Nob Hill & Russian Hill
Atop the hills overlooking the bay and bustling downtown San Francisco are two adjacent neighborhoods famed for their wealth, panoramic views, and the historic cable cars which still climb the steep streets of the area. Nob Hill is an affluent neighborhood dating back to the gold rush, today renowned for its lavish hotels and charming shops and restaurants. Just to the north is Russian Hill, a quieter residential area most well known for its pleasant walks and the famous crooked section of Lombard Street. The district is bounded roughly by Van Ness Avenue to the west, Bay Street to the north, Sutter Street to the south, and Powell Street and Columbus Avenue to the east.
Nob Hill is one of the city's most affluent neighborhoods. The advent of the Cable Car made this hilltop accessible, and the city's early railroad and Gold Rush millionaires rushed to settle here, far away from the unruliness of the Waterfront and Barbary Coast. In fact the hill derived its name from a slang term used to describe men of wealth and prominence -'Nabobs'. Today, it is most renowned for its famous hotels and for city landmarks such as the impressive Grace Cathedral. At its peak is Huntington Park, with the Roman "Fountain of Tortoises" located at its center. The area was almost completely destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, but ensuring its survival were a host of luxury hotels that were built over their charred ruins. Given its lofty elevation, the hill has great select views over the city and bay.
Russian Hill is a hilly residential neighborhood located west of North Beach (and Telegraph Hill) and north of Nob Hill. These three hills have largely given San Francisco its "hilly" charm. The boundaries of Russian Hill are generally considered to be Van Ness Avenue on the west, Pacific Avenue on the south, Columbus Avenue on the east (northeast), and Bay Street on the north. In spite of the hilly terrain, the streets of Russian Hill are laid out mainly in a grid pattern, resulting in some of the steepest grades in the city, e.g., Filbert between Jones and Leavenworth. Because of the steepness of the hill, several streets, e.g., portions of Vallejo, Green, Greenwich and Larkin are blocked to motor vehicles and replaced by staircases. There are also beautifully landscaped pedestrian-only lanes such as Macondray Lane and Fallon Place. The most touristy block in Russian Hill is the winding Lombard Street, between Hyde and Leavenworth, with eight switchbacks, beautiful landscaping, and an arresting view of Telegraph Hill, Alcatraz Island and the East Bay. The hill's name goes back to the Gold Rush-era when settlers discovered a small cemetery at the top of the hill which contained Russian colonists who had created a settlement here during the 18th century. The cemetery was removed, but the hill's name remains to this day. There is no significant Russian presence here as the city's Russian community is located primarily in the Richmond District.
Driving into this district is not recommended due to the steep hills, narrow and dead-end streets, lack of parking, and sometimes confusing traffic diversions. Avoid any street that is also a cable car line (Hyde between Washington and Fisherman's Wharf, Mason between Columbus and Washington, and Jackson/Washington between Powell and Hyde), as the cable cars stop at every intersection, and they usually stop in the intersection.
If you must drive in, the best streets to take are Van Ness Avenue (running north-south along the western edge of the district), Columbus Avenue (running northwest-southeast through the northeastern corner of the area) and the east-west Broadway Street, which becomes a tunnel between Powell and Larkin Streets. When parking in this hilly district, remember to always apply that parking brake and turn your wheels so that the tires are against the curb.
By cable car
All three Cable Car lines cross at Powell and California. The Powell-Hyde and Powell-Mason cable car lines run between Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf. The Powell-Hyde line runs on Powell Street, Jackson/Washington Streets, and Hyde Street, running up and down Nob and Russian Hills and stopping at the top of the crooked section of Lombard Street. The Powell-Mason line runs on Powell and Mason Streets on the east edge of the district. The California cable car line runs east-west on California Street between Market Street in the Financial District and Van Ness Avenue.
MUNI bus routes #1-California, #10-Townsend, #12-Folsom/Pacific, #19-Polk, #27-Bryant, #30-Stockton, #41-Union, #45-Union/Stockton, #47-Van Ness and #49-Mission/Van Ness pass through the district. The #1, #10, #12, #41 and #45 run east-west through the district, the #19, #47 and #49 runs along the western edge of the district, the #30 runs on Columbus through the northeastern corner of the district, while #27 crosses across the southwestern part of the district.
