Photography by Fairmont

There are many destinations and special holiday offerings across the country to consider, but one place you may want to move to the top of your list lies in the heart of San Francisco.

The grand Fairmont Hotel is rich in history, beautiful architecture, and heartwarming experiences for visitors both young and old.

A world-renowned hotel

The Fairmont Hotel began in 1903 as the dream of two sisters, Theresa Fair Oelrichs and Virginia Fair Vanderbilt. The pair wanted to create a boutique hotel in the center of the city in honor of their father, Senator James Graham Fair. However, weeks before its debut in 1906, the hotel was destroyed by a fire following an earthquake that rocked much of San Francisco. It had to be built yet again from the ground up, and exactly one year later, it finally opened its doors.

In the 116 years since, the Fairmont has undergone several changes, including structural expansions, redesigns of the entire building, and shifts in hotel ownership. Through it all, its opulence has remained undeniable. Guests can visit the Cirque Room, the first bar to open in the city following the end of Prohibition, or stop in to see the elegant Venetian Room, which has hosted performances by Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Marlene Dietrich, Joel Grey, Bobby Short, Vic Damone, and James Brown, to name a few. It’s best known, though, for being the ballroom where Tony Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” in 1961. The hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

But while it’s a wonder to see at any time of year, the holiday season at the Fairmont is unlike any other, making it a must-visit for a luxurious winter getaway.

A winter wonderland

“For over a century, Fairmont San Francisco has enchanted guests with its joyful holiday festivities, dining, and exuberant seasonal ambience,” says Michelle Heston, executive regional director of public relations for Accor Hotels, who has worked with the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts for the last seventeen years. From the Saturday following Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the hotel is transformed for the holidays, transporting guests to a magical and festive new world. The fun starts with a beautifully decorated twenty-three-foot-tall Christmas tree in the lobby and expands into a host of other wonderful and whimsical sights.

Gingerbread house

For over a decade, the Fairmont’s lobby has been home to a life-sized gingerbread house during the holiday season. In 2022, executive chef Michael Quigley led and meticulously planned the construction of the two-story structure, which stood more than twenty-two feet high and twenty-three feet wide and used thousands of home-baked gingerbread bricks and more than one ton of royal icing and candy decor. The house typically takes more than 520 hours to build, light, and outfit each year.

To bring the glorious gingerbread house to life, the hotel’s pastry chefs partner with See’s Candies, a chocolate and candy company headquartered in California. They decorate the baked bricks with lollipops, candy canes, and chocolate confections, adding color and vibrancy to the house. (While you may be tempted to pluck a piece of candy right from the walls, you should try the sweet offerings at the See’s Candies pop-up location in the Fairmont lobby instead.) When the season comes to an end, the house frame is recycled and its edible elements are composted.

However, the fun with the gingerbread house doesn’t end there. If you’re looking for something a little extra special to do with your loved ones, you can book a private dining experience for up to eight people inside the house. Everyone can enjoy afternoon tea or dinner while taking in the delicious scents and sounds of the holiday season.

Holiday tea experience

Afternoon tea, featuring fine china and delicious accoutrements, has been a part of the magic of the Fairmont since the very beginning. During the holidays, guests can create new memories and traditions with Fairmont’s Holiday Tea at the Laurel Court Restaurant and Bar. Sit back and enjoy loose-leaf teas such as creamy Earl Grey and Egyptian chamomile, assorted fresh-baked pastries, tea sandwiches, and other delectable sweets including macarons and yule logs. Heston considers this her favorite tradition, and she regularly takes her mom, daughters, sister, and niece. “Everybody is feeling festive and willing to put on a fancy outfit during the holidays,” she says. It’s an opulent, sophisticated experience that all ages can enjoy.

Santa suites

For a one-of-a-kind experience, the Fairmont offers two specially decorated suites dubbed Santa and Mrs. Claus’s home away from home. Decked out in holiday decor, the whimsical wonder of the suites creates an unforgettable seasonal escape perfect for young children. If you feel inspired by the grandeur of the lobby’s life-sized gingerbread house, a stay in the suites also comes with the option of building your own house while sipping on an array of holiday-themed hot chocolate—all within the comfort of your own room.

A stay at the Fairmont in San Francisco is sure to delight anyone in your family, both young and old. From its historic halls to its charming holiday attractions, it offers visitors an opportunity to delight in all the magic of the season.

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