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Nob Hill: Living the High Life

Historic Hotels, Castle-like Cathedrals and Spectacular Views.

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Nob Hill: Living the High Life
Photo by Ocean Malandra
Sitting prettily over downtown San Francisco like a princess in her tower, Nob Hill has been the abode of the city's upper crust since the area was developed in the 1840's. But wealth isn't the only thing you will notice about the area when you visit, there is also an unmistakable tranquility in the air of Nob Hill, an absence of noise, pollution and busy-ness which is almost jarring considering how close it is to the center of the city. Stroll around a bit, check out some architecture and then sit down and relax for a minute or two in Huntington Park, you will slip right into the mood.

Visitng Nob Hill

Nob Hill is a short but very steep walk up from just about anywhere in downtown San Francisco, but is especially lung-taxing if coming from Union Square as the grade is the sharpest - fitness buffs take note and couch potatoes be forewarned.

But that's why they put in the Cable Car after all, and you can take any one of the three lines to get to the top of Nob Hill. In a pinch, you can also grab the 1 California Muni Bus, which comes up from the financial district and Chinatown.

Nob Hill is also included on several different bus and shuttle tours of San Francisco, including the Postcards of Historic San Francisco tour, which visits the city's most historically important areas and monuments in a vintage touring car.

Architectural Highlights of Nob Hill

The first thing you will notice upon arriving at the top of Nob Hill - besides the astounding views - is the magnificent architecture, much of it built by the rich railroad barons, mining kingpins and timber magnates of the 19th and 20th century.
  • Grace Cathedral: This ornate Gothic Cathdral is easily the prettiest church in San Francisco and it contains several notable features including bronze doors from the Italian Rennaisance, an outdoor walking labyrinth and an international AIDS memorial chapel designed by artist Keith Haring.

  • Historic Hotels: The top of Nob Hill is home to several of the city's poshest historic hotels including the Fairmont, the Mark Hopkins and the Huntington Hotel. All of these are open to the public for visitation and have onsite bars and restaurants - try the "Top of the Mark" for awesome views and the "Big Four" in the Huntington for a wealth of historic artifacts.

  • The Pacific Union Club: This 42 room brownstone mansion was the only private residence on Nob Hill to survive the 1906 earthquake. Now a private club and open to it's members only, it must be enjoyed from the outside.

  • The California Masonic Memorial Temple: Home to a library and museum on freemasonry, this 1950s structure is decorated with statues and masonic symbols. www.masonicauditorium

Nob Hill's Huntington Park

Although this park is only half a square block in size, it is actually one of the city's best loved and well used urban green spaces. Here, among the bubbling fountains and European-style figurative sculptures, the Nob Hill gentry walk their poodles and Pomeranians, nannies chase their charges around the play equipment and older folks sit and soak up the peaceful vibe on the benches. The lush grass is also full of sunbathers when the weather is warm, as the park is one of the best secret hideouts for catching some rays in the downtown area.

Exploring Nob Hill

Besides the landmark dense top of Nob Hill, the area is actually pretty residential and feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle down below. One of the best walking routes to take is Taylor Street, which houses several small cafes, corner markets and neighborhood bistros as it flows from Nob Hill to nearby Russian Hill. The street follows the ridgeline meaning you don't have to walk down the hill and then back up again. Climb up to the top of Russian Hill for more spectacular views and then descend down to the waterfront near Fisherman's Wharf.
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