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San Francisco’s Historic Hotels You Can Book on Points

Aug. 05, 2019
14 min read
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San Francisco is home to a great deal of history, from its earliest roots as a major shipping port to the hub of the California Gold Rush. As the city rose and came into its own in the late 1800s, its reputation for luxurious hotels became legendary the world over. The trend continued through the decades, as landmark hotels were built to meet the city’s growing prominence. San Francisco’s luxurious Nob Hill and Union Square areas are where most of the grand hotels were constructed. Many of these original hotels exist today, refurbished and polished to modern standards.

Amazing view from the Stanford Court Hotel atop Nob Hill in San Francisco. (Photo by Jon Bailey)

Although this list is by no means exhaustive, here are several of our favorite historic hotels in San Francisco that you can book with points.

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Related: The Best Hotel Credit Cards of 2019

THE WESTIN ST. FRANCIS

This landmark hotel just emerged from a major guest-room refresh, and has been a favorite gathering place since 1904. Just across the street from San Francisco’s Union Square, The Westin St. Francis is in the heart of the city’s shopping and theater district. If you would prefer a historic room, make sure you book that instead of the newer (and much higher) tower rooms. This hotel is one of the largest in the city, with more than 1,200 rooms.

Designed by architects Bliss and Faville in a more sedate style than most of San Francisco's famous buildings, the St. Francis Hotel was built by the scions of railroad magnate Charles Crocker. Surviving the 1906 earthquake structurally intact, the building did not sustain major fire damage like nearby buildings and was reconstructed and reopened in 1907.

Host to many American presidents like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, the hotel was also a popular destination for world leaders like Queen Elizabeth, Emperor Hirohito and others. Celebrities flocked to the hotel for its legendary jazz orchestra. Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Cecil B. DeMille were all guests of the St. Francis.

The Westin St. Francis Hotel is conveniently located right on Union Square in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Christmas at this hotel is especially festive. The grand lobby always delights visitors with an enormous Christmas tree, gingerbread house displays and a toy train set encircling the décor. With the ice rink in Union Square just steps away each winter, this offers an impressive holiday memory for families.

Rooms start at $234 for a double room for four guests, or 50,000 Marriott points. Use a Marriott up to 50k free night certificate at this hotel like the one cardholders receive on the anniversary of their Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.

The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel

Famous for its Redwood Room, which is paneled with the wood from one single California redwood tree, The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel on Geary Street has a long and storied past. Originally constructed by Frederick Clift in 1915 to house guests for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the hotel grew to 17 floors in 1925 and became the largest in California at that time.

Stunning period private apartments still exist on the hotel's upper floors, which were originally occupied by Frederick Clift and family. Now popular locations for meetings, special events and VIPs, these rooms are redwood-paneled in similar style to the Redwood Room on the lobby level.

The former private apartments at The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel are now available for guest bookings. (Photo by Jon Bailey)

Now sporting a Philippe Starck-designed lobby and public spaces, The Clift is undergoing a major room renovation beginning Sept. 19, 2019, and expects to open again in January 2020. Guests have loved The Clift for its urban vibe and historic bones, as well as its proximity to the shopping, dining and theaters in Union Square.

Rooms at The Clift Hotel begin at around $195/night. You can also book this property using Chase Ultimate Rewards points through Chase's travel portal.

This hotel is bookable with Chase Ultimate Rewards points through Chase's travel portal. Pricing above is for dates in August for a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder.
This hotel is bookable with Chase Ultimate Rewards points through Chase's travel portal. Pricing above is for dates in August for a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder.

Fairmont San Francisco

The hotel that started the entire Fairmont Hotel Collection worldwide, the San Francisco Fairmont is the epitome of luxury. Built to honor mining magnate and US Senator James Graham Fair by his two daughters, The Fairmont withstood the 1906 earthquake with fire damage but not utter destruction. The interiors were rebuilt after that. Architect Julia Morgan was hired to oversee the reconstruction, and she later went on to be the chief architect of William Randolph Hearst's magnificent Hearst Castle in Central California.

The hotel that started a collection: the Fairmont San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

For a fun outing, guests over 21 should really visit the famous Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar here. With a Polynesian flair and gargantuan drinks, the restaurant sports an indoor water feature complete with floating musicians and kitschy décor.

For a double room to accommodate a family of four, rates start at $259 or 11,700 Le Club Accor points. Or pay for the hotel using your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and then "erase" the travel-coded purchase using previously earned miles.

Stanford Court Hotel San Francisco

Recently reimagined for the modern world and tech-savvy travelers, the Stanford Court Hotel sits in a prime position on Nob Hill at the cable car crossing on the corner of California and Powell Streets. It's got great views of the Bay Bridge and city skyline, which attracted original owner Leland Stanford (founder of Stanford University) to build his mansion here in 1876. Occupying an entire city block, the Stanford Mansion was widely recognized as among the grandest in the nation at that time.

Destroyed by the fires in 1906, the original building was rebuilt as the Stanford Court Apartments in 1912. Known as one of the most fashionable residences in the city, the building was converted to hotel use in 1972 and has been renovated several times to its most recent iteration.

Stanford Court Hotel is newly renovated to combine history and modern tech. (Photo courtesy of Jon Bailey)

Our family loves this hotel for its casual elegance and quirky artistic touches. Gone are all the trappings of staid luxury, and the newly renovated Stanford Court now sports more of a millennial vibe.

