The historic St. Francis Hotel faces Powell Street with one of the city’s few remaining cable car lines. The St. Francis Tower opened in 1971 and is built behind the older hotel. Originally, the hotel opened in March 1904 and only consisted of the two left-most wings. The interior of the hotel burned in the firestorm the days following the Great Earthquake of April 1906. The hotel re-opened in late 1907 and plans were continued to expand the hotel. The right end hotel wing was added in two additions which opened in 1908 and 1913. The 32-floor St. Francis Pacific Tower was constructed between 1969 and 1971.
The St. Francis Hotel is a San Francisco icon. The hotel was financed by the Crocker family of California. Charles Crocker was one of the big four railroad magnates who owned and built the western U.S. trans-continental railroad in the 1860s. These guys made a lot of money, and today, about two blocks from the St. Francis on ritzy Nob Hill, there is a major hotel named for each of the three other railroad tycoons: Huntington Hotel, Stanford Court (Renaissance Hotel), and The Mark Hopkins (InterContinental Hotel).
Room Rate history:
Westin St. Francis can be $119 one day and $389 the next. Chances are you will find rates available for $119 to $149 many weekends over the next few months. Sunday nights can also be a bargain. Best deals are usually holiday weekends. Weekday rates can be astronomical when a conference is in the city with $300+ rates.
The AAA rate of $107.10 was the best rate I saw for a May 2009 stay. Reports on Priceline show $70 per night bids have been successful in the past month.
Historically this hotel was rarely under $149 night in 2006. I stayed several times in November 2007 when there was a special $100 Meet at the Clock rate. The hotel features an urban legend with the 1907 Clock in the lobby as a long-time meeting point. The hotel added The Clock Bar adjacent to the lobby just this past year.
Rates continued to stay high most of 2008 and then all room rates dropped after the financial collapse in November 2008. The rates in the past six months have had some of the lowest rates in years.
The Lobby and Building:
The lobby of the St. Francis is usually busy with guests and visitors wandering in from Union Square. There are glass cases with historical artifacts from past decades of the hotel. Be sure to see the Ansel Adams display by the Concierge desk showing photographs of the historic St. Francis.
There is a popular morning cafe for coffee and pastries in the reception desk area of the lobby near the valet car port.
The St. Francis Hotel historical showcases are in this section of the lobby.
Many guests prefer the Tower rooms due to more uniform size and the view across San Francisco from the higher floors. Kelley and I prefer the traditional rooms in the historic building overlooking Union Square. The noise from the cable cars can be loud and you hear much more of the street noise when you have the windows open in the old building rooms. The Tower rooms tend to be much quieter, but have no sense of the hotel history felt in the older building. I have been in Tower rooms where the window opened slightly and others with windows that were sealed closed.
The size of the hotel means that you can stay in a variety of locations within the hotel featuring different room layouts, furniture, and views.
A Union Square view places you directly in the heart of downtown San Francisco. Open the window and you feel and hear the city around you.
The views of San Francisco are great from the high Tower rooms. The glass elevators ride the exterior of the building and offer a quick view of the San Francisco skyline.
The rooms on this side of the tower on the upper floors have an excellent view of the city square block Hilton San Francisco. The skyscraper tower of the Hilton Hotel is 46 stories and the Club Lounge on the 45th floor is one of the highest locations in the city. The top floor of the Hilton used to house a restaurant that was just closed in this current financial recession.
Most Tower rooms will face Union Square.
The Tower is 32 floors and the historic building is 12 floors. The top floor of the Tower is called Victor’s Palace and there are a couple of large rooms with panoramic window views around the city. The top floor is only open for special events.
Most of the time Victor’s Palace on the top floor at 32 is inaccessible to guests.
I photographed these rooms and the view from top floor windows in late 2007.
You need to be at least in the upper half of the Tower for good views. You need to be a few stories above the 12th floor historic building for unobstructed views toward Union Square. Otherwise your view may consist of the back side of the historic St. Francis building. There are some really undesirable small rooms with no views shown here with interior wing facing views in the historic building. These room types may be your fate if you decide to Priceline or Hotwire this hotel.
Floors above 20 have more open views above most of the other buildings. Floors 25 to 31 are best as windows are unobstructed by most nearby buildings.
The view from rooms on the back side of the St. Francis historic building are really as bad as it looks in the photo. There are too many nice rooms in San Francisco to settle for a brick wall vacation. There are 10 floors of rooms from 3-12 on the backside interior facing walls of the historic hotel and probably over 100 rooms with a brick wall and other room window views.
The lower floors of the Tower building do not have views either. You need to be in the Tower corner room or high enough to see over the 12-story historic building.
There are beautiful features and detail to observe in the simple elements like lights:
Old stairways have a beautiful symmetry:
Wall art worthy of admiration:
And look above to ceiling detail:
This kind of attention to detail is not apparent in many modern buildings.
The right room and the right eye to hotel detail can make the Westin St. Francis a special hotel experience.