by Wendy Irvine
One gaze upon the majestic architecture of the Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco and it would make perfect sense to find Luminere, the Beauty and the Beast candlestick, swerving through the lobby, grabbing your bags, and bursting into Be Our Guest lyrics. No exaggeration. This jewel of a stay, reigning from the hem of Chinatown and the Nob Hill neighborhoods of San Francisco, serves up sparkling views, seemingly bejeweled interiors and white-tie service heady enough to butter-up the Queen of England.
San Francisco bubbles with culture galore: an infamous prison open for browsing, historic bridges, dining to swoon over, and shopping to die for. The Ritz-Carlton itself is just minutes from Union Square, Chinatown, Little Italy, the financial district, the cable car and BART. A several block walk, or entertaining cable car ride, will get you to world-renowned San Francisco landmarks like Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf. And after a long day of exploration, chill at night in the opulent surrounds of the Ritz-Carlton.
Now as a rule, parents don’t pair “opulence” with “children” — unless rescuing said opulence from the little darlings. But the Ritz-Carlton, with the nonchalance of the very rich, rolls out the red carpet for the sweetest among us (“what’s a little juice stain among friends? No worries, dears, the candlestick’ll get it.”)
From the moment we entered the dramatic lobby and were graciously welcomed by the staff, I knew we were in for a special hotel experience versus a mere overnight stay. As a mom, I loved that a bellhop accompanied us to our guestroom and installed a nightlight, outlet plugs, and a tub spout cover — all part of the Ritz-Carlton’s child protection program. Not that my big boys needed it, but how comforting for parents of babies and toddlers. But on the other hand, my bigs were over-the-moon to find two stuffed tigers staring back at them from the sumptuous guestroom bed. We also found a Nanny Survival basket bursting with sunblock, maps of the city and band-aids. Cookies and milk arrived in the evening further solidifying my boys’ new profound allegiance to the Ritz-Carlton.
The 336 guestrooms range from absolutely lovely to be-still-my-beating-heart. A gleaming fitness room, an elegant spa, and casual and formal dining make it no piece of cake to leave these premises. But long ago the wealthy did leave their beloved Nob Hill neighborhood — in quite a hurry in fact. The San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906 permanently ushered the residents from their elegant address into the outlying Bay Area regions. In 1909 a neo-classical wonder emerged from the ashes with massive columns, decorative lion head medallions, and enough square footage to wrap a city block. And all that gorgeousness went to an insurance company. Decades later, in 1991, the Ritz-Carlton nabbed the architectural treasure and renovated the interior of the original building to the tune of $140 million.
Today this glorious grand dame often takes a hit or two for having seen better days. But this tired mom reveled in the over-the-top luxury of the Ritz-Carlton. And my boys? Let’s just say that they’re still talking about the bath they took in the enormous tub filled with bubbles while eating beautifully decorated cupcakes (a la the Ritz-Carlton) and watching a LEGO movie on the flat-screen hanging on the wall directly in front of the tub.
To learn more about Ritz-Carlton, please visit Ritz-Carlton.
Our Editor Loves
- Rooms with dazzling city views
- Easy stroll to Union Square, Chinatown and the cable car
- Nanny Survival Kit and protection program for kids
- Connecting Rooms
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Onsite Dining
Rooms & Rates
If you like your guestrooms sound-proof and gorgeously appointed with comfy beds and linens, there really is a better place than home. (Sorry, Dorothy.) Every guestroom at the Ritz-Carlton is quietly awaiting your arrival with plush bathrobes, umbrellas, a laptop safe, and a huge flat-screen television. Many, of course, also enjoy breathtaking views. Did I mention the bathroom? Double marble counter tops, wonderful bath essentials, a rain shower head, and a separate water closet with a telephone.
But can I whine for a moment? I've always been a bit disgruntled that wireless internet access is not complimentary at the Ritz-Carlton. If small hotels and Arby's can provide free Wi-Fi, why I wonder, can't the Ritz-Carlton? Secondly, as a mom, I'm not a fan of the "fully stocked honor bar." What parent wants to spend a trip policing candy bars that, at home, are strategically concealed on the top shelf? Not me. I make a point of calling ahead and asking the hotel to remove the honor bar. One less hassle.
Club Level Floor
Onto my very favorite part about visiting a Ritz-Carlton -- a luxurious stay on the Club Level floor. This "hotel within a hotel" concept is beyond cool and guarantees you the full Ritz-Carlton experience including delivering more square footage than regular guestrooms, extra fancy toiletries (Bulgari White Tea), complimentary Wi-Fi, an iPod docking station, access to a dedicated concierge who will handle your every whimper, and entrance into the Club Lounge where five amazing meal presentations rotate throughout the day and evening. If you want to splurge, this is a can't-miss experience. When you reserve a room, ask specifically to be placed on the Club Level floor. And don't be shy to ask about pricing because it does vary greatly from standard rooms.
Guests can enjoy city and courtyard views from this 600-square-foot suite with master bedroom and separate sitting area.
San Francisco Suite
This 800 square foot suite offers a master bedroom, marble bathroom and living room with views to the city and access to the Club Level.
The Ritz-Carlton Suite
This suite offers a master bedroom, one-and-a-half baths, a living room with city views and a dining room with a table that seats eight. Plus, there's a fully stocked pantry with large refrigerator. The 1,980-square-foot, luxury suite also allows for an optional adjoining Junior Suite.
The presidential suite is larger than most homes at 1,960 square feet and has a 1,200-foot balcony with city and courtyard views. One or two bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths, a living room, dining room that seats eight, a fully stocked pantry and large refrigerator don't come close to filling this space. An optional adjoining suite is also available.
