Nob Hill extensive guide to Berkeley and San Francisco area, plus inspiring articles about trips around the world

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After its steep slopes were conquered by Andrew Hallidie’s development of the cable car in 1873, Nob Hill became one of the city’s most exclusive residential areas.  It was known as the “Hill of Palaces” because it held so many opulent mansions.  Unfortunately, all of them burned down in the fire that followed the 1906 earthquake, save the brownstone shell of what is now the private Pacific Union Club.  Because of its spectacular views and steep streets, Nob Hill has been the setting for many films.  Most memorable, perhaps, is Bullitt with Steve McQueen.
Fairmont San Francisco  950 Mason St./California St.  24 stories; 591 rooms.  Fitness room; full-service spa.  3 restaurants; room service.  No pets.  Valet parking.  Situated at the top of one of San Francisco’s highest hills at the only spot in town where two cable car lines meet , this elegant landmark Beaux Arts-style hotel welcomes guests with a gargantuan gilded lobby appointed with marble Corinthian columns, alabaster marble floors, and a valuable art collection.  The hotel has hosted many international heads of state, including former President Bill Clinton, and numerous celebrities, and in 1973 it was the first in the U.S. to have a concierge—Tom Wolfe, who is still here.  It has starred in movies--Vertigo, Shoot the Moon, Sudden Impact--and its lobby and grand staircase were the setting for the Hotel TV series. 
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And it is where Tony Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”  A statue of Bennett now stands in front of the hotel.   The spacious guest rooms feature goose-down pillows and twice-daily maid service, and the cable cars--which stop in front of the hotel--can be heard from some.  The hotel’s crown is the historic eight-room Penthouse Suite.  The most opulent and expensive in the U.S., it rents for $12,500 per night and features a 2-story circular library, 24-karat-gold-plated bathroom fixtures, and a game room with a stained-glass skylight. 
          The Laurel Court Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  On Saturday and Sunday, afternoon tea is served in lieu of lunch.  An elegant bar also operates in this room and sometimes features live piano background music.
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          In the Tiki-hut atmosphere of The Tonga Room Restaurant & Hurricane Bar, a 3-minute simulated tropical rainstorm occurs every 30 minutes.  It is the place to hop off the cable car and stop in the evening for an exotic drink--the Mai Tai and Planter’s Punch are favorites, but don’t overlook the A Monk Walks Into A Luau (made for two to four people, and served with really long straws)--and is a bargain during the happy hour buffet served Wednesday through Friday.  A live dance band floating aboard a boat in the room’s indoor lagoon--a converted swimming pool dating from 1929--entertains beginning at 8 p.m., when a cover is charged.  A dinner menu is served in the dining room surrounding the lagoon.  You can’t go wrong with the Royal Pu Pu Platter, a side of Sichuan Long Beans, and dessert--think Passion Fruit Mousse Bomb--but mains include Kalua Pork and Kung Pao Chicken.  Reservations advised for dinner.  History of Tonga RoomMore images.

