Nob HillNob Hill is one of San Francisco's signature neighborhoods, renowned for its city landmarks and the famous hotels that border Huntington Park. For those who explore further, it also reveals unexpected facets. In addition to its swanky character, the area is influenced by the diverse personalities of the downtown neighborhoods that surround it, making it an intriguing place to visit.
The area's reputation of privilege dates back to Gold Rush times, when cable car lines made the hilltop accessible and the railroad barons and bonanza kings built their mansions there, far above the rowdiness of the bawdy waterfront. Luxury hotels now stand in the place of those original palaces, and when you hike to the top of the hill, historic buildings such as the Fairmont Hotel and the Flood Mansion are undeniably impressive, as are the lush cascades of bougainvillea and the genteel apartment buildings with their wedding-cake facades.
Venture away from Huntington Square and the terrain starts to change. Chinese temples and small businesses spill over from Chinatown, and over towards Union Square you find upscale boutiques. Funky shops and dive bars lie along the blurred edges of the Tenderloin (an area known as the Tender Nob), and the Polk Street boundary is lined with nightclubs and popular bars.
Some parts of the neighborhood feel frozen in time. The hill is dotted with vintage barber shops, old corner coffee shops and cocktail lounges from bygone decades. Nob Hill has also been home to some iconic San Francisco characters. Legendary columnist Herb Caen lived in the Brocklebank building, across from the Fairmont Hotel, and the neighborhood is currently home to Marian and Vivian Brown, the famous "San Francisco twins," known for their
It can be difficult to distinguish the precise boundaries of the Nob Hill neighborhood. This guide covers an area roughly bordered by Polk, Post, Mason and Washington Streets.
Grace Cathedral Episcopal Church: The West Coast's largest Episcopal cathedral looms over Huntington Park with Gothic splendor, an imposing replacement for the original 1849 Gold Rush chapel. Of special interest are the cathedral's stained glass, its bronze doors (casts of those made by Lorenzo Ghiberti for the Baptistry in Florence), frequent concerts, and its pair of labyrinths. Circular paths of inlaid patterned coils, the labyrinths are intended for contemplative walking. The outdoor labyrinth is made of terrazzo stone, and the indoor path is woolen tapestry. 1100 California St., (415) 749-6300. (
Huntington Park: After the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed the grand home of Arabella Huntington, widow of railroad baron Collis P. Huntington, she donated the land to the City of San Francisco to be used as a public park. The classic square forms the heart of Nob Hill, and with its shady benches and children's playground it makes an inviting place to pause after a hike up the hill. The a replica of one in Rome, features a melange of cavorting turtles and nymphs and is lit by eight underwater halogen lamps that, during the holidays, are changed from clear to red, amber and green. At Jones and Taylor Sts.
Lumiere Theatre: Named for the Lumiere brothers, French pioneers of cinema, this art house screens independent films, foreign releases and documentaries. The space includes one large screen and two smaller screens. 1572 California St., (415) 421-
Argosy Book Shop in Hitchcock's "Vertigo" (in which the owner was a local expert on San Francisco lore), the Argonaut is a treasure trove of books on the history of California and the American West. It also has good collections on the American Civil War, American railroads, regional Americana, antiques and maritime books. 786 Sutter St., (415) 474-9067.
Filigree: A gallery for artisan crafts, including jewelry, ceramics, blown glass, textiles and paintings. Various styles are represented -- earthy, Eastern, contemporary, whimsical -- and you can find pieces for a range of budgets, from a nice piece of jewelry or a great painting, to a glazed tile or etched note card. 1742 Polk St., (415) 614-0930.
Huf: Former pro skater Keith "Huf" Hufnagel brings street cred to his sneaker shop, offering a highly exclusive selection of skater and sports shoes, focusing on hard-to-find old-school and new model Adidas, Vans and Nikes, as well as pro-skater brands DVS and Path. 808 Sutter St., (415) 614-9414.
KAYO Books: Fans of esoteric and offbeat books will be bowled over by the selection at this palace of pulp fiction. Tidy, bright and smelling deliciously of old paperbacks, the two-story shop stocks such cult genres as Juvenile Delinquency, Hobos and Trains, Bachelors, Catholic Guilt and Sleaze. It also carries good selections of science fiction, mysteries and comics. 814 Post St., (415) 749-0554.
Lotta Jansdotter: Swedish-born designer Jansdotter uses this storefront as both studio and showcase for her line of Scandinavian-influenced home accessories. She hand-screens linens, cushions, stationery and handbags in simple, contemporary patterns that draw on organic shapes and natural colors. Hours are limited; the store is open Thursdays from noon to 7pm, or by appointment. 864 Post St., (415) 409-1457.
