If there’s a city on every traveler’s bucket list, San Francisco is it. Ever since the Gold Rush put it on the map, the City by the Bay has been a happening place.
And where do the politicians, princes, poets and performers stay and play when they’re in San Francisco? For decades, discerning travelers from every background have flocked to Fairmont San Francisco.
It’s where Tony Bennett first sang I Left My Heart in San Francisco. It’s where the first concierge in the United States helped create an ideal journey. It’s where the United Nations was founded, and Apple Computer launched game-changing technology in the 1980s. And this landmark hotel has had cameos in movies ranging from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo to The Rock to The Intern.
Sisters Tessie and Virginia Fair, who imagined the majestic hotel as a tribute to their late father, would be pleased with their legacy. Staying in the exclusive Nob Hill neighborhood feels like being on top of the world, and it is the ideal base for a perfect 48 hours in San Francisco.
For a girlfriends’ getaway, book a suite with an ornate iron balcony in the main building. Or a Golden Gate suite in the Tower with wraparound views and a plush king bed and enjoy close-up views of Coit Tower, the Transamerica Pyramid and the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge thanks to the in-room telescope.
Even a 48-hour visit to San Francisco should include our absolute musts: music and museums, seafood and shopping, and of course, a great meal or two.
10 am: Savor a leisurely breakfast at Laurel Court Restaurant, a grand circular room ringed by Ionic columns. Executive Chef Michael Quigley sources sustainably raised eggs, cheese and seafood from local farmers, cheese mongers and fisheries to create such standout dishes as the Marin Omelet filled with Dungeness crab, avocado and Mt. Tam, a buttery triple cream cheese from Cowgirl Creamery.
11:30 am: Stroll down the hotel’s gallery hall to learn more about the rich history of the original Fairmont hotel and see images of the famous people who’ve stayed and performed at Fairmont San Francisco over the decades.
12 pm: Hop on a cable car at California and Mason streets and look around as you head down the hill. History surrounds you in San Francisco. Did you know the Financial District is built atop the ruins of tall ships that once filled the harbor? Head to the Asian Art Museum to see contemporary Western fashions inspired by the kimono, and be sure to admire one of the most extensive collections of jade carvings outside of China.
1:30 pm: The seafood stew cioppino was created in San Francisco. To try your first bites of authentic local seafood, walk down California Street to Swan Oyster Depot, which has been serving clam chowder and seafood Louie salads since 1912. Insiders can order off-menu delicacies and they recommend Sicilian sashimi (salmon, tuna and scallops) drizzled in olive oil, capers and cracked pepper.
2:30 pm: Union Square offers a host of luxury shopping options, including Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue. At Westfield Mall, you’ll find Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Nordstrom. For more exclusive shopping with local flair, head to Wilkes Bashford. This chic emporium offers an artfully curated collection of designer labels, jewelry and footwear for discerning shoppers. Drop off your bags but don’t get too comfortable.
4 pm: Get a caffeine and sugar buzz at the Boba Guys Union Square with a signature milk tea that includes organic milk and house-made tapioca pearls.
4:30 pm: Walk down the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf on Pier 39. Coit Tower will be on your left if you’re going in the right direction. On a clear day, you’ll see Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge. Browse for a memento of your trip before ducking into Aquarium of the Bay for a visit with sharks, jellyfish and tropical beauties, plus stingrays and starfish you can touch.
6:30 pm: The only thing stronger than San Francisco’s restaurant game is its cocktail scene. Pop into buzzy Coqueta for a Spanish gin & tonic filled with spices, flowers and fresh herbs.
8 pm: Keep the sea theme going at Angler, the hip seafood restaurant by Adam Stacy and the team from Saison. Dine on grilled bass filet, radicchio in XO sauce or slowly grilled hen of the woods mushroom.
10 pm: By now, the perpetual tiki party at the Tonga Room should be in full swing. Your eyes might need a few minutes to adjust to the sight of authentic ship masts and rigging, canoes hanging from the ceiling, and the lagoon featuring the floating Island Groove Band. Make your way to the bar, order a Mai Tai or a Jungle Bird, and let the playful vibes wash over you.
8 am: If you’re an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type, start your day with a run around Nob Hill. You’re in for muscle-toning hills and expansive city views. If you’re feeling ambitious, head down to Chinatown for sights like the temple at the top of Grant Street.
If you were one of the last people out of the Tonga Room, snuggle back into that pillow-top Sealy Posturepedic mattress with its gel layer to keep you cool. Either way, once you’re ready to face the day, it’s time for more exploring.
10 am: Hop on the cable car for a ride down to the Ferry Building Marketplace. If it is a Saturday, tour the farmer’s market for flowers and seasonal fruits. Inside, you’ll find everything from olive oil and plants to artisan grilled cheese and authentic Mexican food.
11 am: Street culture makes San Francisco unique and each neighborhood has its own draw. To see the Mission’s famous murals, take the BART train from Embarcadero to 24th Street. Head for Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center, Balmy Alley and the Women’s Building. If architecture is more your thing, take a car to Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies, a row of pastel Victorian houses. Laze on the grass or browse for vintage cookware, or copper julep cups along Divisadero.
1:30 pm: Save room for afternoon tea at the Fairmont San Francisco’s Laurel Court. It’s an abundant affair with finger sandwiches, scones, cakes and a variety of teas. Available from 1:30 to 3:30 pm, it’s a highlight of a weekend at the Fairmont.
3:30 pm: After tea, wander through Square, the hotel’s private rooftop garden. Enjoy stunning views of downtown San Francisco along with flowering bushes, queen palms and a fountain. Settle into one of the benches and read while sipping a glass of Patz & Hall Pinot Noir. You have just enough time for a catnap before dinner.
7 pm: Raise a glass over at Fermentation Lab, a gastropub with craft local brews and upscale pub fare. It’s time to relive your favorite moments from your stay in San Francisco and to start planning your next one.