Unpretentious luxury in the heart of San Francisco: Why I loved the St. Regis despite limited amenities
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In many ways, San Francisco feels like my life unlived.
It’s a city where I resided for two summers before relocating elsewhere. Ultimately, I chose the frenzied energy and nonstop pulse of New York over the unforgiving hills and foggy mystique of San Francisco.
I recently returned to the city on the bay after many years — this time as a tourist. I was especially interested in seeing how the city has changed amid the throes of a pandemic.
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For context, a San Francisco Chronicle study found that San Francisco International Airport (SFO) lost more passengers than any other airport in the U.S. due to COVID-19. In other words, “The Golden City” has been hit especially hard.
And that reverberates even more for high-end hotels, especially ones near city centers, such as the St. Regis. With that in mind, I knew my first-ever St. Regis experience wouldn’t be nearly the same as it would’ve been in 2019, or even early 2020.
But a pandemic can’t take away a hotel’s stellar location, a staff’s attention to detail or a property’s restrained, art-focused luxury. And those are all things the St. Regis has going for it.
So while it was disappointing to have some facilities closed and amenities unavailable, it was far from being a dealbreaker.
As a former temporary San Francisco resident, here’s why I think the St. Regis is one of the top hotels in the city despite its pandemic-related shortcomings.
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The St. Regis reopened in the summer of 2020, after a relatively brief pandemic-era closure. This is notable since many San Francisco hotels, particularly luxury ones, remain shuttered as of June 2021.
While occupancy remains lower than before the pandemic, the St. Regis San Francisco isn’t suddenly a cheap option. The hotel still commands a price tag to match its five-star status. However, the St. Regis brand is part of the Marriott portfolio so using points is a viable alternative.
As always, you’ll want to evaluate whether it’s worth using Marriott Bonvoy points versus paying outright in cash. Take my stay, for instance.
Using points or cash
Cash rates in late May went for a pricey $650 a night, including taxes and fees.
If you wanted to use points instead, this particular St. Regis is a top-level Category 8 property, ranging from 70,000 to 100,000 Marriott points per night. My specific dates required 85,000 points — or a valuation of about 0.8 cents per point (the $650 cash rate divided by 85,000 points). That falls almost exactly in line with what TPG values Marriott points to be worth.
No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of points or cash — and there was no clear winner.
However, here is the kicker: I noticed that the St. Regis San Francisco was priced exactly the same through Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program, exclusive to those who have cards such as The Platinum Card® from American Express. Perks of booking through this program include complimentary breakfast for two, an additional up to $100 food and beverage credit, early check-in, late checkout and a space-available upgrade.
At this point, it became a no-brainer to pay in cash to get these additional benefits. I was also able to earn 5x Membership Rewards points by booking with my Amex Platinum and earn Marriott Bonvoy points for the stay.
If you’re into art, easy access to public transportation and public parks, the St. Regis knocks it out of the, well, park.
First, there’s a reason why the hotel is such an art-forward property. The hotel is located in San Francisco’s trendy SoMa district (south of Market Street), directly across from the iconic San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The Museum of the African Diaspora — a contemporary art museum celebrating Black history — is housed in the same building as the St. Regis.
Hotel guests even have an exclusive entrance through an interior hallway. Additionally, the concierge is said to be able to get hotel guests in for free. Unfortunately, the museum was closed during my stay.
On the other side of the St. Regis is Yerba Buena Gardens, a two-block, 5-acre stretch of public space and gorgeous greenery smack dab in the center of San Francisco.
Besides the SFMOMA and the MoAD, there are a variety of other museums and art installations within a few minutes’ walk of the hotel, including galleries at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Contemporary Jewish Museum and Children’s Creativity Museum.
I found the St. Regis to be very well located. In one direction, the shops of Union Square are a 10-minute stroll. Chinatown is about a 15-minute jaunt. And if you’re headed east toward the bay, the Ferry Building and Embarcadero are a 20-minute walk.
