Fairmont San Francisco Penthouse Suite – San Francisco, California - Atlas Obscura

Fairmont San Francisco Penthouse Suite

San Francisco's most expensive hotel suite includes a secret passageway rumored to have been used by JFK. 

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This 6,000-square-foot penthouse suite in downtown San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel — which costs a whopping $18,000 a night — has been the temporary home for countless celebrities, including Prince Charles of Wales, Presidents Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, Tony Bennett, Mick Jagger, Alfred Hitchcock, and, most recently, YouTuber Casey Neistat. 

Among its many luxury features is a two-story circular library, complete with a narrow red spiral staircase allowing you to reach two floors of books and majestic mural of the heavens. Behind one of the shelves on the second floor is a secret door leading to, eventually, the hotel’s roof. The door is disguised in such a way as to appear to be part of the bookcases and there are a few rumors about what it might have been used for.

One theory is that high-profile politicians would use the passageway to get safely in and out without the security threat of the main entrance. (The hotel also has a secret entrance on the floor below the suite, that’s largely used by the security detail of famous guests.) The more juicy tale claims that JFK’s lover — Marilyn Monroe — used the corridor to sneak out when Kennedy’s wife Jackie was coming up the stairs. Hotel employees let you draw your own conclusions rather than confirm or deny any one theory.

The penthouse suite, which takes up the entire eighth floor of the historic portion of the Fairmont Hotel [not to be confused with the newer tower housing the Tony Bennett suite], is a cornucopia of cultural influences: ancient and modern, Western and Eastern. It was designed in the Roaring Twenties, which is evident once you walk through the front door. There you’re met with a black and white tiled floor, classy purple wall, ornate wooden table, and gold-framed mirror.

The suite includes three bedrooms. One was originally intended to be the “kid’s room” and is decorated from floor to ceiling with a hand-painted world map dotted with drawings of animals.

The dining room seats 60 people and is where the 1945 United Nations Charter was drafted. Just outside the dining room is a green-and-white-tiled balcony with a three-tiered fountain often visited by hummingbirds. It features one of the best views in the city of downtown San Francisco and buildings such as the Transamerica Pyramid.

If looking out over the city isn’t enough entertainment, perhaps the billiards room will suffice. The pool table is surrounded by Moorish-style walls, hand-painted in intricate patterns of turquoise, purple and yellow which gives the room a Middle Eastern feel. The room’s designer, Arthur Upham Pope, was a pioneering American expert on Persian art.

When not hosting celebrities and heads of state, the suite is the site of some of the biggest, craziest parties in the city and often corporate events. 

The Fairmont San Francisco was added to the National Register of Historic Places (#02000373) in April 2002. It’s a member of Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Know Before You Go

The 1929 luxury hotel crowns the top of Nob Hill and the center of San Francisco society, offering posh quarters, a refined restaurant, a spa & the vintage, tropical-inspired Tonga Lounge & Hurricane Bar. When you visit, look for the Tony Bennett statue welcoming you on the front lawn and some of his paintings lining the hallways along with black and white photos from his career. Call ahead to schedule viewing the rooms as they are not open generally to the public. The suite can also be reserved as part of corporate events.

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