SAN FRANCISCO ●Hotels●Union Square
This is a choice area to stay in, especially if traveling without a car. All of these hotels are within a few blocks of downtown, the theater district, and the cable car line. Many are atmospheric establishments that provide an European-style small-hotel experience.
Cartwright Hotel Union Square 524 Sutter St./Powell St., 1 blk. from Union Square. 8 stories; 114 rooms. Evening wine; room service. Self- & valet parking. Built in 1914 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, this small classic hotel has a cozy ambiance. Guest room decor features contemporary furnishings.
The intimate Bar 1915 serves a continental breakfast in the morning and features a light menu and beer and wine in the evening. It is also the setting for a complimentary evening wine hour that concludes with freshly baked cookies.
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Chancellor Hotel 433 Powell St./Post St., ½ blk. from Union Square. 15 stories; 137 rooms. Restaurant; room service. No pets. Self-parking & valet. Built in 1914, this European-style small hotel opens right onto the cable car line and greets guests at check-in with freshly baked cookies. Rooms are small but have charm and are fitted with double-paned windows that deaden street sound. A pillow menu offers everything from soothing to tantalizing, and bathrooms have extra-deep tubs and a complimentary rubber ducky souvenir.
Luques Restaurant serves breakfast until 2:30 p.m. and offers an intriguing list of specials: Order a “Do Your Own Thing” and you get to choose any scramble or omelette. The bar stays open late serving drinks.
Clift Hotel 495 Geary St./Taylor St., 2 blks. from Union Square. 17 stories; 329 rooms. Fitness room. 2 restaurants; room service. Valet parking. The ultra-cool updated redo of this historic luxury hotel dating from 1915 has been described as “like Helen Hayes has turned into Madonna.” Even if not staying here, it warrants at least a stop in the chic lobby for a drink and to sit in the oversized Alice-in-Wonderland chair. Hefty rates put it on the lodging list of the world’s rich and famous, including Mick Jagger. Service is high priority for the staff, and everyone gets the royal treatment--celebrity or not. Even kids. A family plan includes two connecting rooms, and the desk loans toys for toddlers, magazines for teens, and children’s books, board games, Nintendo games, and movies. The concierge has loaner strollers and can help plan family sightseeing trips. At bedtime, snacks such as cookies and milk or popcorn and soda are available from room service. Pets receive a basket of treats, sleeping pillow, and food bowl upon arrival.
Just off the lobby, the classic art deco Redwood Room cocktail lounge was lined in 1933 with redwood panels from a single 2,000-year-old giant redwood tree. It is a great spot to sip an exotic cocktail.
Cornell Hotel de France 715 Bush St./Mason St., 2 blks. from Union Square; 6 floors; 58 rooms. Full breakfast; restaurant. Self-parking. This 1910 building has been restyled into a French country-style hotel, with each room individually decorated. The owner has been employing an artist three days a week for 15 years to decorate the interior with original art. So doors, walls, and more throughout sport delightful artistic details. Each guest floor is dedicated to one artist and features reproductions of their works. My floor, the 6th, featured Gaugin, while another floor spotlighted Matisse. The fresh yet vintage room decor was a sweet mix of pastel paint, wallpaper, and famous art prints by other artists. There is no air conditioning, but in San Francisco that isn’t usually a problem and, joy of joys, the windows open and let in a lovely breeze. And, since my room faced east and the cable cars were less than a block away, I could hear the iconic sounds of clanging bells and even buzzing cables. The sounds stopped at some point in the night, and I knew it was morning when they began again. A complimentary bacon-and-eggs American breakfast is served in the restaurant in the morning, but French toast is also an option. The hotel’s original, elegant, and automated four-person Otis elevator—the owner thinks it might date to 1850 and that it possibly hails from NYC--continues to deliver guests where they want to go.
Allow time to explore. You are just a few blocks from Union Square and from the gates of Chinatown. And, should you be wanting to take a walk on the wild side, a male strip club is just next door.
The French Restaurant Jeanne d’Arc operates in the hotel’s basement.
