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Holiday Agenda: San Francisco's Best Afternoon Teas

Get a taste for a bygone era with an elegant tea time.

Nowadays San Francisco has a reputation for being tech-forward, but the city still offers plenty of old-school tradition, from its chugging cable cars to its ornate Victorian homes. One way to get a taste for a bygone era is to pause for one of the city’s elegant afternoon teas. This time of year, teatime is a more enticing prospect than ever. It offers a reprieve from the seasonal hustle and bustle, and several of downtown’s most exclusive hotels host holiday-themed tea experiences.

The grand Garden Court at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco
The grand Garden Court (©Palace Hotel)

Garden Court at the Palace Hotel

A soaring, 12,000 square-foot, stained glass domed ceiling, Italian marble columns and Austrian crystal chandeliers create a superlative backdrop for teatime at this hotel built in 1909. For a full taste of Victorian splendor, make a reservation for the Holiday Afternoon Tea, complete with fine china and silver, exquisite finger sandwiches and fresh scones (Tu-Sa). If you have little ones, book the Palace Santa Claus Tea (M). Or just drop in any day of the week for the more casual two-course Holiday Tea Time in the GC Lounge. $48-$95.

Samovar Tea Lounge, San Francisco
A Zen spread at Samovar (©Samovar Tea Lounge)

Samovar Tea Lounge

If your ideal teatime is best described as global and Zen, look no further than this serene local lounge. Samovar serves internationally inspired food and tea pairings, including Japanese, English and Moorish services. Or you can order a la carte from the menu, which features seasonal offerings like pumpkin chai, San Francisco Fog, cranberry eucalyptus and 8 Chocolate Chai made with local Tcho chocolate. Complement your tea with a platter of sweets (pastries, chia pudding, medjol dates and market fruit) or a selection from the new-for-winter toast and eggs menu.

Ritz-Carlton Lounge, San Francisco
A sweet tea time buffet in the Lounge (©Ritz-Carlton)

Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton

Located in posh Nob Hill right on a cable car line, the Ritz-Carlton’s Lounge puts on a refined afternoon tea with a live harpist that’s a perfect way to relax after a long day of navigating busy downtown. The tea service, which gets a holiday twist this month, is a feast of petite sandwiches like Le Querica prosciutto with Bellwether Farms sheep cheese and fig jam, plus sweets like brown butter shortbread cookies and gingerbread spiced cake. The annual Teddy Bear Tea invites children (and their stuffed animals) to snack on hot chocolate with marshmallows, teddy bear cookies and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while they listen to holiday tales and songs from a delightful elf and a giant teddy bear. Part of the proceeds benefit Make-A-Wish. Select dates. $75-$120. 

The Rotunda overlooks Union Square, San Francisco
The Rotunda overlooks Union Square (©Neiman Marcus)

The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus

Beneath the grandeur of the department store’s stained-glass dome, you can look out over Union Square and its buzzing crowds and magnificent holiday tree as you sip your Dammann Frères loose leaf tea and nibble on dainty tarts, finger sandwiches and flaky scones smeared with preserves and cream. This afternoon tea is the ultimate post-shopping treat, especially if you opt to upgrade it with a glass of Gloria Ferrer Cuvée or Domaine Chandon Rosé. Daily. $45-$60.