Hotel Zetta, San Francisco, review: Where the cool kids come to play

Our rating

4.5 out of 5


Straddling SoMa and the Financial District, history and disruption is all around in this ideal spot for the out-of-towner. Through the hotel's large arched windows there's the Old United States Mint and over the way there's the San Francisco Chronicle. Within striking distance are the headquarters of ahem, Airbnb, as well as Pinterest and Dropbox. One local articulates the mixed feelings about the changing face of this vibrant city well-known for its creativity, counterculture and activism. "This was the place for gay rights, where Burning Man started and now artists are being kicked out of warehouses because of escalating rents," he says. "Some of these tech millionaires are just bros who don't even know how to do their own laundry."


Once the Hotel Milano, the century-old building built in a neo-classical style was reopened after a $12 million overhaul in 2013 as Zetta with an art, technology and sustainability bent and a view to capturing a predominantly millennial crowd who come to stay or work and play in the public areas. A light-filled lobby and steel dog, the life-sized great dane made from old forks, tools and bolts, greets guests. Most eye-catching, however, is the extraordinary chandelier made of 600 pairs of recycled glasses in the bar area S&R (Salvage & Rescue). Behind the bar light bounces around a two-storey glass sculpture of old wine bottles and iron and underfoot patchwork rugs of recycled hand-knotted rugs from Pakistan, Turkey and India, all joined, soften the space. Over the 12-seater leather lounge hangs the Alcatraz wall, a collage lightbox of mugshots of hundreds of prisoners who were on the notorious island in the bay. Zetta as a "tech-sexy" hotel is not just hype. Tonight the upstairs Playroom of pool table, shuffle board and video consoles is closed for a private Google function.


There's 116 guestrooms in the eight-storey building that are simple, clean and relatively spacious with leather bed head, cool pendant lighting and hardwood floors that feel more home than hotel. The bathroom with toilet has a mosaic tiled shower with quality Neil George bath products (that's LA celebrity hair stylists Neil Weisberg and Amanda George). There's a hole in the shower screen to adjust the water temperature before jumping in. You can read while on the toilet – a bookshelf image at least. From the Zombie Survival Guide to the Steve Jobs biography it's a snapshot of this city's colourful story. Above the desk and the coffee machine hangs a Nick Gentry depiction of a woman made with floppy disks. Jet lag has hit me hard and on the concierge's advice I head to California caffeine juggernaut Blue Bottle on Mint Plaza where queuing for 20 minutes gives me time to eavesdrop on millennial tech chat.


The hotel is connected to British inspired brasserie Cavalier a cosy space with olive green leather banquette seating, wall-mounted deer heads and staff with a collective spring in their steps. Generous breakfasts of buttermilk pancakes with amaretto and brown butter golden syrup and housemade granola and seasonal berries are on the menu. In the evening there's pub classics such as fish and chips or shepherd's or seafood pie.


It's a short walk to the Powell Street cable car turnaround and iconic stores such as Macy's, Gap and Saks Fifth Avenue. Nordstrom Rack on Market Road is the best place to try to bag a bargain with the Australian dollar as it is against the greenback. Street cars travel the length of Market Street; stop en route at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Third Street reopened in May 2016 with double the gallery space. At the end of Market Street on the edge of San Francisco bay join the locals inside the historic Ferry Building Marketplace shopping for largely regional produce. One of the busiest is the Humphry Slocombe ice creamery named after the characters from the 1970s British sitcom Are You Being Served? Popular flavours have included Here's Your Damn Strawberry and Elvis (the Fat Years). A 15-minute walk to Pier 15 takes you to the outstanding Exploratorium. The interactive museum of science, art and human perception founded by physicist Frank Oppenheimer in 1969 will delight adults and children.


A buzzing hotel welcoming guests (and small dogs) of any age and stage, as one staff member reassures me and my non-millennial cred. "Who said anything about being young to be hip?"


55 5th Street, San Francisco, California. Rooms from $US239 ($322) a night.



Super friendly staff who are happy to accommodate an early check-in when available.


A godsend after an overnight flight from Australia.


Occasional traffic noise which is to be expected in a city. Pack your earplugs.

Jane Reddy stayed courtesy of Mr & Mrs Smith and San Francisco Travel