San Francisco’s luxury hotels put on quite a show for the holiday season each year. Decorations, castles of sweets, and holiday tea are just some of the family-friendly offerings at Bay Area hotels. One TravelingMom stayed at one of the most historic and iconic of these hotels, the Westin St. Francis Union Square, and reports back on the best holiday lights and sights. It’s a celebration for the entire family!
Celebrating the Holidays at San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis Union Square
As we walked into our hotel room at the Westin St. Francis and immediately spotted the view of San Francisco’s Union Square decorated for the Christmas season, my three year old exclaimed “I love our new home!” Traveling as often as my family does can sometimes be disorienting to my young kids. San Francisco and the Westin St. Francis won my son over quickly.
Although we live just 13 miles away on the East Bay island of Alameda, I must admit that I don’t take my children to explore San Francisco as often as I should. The city by the bay is magical during the holiday season. So this time of year seemed like the perfect opportunity to remedy my ways and plan a family outing.
We decided an overnight visit to the historic Westin St. Francis hotel would be the perfect staycation to kick off this year’s holiday season. Its location in the heart Union Square makes it incredibly convenient for all travelers, but especially so for families like mine. We have a toddler who has graduated from a stroller but has not quite mastered walking San Francisco’s famous hills, so location really mattered.
What Families Should Know about Staying at the Westin St. Francis
The hotel’s location is certainly a major reason it works so well for families. We also found it had plenty of other features that recommend it to travelers with kids. Because it’s a historic hotel opened in 1904, I feared that the rooms would be exceptionally tiny and not ideal with children. Our room, however, was quite spacious.
The hotel has two sections (the original landmark building and the tower), and we were in the newer tower. Our deluxe double room had 400 square feet of space. Built in 1972, these rooms had all undergone a renovation completed in 2014. We found ours close to perfect for our family of four. The tower is also further set back from the hustle and bustle of Union Square, so we did not experience any noise issues at all.
What Works – and Doesn’t – For Families
My family has stayed in quite a few Westin hotels over the past year, and one feature we love and still use is the Westin Heavenly crib. So many hotels offer playpens when you request a crib for your baby or toddler, but the Westin has clean, comfortable, and real cribs that allow my son to get a restful night of sleep.
The room’s layout also worked well with children. The bathroom had a door that closed off entirely from the room. My husband and I found our sleeping kids were not disturbed as we moved about before they woke up. The room also had a refrigerator which is nice for storing food and drinks. We especially loved the blackout shades that actually worked and allowed our children to sleep in until past 8:00 a.m. after a late night out in the city.
Only feature of the hotel does not work as well for family travelers . That’s the bedding situation. Regular rooms only have a king bed, queen bed, or two doubles. Whenever available, my family prefers rooms with two queens, but the Westin St. Francis does not offer rooms with this configuration.
TravelingMom tip: Parking in San Francisco will be expensive no matter what but you can save a bit in the Union Square parking lot across the street.
Westin St. Francis’s Holiday Celebrations
One of the major reasons we stayed at the Westin St. Francis is because of its famed family-friendly holiday season offerings. Many downtown area hotels celebrate the holidays with decorations and special events, but the St. Francis is undoubtedly one of the most iconic. Guests can sense the hotel’s history and experience its luxury even more with its best features adorned in holiday lights and decor.
Sugar Castles. As you enter the main hotel lobby, the centerpiece is a giant castle of sweets made by the hotel’s pastry chef each year. A moving train encircles this masterpiece. It mesmerized my three year old son each time we passed. This one sugar castle would surely have been enough, but the Westin St. Francis now features two. A gingerbread French chateau is also located to one side for a totally different architectural style that is equally creative and engaging.
On weekends, the hotel also offers a pop up sweet shop adjacent to the castles selling cookies and other treats. Naturally, my children talked their way into a gingerbread man or two.
Holiday Tea at the Westin St. Francis. Our family also had the opportunity to experience the grand tradition of holiday tea at the St. Francis. I worried that my young children might not be ready for such a refined experience and that we would be out of place. We arrived to find that well over half of the tables at our 2:00 pm seating were occupied by young children too. It seems that many Bay Area families make holiday tea at the St. Francis a special family outing. Our fears were quickly allayed.
The staff went out of their way to make sure our young guests were treated well. They had hot cocoa instead of tea, and many of the food offerings were kid-friendly. These included miniature sandwiches, strawberries with whipped cream, and cream puffs. The tea could easily be a meal, so consider eating a late breakfast and making tea your lunch.
TravelingMom Tip: Holiday tea at the Westin St. Francis is only offered on Saturdays and Sundays during the holiday season. Reservations are required, and do reserve early as it does sell out.
Holiday Happenings Nearby
Our family made the Westin St. Francis our home base to explore other San Francisco holiday offerings nearby. Just across the street from the hotel is the giant Union Square Christmas tree and annual holiday ice rink. Also just steps away is Macy’s where we were able to take my children for a visit with Santa Claus. If you are visiting with young children as we were, don’t miss the Macy’s windows on Stockton Street. The SPCA brings adoptable puppies and kittens to win the hearts of passing shoppers. Luckily, we escaped our adventure without bringing home a new pet. But just barely!
There is a wealth of activities to do in Union Square and all over San Francisco during the holiday season. For more ideas, see 10 Things to Do with Kids in San Francisco for the Holidays and Free Things to Do in San Francisco for the Holidays.
The Westin St. Francis offers a number of packages for the holidays for travelers of all types. Some for families offer a discount off a second room and complimentary meals for children aged 12 and under (more information here).