Arguably, The Fairmont San Francisco is one of the world’s most famous hotels. It’s been sitting atop Nob Hill for over a hundred years and was made famous by the hit 80s TV series Hotel. Thanks to the Canadian Media Marketplace (an industry conference) I recently got to experience one of their 591 guest rooms and suites firsthand. From the moment I walked into the lobby, I knew this luxurious historic hotel was special, and so to share my excitement and experiences, I’ve put together 9 reasons to stay at The Fairmont San Francisco.
It’s centrally located. It’s a short walk down to Chinatown, the Financial District and Union Square, but with the city’s steep hills you’ll probably want to take a cable car ($6) back up the hill. What’s really nice is that The Fairmont San Francisco hotel is the only spot in San Francisco where each of the City’s cable car lines meet.
FYI: It’s about a 30-minute drive (without traffic) to SFO and a taxi costs around $50. I took uberX and it was $34. But you can also take BART, get off at Powell and walk UP the hill for under $10.
2. Panoramic views
The conference’s Welcome Reception took place in the hotel’s Crown Room, which is on the Penthouse floor and has panoramic views of the city and San Francisco Bay. The views are so unbelievable that every time I looked up I saw someone taking a photo—including one of the chefs! I don’t know about you but I think on a clear day, San Francisco is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and the views from some of the rooms at The Fairmont will sway you.
The Fairmont San Francisco opened in 1907 and was named after U.S. Senator James Graham Fair (1831-1894). Since then it has hosted pretty much every single politician to visit the city—including all the presidents and foreign dignitaries. In 1945, delegates from 40 countries around the world met in the hotel’s historic Garden Room to draft the charter for the United Nations. Good to know: The hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in April 2002 and is a member of Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
4. Tony Bennet
Speaking of history, Tony Bennett first sang, ‘I Left my Heart in San Francisco‘ in the hotel’s Venetian Room in 1961.
Good to know:
- There’s 55,000 square feet of function space so it’s a popular place for meetings, conventions and weddings
- The elevators are slow when there’s a meeting going on
- The windows are thin so you can hear outside noise
- Valet parking cost $65 (includes tax) per night
As I mentioned in my intro, The Fairmont San Francisco was made famous by the hit 80s TV series Hotel (exterior and interior shots were used as stand-ins for the fictional St. Gregory Hotel). But it’s also been featured in many films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and Michael Bay’s The Rock (1996). Other movies filmed here include: Jade (1995), Junior (1994), Hard to Hold (1984), Sudden Impact (1983), Shoot the Moon (1982), Chu Chu and The Philly Flash (1981), A Night Full of Rain (1978), Towering Inferno (1974), Petulia (1968) and Midnight Lace (1960). In 2010 TripAdvisor named The Fairmont San Francisco as the number one on its top-10 list of famous movies hotels.
6. Gardens, bees & honey
If you walk around the hotel’s property you’ll discover some beautiful and peaceful gardens. If you look really closely you’ll find the 1,000-square foot culinary garden where they grow rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, chives, cilantro and lavender. But that’s not the only thing brewing out there. In June 2010, The Fairmont San Francisco partnered with Marshall’s Farm to install honey bee hives in the hotel’s culinary garden. They did this in order to help support the bee population, which has decreased in number by 90 percent since the 1980s. They currently have four nascent beehives, each containing approximately 20,000 bees. In 2011 alone, the beehives produced approximately 800 pounds of honey, which is served to hotel guests in soups, salad dressings and pastries and as an accompaniment to the hotel’s time-honored afternoon tea service. It’s also used in The Fairmont San Francisco’s own Honey Saison Beer, which is offered on draft in Laurel Court Restaurant & Bar. This is all part of The Fairmont’s commitment to offering local, organic, sustainable cuisine.
Honey bee hives can also be found at: The Fairmont Dallas; The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa; The Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown; The Fairmont Royal York, Toronto; The Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, Vancouver; Fairmont Yangcheng Lake (Kunshan, China); and Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club. More info here.
Anytime a hotel has the country’s first concierge they need to be credited. Tom Wolfe first arrived at The Fairmont in 1973, when the concierge did not yet exist yet in the United States. Tom trained as a concierge in Europe and worked with legendary concierges in London and Paris. He left and took this revered European tradition and implemented the concept at The Fairmont San Francisco. Then in 1978, Tom founded the US chapter of the international organization of hotel lobby concierges—Les Clefs d’Or (the Golden Keys Society)—which at the time was recognized as the 19th member section of this international guild of professionals. Tom still works as a concierge today at the hotel and more info on him can be found here.
The hotel’s guestrooms are spacious and have been recently updated with flat-screen TVs, pillow-top beds, Frette linen sheets and mp3-docking stations. The bed was comfortable and so was the working desk. The only thing I didn’t like was that they charge for internet: $13.95 for basic and $23.95 for the fast stuff.
9. Tonga Room
My biggest surprise at the hotel came when I walked into their Tonga Room. I was not expecting a tropical and festive atmosphere with live entertainment and a rain storm every 15 minutes in the hotel—let alone anywhere in San Francisco. The Tonga Room serves Pacific Rim Asian cuisine and it was so much fun. As Anthony Bourdain once said, “This is like, the greatest place in the history of the world” during his show The Layover. I love everything about it—décor, atmosphere, service, fresh fruit drinks (mine came in a whole pineapple), food (okay, my soup was a little bland) and the live music. It’s open five days a week and closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve dreamt of staying at The Fairmont San Francisco and when I finally got the opportunity, it didn’t disappoint. I can’t wait to go back with my wife to show it off to her.
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