We were a bit disappointed by the Ritz San Fran. Parking is $75 PER NIGHT! Outrageous. If you do not use their valet service, you have to find a garage 2 blocks away. Come on, Ritz. The rooms were clean, but ours had a leaky faucet. Our stay was ok, but I expected more for the money.
The hotel is located on a relatively steep hill near the Nob Hill and Chinatown neighborhoods. The location is convenient and we were able to walk down the hill to get to downtown, Union Square, etc. However, there isn’t much of anything except for other hotels within a few blocks and there are few walkers, especially at night.
The room was fine but there was not much of a view and the room was a little darker than ideal due to the limited window exposure.
The service was very good as I expect from Ritz. I was particularly impressed by their cleaning staff when I saw the iPhone cables - the cables I had left loosely hanging on a desk- neatly organized, and with their own cable tie/organizer!
We are likely to return when we are in town.
Spa-De-Vie, located inside the hotel, welcomes the under sixteen crowd (although an adult must be present at all times). The spa offers a plethora of pampering fun for kids, tweens, and teens. The over-twelves will love the Teen Extreme Express Massage and the Teen Mini-Facial. The littles can choose from a Mommy & Me Facial, a Strawberry Ice Cream Mani, or a Chocolate Milkshake Pedi.
All Ritz Kids will be welcomed at check-in with a coloring book, scavenger hunt kit and a welcome toy, too.
The California-inspired menu is sourced locally and available for breakfast, dinner and bar bites. A Chef's Table, seating 10 with a view of the kitchen, and a private dining room for up to 24 guests is also great for celebrations. A Ritz Kids' menu is available here.
The Club Lounge
The Club Lounge, located on the eigth floor of the Ritz-Carlton, is family travel dining at its easiest. Simply walk out of your Club level guest room -- a step or two -- and find the door to the never ending meal rotation. And I'm not talking mac 'n cheese. Meals are small plates of high quality, gorgeously presented seafood, steak, cheeses, breads, and more.
Lunches and dinners are every inch as elegant offering Champagne, wine, and cocktails. But save room for the dessert presentation that tempts with a variety of enormous cookies, a coffee bar, after dinner drinks, and, of course, many, many slices of delectable calories.
Nothing at the Club Lounge "looks better than it is" -- all of the dishes are top notch delicious. Even picky eaters are treated like royalty. If your child lives on air and peanut butter, don't be surprised to see little triangles of PB&J appear at your merest suggestion. These people aim to please.
The relaxed setting serves a casual menu with signature cocktails, of course. The Lounge is open for lunch, dinner and a late night menu. A traditional afternoon tea is served on select Saturdays. Traditional pots of tea and tea sandwiches are served to guests who can enjoy the city view while dining. A Ritz Kids' menu is available here.
The JCB Tasting Lounge
Winemaker Jean-Charles Boisset unveiled a new wine tasting lounge, which offers rare and exclusive wines served in an intimate setting.
The Ritz-Carlton offers 24-hour room service with a seasonal, but pricey menu. A Ritz Kids' menu is also offered.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
The Ritz offers business services with complimentary computer and printer kiosks. Club Level guests get to do business in the swank business lounge offering wireless Internet access, two work stations with printers, and a 32-inch television.
The Ritz-Carlton's fitness room has been renovated -- so prepare to sweat in sweet surroundings with a variety of streamlined cardio and strength training machines. Open from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Nanny Survival Kit
Nannies traveling with families will arrive well prepared in order to explore the city. The Ritz provides a sightseeing map, sunblock, travel snacks, bottled water and Band-Aids in this survival kit.
The Art of Timing
Packing for San Francisco weather isn't, well, a breeze. Summers can be chilly and, on the same day, quite hot -- especially when you're hiking the hilly streets... which brings me to your feet: leave the strappy sandals at home and wear supportive walking shoes. Summers also bring the entire planet to San Francisco so prepare for crowds. The best time to visit San Francisco is September through October when the weather is crisp but not freezing. Winter is wet and foggy with a sunny day tossed in to confuse us all. Spring is gorgeous, but also delivers plenty of chilly mornings and evenings. So what to pack? Layers, of course, so you can peel down or pile on. Also bring thick socks and a compact umbrella.
The quiet time to visit is November through March. Spring and summer are busier at the Ritz-Carlton.
San Fransisco International Airport is a quick 24 minutes from SFO -- with no bridge to cross potentially slowing traffic down. If you're flying into the Oakland International Airport, you'll cross the Bay Bridge, which has a toll. You also might face bumper-to-bumper traffic depending on the time of day. On a traffic-free day, expect a 30-minute drive.
No kind way to say it: parking in San Francisco is not pretty, and the Ritz-Carlton is no exception with its high parking prices. Given the prices, many Ritz-Carlton guests prefer to park at St. Mary's garage, which is an easy 1.5-blocks away and about a third of the price.
A fun benefit of staying at the Ritz is the free car service. That's right, free. If the car is available and you're going about a mile away, the only cost is a tip to the very friendly drivers. Want another freebie? The resort fee. There isn't one.
For Mom and Dad
Spa-De-Vie offers a variety of massages, facial treatments and "packages" that should come tied with a giant red bow. Those of us of a certain age (ahem) might like the Decollete and Neck Treatment, while those wanting something unique might ante up for the Caviar & Pearl Anti-Aging Facial. For couples with a sitter, the good times begin with the Reconnect Couple's Massage in a luxurious suite made for two.