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Donatello Hotel 501 Post St./Mason St., 1 blk. from Union Square. 15 stories; 94 rooms. Hot tub; 2 saunas; fitness room. Restaurant; room service. No pets. Valet parking. Named after the Italian Renaissance sculptor, this European-style luxury hotel has the largest standard guest rooms in town. More than 300 pieces of original art decorate the hotel, and the lobby features 18th- and 19th-century antiques, imported Venetian chandeliers, and Italian marble quarried from the same site where Michelangelo selected the marble for his statue of David. The 15th-floor Penthouse Club Lounge has a wood-burning fireplace and a wraparound terrace with sweeping city views and is free to guests.
Grand Hyatt San Francisco 345 Stockton St./Post St., on Union Square. 36 stories; 685 rooms. Fitness room. Restaurant; room service. No pets. Valet parking. This hotel is well known locally for its Ruth Asawa-designed bronze fountain depicting scenes of San Francisco. Room amenities include a TV in the bathroom. The hotel restaurant is on the 36th floor.
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Handlery Union Square Hotel 351 Geary St./Powell St., ½ blk. from Union Square. 8 stories; 377 rooms. Heated pool; sauna. Restaurant; room service. No pets. Valet parking. This family-owned and -operated hotel dates from 1908. Comfortable rooms equipped with modern amenities are available in both a historical section and in a more contemporary club section. The courtyard pool is a rare find downtown--only five hotels in the entire city have an outdoor pool—and permits sunbathing to the sounds of nearby cable cars. A plethora of packages add to the already good value.
Modeled after the great grills of the 1930s and ‘40s, the clubby, comfortable Daily Grill operates off the lobby and has plenty of booths and a full bar.
Hilton San Francisco Union Square 333 O’Farrell St./Mason St., 2 blks. from Union Square. 46 stories; 1,919 rooms+151 suites. Outdoor heated pool; hot tub; full-service spa; fitness room. 2 restaurants; room service. Self-parking & valet. Occupying a full block and incorporating three buildings, this is the largest hotel on the West Coast. It features a dramatic sunken marble lobby and is always buzzing.
The Urban Tavern (B&D daily; $$-$$$.) restaurant operates on the ground level just off the lobby. An inviting, spacious venue, it offers a variety of seating arrangements--booths, tables and chairs, banquettes, counter seats, long communal table. Decor includes a dramatic full-size horse sculpture made with recycled metal and rustic ceiling beams made from reclaimed wood. Living up to its name, the drink menu highlights 50 wines from wineries within 50 miles, plus Bay Area beers and indigenous spirits. I chose a tart Melon Ball Margarita cocktail that combines Tequila, Midori melon liqueur, and honeydew puree. My dining partner had a Stormy Weather made with Blackwell Jamaican black rum, fresh lime, and ginger beer. Another delicious, sweetish drink is The Improved Whiskey Cocktail, prepared with fruit-infused bourbon made in house. Appealing Mocktails are an option for those who don’t drink alcohol. The kitchen makes good use of San Francisco’s bounty of seasonal ingredients. We started with a light appetizer of spiced cucumbers accented with sesame and peanuts. I chose well--a flavorful skirt steak served as a mound with wonderful wee baby potatoes, wild mushrooms, blistered cherry tomatoes, and balsamic onion marmalade. My partner had a thick lightly-smoked pork chop with chunks of garnet yam, Brussels sprouts, and cracklings. On another visit I tried the Garganelli bolognese which was divine--a penne pasta topped with a large portion of long-cooked “melted” short ribs mixed with aged goat cheese. The gigantic house burger arrives stabbed together with a steak knife. I was intrigued by the wine-bottle roasted chicken which was described as roasted on a full wine bottle, with the fumes permeating the meat and the remaining wine used in a sauce. Next time. It is unusual nowadays to find a menu with so many enticing mains. For dessert we chose the TCHO Sea Salt Brownie Skillet, which was served attractively in a cute little 6-inch cast iron skillet that was hot from the oven. It had a molten center and was topped with brandied cherries, honeycomb candy pieces, and orange-whiskey jellies. The kitchen seems to hit the perfect note on almost everything, so order fearlessly. A doorway leads from the back of the restaurant into the lobby of the Hilton hotel, which is a great place to sit for a while and people-watch.