Scottish Tartan Shop: Walk in the door and the helpful proprietor will do everything he can to hunt down a shred of Scots heritage in the branches of your family tree, searching through his well-thumbed book of Scottish names. But even if you don't have a clan to call your own, you can still take comfort in a thistle brooch or a cashmere Pringle sweater. In business for more than 30 years, the shop specializes in custom-fitted kilts for weddings and other special occasions, with advice given on proper kilt length, sock height and other matters of Highland pride. 840 Post St., (415) 771-1898.
Sugar: At first glance this blinding white space looks like an art gallery full of curvy minimalist sculptures, which on closer look are revealed to be a display of functional home accessories. The store features work by many local artists and designers, items such as contemporary vases, vivid pillows and artful serving dishes. 804 Sutter St., (415) 409-7842.
Venus Superstar: Everything's a little tattered or embellished at this small, punk-rock boutique. Independent designers contribute a range of edgy pieces, like paint-splattered purses, reconstructed tops or shredded T-shirts. Also on display are jewelry and paintings from local artists. 1112 Sutter St., (415) 749-1978.
You Say Tomato: Englishman David Kidd sells all snacks British here, such as jams and conserves, oodles of hard candy, biscuits (cookies to us), Cross & Blackwell's Branston pickles and interesting crisps (chips) in flavors like prawn cocktail, beef, chicken and pickled onion. An old-fashioned freezer chest holds a few frozen items, including black pudding, white pudding and California-made meat pies. Twinings teas are sold, both in the version made for export to the United States and the stronger kind made for consumption in Britain. (SF Chronicle/SF Gate) 1526 California St. (near Polk Street), (415) 921-2828.
Cafe Bean: Dig into Dutch pancakes and breakfast omelettes, in addition to hot and cold sandwiches and other standard cafe fare at this cozy corner coffee shop. 800 Sutter St., (415) 346-1687.
Cafe Mozart: This Old World restaurant is decorated like the tchotchke-adorned parlor of an Austrian grandma, and the menu is rife with classic European indulgences: escargots, Cornish game hen, stroganoff and smoked salmon with caviar. 708 Bush St., (415) 391-8480)
Fleur de Lys: Veteran chef Hubert Keller has returned to his Alsatian roots with a new, fixed-price menu, giving an elegant turn to homey fare. The extraordinary four-star meals are $65 for three courses, $72 for four and $80 for five. The atmosphere is top-notch as well: Dining under the velveteen tent is a magical, slightly exotic experience, transporting diners to another world, a thousand miles away from the urban hustle and bustle right outside the door. (-- SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 777 Sutter St. (between Taylor and Jones), (415) 673-7779.
Gallery Cafe: Located across from the Cable Car Museum, this bright, spacious cafe is a good place to refuel on fresh sandwiches, coffee and pastries. It also offers a great view of the cable cars coming back to the barn. 1200 Mason St., (415) 296-9932.
Grubstake: Though at heart it's simply a diner, there's a lot that stands out about Grubstake, not least its memorable name. Part of the restaurant is housed in a rail car, a remnant of the Key Line, and the menu lists a number of Portuguese dishes along with its burgers, milkshakes and breakfast fare. Best of all, considering its proximity to the Polk St. night spots, it's open until 4 a.m. 1525 Pine St., (415) 673-8268.
Il Cartoccio: When you need a pasta fix and are far from North Beach, this petite restaurant off the lobby of the Nob Hill Hotel is your ace in the hole. The gnocchi in lemon cream sauce in particular is to die for. 835 Hyde St., (415) 440-6094.
Le Colonial: Le Colonial isn't a place to hurry. The sexy, plantation-style surroundings are designed to be soothing and to promote lively conversations, fueled by some exotic drinks and innovative food. Main courses start at $23 for lemongrass roasted chicken and rise to $33 for the grilled lamb chops. Sea bass in banana leaves and crisp spring rolls are classics, while the duck is an exceptional new addition to the menu. The dessert fondue with rum makes a light-but-indulgent ending. (-- SF Chronicle and SF Gate) 20 Cosmo Place (between Post and Sutter), (415) 931-3600.
Miller's East Coast West Delicatessen: Homesick New Yorkers unite at this taste of the Big Apple. Look for mile-high pastrami sandwiches, baseball-sized matzo balls and some of the chewiest, crustiest bagels in town served with a classic Nova lox platter. The interior is reminiscent of an East Coast deli, with long counters and unadorned tables. Grab a dozen potato knishes to go, or at least one black-and-white cookie for the ride home. (-SF Chronicle) 1725 Polk St. (near Clay), (415) 563-3542
Nob Hill Cafe: Choose from pastas, pizzas and entrees at this neighborhood restaurant, a traditional Italian establishment consisting of a subdued dining room and a louder cafe room. 1152 Taylor St., (415) 776-6500
Polk Street Station Diner: A hybrid of an old-style diner and a contemporary restaurant, Polk Street Station keeps the best of the old, such as burgers and generous breakfast plates, while updating the formula with menu items such as fresh fish dishes, hearty pastas and uncommon entrees like fried quail. The pervasive train theme harkens back to a bygone era, with historic photos dotting the walls and a model train clattering overhead on a suspended track. 1356 Polk St., (415) 776-8899.
