SAN FRANCISCO: The Westin St. Francis

The Westin St. Francis is considered one of the grande dames of San Francisco hotels. My wife and I spent two nights at this venerable old hotel during our current and ongoing road trip.

The St. Francis has hosted kings and presidents, presidential hopefuls, movie stars and other celebrities, and countless others. Its service is as efficient and gracious as you would expect from a hotel of its reputation.

While the hotel is well over 100 years old, the rooms are clearly contemporary in size and amenities. They feature the Westin Heavenly Bed and Heavenly Bath, sitting area, flat-screen TVs, writing desk, Internet access, and a minibar. Many -- if not most -- offer views of the city.

The history of the St. Francis is quite fascinating and makes for an even more interesting visit, especially for history buffs. The hotel was built by the guardians of the Charles Crocker family, whose collective vision was to make San Francisco the "Paris of the West." The hotel, which cost $2.5 million dollars and took two years to build, was completed in 1904 -- just two years before the historic 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Fire destroyed the interior of the hotel's original 250 rooms following the earthquake, but a temporary hotel of 110 rooms was erected in Union Square within 40 days of the quake to house the building's residents, earning Union Square the nickname "Little St. Francis." Thus, the St. Francis continued as a focal point of the city.

The hotel refurbished its interior and re-opened late in 1907, with 450 guest rooms.

Today, in addition to the guest rooms, there's a health club and retail shops on premises. Coffee and bar service available in the lobby, the Clock Bar and restaurant Michael Mina off the lobby.

Because it's located in the heart of San Francisco, the St. Francis cannot be described as inexpensive. Our two weekday room nights were a birthday gift from my sister and brother-in-law so I can't state definitively what the rates would have been but, at this writing, offers rates of about $250 per night for a room with a "city and bay view", which is well in line for a hotel of this caliber in a city like San Francisco. During the week, the rate is closer to $300 per night. Due to its location, valet parking is the only parking option available - at $50 a night PLUS $7 tax. Hospitality taxes in the City by the Bay are currently 15.5%, which is anything but hospitable.

In addition to elegant surroundings and impeccable service, there are many things to recommend about the St. Francis including its proximity to a number of fine restaurants, ease of hopping on to the famous cable cars, etc. Just be prepared to pay the freight.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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