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The Best Historic Hotels in San Francisco

The Best Historic Hotels in San Francisco

Full of history, San Francisco hotels offer the best sites to immerse yourself in the city's culture and see where renowned people stay. Team


6 min read

June 06, 2023

Whether you have always wanted to see the gleaming red beams of the Golden Gate Bridge or came to spend a historical day at Alcatraz, San Francisco is bursting with activities you will want to attend. Known for its rich history, neighborhoods, and diverse culture, San Francisco offers something for everyone. Each community presents sights to see, from lavish homes to locations of movie sets. If you are a Full House fan, "Everywhere You Look" is bound to get stuck in your head as you find where Uncle Jessie and Joey lived. Getting lost in planning activities to fill your itinerary can be easy here, but outings are only one of many ways to enjoy San Francisco's history.

Brimming with tales, historic hotels in San Francisco are beckoning you to hear their unique part of California history. Stories of war, love, chivalry, devastation, and perseverance flood these famous old hotels in San Francisco. Redone for your comfort, each hotel offers relaxation, impressive architecture, and an abundance of stories.

The Fairmont Hotel

Location: 950 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94108

The Fairmont Hotel is a grand story of perseverance and the first on the list of historic hotels in San Francisco. In 1903 the Fairmont Hotel sprung from the minds of Theresa Fair Oelrichs and Virginia Fair Vanderbilt, two sisters who made their idea come to fruition in 1903. Built to honor their father, they put their heart and soul into the hotel but devastatingly, not but two weeks after being built, the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 hit. Insistent on their concept, the sisters hired who would later become the nation’s preeminent female architect to rebuild the hotel where it flourished.

That is only one hardship the Fairmont Hotel has overcome. When the Great Depression hit, the Fairmont Hotel suffered. That was until Benjamin Swig, a saving grace for the hotel, purchased it. Swig took inspiration from a Venetian Palace and completely redid the interior. The hotel gained momentum and became a hot spot for celebrities, athletes, and U.S. presidents.

The Fairmont Hotel is famous for multiple reasons, one being the spot where Tony Bennett first belted the words to “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in 1961. It is also home to the Cirque Room, the first bar to open after prohibition in San Francisco. It has provided a place to sleep for renowned figures such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, James Brown, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and many more.

The Palace Hotel was the first luxury hotel in San Francisco and guaranteed to still wow guests today with its stunning decor.

Palace Hotel

Location: 2 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94105

Twinkling chandeliers, ornate gold details, large, oval archways, and stunning glass ceilings don’t even begin to describe the Palace Hotel. Known for being the first luxury hotel in San Francisco and the largest in the world, the Palace Hotel lives up to the name. In 1875 it was initially built but was destroyed and rebuilt after the earthquake and fire of 1906. Being the oldest hotel in San Francisco, the Palace has endless stories to tell. The dining area provides a breathtaking venue with a Tiffany-glass domed garden court and marble-wrapped columns. It is rumored to be haunted by multiple ghosts and is a hot spot for ghost tours.

Known for its unique features, such as silver coin cleaning, The Westin St. Francis is a must-see stop in San Francisco.

The Westin St. Francis

Location: 335 Powell St, San Francisco, CA 94102

Designed to be "The Paris of the West," the Westin St. Francis takes the very best aspects from multiple grand European hotels. Famous for its Great Magneta clock in the lobby, it marked the first master clock introduced in the West. The Great Magneta clock became a meeting place for lovers, travelers, and socialites. It has seen many tears as it became the farewell point between WWII soldiers and their girlfriends.

The clock isn't the sole drawing feature of the Westin St. Francis. For more than 70 years, it was the only place in the world to offer silver coin cleaning as an amenity to guests. It started with the hotel's general manager insisting that the coins be clean so that the ladies' white gloves didn't get dirty. It has become a charming tradition since. Visitors to the Westin St. Francis have included Charlie Chaplin, Salvador Dali, Queen Elizabeth II, and Woodrow Wilson. Whether you stay there or not, it is a must-see of the famous historic hotels in San Francisco.

