dining room seats around forty people for breakfast between 7am and 9am and dinner, Monday to Saturday, between 5.30 and 7. If you’re in San Francisco for sightseeing or business, it’s hard to get back in time for dinner so don’t budget on eating too many evening meals there.
The meals themselves are adequate with a self service salad or breakfast bar and a cooked option. The dinners were fairly stodgy while the eggs or pancakes are fine at breakfast but the bacon and sausages are forgettable. I found myself eating just fried and scrambled eggs with toast and loading up with salad and fruit.
If you don’t eat in the hotel, it’s only two blocks away from Japantown where there’s no shortage of good and cheap ramen, sushi and other Japanese restaurants. There’s also a Whole Foods and Walgreens within three blocks if you want to make your own meal.
Should you want to get down to the touristy parts of San Francisco, the 38 Muni bus down Geary Street is the quickest and most reliable way to Union Square and the Ferry Building. Two blocks away on Van Ness, the 18 will take you to Fisherman’s Wharf and on weekends the 76X goes to the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands.
Coming back from Union Square, the number 2 and 3 buses stop almost outside the hotel but are far less frequent or reliable than the Geary services. If you need a Clipper Card or Muni Passport the Walgreens a block away on the corner of Post and Gough street is the place to visit.
The neighbourhood itself is quite safe although south of the Cathedral and into the Hayes Valley things get somewhat less salubrious and walking around that part of SF at night is not recommended by the locals. A stroll back from Union Square or the Embarcadero though isn’t unpleasant.
Doing your laundry
Another benefit with the Kempton is the coin operated laundry in the basement. If you’ve been travelling for a while – I’d spent the previous week in San Jose – being able to wash your clothes is a godsend, laundry powder and change is available at reception and you’ll need lots of quarters for the driers.
Staff at the hotel seem to be mainly made up of long term residents who are working to defray their rent, this means they are a quirky mixed bag of characters. Some are a bit gruff while others are delightfully helpful, again it’s not the Marriott Marquis and the rates reflect that.
There are some downsides to the Kempton, the rooms aren’t particularly quiet – this is something to be expected at cheaper hotels and there are no strong boxes or other security beyond the door locks in the room. While the place seemed safe, nervous travellers may want to consider their storage of passports and valuables.
On balance, The Kenmore is a bargain in one of America’s most expensive cities. If you’re prepared to deal with the quirks and stay a little bit out of the San Francisco tourist spots then the price is unbeatable.