Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel: A luxury historic San Francisco hotel

by Dec 4, 2021California

Clift Hotel View San Francisco

The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel offers affordable boutique luxury with amazing San Francisco views and location. Renovated in 2020, the historic Clift Hotel rates as a top hotel in San Francisco for comfort, ambiance, and service.

Wandering up Geary Street from Union Square in San Francisco, it would be easy to walk right past the entrance to the Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel. There is no grand marquee or other signage proclaiming that behind this facade lies a wonderful luxury San Francisco hotel. Behind the doors of the rather understated entrance, however, you enter a world of clean design, historic craftsmanship, and tasteful style, minus the ostentatious overtones that sometimes accompany luxurious lodgings.

The Clift Royal Sonesta Front Entrance

See the small brass sign to the right of the photo? The entry to the Clift Hotel is the door next to that. Fredricks is the hotel’s restaurant serving delicious dine-in breakfasts as well as quick meals and coffee to go

We arrived (after walking right by the entrance once) on a sunny fall morning and were welcomed by a very cheery bellman. The lobby was wonderfully bright with lovely seating areas in a side area the hotel dubs the “Living Room” with its comfy chairs and nooks. A large fireplace invites lingering.

Clift Royal Sonesta Living Room

Although the hotel went through an extensive four-month renovation in 2019-2020 when closed due to COVID, the Clift of course kept the renowned French designer Philippe Starck’s signature enormous armchair that used to reside in the lobby. The “Big Chair,” as it is commonly called, is now located in a room adjacent to the elevators where the concierge sits. Clambering up into this giant of a chair is encouraged and, naturally, Therese could not resist. We were told that staff gets a kick out of watching on security cameras as people attempt the climb – often in search of an Instagram moment. “It’s just our little big chair,” said Jill Plemons, marketing director. “Everybody walks in and asks, ‘where’s the big chair?’”

Therese Iknoian Big Chair The Clift Hotel

Recently upgraded with a nod to the hotel’s history

After Royal Sonesta took over the hotel in 2018, the Clift closed its doors to guests in September 2019 for major renovations to all 372 guest rooms, the lobby, and the famous Redwood Room bar. For styling inspiration, the design group behind the renovation turned to the historic Spreckels Mansion that was designed by George A. Applegarth, the architect who also created the blueprints used to build the Clift for attorney Fredrick C. Clift in 1915. The San Francisco hotel had not change significantly in its 100-plus years with just five owners. Remodeled and ready to go, it reopened in January 2020 – just a couple of months before the hotel was again shut for a time due to the pandemic.

Literally everything was changed with an eye to melding its classic history with a modern design. The hotel now is bright, open, and airy, while still feeling solid and timeless. Black headboards for every bed, combined with new gray-toned furniture and stark white linens provide a modern and bright look to the living spaces. Every bathroom was also enlarged, with all fixtures updated and black-and-white tiling added to the floors in a nod to the hotel’s history.

The Clift Hotel Hallway

Artwork found in the guest rooms and in the corridors was inspired by the Pan American Pacific International Exposition of 1915 to honor the fact that the original hotel was built to cater to attendees of the Expo. In fact, the hotel over the years has catered to business travelers, but lately has been mostly busy on the weekends, meaning some great rates can often be had mid-week.


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A room with a view at the Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel

When we checked into our deluxe one-bedroom corner suite on the 15th floor, we’ll admit our mouths dropped open. We entered a beautiful living room with white walls, tasteful artwork, gray carpeting, black furniture accents, gold colored end tables, nearly floor-to-ceiling windows, and a large dining table and chairs.

The Clift Hotel One Bedroom Suite Livingroom

A second small bathroom was also just off the main entrance to cater to guests and perhaps business meetings, and there is a door to close between living area and bedroom. Frankly, we didn’t look around much at first as we raced to the enormous windows to enjoy the view of San Francisco! We were mesmerized by the view every time we stepped into the room. (Of note: If you want a view, ask for a room higher than the 7th floor.)

The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel San Francisco View Sunrise

Sunrise view from our bed on the 15th floor.

From the king bed, we could look out more enormous windows to the northeast over San Francisco to watch twinkling city lights at night or, in the morning, an amazing sunrise sneaking up between the skyscrapers.

Clift Hotel Standard Room View

Nothing “standard” about this standard room.

At the back of the room (wouldn’t want to block the views), we entered a large bathroom with all the amenities and a wonderful shower. Just past the bathroom, there is a very large closet area … which left us contemplating maybe moving in for a spell. At 925 square feet of space, it qualifies as an apartment and is larger than many have as living spaces.