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Smell the sweet scent of rich chocolate as you stay in Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli’s old chocolate factory.

The Fairmont Heritage Place at Ghirardelli Square

Location: 900 North Point St #D100, San Francisco, CA 94109

Ghirardelli Square is only one of the many reasons that San Francisco will steal your heart. Famous for the location of the decadent chocolate, this hotel is guaranteed to get your mouth watering. It all started when Domingo Ghirardelli came from Italy during the California Gold Rush and opened a confectionary shop. It eventually became the renowned Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. You can still see the preserved Ghirardelli sign lighting up the San Francisco shoreline. Today, Fairmont Heritage Place stands where the factory once did. It maintains many original brick and wood features from the chocolate factory and remains reminiscent of its historical setting.

Phoenix Hotel

Location: 601 Eddy St, San Francisco, CA 94109

The Phoenix Hotel is the rock and roll destination of San Francisco. It is one of the most distinctive historic hotels in San Francisco. Formerly known as the Caravan Lodge, the Phoenix Hotel has built an attractive roster of musicians from all eras. Visitors have included David Bowie, Neil Young, Kurt Cobain, Joan Jett, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, The Shins, and Johnny Depp. A hot spot for band parties, the Phoenix has kept its fair share of party stories and secrets. It is now an eclectic boutique hotel jampacked with funky furniture, bright colors, and unique events. Between checking out the pool and taking in the legendary history, stop by the Chambers. This onsite restaurant houses one of the largest record collections in the nation and is another unusual stop to add.

The Lodge at Presidio has been offering a luxurious stay ever since its opening as barracks for U.S. soldiers.

The Lodge at Presidio

Location: ​​105 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94129

Before establishing itself as a hotel, The Lodge at Presidio was one of the most critical U.S. Army bases in the western United States. The building served as barracks intended to operate as first-class hotels and provide modern health and comfort services that the soldiers had yet to receive. They excelled at this goal and provided the soldiers with reading rooms, barbers, a tailor, and other luxurious amenities.

The Lodge at Presidio's history and surrounding areas contain almost 400 years of notable chronicles. It has even proudly preserved so much of its history that it is named one of the most historically authentic structures left in the United States. Today it is a popular holiday destination for vacationers with a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It offers an excellent place to stroll with its close proximity to one of the nicest neighborhoods in California, Presidio Heights.

Hotel Majestic was one of the only survivors of the 1906 earthquake, making it the longest-operating hotel in San Francisco.

Hotel Majestic

Location: 1500 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Experience the utmost history at Hotel Majestic. Constructed in 1902, Hotel Majestic is another of the outstanding old hotels in downtown San Francisco. It is even the longest-operating. Although renovated to provide guests comfort today, you can still see architecture from the early 20th century in the hotel. It is among one of the Victorian hotels San Francisco offers. It originally started as a private residence where movie stars Joan Fontaine, and Olivia de Havilland lived. Contrary to other hotels at the time, Hotel Majestic withstood the earthquakes and remained standing. Rumored to be haunted by a playful and friendly ghost, if you want some added fun, book a visit in room 407.

Hotel Whitcomb

Location: 1231 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Closed until further notice

Formerly city hall, Hotel Whitcomb has been an essential building to San Francisco for decades. Hotel Whitcomb, San Francisco, served as a city hall until 1916. Vital Supreme Court judges worked hard upstairs as the basement served as a jail. Since becoming a hotel in 1917, it has been the host of many war-related decisions. In 1942 it served as Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) headquarters. Later, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) too. In recent years it joined the Shelter-In-Place (SIP) program, a San Francisco effort to get roofs over people’s heads during the pandemic. This renowned hotel is closed until further notice, but check the website for the latest details.

Disclaimer: does not receive any kind of compensation for reviewing any of the products or services mentioned in this article.

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