On the 46th floor, Cityscape Lounge features 360-degree views through 14-foot floor-to-ceiling windows. It is open daily from 5 p.m. to midnight with a menu of small plates and appetizers along with signature cocktails, wines by the glass, and a variety of beers on tap. My favorite tidbit is the positively addictive house-made Kennebec potato crisps with garlic aioli sauce, and my favorite drinks are the Noe Valley Old Fashioned made with rum and orange bitters and the Berkeley Bramble made with The Botanist Gin, blackberries, lemon, and club soda. “No two days look the same from Cityscape, where San Francisco weather flows over the ever-changing skyline,” says General Manager Lenny Gumm. A nice feature is that you can freely walk all around the venue, being on one side for a while and then moving to the other side perhaps for sunset.
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Hotel Abri 127 Ellis St./Cyril Magnin, 2 blks. from Union Square. 5 stories; 91 rooms. Children under 18 free. 1 wood-burning fireplace. Discount pass to nearby fitness center. Restaurant, limited room service. Self-parking &, valet. Built in 1906, this hotel casts itself as an “urban oasis.” And indeed it is that, noticeably so as guests enter the lobby from the hectic street and the doors shut behind them. Guest rooms are large, have a contemporary decor, and many feature beds with canopied headboards.
Though owned separately from the hotel, Puccini & Pinetti can be entered off the lobby. Hotel guests receive a discount coupon. It has good pizza, pasta, and devil’s food cake and is reputed to have one of the best happy hours in the city. Kids can design their own pizza at the table, and a Manners for Kids class is offered occasionally and includes lunch.
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Hotel Adagio 550 Geary St./Taylor St., 3 blks. from Union Square. 15 stories; 171 rooms. Fitness room. Restaurant; room service. No pets. Valet parking. Built in 1929, this tall and deep Spanish Colonial Revival building now holds a clean-lined contemporary hotel. Its aim is to be relaxed, debonair, urbane, handsome, and sophisticated. If it were a magazine, it would be Metropolitan Home. In guest rooms a drape serves as the closet door, and even on the top floors windows open to fresh air. Guests are well advised to take advantage of a free tour led by the hotel’s special Golden Gate Greeter corps.
Hotel Beresford 635 Sutter St./Mason St., 2 blks. from Union Square. 7 stories; 114 rooms. Continental breakfast. Valet parking. This European-style small hotel has a cozy Victorian decor and pleasant rooms.
With cross-timbered walls, the hotel’s White Horse Restaurant and Pub is an authentic replica of a vintage pub in Edinburgh.
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Hotel Carlton 1075 Sutter St./Hyde St., near Polk St., 5½ blks. from Union Square. 9 stories; 161 rooms. Evening wine; restaurant; limited room service. Self-parking & valet. Inspired by the fact that 60% to 80% of its guests are from abroad, the hotel within this renovated 1927 building strives to make guests feel like they are visiting a well-traveled aunt’s home. If it were a magazine it would be National Geographic Traveler. Decor is “international vintage,” with travel photographs and antiques from around the world used throughout. One-of-a-kind furnishings grace the lobby. Guest rooms feature a color scheme of cream-saffron-persimmon-blue that was inspired by a vintage Indian sari, and original architectural details include intricate hand-carved ceiling moldings and banisters topped with wrought-iron pinecones. Most rooms have a view of city lights, and adjoining rooms are available. The exceptional staff here brings travelers back again and again. A complimentary shuttle is provided to the Financial District on weekdays.
Saha restaurant operates off the lobby and serves a delicious Arabic fusion cuisine that includes knaffe (ahi with kalamata olive-walnut relish and fig sauce) and fattoush (chopped salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, Feta, olives, mint, cilantro, sumac, and more).
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Hotel des Arts 447 Bush St./Grant Ave., across from Chinatown gate, (866) 285-4104, (415) 956-3232. 51 rooms. Some shared baths. Continental breakfast. Located in the French Quarter, this renovated Victorian hotel has narrow stairs and a heavy-duty, NYC loft-style elevator. The interior is updated and modernized with clean lines, and guest room walls are painted with murals by local artists (they were given carte blanche and free lodging). More artwork by locals decorates the lobby and halls, and all is for sale. The Madonna Room features an entire wall painted with Dolce & Gabbana logos and another with the image of the namesake star.
Hotel Diva 440 Geary St./Mason St., 2 blks. from Union Square. 7 stories; 116 rooms. Fitness room. Restaurant; room service. Valet parking. Built in 1913, this hotel features cutting-edge contemporary design. The trip begins with the exterior window in the lobby, designed to resemble a frozen layer of glass, and with a Sidewalk of Fame out front bearing the hand imprints of famous divas, including Lily Tomlin, Angelica Huston, and Carol Channing. Movies and music videos roll continuously on a large flat-screen TV above the reception desk, and the elevator’s cobalt blue-leather padding matches the carpeting. With a 1920s ocean liner decor, rooms feature beds with sculptured steel headboards, buffed-steel and maple-wood furniture, more cobalt blue carpeting, and black granite bathrooms. Two-room suites each have a wall bed in the living area (the Murphy Bed Company was founded in San Francisco in 1900) and are especially comfortable and well priced for families.
Hotel Mark Twain 345 Taylor St./Ellis St., 4 blks. from Union Square. 9 stories; 118 rooms. Fitness room. Restaurant; room service. No pets. Valet parking. The past: In January 1949, Billie Holiday was busted here in room 203 as she tried to flush away some opium. She was found not guilty by a jury. The present: Now a sophisticated boutique hotel, some rooms here feature iPod docking stations and laptop computer pillows. Room 203 is now the Billie Holiday Suite.
Invitingly decorated like an old-time train station cafe, Fish & Farm adjoins and serves a sustainably farmed, contemporary surf & turf menu.
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Hotel Monaco 501 Geary St./Taylor St., 2 blks. from Union Square. 7 stories; 201 rooms. Hot tub; sauna; steam room; full-service spa; fitness room. Evening snack; restaurant; room service. Valet parking. Built in 1910, this landmark American beaux arts building is completely renovated. The inviting lobby has high, high ceilings with hand-painted domes, as well as an impressive 2-story French inglenook fireplace and a grand staircase with the original bronze filigree railing and marble steps--both are remains from the hotel’s prior incarnation as the Bellevue Hotel. Each sumptuously decorated room features a canopy bed, and guests can borrow a companion goldfish during their stay.
BDK Restaurant and Bar serves up bar snacks as well as full meals.
Hotel Nikko San Francisco 222 Mason St./O’Farrell St., 2 blks. from Union Square. 25 stories; 532 rooms. Indoor heated pool; hot tub; sauna; fitness room. Restaurant; room service. Valet parking. Featuring clean architectural lines and a slick, marble-rich decor, this luxury hotel has San Francisco’s only atrium-style, glass-enclosed rooftop lap pool. The spacious fitness center is equipped with a traditional kamaburo dry sauna and deep Japanese soaking tub. Rooms are elegantly contemporary.
Since this hotel caters to a large Japanese business clientele, breakfast in elegant ANZU--the name means “apricot” in Japanese--features both American and Japanese fare. The "Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch" here features KBLX radio 102.9 broadcasting live from the dining room. Currently, music is recordings only. The champagne brunch menu changes monthly. Current selections include bacon and eggs, smoked salmon and bagels, and salads, sushi, assorted main dishes, delectable desserts, and more.
Feinstein’s at the Nikko presents cabaret entertainment in an intimate setting on the hotel's lobby level.
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Hotel Rex 562 Sutter St./Powell St., 2 blks. from Union Square. 7 stories; 94 rooms. Evening wine; restaurant; room service. No pets. Valet parking. Aspiring to become the Algonquin Hotel of the West Coast and designed as a focal point for the arts, this theme hotel has a clubby, writer-friendly ambiance. If it were a magazine it would be The New Yorker, and it aims to be warm, witty, and smart. Hand-painted lampshades are featured throughout, and the elevator is papered with pages from the city’s 1945 Social Register. Wall colors are warm, with guest rooms in shades of citrus, and back rooms face a lovely garden. Sketches of Martha Graham in the ‘30s hang in a lobby furnished with period pieces, including an authentic clock-face table, and literary events are scheduled regularly. Appetizers and drinks are purveyed each evening in the wood-paneled lobby bar.
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Hotel Triton 342 Grant Ave./Bush St., 3 blks. from Union Square. 7 stories; 140 rooms. Fitness room. Evening wine; restaurant; room service. Valet parking. Situated across the street from the ornate dragon-gate entrance to Chinatown and in the heart of the “French Quarter,” this playfully decorated hotel is sophisticated, casual, amusing, and chic all at the same time. Original art adorns public areas and guest room walls, much of it painted by local artist Chris Kidd, and bathrooms are positively slick. The Carlos Santana Suite sports hand-painted angels on the ceiling, plus concert posters and photos of the musician on the walls, and it is stocked with meditation candles, incense, and a prayer pillow. Suites honoring Jerry Garcia and whale-artist Wyland are also available, and another very special suite has an in-room hot tub. Guests who miss their pets can borrow a goldfish, and sessions with a tarot card reader can be arranged. A must-have souvenir rubber ducky inscribed with the hotel logo is for sale in the room honor bar.
Cafe de la Presse operates next door. This corner just might be the sunniest spot in the city, and outdoor sidewalk-side tables here are enticing on nice days. Also on the west side of the cafe, large windows offering views of the sidewalk make the interior room the place to be for breakfast. Dine then on housemade croissants and lattes as well as waffles, pancakes, and oatmeal. Lunch brings on a refreshing Nicoise salad, a good-old-American hamburger, and a classic croque monsieur. For dinner, the sunken main dining room in the back on the east side becomes a comfortable place to enjoy a Very French brasserie dinner. It features a brick wall, high ceiling with turning fans, and wood banquettes along either wall. The establishment’s changing menu, which is the same for all dining spaces, might include a warm fingerling potato salad topped with goat cheese and olive tapenade, grilled sea bass with mashed potatoes made delicious with a sauce Vierge, and for dessert if you’re really lucky, Ile Flottante (Floating Island)—the lightest-ever meringue floating in vanilla crème Anglaise. Recently I enjoyed a Salade de Laitue consisting of crispy romaine lettuce with hazelnut oil-Dijon mustard dressing; a Steak Frites with a flavorful Bordelaise sauce, caramelized onions, and a pile of crispy French fries that were better than McD’s; plus a mildly disappointing Croissant Pudding with chocolate and toffee sauce, caramelized hazelnuts, and vanilla gelato (the bread was too compressed). My companion had a tender and juicy, long-cooked, falling-off-the-bone Poulet au Citron Confit that was infused with flavor and served with braised summer vegetables and lemongrass sauce. Our delicious wine was a smooth 2014 Erath Pinot Noir from Oregon. Additional noteworthy items on the menu include Duck Foie Gras (which I was surprised to see), escargots, mussels, and a burger. Special three- and four-course fixed-price menus are also available. It is enjoyable to have a drink at the impressive horseshoe-shaped alder-wood bar, and 15 wines are poured by the glass. International newspapers and magazines are displayed along a wall and for sale. The surrounding neighborhood is filled with French cafes and has become popular with French visitors, and the ornate gate leading into Chinatown is just across the street.
Hotel Union Square 114 Powell St./Ellis St., 1 blk. from Union Square. 6 stories; 131 rooms. Valet parking. Built in 1913 for the Pan American Exposition, this hotel is decorated in a tailored contemporary style and situated just steps from the cable car turnaround. It is where Dashiell Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon, and a large corner suite is named for him. The Dashiell Hammett Suite holds Hammett books, an old fashioned typewriter, and a mural of "The Shadow of the Thin Man." Special hotel features include a massive Egyptian mosaic mural in the lobby and, on the 6th-floor landing, a hand-carved wood mermaid that once graced the bow of a ship.
The Inn at Union Square 440 Post St./Powell St., ½ blk. from Union Square. 6 stories; 30 rooms. Evening wine; continental breakfast. No pets. Valet parking. This small, narrow European-style hotel pampers guests with evening turndown, a complimentary overnight shoeshine, and a morning newspaper at the door. Room service is provided by adjacent Morton's Steakhouse.
JW Marriott San Francisco 500 Post St./Mason St., 1 blk. from Union Square. 21 stories; 338 rooms. Restaurant; room service. Fitness room. Valet parking. The luxurious rooms in this tranquil hotel feature a gorgeous marble bathroom and a bed topped with a cozy feather comforter. Swanky window-walled interior elevators traverse the 17-story central atrium.
Kensington Park Hotel 450 Post St./Powell St., 2 blks. from Union Square. 12 stories; 89 rooms. Restaurant. Pets ok. Valet parking; fee. This Gothic-style, circa 1924 hotel is decorated tastefully with Queen Anne antique mahogany furnishings and period art.
Afternoon tea and sherry is served in the lobby, and stylish Farallon restaurant is adjacent.
The intimate San Francisco Playhouse presents live performances in a beautifully restored space on the hotel’s second floor.
King George Hotel 334 Mason St./Geary St., 1 blk. from Union Square. 9 stories; 153 rooms. Room service. No pets. Self- & valet parking. Thomas Edison was an original investor in this stylishly colorful hotel, built in 1914, and it was he who convinced management to switch from gaslight to electricity.
Room service is provided by ‘50s-style Lori’s Diner, which is located next door and never closes.
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Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel 609 Sutter St./Mason St., 3 blks. from Union Square. 12 floors; 138 rooms. Evening cocktails; full breakfast; restaurant. Indoor pool; fitness room. Parking. Established as a memorial to Marines who served in the Pacific during World War II, this private club and hotel offers rooms to non-members on a space-available basis. The club also has a small military museum on the first floor and a library.
On the 12th floor, both the Leatherneck Steakhouse and the atmospherically decorated Flying Leatherneck Lounge offer an expansive city view.
Marines’ Memorial Theatre is located on the second floor.
Mystic Hotel 417 Stockton St./Sutter St., 2 blks. from Union Square. 82 rooms; 8-stories. Continental breakfast; room service. Pets ok. Contemporary luxury blends with vintage features—exposed brick walls, expansive bay windows--in this hotel dating to 1910. The fictional detective classic set in San Francisco, Maltese Falcon, has ties to the location. A plaque in the Burritt Alley entrance (off Bush St.) pays tribute to hero Sam Spade’s partner, who was killed here in the story.
Now operated by chef Charlie Palmer, The Burritt Room+Tavern presents live entertainment. The cozy film-noir-inspired bar specializes in hand-crafted cocktails made with artisanal spirits and fresh ingredients as well as small-production wines. Do try a tasty Hanky Panky or a whiskey-based Whodunit with cherries. The restaurant features private curtain-covered booths and a California-inspired American-fare menu with items such as a colorful salt-roasted beet and root vegetable salad and a California striped bass with sweet herb and citrus salsa and brown-butter croutons. It is interesting to know that the space was once a speakeasy as well as an insane asylum, but now, bartender Brian says, “We have fun here.” And the music is really good
Orchard Garden Hotel 466 Bush St./Stockton St., 4 blks. from Union Square. 10 stories; 86 rooms. Fitness room. Restaurant; room service. Self-parking & valet. No pets. Well-situated in the “French Quarter,” this hotel gives vigilant attention to green practices. Anyone with environmental illnesses should be quite happy, and everyone can breathe deeply, and easily, while inside. However, once you hit the street, all bets are off. Unfortunately, the hotel can’t control what goes on outside. In-room green features include a key card energy control system, trash recycling system, chemical-free cleaning products, compact fluorescent light bulbs, FSC-certified maple wood furniture, organic bath products and sustainable amenities, water-efficient bathroom fixtures, and individual climate control.
Casual Roots Restaurant features innovative American-Mediterranean cuisine that is prepared with locally sourced organic and sustainable ingredients. Vegetarian items are options, and still or sparkling water—filtered and bottled in house--is available. Cocktails are served late into the night at the bar.
Just up the street, the Orchard Hotel (665 Bush St./E. of Powell St., 2 blks. from Union Square. 10 stories; 104 rooms. Fitness room. Restaurant; room service. Self-parking & valet.) sister property is a slightly older, well-maintained boutique hotel. And, like most sisters, they are very similar but also different. This hotel features a classic Pan-Asian-style decor and platform beds.
Daffodil Restaurant overlooks the street and pairs small plates of seasonal cuisine with wines from around the world.
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Petite Auberge 863 Bush St./Mason St., 4 blks. from Union Square. 5 stories; 26 rooms. Some fireplaces. Afternoon snack, full breakfast. No pets. Valet parking. Located on the lower slopes of Nob Hill, this charming B&B operates within a small, ornate, baroque-style building and rooms are furnished with French country antiques. Breakfast is served in a cheery room decorated with a wrap-around painted mural depicting a French market scene; it also has a view of a tiny garden. Special features include a beveled-glass door leading to the entry, curved bay windows, and an unusual vintage elevator. A sister property, the White Swan Inn, is just a few doors away.
Serrano Hotel 405 Taylor St./O’Farrell St., 3 blks. from Union Square. 17 stories, 236 rooms. Fitness room. Afternoon wine; restaurant; room service. Valet parking; hybrids park free. Located in the theater district, this 1920s Spanish revival building has an ornate, architecturally interesting lobby with tall ceilings. The decor is stylish and comfortable in a regal sort of way. Eclectic furnishings have Moroccan touches and whimsical accents, and bright jewel tones and sumptuous fabrics are used throughout. A game library with a variety of board games is available to guests in the lobby, and a few games are placed in each room; most can be purchased to go. Complimentary amenities include morning coffee and afternoon wine served fireside in the lobby, overnight shoeshine service, a morning newspaper, and weekday morning town car service to the Financial District.
Jasper’s Corner Tap. is perfect for a quick before- or after-theatre stop. Cocktails here are available bottles and on tap as well as fresh, and the Negroni is a favorite.
Sir Francis Drake Hotel 450 Powell St./Sutter St., 1 blk. from Union Square. 21 stories; 417 rooms. Fitness room. 2 restaurants; room service. Valet parking. When built in 1928, this Gothic-Renaissance building was the tallest in town and the last word in hotels. Innovations at the time included an indoor golf course, ice water on tap, and radios in every guest room. The grand two-level lobby retains its magnificent original marble walls, recessed mirrors, and murals depicting the life of explorer Sir Francis Drake, and cable cars still stop at the front door. Rooms are tastefully contemporary, and afternoon tea and drinks are served in the mezzanine lobby lounge. The most famous of the hotel’s doormen--who all wear a colorful bright-red Beefeater uniform--is Tom Sweeney, who is known for his terrific memory for faces.
Though height is no longer its claim to fame, the hotel remains famous for its glamorous art deco Starlight Room. This 21st-floor rooftop bar offers fancy cocktails, light supper, and dancing to a full orchestra, as well as a panoramic city view and a popular Sunday’s a Drag brunch. Scala’s Bistro operates on the sidewalk level.
Taj Campton Place San Francisco 340 Stockton St./Sutter St., on Union Square. Valet parking. 110 rooms. This elegant, low-key hotel is in a perfect location. Staff will walk dogs at no additional charge.
Campton Place Restaurant serves Cal-Indian cuisine. A typical lunch might include an herb-rolled goat cheese salad with roasted peppers, roasted monkfish atop red and yellow peppers, and a duet of chocolate and lemon pot de creme with housemade madeleines.
Villa Florence Hotel 225 Powell St./Geary St., 1 blk. from Union Square. 7 stories; 183 rooms. Restaurant. Parking. Built in 1908, this hotel has the feel of an Italian-style villa.
A popular Italian restaurant, Kuleto’s, operates off the lobby. Northern Italian cuisine is served here in elegant surroundings that feature high vaulted ceilings and Italian marble floors. The 40-foot bar was hand-carved in England and brought here around the Horn before the 1906 earthquake (it was formerly at the Palace Hotel). Counter seating in the back is often available at the last minute and provides the additional treat of watching the skilled kitchen staff in action. Breads and pastries are housemade, as are pastas, which, along with grilled items, are particularly good. Don’t miss sampling the signature appetizer--radicchio e pancetta alla griglia. The 100% cold-pressed extra virgin California olive oil used by the restaurant is attractively bottled for purchase and makes a good souvenir. At breakfast, choose from eggs Benedict, a seasonal Dungeness crab omelette, blueberry pancakes, oatmeal, and more. Among the pastries are croissants, muffins, a sticky bun, and an apricot scone. Drinks include Illy coffees, a variety of teas, and a Mimosa or Bloody Mary.
Bar Norcini is located off the hotel’s lobby and has an expansive view of the street. An Italian wine bar by night, it is a cheery spot to greet the day. Coffee drinks, house-baked fresh pastries from Kuleto’s, seasonal fresh fruit, yogurt, and granola are on the limited menu.
The Westin St. Francis 335 Powell St./Geary St., on Union Square. 32 stories; 1,195 rooms. Fitness room; full-service spa. 3 restaurants; room service. Valet parking. Built in 1904, this legendary landmark hotel is the only one in San Francisco opening right onto Union Square. Every president since William Howard Taft has walked through its lobby, as have Ernest Hemingway and Queen Elizabeth II, and Jennifer Lopez lived here during the filming of The Wedding Planner. The hotel consists of both a 12-story historical section--where elegant rooms feature tall ceilings, elegant crystal chandeliers, and antique crystal-ball doorknobs--and a newer, newly refreshed 32-story tower with five outside glass elevators that go non-stop from the lobby to the 32nd floor in less than 30 seconds. All rooms are equipped with the chain’s famous fluffy Heavenly Beds®--they feel like sleeping in a cloud and can be ordered for home delivery--and the Heavenly Bath® featuring a shower head that emits a soft rain. Upon check-in, children 12 and under get a free Westin Kids Club packet filled with an assortment of age-appropriate amenities and the extension numbers for bedtime stories galore. Kids also get their own section of the room service menu featuring inexpensive favorites such as a hot dog and a jumbo chocolate chip cookie. Westin Heavenly Cribs, strollers, highchairs, bottle warmers, potty seats, and step stools can be placed in the room at no additional charge. And dogs get their own Heavenly Dog Bed, too. Silver and gold charms, including a cable car, are sold in a lobby boutique and make great souvenirs.
Bourbon Steak serves dinner off the lobby on the mezzanine level.
Named after the Westin St. Francis’ lobby clock, which has served as a downtown meeting point since 1907, Clock Bar is a swanky cocktail lounge also off the lobby. It serves indulgent nibbles—think lobster corn dogs and black-truffle popcorn.
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White Swan Inn 845 Bush St./Mason St., 4 blks. from Union Square. 4 stories; 26 rooms. All fireplaces. Fitness room. Evening snack, full breakfast. No pets. Valet parking. Built after the 1906 earthquake, in 1915, this charming hotel resembles an English manor house--with curved bay windows, warm dark woods, and handsome antique furnishings. The cheery reception area, cozy living room, and book-lined library all have fireplaces and are inviting places to relax. Guest rooms are large, and each has a separate sitting area. They are individually decorated with English floral wallpapers and furnished with a mahogany bed fitted with a warming European-style wool mattress cover. Amenities include evening turndown and a morning newspaper. Breakfast is served in a dining room just off a tiny English garden. A sister inn, Petite Auberge, is just a few doors away.