Simple but sophisticated in San Francisco: The Kimpton Alton
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Although Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt are my two main hotel loyalty programmes, over the years I’ve started gravitating toward IHG Rewards for one simple reason: Kimpton Hotels. My partner and I sometimes travel with our dog, Herschel, and staying at Kimptons means we can bring him along without the expense of a nonrefundable pet deposit. Of course, the complimentary morning coffee and afternoon wine tastings aren’t bad for the humans among us, either.
On a recent road trip up to Northern California, we decided to spend a night in San Francisco. It turned out to be the perfect opportunity to check out Kimpton’s latest hotel in the City by the Bay, the Kimpton Alton, which had opened two weeks before our visit. Here’s what the experience was like.
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As soon as I realized we’d be spending a night in San Francisco, I started looking for hotels — and Kimptons in particular, because Herschel would be with us. I also had a couple of annual free night certificates that had piled up during the pandemic, and I was hoping to use one of those.
To my surprise, the Kimpton options in the city were more limited than I remembered. The Sir Francis Drake was sold earlier this year and is no longer a Kimpton, and another property, the Kimpton Buchanan, appears to be closed until late July. However, I saw a new option called the Kimpton Alton had appeared on the scene. Paid rates were $234 (£170) to $244 (£177) per night on my date, but taxes and fees brought that up to $319 (£231) to $332 (241) — more on this later.
There were award nights available for 42,000 points, and I decided to redeem points.
A week before my stay, I checked on rates again and found, to my surprise, that award rates had dropped by 12,000 points to a mere 30,000 points each. I cancelled my original reservation, which was refundable up to 48 hours before check-in, and was about to redeem one of my free night awards when I thought better of it.
Thanks to COVID-19-related expiration policies, I’ll be able to use my IHG Rewards annual free nights anytime in the next year or so. I figure I’ll be able to save a few thousand more points later on by using one of them for a slightly higher-priced redemption. So instead, I just redeemed 30,000 points for the room rate and taxes, getting closer to 0.95 cents apiece in value for my IHG Rewards.
The confirmation page noted I’d be charged a $34.94 guest amenity fee per night that included:
- $5 daily credit to use at the hotel’s locally inspired bodega featuring artisanal eats and regional wines.
- Premium Wi-Fi throughout the hotel.
- In-room Victrola record player and a vinyl lending library.
- Retro-inspired board games to borrow.
- Complimentary newspapers and magazines digitally via PressReader.
- A Kimpton Alton San Francisco walking tour.
- Complimentary local calls.
- Complimentary printing services.
Parking would be a whopping $62 per night, so I had a look around to see if I could do better at a public garage. Unfortunately, the ones we found near the hotel all closed overnight, so we had no choice but to valet park and pay the fee. I wasn’t about to pay that amenity fee, though, and planned to request its removal at checkout.
The Kimpton Alton is located in one of two buildings that formerly comprised the Holiday Inn near Fisherman’s Wharf on the corner of Beach Street and Jones Street. That hotel must have been just massive since this wing alone now has 248 rooms. The Kimpton Alton is, indeed, located just two blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf. But it’s also a quick ride to the Financial District and to Russian Hill, where we had dinner on our evening in town.
Given the touristy nature of the area, I imagine there’s a ton of both foot and car traffic normally. In fact, there’s an outpost of GoCar Tours right next door, so you might find traffic intermittently stopped to let out a swarm of bikes or a fleet of minicars. However, we were there the Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend, so it was relatively quiet, and Herschel enjoyed his walks around the neighbourhood.
One of the city’s cable car lines stops just across the street from the hotel, and there’s another line a few blocks away at the corner of Taylor and Bay, right next to the closest Starbucks. So if you don’t have a car, you should have plenty of public transit options.
We arrived at the hotel just before 6 p.m. and were greeted at the door by two valet attendants.
We declined their help with the bags, but handed over our keys and made our way into the small lobby.