Slider's Diner: One bite of a juicy 8-ounce grilled-to-order burger will make you forget the down-at-the-heels environs. Sliders' also offers other diner classics such as grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, chili and thick-cut fries. Save room for a milkshake, too. 1204 Sutter St. (at Polk); (415) 885-3288.
Swan Oyster Depot: This venerable seafood counter has been in business since 1912, and owned by the Sancimino family since 1946: it's safe to say Swan knows its daily catch. Pull up a stool (or wait in line for one), and feast like a king in this eminently casual establishment, where the only seating is a marble counter stocked with lemon wedges, Tabasco sauce, oyster crackers, and other seafood essentials. Choose from seafood salads and cocktails, lobster, Dungeness crab and, of course, Swan's signature mollusk. You can also pick up some fresh fish to cook at home. Note: closes at 5:30 pm. 1517 Polk St., (415) 673-1101. (
Venticello: Rustic and warm-hued, this Tuscan country restaurant serves interpretations of comforting classic Italian dishes. Two levels of dining offer views across the city, spanning to the Bay Bridge. A wood-fired oven trimmed in blue tile turns out fresh focaccia and roasted portobello mushrooms. 1257 Taylor St., (415) 922-2545. (
Cafe Royale: A sleek cafe-bar that boasts an extensive beer and wine list and a menu of sophisticated cafe fare, Cafe Royale fosters a creative vibe with rotating art exhibits and live music. Marble-topped tables and a pair of crescent-shaped velvet sofas complete the upscale beatnik atmosphere. If you're in a social mood, settle in by one of the large street-front windows; for a more intimate evening head for the secluded mezzanine balcony. 800 Post St., (415) 441-4099.
Hyde Out: An easygoing neighborhood bar that keeps the customers satisfied with free popcorn, 30 beers on tap and the option of second floor seating for a bird's-eye-view of the scene. 1068 Hyde St., (415) 441-1914.
John Barleycorn: This little pub is good place to cozy up by the fire with a whiskey or a pint on a foggy night or after a movie around the corner at the Lumiere. 1415 Larkin St., (415) 771-1620.
The Red Room: A very hip, dark and red, red bar. Go on a weeknight to avoid the mass of people trying to balance themselves and their oversized cosmos. Any time of the week, there's sure to be lots of rosy conversation. 827 Sutter St., (415) 346-7666.
Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar: The Fairmont Hotel's campy tropical lounge and restaurant is a local institution, a cavernous tiki fantasy uniting tourists, conventioneers and kitsch-seekers in rum-soaked harmony. A top-40 band plays nightly, floating aboard a raft in the room's central lagoon, buffeted by the misty monsoons that periodically rain from the ceiling, topping off the Mai Tais of nearby patrons. The restaurant specializes in Pacific Rim cuisine, and the weeknight happy hour features an all-you-can-eat buffet and half-price fruity cocktails. 950 Mason St., (415) 772-5283.
Top of the Mark: This landmark bar is the quintessential special-occasion spot: whether you've just popped the question, sold your first novel or are otherwise on top of the world, its panoramic views make you feel like you own the city. Try a signature cocktail such as the Golden Gate or the Alcatraz, take a spin on the mahogany dance floor or indulge in a prix fixe dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, or champagne brunch on Sunday. Located on the top floor of the Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental Hotel, 999 California St., (415) 392-3434. (
Borderline Tenderloin spots: While these may be on the fence between Nob Hill and the 'Loin, their ambiance is definitely grittier than most of the spots mentioned above. With its smoking patio, uberhip jukebox and prime nightlife locale, the Hemlock (1131 Polk St.) has become a hot spot for scenesters, rockers and all other sorts of die-hard drinkers. Local and touring rock bands make the roughly 100-person-capacity space one of San Francisco's most intimate and hottest -- figuratively and literally -- places to see shows. Kimo's (1351 Polk St.) has been a Polk Street landmark for decades. The live-music showcase upstairs features hot glam and punk (you get a break on the already low cover charge if you dress in drag or fetishwear) and a weekly stand-up-comedy night. Divas (1081 Post St.) is a serious tranny bar which consists of three floors: There are shows on the ground level, a dance area on the second and a quieter bar area on the third that serves as a refuge from the wildlife below.