This district is small enough for walking, but being very hilly, it can be somewhat strenuous.
- 1 Cable Car Museum, 1201 Mason St (at Washington), ☏ . Apr–Oct: 10AM-6PM daily; Nov–Mar: 10AM-5PM daily. Here you can see the mechanisms that drive San Francisco's famed cable cars, as well as plenty of cable car memorabilia and information on the history of the cable cars. Admission is free.
- 2 Lombard Street (between Hyde and Leavenworth). Do see the "crookedest street in the world", a one-block portion of Lombard Street that contains eight hairpin turns, created to reduce the hill's natural steep slope. The best time to see and photograph the winding street from the bottom (from Leavenworth St) is in the morning because Lombard Street runs east-west and slopes eastward. The best time to see and photograph the view from the top (from Hyde St) is in the afternoon. At night there are great views of Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower. The wild parrots of Telegraph Hill frequently fly over head in the morning.
- Famous hotels. Pretend you are a guest and not just a visitor, and have a look around the lobbies of some swanky San Francisco hotels. The Fairmont and Mark Hopkins have impressive lobbies that will leave you counting your pennies to see if you can afford a room. See below under the Sleep section for further info.
- 3 Filbert Street (between Hyde and Leavenworth). At a 31.5% grade, this is one of the very steepest streets in the entire Western Hemisphere. Like many of the steeper streets in the city, it has steps along the sidewalk and its own special set of parking rules, so that people and cars don't all come tumbling down! Free.
- 4 Francisco Street (between Hyde and Leavenworth). This block contains twelve spectacular mansions in a variety of styles. It is very close to the crooked section of Lombard Street and is worth the minor detour on the way.
- 5 Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St (between Taylor and Jones), ☏ . M-F 7AM-6PM, Sa 8AM-6PM, Su 7AM-7PM, cathedral holidays 8AM-4PM. The main Episcopalian church of the city, based on the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. They request a donation and the tour is an hour long. You learn a lot but at times it is way too detailed.
- 6 Macondray Lane (runs between Taylor and Leavenworth Sts, parallel to Union and Green Sts). A thoroughly charming pedestrian way tucked onto the southeast side of Russian Hill, paved with brick and cobblestone and lined with gardens and Victorian houses that have been home to many writers—indeed, Macondray was recast as Barbary Lane in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City.
- 7 Nob Hill Masonic Center, 1111 California St (between Taylor and Jones), ☏ . In addition to the lodge room and corporate offices, this place also has a museum of Freemasonry.
- 8 Polk Street (between Broadway and Union). These five blocks form the heart of the Russian Hill neighborhood district. There are over 20 restaurants, 10 bars and cafes, and 20 shops. Dinner at many of the restaurants typically require reservations.
- 9 Woh Hei Yuen Park (和喜園) (at Powell St between John and Jackson Sts). Small park and recreation center that has some interesting public art like the Five Carved Stones by Marcia Donahue and Tectonic Melange by Lampo Leong. Its name translates to "Garden of Peace and Joy".
- 1 The Old First Church, 1751 Sacramento St (at Van Ness). The Old First Church has concerts F 8PM & Su 4PM, and some other evenings, throughout the year. Ticket prices are typically $10-15.
- 2 Masonic Auditorium, 1111 California St (between Taylor and Jones), ☏ , [email protected]. Hosts many concerts and other special events.
- 1 Argonaut Book Shop, 786 Sutter St (at Jones), ☏ , fax: . M-F 9AM-5PM, Sa 10AM-4PM. The bookshelves here are any war buff's haven, with 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.
- 2 Atelier Des Modistes, 1903 Hyde St (at Green), ☏ . W-Sa noon-8PM. Bridal gowns and jewelry.
- 3 Cris, 2056 Polk St (at Broadway), ☏ . M-F 11AM-6:30PM, Sa 11AM-6PM, Su noon-5PM. A consignment shop with high-end goods.
- 4 Molte Cose, 2044 Polk St (between Broadway and Pacific), ☏ . "Molte Cose", or "many things" in Italian, fits the name of this shop. Tons of cool adornments, clothes and accessories.
- 5 Velvet da Vinci, 2015 Polk St (between Broadway and Pacific), ☏ . Tu-Sa noon-6PM, Su noon-4PM. Established in 1991, the gallery shows contemporary jewelry by international artists and craft-based sculpture. Housed in an old furniture factory the gallery has 10 exhibitions a year and is a must see for fans of cutting-edge jewelry.
There are many great options in these two neighborhoods -- lots of smallish, cozy eateries. Frequently the nicer restaurants require reservations.
- 1 Big 4 Restaurant, 1075 California St (between Cushman and Taylor), ☏ . Breakfast M-F 7AM-10AM, Sa-Su 7AM-11AM, Dinner daily 5:30PM-10PM. In the Huntington Hotel. Closed until further notice as of February 2023. $13-35.
- 2 Crustacean Restaurant, 1475 Polk St (at California St), ☏ , fax: . Dinner: Tu-Su 4:45-8:15PM. Mixed reviews about this Vietnamese restaurant, so make your own decision. However, the roast crab has consistently garnered good reviews.
- 3 Frascati, 1901 Hyde St (at Green), ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. Tu-Th 5-9PM, F Sa 5-9:30PM. A pan-European that is somewhat fancy but still relaxed and features local food.
- 4 Harris' Restaurant, 2100 Van Ness Ave (at Pacific), ☏ , fax: . Excellent steak house; luxurious dining (plush seats, table cloths, brass chandeliers, etc.).
- 5 Nara Sushi, 1515 Polk St (between California St & Sacramento St), ☏ . Su-W 11:30AM-midnight, Th-Sa 11:30AM-2AM. Popular with locals that rave about the freshness of the sushi here. Solid sushi at good prices, and large quantities too.
- 6 Nob Hill Cafe, 1152 Taylor St (between Clay and Pleasant), ☏ . A north Italian bistro that serves dinner.
- 7 Okoze Sushi, 1207 Union St (at Hyde Street), ☏ . Tu-Th 5-9:30PM, F Sa 5-10PM, Su 5-9:30PM. A good sushi restaurant very near the cable car lines on Hyde Street. There is typically no need for a reservation. $25-40.
- 8 Ristorante Milano, 1448 Pacific Ave (at Morrell/McCormick, between Hyde and Larkin), ☏ . Su-Th 5-9:30PM, F Sa 5-10PM. Pleasant Italian restaurant. $16-39.
- 9 Za Gourmet Pizza, 1919 Hyde St (between Union St and Green St), ☏ . noon-8PM. A good, cheap pizza-by-the-slice restaurant. $5-10.
- 1 Bacchus Wine Bar, 1954 Hyde St (between Union St & Warner Pl), ☏ . 5:30-11PM daily. Small intimate twenty-seat bar that is a good place to go to get a nice glass of wine or a sake cocktail.
- 2 Hi-Lo Club, 1423 Polk St (between Pine and California). Tu-Su 4PM-midnight (later on the weekends). A new venture by veterans of the Tenderloin bar scene. Nice, craft cocktails, signature house creations, and an impressive beer menu are set in a swanky new/old interior that intentionally has no TV.
- 3 Zeki's Bar, 1319 California St (at Helen between Hyde and Leavenworth), ☏ . 4PM-2AM daily. A step up from the Nob Hill Tavern.
- 4 Bimbo's 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Ave (at Chestnut St), ☏ , [email protected]. Box office: M-F 10AM-4PM, Club hours: Vary. Bimbo's is a glamorous upscale event venue and nightclub that holds up to 700 people. It has three bars, a dance floor and stage. Robin Williams did his act here quite regularly.
- 5 La Trappe Cafe, 800 Greenwich St, ☏ . 6PM-midnight daily. A great beer bar and restaurtant hidden in the lower part of North Beach. Out of the way of most tourists because of its low profile. Huge Belgian Beer selection, and other craft brews from around the world. Restaurant offers mussels and frites - classic Belgian combo. Be prepared to splurge if you go, you can easily drink your way to a hefty bill. $15-20.