Just ahead of the entrance was a closed-off atrium that will be used as an events space. To the right of the front doors was the reception desk with two agents at hand. The manager on duty was just about to put away that evening’s wine selections — a cabernet sauvignon from Argentina and a chardonnay from Napa — but poured us a glass of each and left them at reception for us to pick up when we’d gotten settled into the room.
The lobby was mainly taken up by a spacious living room with mismatched furniture, rugs, a smattering of framed prints and graphics on the walls, and coffee tables strewn with oversize art books.
There were also tea candles flickering, which, combined with the boho-chic décor, gave the space a hygge ambience — the kind of cosy you’d feel hanging out in your hip Danish friend’s ’70s-inspired rec room.
Just beyond the reception desk was a credenza with water dispensers and cups, as well as a couple of bikes you could borrow to explore the neighbourhood.
I had reserved a premium king room and was assigned one on the fourth floor overlooking the hotel’s rooftop garden and central court. The reception agent pointed out the elevators beyond where we had entered, and we headed up to our abode.
The hotel corridors are arranged around the central court with rooms facing inward, toward the city on one side or the bay on the other. We had an inward-facing room about halfway down one of the hallways.
The hallways themselves were brightly lit with semicircular fixtures that were painted half-black and half-white, while the floors were carpeted in a geometric pattern that resembled houndstooth.
The 310-square-foot room felt very spacious. The palette of white, pink and blue gave it a bright, warm tone, despite the fact that there was just a single window letting in natural light.
The king-size bed was dressed in white sheets but had a royal-blue velvet headboard and accent pillow, and a leather base — a soft surface to bump if you stubbed your toe or rammed your shin in the middle of the night.
It was flanked on each side by a wooden nightstand. Both had embedded USB and power outlets, while one had a clock and Bluetooth speaker. The reading lights were made of perforated metal sculpted into swirls.
Between the bed and window was a rounded armchair and ottoman upholstered in plush, pink velvet, with a triangular, marble-topped side table.
This was Herschel’s favourite perch in the room.
Just under the window was a large air conditioning unit, much like you’d find in … well, an old Holiday Inn. But the designers did something interesting and gave it a blond wooden frame and a brass cage, so it looked more stylish. Atop it sat the Victrola record player I’d read about in the amenity fee listings, though there were no albums we could borrow to play on it.
There was a small workspace with a floral-patterned chair, embedded plugs and a reading lamp. Next to that was a cupboard for the minifridge, though it was not stocked for us due to COVID-19 regulations.
Finally, on the wall across from the bed, a full-length mirror hung next to a chest of drawers made from blond-hued wood with bronze knobs, and an LCD television over which you could stream content from your personal devices.
While the size of the room was nice, it also meant there was vast wall real estate that went to waste since there were only a couple of framed pieces of art. I wouldn’t want the room to appear too busy, but a few more things to look at might have been nice.
Located near the front door, the closet was on the small side. It held a rack for hanging clothes, a signature Kimpton yoga mat, a large drawer for apparel and another holding the safe, as well as a surface for setting down a suitcase.
Next to the closet, the bathroom was also on the small side, but it was nicely laid out and featured eye-catching terrazzo floors in black and white marble. It contained a single, black-marble sink with shelves for towels and toiletries.
The toilet was right next to it.
Finally, the shower was lined with glazed, white subway tiles and had a single bronze showerhead. It was not completely sealed off from the room, but rather had a glass divider that went halfway along its length, with a bronze frame. I thought there might be puddling on the floor because of that, but it managed to contain any stray splashes.
As is standard at Kimptons, there were Atelier Bloem bath amenities including oolong tea shampoo and geranium conditioner. Interestingly enough, the ones in the shower were all full-size and refillable, so it looks like Kimpton is going back to an eco-friendlier, pre-pandemic policy of limiting single-use plastics.