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InterContinental Mark Hopkins San Francisco  One Nob Hill, 999 California St./Mason St.  19 stories; 383rooms.  Fitness room.  Restaurant; room service.  Valet parking.  Built on the spot where once stood the mansion of Mark Hopkins, who founded the Central Pacific Railroad, this hotel opened in 1926.  Combining an architectural style that is part French château, part Spanish Renaissance, it has a central tower and two wings affording spectacular city views.  A small informal museum off the lobby displays artifacts from the past.
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          The hotel tower was crowned on the 19th floor in 1939 by the legendary Top of the Mark lounge and restaurant.  It has an extraordinary 360-degree view of the city and features live entertainment several nights each week.  It is said that proposing marriage by presenting an engagement ring in the bottom of a drink glass is played out more frequently here than anywhere else in the world.  A plaque on the wall by the bar commemorates it as being a favorite spot for World War II Marines to have a last drink before sailing off to battle in the Pacific, believing that this was good luck and would bring them home.  Wives and sweethearts gathered here in the northwest corner, dubbed the “Weepers’ Corner,” to gaze out the windows as their men sailed away.  Service men also had a tradition of buying a bottle and leaving it with the bartender so the next soldier from their squadron could enjoy a free drink.  You can see examples in a cabinet by the bar check-in stand.  This venue is a prime setting for a sunset cocktail or a night cap, and becomes even more romantic if you arrive by cable car.  The perfect drink choice seems to be a martini.  When martinis were first introduced, they were served in a Champagne coupe glass.  And tasting like a doctor’s office smells--which doesn’t mean they weren’t good--a retro coupe glass is what they are served in here.   I think of this spot as more formal and had insisted that my husband put on black slacks for our recent visit, and of course two girls at the table next to us were wearing shorts, spaghetti-strap tops, and sandals--not that my husband minded.  Another man sat down at a prime view table and opened up his computer and started working.  So times have changed.  Cocktails and light bites (the housemade potato chips and Crab Louis bruchetta are superb) are available daily, and brunch is served on Sunday.  More mages.

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image courtesy of venue
The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
600 Stockton St./California St.  9 stories; 336 rooms.  Indoor heated pool; hot tub; 2 steam rooms; fitness room; full-service spa.  2 restaurants; room service.  Valet parking.  Occupying a full square block about halfway up Nob Hill, just off the California Street cable car line, this branch of the classy chain is set within a restored 1909 neoclassical landmark building.  The interior features Italian marble, silk wall coverings, Bohemian crystal chandeliers, Persian carpets, and antique furnishings.  A museum-quality collection of 18th- and 19th-century European and American art and antiques is displayed throughout. 
          For brunch at Parallel 37 a battery of buffet tables offer delicacies that include caviars, smoked salmon, imported cheeses, fresh fruits, tasty cold salads, and hot entrees such as eggs Benedict, blintzes, and fish and meat courses.  Also, a heavily laden pastry table and a killer dessert table are included along with coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice.  Everything is carefully prepared and elegantly presented by a well-trained kitchen staff.  Dinner is casually elegant.
          The Lounge serves breakfast and lunch as well as a relaxing afternoon tea.  Special teas for children include an Easter Bunny Tea, with service by the Easter Bunny, and Teddy Bear Teas during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

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image courtesy of venue
Scarlet Huntington  1075 California St./Taylor St.  136 rooms.  Indoor pool & hot tub; fitness room; full-service spa.  Restaurant; room service.  No pets.  Valet parking.  Perched atop Nob Hill, this hotel’s posh rooms feature an English-style decor composed of leather, silk, damask, and velvet.  It is a popular spot with visiting authors, and many rooms have a spectacular view. 
          The Nob Hill Spa  is in the space formerly occupied by the legendary restaurant L’Etoile.  One of the city’s most luxurious spas, it sports saunas, steam rooms, a Jacuzzi, and an indoor infinity pool with a view of downtown through 18-foot high windows.  Three treatment rooms have a fireplace, and one is designed especially for couples.  Rumor has it that Courtney Love experienced the “Nirvana” treatment here. 
          Named after the nation's four most famous 19th-century railroad tycoons--C.P. Huntington, Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, and Mark Hopkins--Big 4 is known for its wild game focus, with occasional menu selections including buffalo, ostrich, venison, antelope, and alligator. 

Stanford Court San Francisco  905 California St./Powell St.  8 stories; 393 rooms.  Fitness room.  Restaurant; room service.  Valet parking.  Built on the site where once stood Leland Stanford’s house--described as “a mansion that dominated the city like the castle of a medieval hill town”--this grand hotel is blessed with striking turn-of-the-19th-century detail, a beaux arts fountain in the carport, and a lobby dome of Tiffany-style stained glass.  Guest room pampering includes marble bathrooms with heated towel racks, and complimentary amenities include coffee and newspaper delivered to the room in the morning, an overnight shoeshine, and downtown limousine service. 

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