The location is also convenient to most of the city’s major attractions via public transit including several bus and streetcar lines and the Montgomery Street Bay Area Rapid Transit station. (Tip: Take BART to and from SFO.)
The first thing you’ll notice about the St. Regis is how residential it feels. Instead of grand entryways or tall atriums, the hotel has a decidedly cozy, living room vibe going for it.
There’s a fireplace that flanks the entryway, separating it from the rest of the lobby lounge. I noticed the use of dark woods, leather accents and plush carpeting. It really did feel like I was in someone’s beautifully designed living room as opposed to a cookie-cutter hotel lobby.
The design pays homage to the original St. Regis hotel in New York, founded over a century ago by John Jacob Astor IV. That original property was built to embody a formal residence.
Of course, the brand has modernized since then but all 45 St. Regis hotels and resorts around the world have this design approach.
This particular St. Regis really leaned into its artsy aesthetic, without feeling like it was trying too hard.
When I arrived, I was the only guest checking in mid-morning and was pleasantly greeted by the front desk attendants. I was informed I was double upgraded from a base deluxe king room to a larger grand deluxe with garden view room and best of all, my room was ready.
I was also told that daily housekeeping would be done but turndown service was not available.
My Marriott Bonvoy Gold status — an automatic perk of The Platinum Card from American Express — was acknowledged as well as the benefits of booking through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts. Enrollment required for select benefits.
The residential-inspired design flows seamlessly from the lobby into the St. Regis’ 260 guest rooms and suites.
With a mix of rich leather, copper finishes and wood-grain trim, I immediately felt at home in my 450-square-foot deluxe room on the 17th floor. It wasn’t a huge space, but it was comfortable and thoughtfully laid out.
I was impressed at how the entire hotel — including my room — felt homey and luxe without feeling stuffy or pretentious.
As I inspected my home for the next two nights, I noticed how sensibly modern everything was. At the same time, there was a playful splash of old school mixed in, too.
While the St. Regis San Francisco opened in 2005, it completed a multimillion-dollar renovation in early 2020. So rooms feel more high-tech than you might expect.
All the lights were controlled by an easy-to-use panel with one-touch buttons both bedside and at the entryway. Window shades were also electronically controlled.
But features such as the french doors that separated the bedroom from the bathroom quickly reminded me of the St. Regis brand’s early 20th century origins.
Almost the entire length of one wall hid a built-in custom closet. Within three separate spaces, you could stow your suitcase, put away clothes in drawers, find the (empty) fridge and don the ultra-plush robe and slippers.
Minibars have been a casualty of the pandemic in many hotels, including this one.
I was a big fan of how coordinated the design was. For instance, the brown leather-padded headboard matched the desk’s lampshade which matched the leather-bound notepad. And that same leather even covered the outside of the waste bins.
A beautiful backlit headboard cast a soft glow on the comfortable bed.
For me, it was these small, thoughtful details that elevated the room from good to great.
My room had a stellar skyline view including a glimpse of the SFMOMA’s sculpture garden, but the windows could’ve used a bit of a cleaning.
The bathroom featured a large soaking tub with the aforementioned playful french doors that opened to the bedroom. Individual shower and bath amenities were provided by Laboratoire Remède.
Waiting in my room was an excessive number of water bottles (yes, I counted them and there were 10 in total) and an Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts welcome gift of truffles.
Oddly, even prior to the pandemic, the St. Regis supplied a coffee maker in the room by request only. Instead, they provide coffee and tea in the lobby during morning hours.
Since caffeine is the first thing I consume when I wake up, I made a request for a coffee maker. When it arrived, I have to say I was disappointed. Both the machine and coffee were something you might expect to see at a lower-end hotel.
Thankfully, all other amenities — from the thick bathrobes to plush slippers to high-end toiletries — were up to par and what you’d fully expect from a five-star, $600-per-night hotel.
The St. Regis didn’t quite meet my expectations in the amenities department. Let me explain.
