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

Fairmont San Francisco Penthouse Suite

San Francisco's most expensive hotel room includes a secret passageway used by JFK. 


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. Behind one of the shelves on the second floor is a secret door leading to a dark corridor that some say leads to the hotel’s roof. The door is disguised as a bookcase, and there are a few rumored uses for the passage hidden behind it.

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 is that JFK’s lover — Marilyn Monroe, some rumors have it — used the corridor to sneak out when Kenndy’s wife Jackie was coming up the stairs.

The penthouse suite, which takes up the entire eighth floor of the historic Fairmont Hotel, 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, where 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 of which, originally intended to be the “kid’s room,” is painted from floor to ceiling with a world map dotted with drawings of animals.

The dining room seats 60 people and is where the 1945 United Nations Charter was drafted. The food served is organic, coming from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market just a mile away. Just outside the dining room is a green and white tiled balcony with a three-tiered fountain surrounded by hummingbirds. Right behind it is one of the best views in town of the San Francisco skyline.

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. 

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. You may want to call ahead to schedule viewing the room.