Fairmont San Francisco
A San Francisco landmark, this historic hotel occupies a coveted spot atop well-heeled Nob Hill, commanding impressive views of both city and bay. Comfort and service are what you’d expect of a Fairmont; the sunny rooftop garden and enjoyably tacky tiki bar are added perks.
- Laura Chubb, Travel writer
Right at the top of swanky Nob Hill, this hotel is a bona fide landmark. Having opened in 1907, just after the ‘great’ 1906 earthquake, it came to symbolise the city’s rebirth. Several meeting and event rooms have claims to fame: Tony Bennett first sang ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco’ on stage in the Venetian Room; the Garden Room is where the UN Charter was drafted.
And, if the hotel is all pomp, Nob Hill provides the circumstances: views here sweep over the bay and Alcatraz Island to the Marin Headlands, while cable cars rumble directly outside. Chinatown and tourist hub Union Square are within strolling distance; the Cable Car Museum, from which the network is operated, is two blocks’ walk.
Style & character
The hotel was designed by Julia Morgan, the trailblazing architect behind Hearst Castle (the opulent central Californian mansion built for the publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst. The original building’s exterior resembles a Beaux-Arts palace, with iron lace balconies; the tower building, added in 1962, is more functional. The lobby is what you’d expect of a grande dame: imposing pillars, ornate ceilings, and large, potted palms. Interiors are recognisably Fairmont — comfortable and classic — aside from the kitschy-tiki Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar.
Service & facilities
A gym and spa operated by local brand LiveFit welcomes hotel guests (fitness classes and spa treatments incur extra fees). Much of the hotel is dedicated to private events space, but the rooftop garden is a welcome exception: a little oasis with lawns, palm trees, a central fountain and lounge seating.
Service is on-brand: professional and well-informed.
- Room service
- Fitness centre
The 606 rooms range from Standard Queens to San Francisco’s most extravagant Penthouse suite. Nearly all have a view — Queens are worst-off, facing the hotel’s interior courtyard, while Signature Rooms offer an especially dramatic prospect (stretching from the Golden Gate Bridge to Coit Tower, with Alcatraz Island, the bay and green hills in between). Balcony suites sport spacious balconies, overlooking the rooftop garden.
Décor is traditional (greys, creams, plush carpet). Guests can order in-room dining from a bedside tablet, or via phone if they prefer. Fully-stocked minibars include local beers, bottled cocktails, and a Keurig coffee-maker with complimentary coffee and tea. Rooms in the original building benefit from huge walk-in wardrobes, but bathrooms are slightly dated (all with a combined shower/tub). In contrast, Tower Room bathrooms have a small, separate tub and walk-in shower.
Food & drink
Lobby-level Laurel Court is an upmarket version of a quick, casual bite. Yes, there are grand columns, rotundas, and frescoes depicting Italian countryside — but there’s also sports playing on televisions mounted over the bar, and my three-course meal finished within an hour. Bucatini carbonara with sous vide egg and pork belly is satisfying, if not outstanding, and the signature G&T is excellent — delicately balanced and super-refreshing. Breakfast is also served here, where an extensive buffet includes atypical treats like pecan sticky buns, and à la carte offers regional options such as a ‘Marin omelette’ (generously stuffed with sweet Dungeness crab meat and topped with a sliver of local Mount Tam brie).
Dating to 1945, the Tonga Room seems an anomaly in these stately surrounds, though tiki is tied to Bay Area history (it’s said the Mai Tai was invented in Oakland, just across the water). Ship’s mast nets, thatched cabanas and totems set the mood; food is standard Pan-Asian, while tropical cocktails are expertly mixed (and lethally strong).
Value for money
Rooms from $279 (£215) in low season, and from $299 (£230) in high, including all fees, and Wi-Fi. Full breakfast buffet is $35 (£27); à la carte from $6 (£5).
Access for guests with disabilities?
There are 31 accessible rooms, available across all categories.
There are 122 connecting rooms; rollaway beds cost $50 (£38) per night. Children’s amenities include baby shampoos and colouring books.