My biggest disappointment was that many of the St. Regis’ amenities and services — including its infinity pool, spa, lobby bar, restaurant, house car and turndown service — remained closed or unavailable. Additionally, there is no definitive reopening date as of this review’s publication.
While I can completely understand pandemic-related precautions and following city and state guidelines, it seems that wasn’t entirely the case here. The St. Regis staff admitted that some amenities and services were unavailable due to other reasons.
For instance, the St. Regis’ pool wasn’t closed because of COVID-19 precautions but rather because it was under maintenance and demand was low. In fact, the Palace Hotel, a Marriott property just down the street, had its pool open but no dining available.
It’s these types of inconsistencies that are frustrating for the casual traveler, especially if they’re told it’s “because of COVID-19.”
Thankfully, the beautiful lobby lounge was converted into an open seating area, though the bar itself was closed.
In addition, the gym was still open, with capacity restrictions. It was impressively equipped with all the cardio and weight equipment that you could imagine and even featured a Peloton bike, a favorite amenity of the TPG staff.
The business center was also open and had probably one of the most beautifully designed spaces where you could print something that I’ve seen.
The St. Regis had some stunning art throughout the property, including works by renowned artists who had pieces in the SFMOMA next door.
Even the meeting spaces had art-themed names such as the “Muse Boardroom.”
From a decor standpoint, the St. Regis fully leaned into its artsy vibe — and I have to say, I loved it.
Food and beverage
During my stay in late May, there was no sit-down restaurant or grab-and-go food option available. However, the St. Regis did have a breakfast and dinner menu for in-room dining.
Although the menu was somewhat limited, all the meals that I sampled were excellent. In addition, everything was rolled into the room by cart, with real cutlery, dishware and glasses.
For breakfast, I was particularly impressed by the fresh juices and bakery items. The croissants were some of the best I’ve ever eaten, and I would’ve believed it if you told me they were from a patisserie in Paris.
In-room dinner service was also a highlight, with a meal and table set up for my companion and I that was befitting of a high-end restaurant. My scallops were buttery, sweet and perfectly cooked.
As you might expect, this type of in-room service doesn’t come cheap. So while the food was delicious, it was also quite expensive. Here’s a look at the breakfast and dinner menus.
Service was a standout feature at the St. Regis.
In fact, it was one of the elements that truly elevated my overall impression of the hotel. Before even arriving, I requested additional toiletries including a shaving kit and extra body wash through the Marriott app. They were waiting for me in the room when I arrived.
In addition, I found the chat feature to be incredibly useful. For instance, because the hotel didn’t have any dining options in the early afternoon hours, I requested for a meal from the breakfast menu to be waiting in my room upon check-in.
From the front desk to concierge to in-room dining attendants, I found all the staff that I encountered to be helpful, detail-oriented and most of all, friendly.
At some five-star hotels, you might expect service that errs on the side of pretentious. However, that’s definitely not the case at the St. Regis. The service struck an ideal balance of hospitable yet somewhat casual and relaxed.
A note on accessibility
The St. Regis San Francisco has a total of 11 ADA-accessible rooms available, offering both one king and two double beds.
Whether it’s your first or 50th time in the city, the St. Regis fits the bill as an art-focused, unstuffy high-end hotel with an ideal location.
It’s not exactly a live-like-a-local-type experience because, well, locals don’t really live in this part of town. But it does feel like just about the perfect place to stroll through galleries, frolic in gardens and access just about every part of the city with ease.
Several years ago, my proverbial fork in the road was choosing to live in New York or San Francisco. And while I have no regrets about my choice, visiting San Francisco was almost a glimpse into an alternate reality.
Despite not being fully open, the St. Regis is still a great choice to explore the artistic and natural beauty of San Francisco. That’s exactly what I wanted as a tourist to this city.
And once the hotel reintroduces all of its service elements, you can be sure the St. Regis will be one of the best hotels in San Francisco.
Featured photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.
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