Double guest rooms from $185, or 125,000 iPreferred points. The hotel is bookable with Chase Ultimate Rewards points via the Chase travel portal.

InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco

Known for its tremendous views of the city since its opening in 1939, the InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco has enjoyed a sterling reputation among travelers and locals alike. Breathtaking, unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge and the neighborhoods of San Francisco make this hotel truly special.

(Photo courtesy of Booking.com)
InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco (Photo courtesy of Booking.com)

As a boy growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, my early visits to the Top of the Mark were a top experience, and they still are. We love the elegant elevators that journey to the Mark Hopkin’s top floor restaurant, where guests can dance, dine and drink martinis with a 360-degree view.

This hotel also began as a private residence for original owner Mark Hopkins, who built his mansion here atop Nob Hill in 1878. In 1893, it was donated to the San Francisco Art Association to become its museum and school, named the Mark Hopkins Art Institute. It burned to the ground in the 1906 fires, and was rebuilt as a luxury hotel, opening in 1926.

Rooms start at $199 per night, or 70,000 IHG Rewards Club points. If you hold the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card, your fourth night on any award stay is free.

KIMPTON SIR FRANCIS DRAKE HOTEL

Celebrating a recent renovation, this hotel is famous for its red-suited Beefeater doormen and its ornate lobby with grand staircases. Right on the Powell Street cable car line in Union Square, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel is part of the Kimpton Hotels group of properties.

Opened in 1928, the Sir Francis Drake was lauded as offering some of the most modern amenities of the time. Guests were treated to ice water on tap, radios in every room and even an indoor golf course. During Prohibition, special service doors originally designed to deliver laundry and other items without disturbing guests were repurposed to serve alcohol in a secretive way. When Prohibition ended in 1933, the hotel opened a hopping club on the ground floor that welcomed locals and celebrities alike. Early Hollywood celebrities loved the hotel, which played host to Barbara Stanwyck, Dolores del Rio, Myrna Loy and even Alfalfa and friends from the popular "Our Gang" series.

The luxurious and quirky fun lobby at Kimpton's Sir Francis Drake Hotel in Union Square. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Locals and guests still flock to the lobby bar and the impressive Starlight Room atop the hotel, which is under renovation and soon to reopen in fall 2019. This hotel is an icon of San Francisco hospitality, recently refreshed to meet modern guest needs.

Rooms at the Sir Francis Drake start at $179/night or 55,000 IHG Rewards Club points. You can also transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to your IHG account at a 1:1 ratio. Earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on travel purchases with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

PALACE HOTEL, A LUXURY COLLECTION HOTEL

Originally built in 1875, the Palace Hotel was San Francisco’s first luxury hotel and the largest in the world at the time. Also victim of the 1906 earthquake and fires, the original building was destroyed and the "New Palace Hotel" was built in its place. The original hotel design featured a grand central entry courtyard, where horse-drawn carriages arrived to the building lobby flanked by seven stories of columned balconies. When the rebuilt hotel opened in 1909, this courtyard was repurposed as the Garden Court to become one of the most elegant dining rooms of its era.

The Palace Hotel played many important roles in history, some tragic. President Warren G. Harding's presidency came to an abrupt end when he died in Room 8064. In 1890, Hawaiian King David Kalakaua visited the hotel as his first stop on a tour of California, only to be returned here after suffering a stroke in Santa Barbara. He also died at the hotel. In happier times, the hotel was stage for important speeches by President Woodrow Wilson and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

The impressive Garden Court at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

Still famous for its Garden Court lobby restaurant, complete with enormous stained-glass skylight roof, the Palace Hotel is truly grand. The hotel is at the intersection of the Financial District and Union Square.

Visitors must make time to duck into the Pied Piper bar, iconic for the enormous Maxfield Parrish painting of the same name that hangs over the bar.

Rooms start at $299 for a double, or 50,000 Marriott points. You can earn Marriott points for your everyday spend with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card.

The Huntington Hotel

Positioned atop Nob Hill directly across from historic Grace Cathedral, The Huntington Hotel was originally constructed as apartments in 1922. Because of this early purpose, the current hotel guest rooms are larger than most. The Georgian-style architecture of this brick building helped to begin a new age on Nob Hill at the time, and has endured through the decades.

The Huntington Hotel was originally named for railroad magnate C.P. Huntington, who helped build the Central Pacific Railroad lines in the late 1800s with three other magnates whose names might also sound familiar: Crocker, Stanford and Hopkins. Interestingly, all four of these men built residences that became hotels on Nob Hill. The Huntington's Big Four Restaurant is also renowned for celebrating the railroad tycoons of San Francisco’s legendary past.

Now positioned as one of the great Nob Hill hotels, the Huntington has completely renovated its interior spaces to modern design aesthetics.

The Nob Hill Spa at the Huntington Hotel is truly gorgeous. (Photo courtesy of the hotel)

The rooms here are colorfully appointed, and we are wowed by the indoor pool and three-story Nob Hill Spa.

Double guest rooms start at $293 per night. You can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book a room through the Chase travel portal.

Bottom Line

San Francisco is so infused with interesting historical references, visitors could spend weeks exploring the buildings that have survived through time and still stand to welcome guests. This city has preserved many of these structures and places of interest, as they join a long list of San Francisco must-see sights and destinations.

Looking to visit San Francisco? Here's some more advice:

Featured image by Willy Foo
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
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  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases