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Postcard Perfect: Nob Hill, Russian Hill, & Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Spotlight

October 17, 2008

Since the Gold Rush days when the major railroad barons built their mansions there, Nob Hill has been a prestigious and luxurious place to live.  Many of those mansions have been replaced with or restored as beautiful hotels now, including the Fairmont, the Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental, and the Huntington, all of which frame the Hill’s crowning feature, Grace Cathedral.  A Gothic masterpiece and the largest Episcopal cathedral on the west coast, Grace Cathedral hosted Courtney Cox and David Arquette’s wedding, as it has the wedding of hundreds of wealthy San Franciscans.  Luxury condominiums are sprinkled among the luxury hotels, many with secluded courtyards or rooftop gardens.  The cable car makes for a pleasant way to commute into the Financial District.  Dining options in the neighborhood are centered primarily on the aforementioned hotels.  Our favorite spot is off the Huntington Hotel.  The Big 4 Restaurant is named after the four most famous railroad tycoons of the 19th Century: Charles Crocker, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and C.P. Huntington.  The dark wood paneling and succulent steaks make for a real old boy’s club feel and the live piano music in the bar make it a delightful place to sip a digestif.

If steak is what you crave however, head north up Van Ness along the edge of Russian Hill to find Harris’ Steakhouse and the House of Prime Rib.  Both are San Francisco institutions and will fix you a stiff martini while you wait for your table.  Russian Hill is actually littered with dining options, from La Folie, arguably the most expensive restaurant in San Francisco, to Swensen’s Ice Cream, still the best cone in the city.  Most of the restaurants and cafes are concentrated on Polk Street between Union and Pacific, or in a little cluster on Hyde Street between Union and Jackson.  A couple of charming options for dinner in the neighborhood are light Italian fare at Frascati on Hyde Street or delicious seafood at Pesce on Polk.  For cocktails sit amidst the Tiffany lamps and live plants in the Royal Oak.  And when the late evening singles scene makes the Oak too crowded, head a couple of doors down to a sliver of bar called Cresta’s, known to long-time neighbors as the “the 2211” (pronounced twenty-two eleven), after it’s address on Polk Street.

Russian Hill is a great place to live.  Beautiful views, nicely restored buildings and easy access to the Financial District and some of San Francisco’s most appealing business districts – Polk, Union and Chestnut Streets, plus North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf.  A walk up to the end of Polk Street and through Fort Mason is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.  Like most popular San Francisco neighborhoods, parking is truly painful in Russian Hill, but luckily most of its buildings have garages which is not always the case as you head over the hill to Telegraph.

Telegraph Hill is easy to recognize because of Coit Tower sticking out from the top.  Donated in 1929 as a monument to San Francisco firefighters, Coit Tower is an impressive place to visit, especially at sunset, for magnificent views of the city.  Much of the architecture in this area is narrow and vertically oriented to fit in quarters on the steep hillside.  There are some gorgeous gems with stunning views wedged into that hillside however and of course all are within stumbling distance of the entertaining bars and restaurants in North Beach at the foot of the hill.

Hosts and hostesses stand outside the Italian restaurants lining Columbus Avenue tempting tourists into their dining rooms, but locals tend to go back to their favorites over and over again.  Washington Square Bar and Grill, affectionately known as the WashBag, has gone through some changes in the recent years, but continues to serve dependable entrees in a collegial atmosphere.  For tasty Italian fare walk up Green Street to Sodini’s, everything on the menu is a winner, or down Grant Street Restaurant Ideal, their baked lasagna is the best.  If you’re in the mood for a beer and some conversation or a game of pool, stop in at another San Francisco institution, Gino & Carlo’s, on Green between Columbus and Grant.  And if all the beer has made you hungry again, a slice of Golden Boy pizza, served late from a window next door to Gino’s, will hit the spot.

Tags: , , , Grace+Cathedral, , , Hunginton
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