- 6 R Bar, 1176 Sutter St (at Polk St), ☏ . M-F 6PM-2AM, Sa 11AM-2AM, Su 10AM-2AM. A rumbly, simple dive-esque bar in the upper Tenderloin neighborhood. Popular with the bar crawl crowds that make their way around the corner from Polk Street.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
|Mid-range||$100 - 199|
|Splurge||$200 and over|
- 1 Hotel Mithila, 972 Sutter St (at Hyde), ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. Established in 1920, this is a relatively clean hotel and reasonably priced. Average price $115.
- 2 Cornell Hotel De France, 715 Bush St (at Powell), ☏ . A small and historic hotel with a French theme. $80–180.
- 3 Golden Gate Hotel, 775 Bush St (between Mason and Powell), ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. A charming budget hotel in an old Victorian. $95–150.
- 4 Holiday Inn Golden Gateway Hotel, 1500 Van Ness Ave (at Pine), ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. A Holiday Inn with more amenities than the typical location and nice views of the city.
- 5 Columbus Motor Inn, 1075 Columbus Ave (Columbus and Francisco), ☏ , fax: . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. The Columbus Motor Inn is in the nice part of North Beach, on the border of the Fishermen's Wharf district, within easy walking distance of all Fisherman's Wharf attractions, and from Washington Square. Public transportation is very convenient, with the No. 30 bus stopping at the door, and the Bay and Taylor Cable Car Turntable a short walk away. Rooms are spacious, with good views and balconies on most Columbus Side rooms. Parking is limited, but covered: the first two floors of the building are parking, with all guest rooms above. No on-site food, but nearby restaurants cater to every budget and taste. $90-295.
- 6 Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St (at California), ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 11AM. One of the most famous hotels in the city, having been gutted in the 1906 earthquake and fire, and rebuilt. The lobby is fantastic, and many rooms have fantastic views. The grandest suite costs $10,000 a night, but you can get a nice room for $300-400.
- 7 Huntington Hotel, 1075 California St (at Taylor), ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. A former apartment building-turned-luxury hotel with individually decorated rooms.
- 8 Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, 1 Nob Hill Pl (at California and Mason Streets), ☏ , fax: . Historic hotel atop Nob Hill. Convenient for walking tours of the city.
- 9 Petite Auberge, 863 Bush St (between Taylor and Mason), ☏ , fax: . A French provincial style inn. Cozy parlor with fireplace, afternoon wine and hors d'oeuvres. Many of the 26 guestrooms offer fireplaces. Breakfast buffet each morning.
- 10 Stanford Court Hotel, 905 California St (at Powell), ☏ , fax: . Another 4-star hotel with marble baths and free limousine service.
- 11 White Swan Inn, 845 Bush St (between Taylor and Mason), ☏ , fax: . A lovely small hotel with a fireplace in all 26 guestrooms. Dark wood paneling, floral carpets, comfy furniture, and English art and collectibles set the tone. Evening turndown service, breakfast buffet, and evening wine and hors d'oeuvres served fireside.
- 12 Hotel Vertigo, 940 Sutter St (on the corner between Hyde and Leavenworth), ☏ , [email protected]. A hotel with lots of bright colors and relatively few amenities compared to other splurge hotels in the area, but with nice rooms and a friendly staff.
There are many cafes in Nob Hill which provide internet service.
- 1 Cup-A-Joe, 896 Sutter St (at Leavenworth Street), ☏ . M-F 6AM-9PM, Sa-Su 7AM-8PM. A basic, local coffee shop with a decent tea selection with a good amount of street seating for when the weather is nice. Free wireless plus a few machines to work on.
- 2 Quetzal Internet Cafe, 1234 Polk St (between Bush and Fern Streets), ☏ . M-F 6:30AM-10PM, Sa-Su 7:30AM-10PM. Basic internet cafe. Free wireless, desktop workstations (16 cents/minute), printing available (15 cents/page).
- 3 San Francisco Public Library — Chinatown Branch, 1135 Powell St (between Jackson St and Washington St), ☏ . Su 1PM-5PM, M 1PM-6PM, Tu-Th 10AM-9PM, F 1PM-6PM, Sa 10AM-6PM. Free internet facilities.