What are the best historic hotels in San Francisco?

Answers from Our Experts (2)

Katie Sweeney

When it comes to historic San Francisco hotels, there are three that instantly come to mind: The Fairmont Hotel, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, and the Palace Hotel.

The Fairmont Hotel sits on top of San Francisco's Nob Hill. It has 591 guest rooms and the famed Tonga Room tiki bar. The hotel was named after a mining magnate and U.S. Senator, James Graham Fair. The Fairmont was almost done being built when the 1906 earthquake shook the city. While the exterior shell remained, its interior had to be remodeled by beloved local architect Julia Morgan. Thus, its doors first opened in 1907.

The Sir Francis Drake Hotel, on the Powell and Post corner of Union Square, opened in 1928 as a sleek, modern, and dynamic new style of hotel. Rooms had icy cold water on tap, radios, and special glass panes that allowed guests to suntan indoors. Similar to it's present day counterpart, the Starlight Room, the rooftop bar was an instant sensation that both locals and tourists enjoyed.

The Palace Hotel was built in 1875 and at the time, was one of the largest most costly hotels in the world. Today's Garden Court was originally the hotel's carriage entrance. The hotel withstood the 1906 earthquake, but was devasted by the resulting fire and it was closed for three years for renovations. Known as the Grand Dame of San Francisco's hotels, the Palace offers many treasures from the famed Pied Piper of Hamelin mural to the original recipe for green goddess dressing.

Maria Hunt

There are plenty of San Francisco hotels with a sense of history, but when it comes to historic hotels, there are two places that come to mind first: Palace Hotel, San Francisco and The Fairmont San Francisco.

The Palace Hotel near Union Square is the grand dame of San Francisco hotels, dating back to 1875. The original building was destroyed by an earthquake (what else?) and then reopened in 1909 accompanied by much fanfare. The Beaux-Arts hotel that has hosted celebrities from Oscar Wilde to Teddy Roosevelt now boasts spacious guest rooms done in a traditional and opulent style. The most stunning features are the luminous Pied Piper mural by Maxfield Parrish in the bar of the same name and the glorious Garden Court with its glass-domed roof, glittering chandeliers and marble columns.

San Francisco’s other hotel steeped in history is the Fairmont Hotel up on Nob Hill. Since 1907, the Fairmont  has been the scene of glittering galas, hosting both presidents and captains of industry. Representatives of 50 nations signed the original charter creating the United Nations here in 1945. In the 1980s, the building had a star turn in the television series Hotel. Rooms offer traditional styling and amenities like Frette linens, MP3 docking stations and marble baths.

And just to show that there’s nothing stuffy about the Fairmont, head to the ground level and step back in time at the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, a quintessential tiki bar. Why not order a Mai Tai — a tiki drink first created over in Oakland — and enjoy the band performing on barge on a lagoon and faux thunderstorms throughout the evening.

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