The St. Regis San Francisco Rating: 5.0 Pearls
Built in 2005, the St. Regis offers the best in modern luxury: Highly attentive, personalized service includes a 24-hour butler staff; the relaxation rooms at Remede Spa serve chocolate truffles and champagne; the hotel's Ame restaurant is a notable destination in its own right; and the rooms and suites match the city's best for space, superior technology, and amenities. Its artsy SoMa surroundings, modern glass building, and impressive contemporary art collection lack the historical grandeur of the Nob Hill grand dames, but in substance it stands shoulder to shoulder, or above, its hilltop competitors.
The Fairmont San Francisco Rating: 4.5 Pearls
The Fairmont's location still reigns supreme: The massive neoclassical building, built in 1907, holds court over ritzy Nob Hill -- and thus, the rest of San Francisco -- like a castle atop a mountain. The Fairmont's interior, meanwhile, virtually screams early 1900s. Even if you don't book a room, it's worth a trip up the hill to see the lobby's enormous marble Corinthian columns, vaulted ceilings, velvet chairs, and wraparound staircase. The comfortable rooms, with Frette linens and 37-inch flat-screen TVs (and many with stunning city views), are surely one reason why every U.S. president since William Taft has been here.
Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco Rating: 4.5 Pearls
The Mandarin Oriental, located on the top 11 floors of San Francisco's third tallest skyscraper, provides Bushnell binoculars for guests to spy on the city below. If you can manage to tear your eyes away from the view, you'll find a room with subtle Asian-inspired decor in tones of cream and blue; sumptuous beds with the hotel's signature Egyptian cotton sheets; spacious marble bathrooms, Molton & Brown toiletries ... the list goes on. Thoughtful extras like free in-room afternoon tea and cookies take the experience of staying here beyond your standard luxury hotel. The hotel's location in the financial district makes it a natural pick for discerning business travelers.
Fairmont Heritage Place, Ghirardelli Square Rating: 4.5 Pearls
Luxury vacation rental meets upscale hotel at the city's best, if most expensive, residence-style lodging. Opened in 2008, this property is a polished new gem in one of the city's oldest landmarks -- Ghirardelli Square, a former chocolate factory built in 1893 and placed on the National Historic Register in 1982. The 53 units are so discreetly built into the historic factory that they could easily be overlooked if you didn't know about them. Modern one-, two-, and three-bedroom units feel like designer model homes with top-of-the-line amenities, including wine refrigerators, J.A. Henckels knives, and Wolf gas ranges. All have large living rooms with 42-inch flat-screen TVs and huge fireplaces. Maserati car service, personal grocery shopping, 24-hour butlers, and free breakfasts are among service highlights.
Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco Rating: 4.5 Pearls
At the Four Seasons, located on the 5th to 17th floors of a SoMa skyscraper, the elevators act as discreet portals leading from busy downtown Market Street to an urban oasis. The hotel's comfortable, well-furnished rooms, complete with marble bathrooms and 42-inch flat-screen TVs, are among the city's best (and largest, starting at 460 square feet), and service meets gold standards with a 24-hour concierge, 24-hour room service, and twice-daily housekeeping.
Campton Place Taj Hotel Rating: 4.5 Pearls
Housed in two adjoining century-old buildings, this 110-room luxury boutique is a revelation in bustling Union Square. Much of the hotel's present reputation was built in 2007, when it was acquired by Taj, which also owns the Pierre in New York -- it has since earned numerous accolades as one of the world's greatest places to stay. Despite its stature, the hotel feels surprisingly casual, with friendly, chatty service and a small lobby full of fresh-cut orchids and paintings by local artists. The lobby's lack of opulence belies the hotel's level of luxury, which includes an impressive array of services and premium in-room amenities. The restaurant, Campton Place, is an institution in its own right, complete with a master sommelier (one of 150 people in the world to hold that title) and a wine cellar with 1,500-plus labels.
The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco Rating: 4.5 Pearls
With 276 guest rooms and 60 suites in a stately century-old building whose colonnaded facade resembles the U.S. Supreme Court building, this Ritz maintains the conservative classiness that defines the chain: traditional oil paintings on the walls, fresh orchids, marble everywhere, and more chandeliers than you can count. The hotel is also just two blocks from the peak of Nob Hill. In the afternoon, a harpist performs in the lounge. A rose accompanies your room-service spread. Classy all the way. Finally, there's the luxury spa, a destination unto itself; an inviting indoor pool and Jacuzzi (rarities in San Francisco); and an acclaimed restaurant, Dining Room.