- Best Service: The Ritz-Carlton is the sine qua non of luxury hotels, offering near-perfect service and every possible amenity.
- Best Beat Generation Hotel: The Hotel Bohème is the perfect mixture of art, funky style, and location—just steps from the sidewalk cafes and shops of North Beach. If Jack Kerouac were alive today, this is where he’d stay—an easy stagger home from his favorite bar and bookstore.
- Best Old Luxury: Hands down, the Palace Hotel. Built in 1875, and quickly rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, the regal lobby and stunning Garden Court atrium—complete with Italian marble columns, and elegant chandeliers—will take you back 100 years to far more simple times.
- Best Hotel in the Woods: Surrounded by trees in a national park just south of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Inn at the Presidio is the perfect place for nature lovers. With a golf course close by, hiking trails out the back door, and a fire pit on the back patio, you may never make it to Fisherman’s Wharf.
- Best for Families: The Argonaut Hotel is set in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf, with sea lions, ice cream sundaes at Ghirardelli’s, the beach at Aquatic Park, and the Musee Mechanique, all only a few minutes away. With its cool nautical theme throughout, and a toy-filled treasure box in the lobby that kids can dig into, your tykes may never want to leave.
- Coolest Doormen: Nothing can possibly compete with the Sir Frances Drake Hotel in this category. The jovial doormen greet guests wearing their signature red Beefeater costumes—complete with frilly white collar, top hat, and tights. The most famous doorman in the city, Tom Sweeney, has been blowing his whistle and handling bags at the Sir Francis Drake for 40 years. Heavy bags are nothing for him; he used to play football with Joe Montana and Dwight Clark.
- Best Newcomer: Nothing better points to today’s San Francisco than the Proper Hotel. Located in an historic flatiron building, its vibrant design, posh posturing, and rooftop bar bring a little New York attitude to the up-and-coming, tech-company-heavy mid-Market Street area.
- Best Opportunity to Pretend You’re a Rich San Franciscan: Tucked away in the uberwealthy Pacific Heights neighborhood, Hotel Drisco’s luxury-home-like accommodations—with all the fixin’s—will make you feel part of the multimillionaire set whose mansions crown this exclusive, scenic part of San Francisco.
The Historic Hotels of Nob Hill
When writer and poet Robert Louis Stevenson visited the city in 1879, he dubbed San Francisco’s Nob Hill “the Hill of Palaces,” and that has remained an apt description to this day. The grand hotels that sit atop Nob Hill today were born of the fierce competition between millionaire businessmen (see “The Big Four and the Bonanza Kings”) to see who could build the largest, most lavish mansion—all of which burned to the ground after the 1906 fire and earthquake. Their names live on, however, in these luxury lodgings.
On the site where railroad president Leland Stanford erected his mansion, you’ll find the Stanford Court Hotel (905 California St. at Powell St.; stanfordcourt.com; tel. 415/989-3500; 393 units; $204–$556.) Compared to its luxury-minded Nob Hill neighbors below, the Stanford Court describes itself as a hotel where “high-tech meets high style,” appealing to business travelers with a newly renovated business center in 2017. There is also complimentary Wi-Fi and a 24-hour fitness center. There is no room service, but this hotel is a comfortable option in a great location.
Stanford’s wheeler-dealer partner Colis P. Huntington had his home where Huntington Park now stands, at California and Taylor streets, but he also has a Nob Hill hotel named in his honor: the Scarlet Huntington Hotel (1075 California St. btw. Mason and Taylor sts.; huntingtonhotel.com; tel. 415/474-5400; 134 units; $329–$629), which added “Scarlet” to its name after a $15-million renovation in 2014. The makeover lent a much-needed modernization to the guest rooms, complete with new bathrooms adorned with hand-carved vanities and marble showers, and made improvements to the public spaces with Asian-inspired touches and a new color scheme featuring rich jewel tones accented with gold. Rooms are large and tastefully decorated; the lobby is small and elegant. The hotel restaurant, suitably named The Big Four (big4restaurant.com; tel. 415/474-5400), is a veritable museum commemorating the railroad barons who so grandly settled Nob Hill; its upscale chicken pot pie seems designed to please any ravenous railroad barons who decide to drop in for a bite.
At the former address of railroad’s treasurer Mark Hopkins, you can sleep at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins (1 Nob Hill at California and Mason sts.; intercontinentalmarkhopkins.com; tel. 415/392-3434; $199–$500; pets up to 25 lb. welcome for $50). The lobby is part French chateau, part Italian Renaissance, with high ceilings, light-drenched sitting areas, and ornate chandeliers. The rooms and suites, all with city views, feature rich woods and fine fabrics, though they are on the smaller side thanks to the Victorian architecture style. While steeped in history, the hotel has added modern touches to its farm-to-table restaurant and lounge, Nob Hill Club, which offers a self-serve espresso bar that uses touch screens to deliver the goods. Enjoy grab-and-go pastries from the bakery or sit down to a daily breakfast buffet amid the aubergine-colored walls, high-backed chairs, and gold details. The hotel’s real jewel, however, is the famous Top of the Mark restaurant on the 19th floor, where locals and visitors alike go to soak in the 360-degree views. Tip: Go for the champagne brunch on Sundays, when the food (and service) tends to be a bit more on point.
Last but not least is the Fairmont San Francisco (950 Mason St. at California St.; fairmont.com/sanfrancisco; tel. 415/772-5000; 606 units; $399–$899). Originally built to honor mining magnate James Fair, it was extensively rebuilt after the quake. Perched atop Nob Hill a steep but quick jaunt from Union Square and Chinatown, the majestic Fairmont is the hotel of choice if you’re looking for classic San Francisco elegance and flavor. After a $21-million refreshment of its rooms in 2014, the decor is contemporary and fresh with custom furnishings and hand-blown glass lamps (the large marble bathrooms are still intact). But it's the common areas that make this hotel extra special. The lobby, with its vaulted ceilings and gold-trimmed Corinthian columns, begs to be your selfie background, especially during the winter holidays when it adds a neck-craning Christmas tree, kid-friendly tea service, and walk-thru gingerbread house. Downstairs, no one (including us) can get enough of the hotel's kitschy-fabulous Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, where Asian fusion food, umbrella drinks, tiki huts, and the occasional "thunderstorm" surround a centerpiece pool with a live band playing on a little pontoon boat floating in its middle.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.