All in all, the room was large, nicely arranged and looked very contemporary if not entirely remarkable. However, the colours, textures and furnishings – which were overseen by Kara Mann and Arcsine Architects – all felt fresh and upscale.
Unfortunately, there were not many amenities to speak of, due both to the hotel’s recent opening and COVID-19 restrictions at the time.
The bodega for which a $5 daily credit was included in the amenity fee was not yet open, nor were there albums to borrow for the in-room record player, board games on loan or a walking tour.
I did pop into the fitness centre, which was small but had an impressive collection of cardio equipment and weights, including some Peloton bikes. It was not yet available for guest use, though.
Kimpton usually offers complimentary coffee and tea service in the mornings. However, all that was available during our stay was a small Keurig that could brew a single small cup at a time. It was manned by one of the front desk agents, so it meant a bit of a wait if there was even just a single person in front of you. I can’t imagine how long it would have taken if the hotel had been busy.
As mentioned, at least there was evening wine hour, which is always a fun amenity to look forward to, and they let us take ours to go.
Finally, the Wi-Fi was really fast. The Kimpton Alton includes this as one of the services you get for its amenity fee, but this seems a bit ridiculous since IHG has offered free internet to its members during stays since 2014. No wonder people find these amenity, city and resort fees so outrageous.
Food and beverage
The Kimpton Alton will eventually be home to a Filipino-Californian restaurant by San Francisco-based chef Francis Ang (his other restaurant is called Pinoy Heritage) that is expected to open sometime this summer. Named Abacá, it will be just across from reception in a ground-floor atrium space with a huge skylight and overhanging plants. Based on what I saw, there will be some individual two-tops as well as communal tables and a long bar at the back.
The restaurant has its own website with a few details, including a menu. So when it does open, diners should find delicacies like longganisa sausage barbecue sticks with egg yolk, puffed rice and cane vinegar glaze; squid relleno with chorizo, pickled plums, celtuce and aioli; and other dishes that, quite frankly, sound phenomenal. If only my trip had been later!
Other than that, there wasn’t room service or a store to purchase snacks, so we resorted to Starbucks for coffee and breakfast on the go the following morning.
Our service interactions were limited to check-in and checkout, but everyone we dealt with was great. The valet attendants were quick to help us empty our trunk and happy to see Herschel when we arrived, and then pulled our car up immediately as we checked out.
The front desk agents were all very friendly and told us how happy they were to have us staying, including Herschel. Pre-pouring us some wine was a nice touch, and every time we passed by, they asked if we needed anything without being overly solicitous.
Upon checkout, I asked if they would consider waiving the amenity fee because … well, there were no actual amenities and it seemed ridiculous to pay $35 for nothing. After a tense moment, the woman helping me quietly said she would do that, and also took $10 off of my parking, so I only ended up paying $60 total.
That said, during normal times, and had I not asked, I would have been on the hook for over $100 extra per day on an award stay! The parking was over $70 with taxes and fees, and the amenity charge was $35. I think the hotel seriously needs to rethink its fee structure since it’s great to get a room for under $300 nightly in a busy part of San Francisco, but not if you get hit with $100 per day in fees when you check out.
The Kimpton Alton ended up being the perfect place for a one-night stay in San Francisco on a road trip up north. The pet-friendliness of the chain sets it apart from other midrange hotel brands. I was also pleased that I ended up spending a mere 30,000 IHG Rewards points (always re-check rates close in before your cancellation window!) rather than burning through a free night award from my IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card.
On the other hand, it was disappointing that none of the main amenities were available, including the restaurant, and that the hotel charges an expensive amenity fee that can add up to hundreds of dollars on a stay of several nights — even for services that should be included for IHG members, like free internet. Because of that and how much parking costs, I probably won’t book this hotel again. But it was nice to see it during its first weeks in operation. Now if I can just figure out a way to buy that chair Herschel loved so he can enjoy it at home.
Featured photo by Eric Rosen for The Points Guy.
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