No city in the world is quite like San Francisco. The home of Ohlone/Costanoan settlements long before its namesake Spanish mission, the city began to create its modern identity during the Gold Rush era, when the population boomed from 1,000 to 25,000 between 1848 and 1849. After the 1906 earthquake and fire, which left 200,000 homeless, San Francisco rose from the ashes to host the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition with the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts as a symbol of its rebirth. It then grew over the decades into a center for shipping, finance, fashion, bohemian culture, artisan food and high tech.
San Francisco became a magnet for romance in art and life, too. Before Danielle Steel left the city for Paris, the world’s most successful romance author, produced dozens of novels behind the discreet hedges of Spreckels Mansion. The streets of San Francisco also add their inimitable mystique to countless romantic movies, from What’s Up, Doc? and Pal Joey to the more recent Always Be My Maybe and The Age of Adaline.
San Francisco’s equally rich variety of lodgings allow couples to write their own templates for romance, whatever their other passions may be. Here are seven of our favorite OGs of romantic getaways in San Francisco.
Opened during the Prohibition as the Sir Francis Drake, this completely renovated and renamed version debuted in June 2022 with a bright new design that nevertheless complements its storied heritage. Blackout shades and plush-top, gel-foam mattresses in the 418 rooms help bring sweet dreams in the midst of vibrant Union Square nightlife — including the Starlite Room, the latest incarnation of the late Harry Denton’s hotspot, due to open in early 2023.
Tip: You can walk to dozens of shops and restaurants, or hop on the cable car for an exhilarating ride to Ghirardelli Square or Fisherman’s Wharf. Fuel up first with fresh pastries in the mezzanine-level Beacon Lounge, then return in the evening for a whiskey, dinner and live music on weekends.
450 Powell St. (866) 377-9412. From $278.
One look at the gold-trimmed marble columns, Austrian chandeliers and soaring glass ceilings in the Palace Hotel’s Garden Court dining room, and it’s clear why this turn-of-the-century hotel, now part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, suits its royal name. Request a king-size canopy-framed bed dressed in luxurious Frette bed linens and bathroom with a deep soaking tub. The heated indoor swimming pool has a glass-domed ceiling with city views, especially pleasing in the evening.
Tip: The Garden Court Restaurant serves a delectable Saturday afternoon tea and lavish daily breakfast with optional mimosas and peach Bellinis. In the evening, get cozy (and ideally something from the tempting lounge menu) in the clubby Pied Piper, named for the enchanting 1909 Maxfield Parrish painting that hangs above the bar.
2 New Montgomery St. (415) 512-111. From $288.
Fairmont San Francisco
Atop the crest of Nob Hill, this is quintessential, pedigreed San Francisco. Flags of the world adorn the classical entrance, limos navigate the driveway and cable cars crawl by. On the front lawn, a larger-than-life statue of Tony Bennett greets passersby, a tribute to the city’s anthem, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” first performed here in 1961. Don’t miss the legendary Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, where island musicians play nightly on a floating bandstand amid periodic simulated thunderstorms. Oenophiles should book a private, sommelier-led wine tasting in Bin 415, the Fairmont’s wine salon featuring small-batch Napa and Sonoma vintners, or drop in at its communal tasting table.
Tip: Splurge on one of the Fairmont’s 62 spacious suites, including 10 with balconies, and you’ll receive a $100 hotel credit, an incentive to savor afternoon tea — with honey harvested from the beehives on the hotel’s rooftop garden — or breakfast in the elegant Laurel Court restaurant. To luxuriate longer, add a guaranteed late checkout at 1 p.m. for $75.
950 Mason St. (415) 772-5000. From $524.
InterContinental Mark Hopkins
When The Mark Hopkins Hotel opened on December 4, 1926, San Franciscans proclaimed it “architecturally perfect, flawless in its erection, comprehensive in its accommodations.” The hotel was designed by architects Peter Weeks and William P. Day to be a combination of French chateau and Spanish Renaissance, with a tower and outstretched wings that afforded every room a postcard-worthy view. And it has been a romance magnet ever since. Today, known as InterContinental Mark Hopkins, this iconic property has retained it most popular features such as the Top of the Mark restaurant on the 19th floor. While, this top floor bar and restaurant has had many renovations since its days as a cherished hot spot for soldiers going off to war, it has always been a favorite spot for a sunset meal with a view.
Tip: The aforementioned Top of the Mark is a splendid spot for a Valentine’s Eve rendezvous, with the undeniable romance of the City at your feet. There will be a special performance by Nick Rossi Trio (cover $5 for hotel guests, $10 for others). For couples, a half bottle of Champagne and an exclusive appetizer platter to share — including two each of Oysters with Jalapeno and Pomegranate Mignonette, Dungeness Crab Crostini, Hamachi Crudo, and Beet Tartar — is on offer for $100.
999 California St, San Francisco, (415) 392-3434. From $299.
The St. Regis San Francisco
This is 21st century luxury with bells and whistles, but without the grandeur of Nob Hill. An enviable location in a historic building places guests in the heart of SoMa, next to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and right above the Museum of the African Diaspora — a quick walk to more museums, Union Square shopping and Yerba Buena Gardens. The recently redesigned rooms with soft gray and cherry tones have feather-top beds and spacious bathrooms; book a suite to avail yourself of free butler services, from unpacking and garment pressing to last-minute shopping.
Tip: Take advantage of one of three options for refined afternoon tea in the hotel’s Tea Salon, offered by reservation only. Couples may wish to toast romance with the St. Regis Art of Tea for Two, which includes a half-bottle of Moët & Chandon Imperial.
125 Third St. (415) 284-4000. From $580.
1 Hotel San Francisco
Luxurious sustainability is the mission of this Mission Street hotel, where repurposed materials turned the former Hotel Vitale into a soothing, natural-toned sanctuary on the bustling Embarcadero. Moss and live plants brighten rooms with reclaimed wood and leather headboards and sustainably sourced linens. Other calling cards include the Bamford Wellness Spa, which relies on natural and organic ingredients; indoor-outdoor Terrene restaurant; and romance-enhancing views of the Bay Bridge, neighboring Ferry Building and the city, often wreathed in fog.
Tip: When you’re ready to explore, make use of the hotel’s Audi e-tron town car or the loaner e-bikes, perfect for pedaling all the way to the Golden Gate. For $150, enjoy a leisurely checkout time of 3 p.m.
8 Mission St. (415) 278-3700. From $475.
The Mansion on Sutter
Part of San Francisco’s charm are its “Painted Ladies,” the often ornate, multi-colored Victorian and Edwardian homes adorning its hillsides. Built in 1881 thanks to Gold Rush and Comstock Silver fortunes, the serene Mansion on Sutter may now be bracketed by modern buildings on a bustling street, but its sumptuously updated interior has lost none of its gracious appeal. Step back in time from 12 high-ceilinged rooms and suites with antique European furnishings, exquisite Italian linens, marble-lined bathrooms and museum-worthy art from the private collection of owners Dr. Bernard and Cynthia Rosenson.
Tip: If you’re planning a romantic gathering such as an elopement, engagement or wedding, keep in mind the Mansion — formerly home to The 1881 restaurant — offers catering for private parties in several opulent rooms.
1409 Sutter St. (415) 213-2746. From $524.
Note: Listed rates are for weekend nights in February, including all taxes and fees.