The Fairmont San Francisco is quite possibly the most famous and historic hotel in the entire city. From its perch atop Nob Hill, the Beaux-Arts masterpiece has had a front row seat to the (literal) ups and downs of the city since 1907, and a recent overnight at the hotel demonstrated that this grand dame is still one of the finest hotels you’ll ever encounter.
Upon entering the flagship hotel of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, guests enter into an enormous lobby that’s nearly overwhelming in its scope. Dark woods, gold fixtures, tons of marble, Corinthian columns, plush seating, antique mirrors, a grand staircase and huge potted plants greet visitors, who generally need to give their eyes a minute or two to adjust to their surroundings before seeking out the check-in desk. Check-in was quick and friendly, and the walk to our room in the 23-story Fairmont Tower, an adjacent structure that opened in 1961, afforded us a nice tour of the hotel. There’s a lot to take in, though, so make sure you give yourself some time to go exploring during your stay. An $85 million restoration that commenced in 1999 restored the hotel to its original grandeur, and it’s literally awe-inspiring.
Our room, which was part of a $21 million renovation in 2014, was simply decorated in subdued shades of platinum and pewter and classically appointed with a large desk and sitting area, incredibly comfortable pillow-top king bed with built-in reading lights, a framed photo of a foggy Golden Gate Bridge, and a huge picture window looking out past Coit Tower to the bay beyond. The marble bathroom was huge and luxurious, with a massive shower. Needless to say, I slept like a rock.
For dinner or cocktails, a must-visit inside the Fairmont is the Tonga Room, located on the lower level in the room that used to house the swimming pool. That pool is now a lagoon that’s home to a floating barge with live music and the occasional thunderstorm as the centerpiece of one of the country’s most legendary tiki bars, which opened in 1945 and received its most recent renovation in 1967 and a slight update in 2009. Slightly anomalous with the posh surroundings, the vintage restaurant, with its thatched roofs, lava rock, and plenty of bamboo, harkens back to an era when tiki was the height of glamor, and knocking back a Mai Tai or Painkiller while watching the rain fall from the ceiling is an experience that every San Francisco visitor should have; it’s really a kick.
For breakfast or afternoon tea, make sure you visit the famed Laurel Court, which, like the adjacent lobby, is richly furnished with lots of marble and gold-topped Corinthian columns; it also has three vaulted domes in the ceiling, a grand piano at the center, and a stylish bar along the back wall, making it one of the classiest dining rooms in the city. It also offers a full seasonal dinner menu. Caffe Cento, also located inside the hotel, is a modern and stylish Italian-style coffee bars, serving coffee, tea, pastries, breakfast and lunch items, and beer and wine.
There’s also a full 55,000 square feet of function space for meetings, conventions, private events, and weddings, which happen to include some of the most legendary rooms in the city: The Cirque Room, which was the first bar to open in the city after Prohibition ended and still features its original circus-themed murals; The Venetian Room, where Tony Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in 1961; and the penthouse-level Crown Room, which showcases some of the best views the city has to offer.
Even if you’re not staying at the Fairmont, it’s well-worth a visit just to briefly surround yourself with its grandeur. And if you are staying there, make sure you visit more than just the check-in desk and your room. Relax in the lobby, have a drink at the Tonga Room and tea at the Laurel Court, check out the spa on the terrace level, go exploring. By the time you check out, you’ll agree that there’s really no other hotel like it.