The Fairmont San Francisco Hotel Review

By Jonathan Spira on 16 June 2011
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It’s worth the hike up Nob Hill (you can also go by cable car) just to marvel at the Fairmont Hotel’s lobby.  With its vaulted ceiling and oversized spiral staircase, one is instantly transported into a more opulent era, one reminiscent of the grand old hotels of yesteryear.

This is partially because the Fairmont was completed and almost ready for opening in 1906 when the great San Francisco earthquake struck. The interior was heavily damaged but it was still ready to open in 1907.

This Fairmont was the very first in what is now a chain of luxury hotels and it was built in honor of Senator James Graham Fair by his daughters.  In 1945, the United Nations Charter was drafted in the hotel’s Garden Room.  In the 1980s, the hotel’s exterior was used to represent the fictitious St. Gregory Hotel in the television series Hotel.

This was my third visit in the past six years to the property and I was very much looking forward to the visit.


My deluxe room was in the Tower, a newer building that was designed to provide guests with the stunning views of the city from atop Nob Hill.

The bed was quite comfortable, in part thanks to the wonderfully soft Frette linens the hotel uses.  The marble bathroom was generously sized and had a separate tub and shower.    All rooms have been completely renovated and updated with flat screen TVs and MP3 docking stations.


My room had a generously-sized writing desk with a very comfortable albeit period desk chair that provided excellent support for work.  Wi-Fi was available throughout the hotel and was fast enough to watch videos without difficulty.

Members of the Fairmont President’s Club get complimentary high-speed Internet and membership is free so sign up if you aren’t already a member.  Membership also includes complimentary local calls and fee-free long distance calls (useful if your mobile phone runs out of battery at an inopportune moment), a daily newspaper, and a few other features that benefit the busy road warrior including a separate check-in desk at registration, the Fairmont Fit program (complimentary access to Adidas shoes and apparel, a yoga mat, and stretch bands) and no-charge access to the BMW bike loan program at hotels and resorts where this is available.

Unique in the hotel world is Intersect, a media lounge/business center, developed in part by Bang and Olufsen.  Perfect for the überconnected business traveler, Intersect uses technology to support relaxation.  A Microsoft Surface table supports Web browsing and gaming, a B&O music system acts as a digital jukebox, a B&O large-screen TV is available for video, and there are various tables and corners where guests can chill or mingle depending on their interests.  There are several gaming stations with Xbox and Wii games, iMac computers for individual use, and a music download station where guests can transfer music to a personal MP3 player.  The room is also available for meetings and events.


In addition to the Laurel Court, which is an attraction in its own right (afternoon tea here is delightful), one should not pass up on an opportunity to go to the Tonga Room, a tiki bar that practically defines the word kitsch.  The restaurant’s centerpiece is the hotel’s original pool (in the basement) that has been transformed into a tropical rain forest where rain falls on demand while a band floats across the pool.  A dinner on my last visit here as well as a drink with a friend more recently were both very enjoyable.

The food at my breakfast meeting at the Laurel Court was superb.  The French toast was among the best I’ve ever had (perhaps worth the trip alone) and my breakfast companion’s omelet was reportedly excellent as well.  On a different morning, my room service breakfast arrived hot, was nicely presented, and was very tasty.


It’s rare that the accolades such as “historic” and “old world charm” align with words such as “friendly,” “modern,” and “high tech” but such is the case at the Fairmont San Francisco.  Having said that, I hope I find myself in the Bay Area more frequently so I can visit again.






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