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Enjoy skyline vistas and cable car rides from the Fairmont San Francisco.

By Whit Honea

If someone asked me today to pick my go-to destination for California vacations — sorry San Diego and Los Angeles — but  San Francisco would win hands down. What can I say? I’m a sucker for sourdough bread, Anchor Steam brew and one more local badge of pride: San Francisco luxury hotels. Like the city itself, the hotels ooze opulence and Old World charm. And how many cities can say that one of its hotels served as the set fora 1980s TV show for multiple seasons? (Stumped? Scroll to pick No. 4.)

The hardest part is deciding which hotel to visit. Whether ambiance, dining and spas are your thing, I’ve narrowed it down here to my top 5 San Francisco luxury hotels.

1. The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco is an easy choice as it’s the only five-star and five-diamond hotel in the city.

  • Ambiance: Tasteful and refined, yet artsy and hip with local artists featured throughout the property.
  • Dining: The Dining Room is one of only 20 U.S. restaurants to earn Forbes Travel Guide’s Five-Star Award for 2010. The Lobby Lounge has an amazing view of theSan Francisco skyline.
  • Spa: Spa~De~Vie is an independently operated spa, but lives up to Ritz-Carlton standards. In-room treatments are available.

2. Sir Francis Drake – a Kimpton Hotel is one of the more affordable hotels on this list, but don’t let that fool you — luxury is abundant.

  • Ambiance: Grand architecture meets eccentric character. The Drake is earth-, kid- and pet-friendly, respectively.
  • Dining: Scala’s Bistro features Executive Chef Jennifer Biesty (as seen on “Top Chef”) and features ingredient-driven Italian and French cuisine. Brunch guests to Harry Denton’s Starlight Room will enjoy the very popular Sunday’s A Drag Brunch, hosting comedy and music by some of San Francisco’s most glamorous drag queens. The Drake Escape Happy Hour offers a drink for 28 cents for every drink purchased at regular price.
  • Spa : In-room service featuring wild-crafted, natural and organic ingredients.

3. The Palace Hotel, San Francisco is exactly what comes to mind when someone says (or hopefully Googles) San Francisco luxury hotels.

  • Ambiance: Classic elegance with modern amenities. All rooms have 14-foot ceilings, windows you can actually open and flat-screen LCD TVs.
  • Dining: Maxfield’s, named after the artist Maxfield Parrish (who painted the iconic Pied Piper of Hamlin mural located in the adjacent Pied Piper Bar) features American cuisine and a warm atmosphere. Kyo-ya is one of the best places for sushi in the entire city.
  • Spa: While the heated indoor pool is nice, the eucalyptus sauna is very refreshing and highly recommended. There are no spa services.

4. The Fairmont San Francisco leaves no doubt that you’re in the epitome of San Francisco luxury hotels. Steeped in grandeur, the hotel was an ideal choice for Aaron Spelling, who filmed the series “Hotel” there in the 1980s.

  • Ambiance: The service is impeccable. The Fairmont has a unique location in that outside its doors is the only place in the city where each of the cable car lines meet.
  • Dining: Caffe Cento is a modern coffee shop located in the hotel. The Tonga Room offers a surprisingly tropical atmosphere in relative comparison with the overall character of the hotel, but it works! The Tonga Room serves Pacific Rim Asian cuisine and offers live entertainment, dancing and even a rain storm. Afternoon tea service is available in the Laurel Court.
  • Spa: Private men’s and women’s steam and sauna, plus yoga and Pilates. Spa includes the Sports Massage for active bodies and the Chair Massage for a quick (10 to 30 minute) fully-clothed option.

5. The Omni San Francisco Hotel brings a touch of the renaissance to the heart of San Francisco.

  • Ambiance: The Omni features Florentine Renaissance architecture with a boutique feel and is located at the bottom of Nob Hill, making it close to everything. It offers complimentary town car service in the downtown area and free guided walking tours of San Francisco. The Omni is very kid-friendly.
  • Dining: There is only one restaurant at the Omni, but it’s a good one. Bob’s Steak & Chops is exactly what it say it is.
  • Spa: While they do not offer spa services they do have a huge fitness center and Get Fit Rooms for private, in-room workouts.

Whit Honea is a travel writer living in Seattle with his wife and two children. He packs light and travels often tofar-away places, exotic lands and more than a few theme parks.

Tagged: California, Hotels

Nina Kokotas Hahn

Nina Kokotas Hahn

Nina Kokotas Hahn is a travel writer and Chicago journalist whose work appears in Chicago magazine, HuffPost Travel and Condé Nast’s HotelChatter. Globetrotting since infancy, she’s the daughter of a travel agent and considers thrill seeking part of the DNA. Find her on Twitter at @ninakhahn.

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