Each year, San Francisco’s chicest hotels compete for most yuletide cheer. They erect Christmas trees to preside over twinkling lobbies strung with garlands, construct gingerbread palaces that taunt from behind “Do Not Touch” signs, and serve complimentary sweets to wanderers blown in by the wind. The visual stimuli are free, but those willing to splurge will find a flurry of Christmas and New Year’s specials ranging from bacchanalian buffets, multi-course tasting menus, and lavish holiday teas.
For glamorous tidings, here’s where to go:
In the ferocious world of gingerbread architecture, the Fairmont’s pastry team went in for the kill to create a house over 22 feet high composed of homemade gingerbread blocks and over one ton of royal icing. That much sugar can stimulate an appetite. Cue the Cocoa, Cider and Champagne Bar set up in the lobby from 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. on weekends and every day during the week of December 23. For more information, call 415-772-5204 or click here.
InterContinental Mark Hopkins
Unzip your North Face WindWall, and prepare to stay for a while for free hot cider and gingerbread cookies in the lobby. Then, bop up nineteen floors to the Top of the Mark just to walk the perimeter and enjoy those 365 degree city views, drool over a purple and pink mansion made of candy, or linger for elegant afternoon tea of scones with clotted cream and individually-appointed tiered trays of finger sandwiches and housemade pastries. Click for more information.
‘Tis the season for steamy mugs of hot chocolate. From Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve, the Ritz’s culinary team offers a free, daily Hot Chocolate Lab replete with samples from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. You can also help yourself to hot cider in the lobby. On New Year’s Eve, a DJ will keep The Lounge vibrating while guests dart between the dance floor and the caviar, oyster and Champagne bar. Available from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Click for more information.
Westin St. Francis
Arguably San Francisco’s most famous edible home, this year’s Goliath sugar castle celebrates the past century's top newsmakers in conjunction with the hotel’s 110th anniversary on March 21, 2014. Executive Pastry Chef Jean-Francois Houdré has created miniature replicas of politicians and celebrities for a Where’s Waldo experience for onlookers. The castle will remain on display until January 3. Visit Wednesday thru Saturday, and you can stop by the Tasting Room located in the main lobby to taste a selection from Napa winery Chateau Montelana. Click for more information.
Holiday jollyness is notorious for creating knots in your neck and back. The Mandarin Oriental’s spa is offering two stress-relieving treatments until December 31: The first is a one hour, twenty minute aromatherapy facial followed by revitalizing eye treatment, and the second is a two hour manicure and pedicure with Gelish, a nail gel that resists chipping. For more information, call 415-276-9608.
The hotel’s MKT Restaurant-Bar is spiking hot chocolate with locally-produced flavored liqueurs like Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao, St. George Absinthe and Charbay Vanilla Bean Rum. Each cocktail ($14) gets topped with a flavored marshmallow. On Christmas Eve, the MKT restaurant will host its version of the traditional Italian “Feast of the Seven Fishes” with a five-course menu to include calamari with capers and a lemon-garlic aioli, roasted sea bass and scallops with cranberry-farro risotto. Click for more information.
If your tree needs a tad more glitz, the The Palace has released two hand-painted glass ornaments, one inspired by its Garden Court and the other by the Pied Piper of Hamelin painting. Both can be purchased at the Concierge's desk. And in another show of gingerbread mastery, Executive Pastry Chef Renee Cade has crafted an 8- by 16-foot chateau with thatched roof made of licorice, kitchen constructed of marzipan, sugar chandelier and an elaborate landscape outfitted with a chocolate pond, wafer water wheel, planter boxes filled with cookie crumbs, and flowers made of fondant. Click for more information.
For an extravagant New Year’s Eve, overnight guests can opt for the Midnight Masquerade, a $2100 package that includes front row seats to the San Francisco Symphony’s Masquerade Ball concert where performers include Sasha Cooke and Kelly Markgraf as well as a stay in one of the hotel's Metropolitan Suites. For children, the hotel is providing a holiday storytime turndown service where families can snack on various treats, hot chocolate, tea and cider while reading The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, the inspiration for the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. For more information, call 415-284-4070.