San Francisco's Nob Hill, that former bastion of railroad magnates, is typically too pricey a place for the likes of my husband and me. But by following an important credo of hotel searching -- always check the website of the hotel itself -- we managed to find a special rate for four days of our recent visit to the city. We embedded ourselves at the Stanford Court Hotel, paying $178 on a Saturday night, $131 Sunday, $139 Monday and $148 Tuesday (plus $30 a day in various taxes and fees, alas). These are amazing hotel rates for San Francisco, even for something much smaller and more downscale at the bottom of the hill.
We were coming in from Napa in a rent car, so while hubby turned that in, I checked us in and -- without any tip or request or anything -- was given an upgrade from our standard king room to a big king room with a view. The hotel had no idea I was a travel writer, so this wonderful and weird. Here's the view:
As you can see, we could spy the Transamerica Tower, the spire of the Ferry Building (it's the wee stick in the back to the left of the tall, uninteresting building) and lots of bay -- far more than my phone's camera could accommodate in one shot. We also got to look down onto Nob Hill's penthouses. I love looking down on penthouses.
The Stanford is far from a new hotel, but the bed was great, with top-flight linens, and the room offered plenty of space to walk around ub, a big bathroom, room coffee, a fridge, a safe, a desk and good service all around (and a fitness center without a resort fee or similar, thank you). So: We were extremely happy with the room and its view. Checking today, we find rates for this hotel all over the place, with a standard king going for as little as $118 some days and $400 on others. This sort of San Francisco pricing, which has everything to do with whether there's a big convention in town, had led us to, in recent years, change our strategy for booking trips. We book the hotel before we find the airfare. It's no good to get a cheap airplane, then get clobbered by high hotel rates.
But, back to Nob Hill: The hotel notwithstanding, there were two negatives, and they both have to do with the pedestrian experience. One is that, obviously, it's at the top of a hill. A very steep climb is necessary to get home after you've been out. For that matter, the descent isn't always easy, as I found when I minced downhill at about a 40 degree angle in heels. The good news is that you'll have calves of steel after ascending the hill for a few days. More good news: Cabs in San Francisco, unlike those pretty much anywhere else in the country, are willing to run you up a hill without giving you grief or overcharging you. We're talking about $6 to go from Powell and Market up to Powell and California. Taking the cable car would've cost $6 each, so the cab was the way to go.
The second pedestrian negative held true for all four days we were there. Not sure it's a constant. The traffic lights were nothing but blinking reds at all of the top-of-the-hill intersections. This is a flat pedestrian waiting to happen. Every time a car let us cross, it got angry honks from vehicles behind it, and once an angry motorist peeled out with a screech that told us he'd far rather have mashed us. I am hoping this situation was temporary -- although four days is way too long -- and won't often be repeated. Traffic engineers, please stay on top of this.
Let's close with one more positive-negative: food and beverage. There aren't a lot of restaurants at the top of Nob Hill. The ones that are there are mostly affiliated with hotels and very expensive. (At the moment, the Stanford Court doesn't have a restaurant, although it offers morning coffee and breakfast items for sale in the lobby, and they're both very good.) That's a minus. For those who enjoy the odd upscale cocktail, though, you'll never do better than Nob Hill. The Big Four, with its piano music, is one of our favorites (new piano guy is good, although we miss Michael). The Fairmont's Tonga Room is hilarious. All the bars are good, though none is cheap. (I'll do a later blog on cheap SF cocktails, I promise.)
Final analysis: We'll probably climb back up Nob Hill. But only when one of those specials is under way.