The Clift Hotel One Bedroom Suite San Francisco View

Corner window view from our bedroom in our one-bedroom suite.

There are 70 suites in all, including deluxe one-bedroom suites, one-bedroom suites, junior suites (also grand at 450 square feet), and, if you really want to go upscale, a private apartment with 1,175 square feet of luxury. Of course, there are standard rooms, too (as if anything is simply standard at the Clift Royal Sonesta hotel) that include an executive guest room and a deluxe king. Even the standard rooms are quite roomy at about 275-315 square feet. We noted there are also plenty of plugs and USBs to accommodate today’s penchant for technology, plus the in-room coffee was really very good, in contrast to so many hotels.

Grab a drink and kick back in the Redwood Room bar

Even if you do not spend a night at The Clift, you absolutely must check out the iconic Redwood Room which first opened in 1933. Although the flooring and furniture were updated during the hotel’s 2019-2020 renovation, a visit to this wonderful, traditional, historic bar will whisk any visitor back to San Francisco’s glamorous past with art deco overtones and rich redwood paneling.

The Redwood Room Clift Hotel

Hung on the walls are original Gustav Klimt paintings (authentic reproductions created by students of Klimt under his direction, Royal Sonesta’s research determined) that were found stored in the hotel during the renovation and carefully restored.

Redwood Room Bartender

But it is the bar itself that holds center stage. The bar is original and made from one, single 800-year-old redwood tree. The illuminated liquor shelves are eye-catching.

Clift Redwood Room Cocktails

Breakfast at Fredricks in the Clift Hotel

You’ll want to enjoy a breakfast as Fredricks, as we did (not included in the regular hotel room rate, but well worth it). The black-and-white tiled floor is similar to the tile that adorned the floor in the 1920s. With exposed brick walls the décor is classic, much like it was in the hotel’s original restaurant, but with a bit of modern flair and comfort. Still, it is open and bright, with fast casual style, also perfect for a quick, to-go coffee or snack if you simply want to get going to all the San Francisco sight-seeing on your list.

The Clift Hotel Fredricks

We enjoyed a lovely made-to-order breakfast, with fresh-squeezed orange juice and delicious coffee. Fredricks also offers to go coffee and pastries too.

Clift Fredericks Breakfast

A perfect base to experience San Francisco’s landmarks

The Clift Hotel is adjacent to the theater district, only five blocks from the famous Powell-Hyde cable car turnaround, two blocks from Union Square, within walking distance of Chinatown and an easy taxi, cable car or tram ride to Fisherman’s Wharf, The Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge, and Pier 39. (Also quite walkable, assuming you don’t mind a few of San Francisco’s famous hills.)

We adored staying at the Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel, and even though it is billed as a luxury hotel, we found it welcoming, offering accessible boutique luxury at its finest.

The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel San Francisco View Night

Nighttime view of San Francisco from our hotel room on the 15th floor.

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Disclosure: Our stay was fully hosted at the Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel. The review, opinions and ratings here are our own, and are not approved, provided, or otherwise endorsed or influenced by the hotel.

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1 Comment

  1. Eileen

    Sounds like you had a relaxing time in this hotel! May I know how much does it cost you for a one night stay? I would also love to book this hotel when I go to SF!

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Rating The Clift Royal Sonesta Hotel


Our Rating Our hotel ratings will tell you what we think of an individual property and are not a comparison to other hotels in the area. They are valid at the time of our visit, which in this case was during the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant no daily housekeeping and some limitations on meal service. Things can – and will -- change, of course, but we hope only back to pre-pandemic operations and not overall with properties like this that we love! We frequently pay for our hotel stays and will disclose whenever we receive discounts or comped room nights as a part of a hotel stay. Our ratings are a percent, with 100% being perfect and 0% someplace not even a rat would stay. We rate cleanliness/upkeep (e.g. dust on the windows, dirt under the beds, unclean bathroom fixtures, need of repairs/maintenance, etc.), comfort (e.g. taking into account quiet, how comfy the bed is, if there is a nice robe, a comfy chair, etc.), amenities (e.g. free parking, breakfast included and its quality, free Wi-Fi, free bikes, fitness gear, workout room, pool, etc. -- and we are not fans of hotels that say they include things, but then charge a facilities fee!), location (e.g. how easy is it to get around by foot, bike, and car), and value (e.g. how much we feel we got in return for the amount charged).