Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
Esteemed, historic hotel, but no longer the luxury property it once was
The Art Deco InterContinental Mark Hopkins is planted diagonally atop Nob Hill, the architectural equivalent of an offensive linemen towering over the field of San Francisco since 1926. Its stately entrance and lobby, formal doormen, and famous Top of the Mark bar (you guessed it -- on the top of the hotel) give it an elegant, if old-fashioned, feel. Yet, despite its clout as one of the city's oldest and most famous hotels, the Mark Hopkins is no longer the luxury property it once was: It belongs more in the upper-midrange category, and guests will be happier with their stay if they adjust their expecations accordingly. Rooms are comfortable, if a bit bland, service is formal, but not of the luxury caliber it may appear to be, and features are surprisingly basic beyond the famous bar. The ritzy, well-known bar still holds status as a San Francisco landmark -- it may even have the city's best view over a martini glass -- but it's open to nonguests as well, so you don't actually have to stay here to experience it.
The hotel sits on the site of a mansion, built in 1878 and owned by one of the founders of Central Pacific Railroad, Mark Hopkins. The mansion burned down in the fire following San Francisco's 1906 earthquake, and the hotel that took its place was eventually a meeting spot for Pacific-bound servicemen during World War II, appeared in several films (Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, Steve McQueen's Bullitt), and became a California Historical Landmark in 1961.
Though it's hard to match the Mark Hopkins for its prestige and past, in many important aspects -- rooms, service, features -- it The Mark Hopkins is often significantly less expensive than, say, the Ritz-Carlton (which offers more amenities) and the Fairmont (which has better rooms). If the price difference is big enough, it can be worth considering for its Nob Hill address.
Formal and professional
The formal service seems as presidential as the hotel looks, but it's not at the level you'd find at a luxury property: The concierge desk is theoretically open for extensive hours, but on many days it's actually shorter, and turndown service must be requested. Twenty-four hour room service, however, is available.
On top of the hill, in Nob Hill, one of the city's ritziest neighborhoods
The Mark Hopkins sits regally at the top of Nob Hill -- both the actual hill and the neighborhood -- its imposing figure towering over the city. The upside for guests: awesome views, even from street level, though the best are in the 19th-story Top of the Mark. The downside? If you're walking, the way to and from the Fairmont is a thigh-burning, knee-jarring hike, no matter which direction you're coming from.
The area, Nob Hill, is jokingly referred to by locals as "Snob Hill," and that tells you quite a bit about the neighborhood. It's primarily residential -- rich locals -- with a few luxury hotels mixed in for rich visitors (the Fairmont, the Ritz-Carlton, and the Huntington are among its distinguished neighbors). Locals don't really hang out here, however; you'll need to head downhill to North Beach or the Marina, or over to Russian Hill or Pacific Heights, to find the best local restaurants, bars, and shops.
Comfortable and quiet, if not luxurious
The rooms indisputably comfortable, with super luxurious beds and plenty of space for the price (standard rooms start at around 350 square feet). In 2011, the hotel upgraded its technology, introducing flat-screen TVs, iHome docks, and Keurig coffeemakers. Most bathrooms are cramped, and some might find the decor a bit boring. Wi-Fi isn't free (charged according to connection speeds), and the minibar lacks gourmet options and elegant presentation. At least the unique position of this building affords astounding views from most rooms.
The famous Top of the Mark bar is the highlight
A beautiful lobby and the famous Top of the Mark bar are the most exciting features of the hotel. In addition, a staffed business center and small fitness center are below the lobby on the hotel's basement level, and the hotel boasts the "Room of the Dons" and "Peacock Court" -- a meeting room with famous wall murals painted for the hotel in 1926.
Elegant Top of the Mark overlooks the city from the 19th floor.
Top of the Mark bar is one of the hotel's best-known features. There are dazzling, nearly 360-degree views of the city from 19 floors up (and the top of Nob Hill is one of San Francisco's best spots to look down on the rest of the city). It also impresses with evening jazz performances and a menu offering a hundred martinis. Compared to its equally famous neighbor, the Fairmont's flamboyant Tonga Room, the Top of the Mark strikes a sedate tone, though it's livelier on weekends. Events like wedding receptions and parties occasionally give it a more raucous vibe.
Few family services; rooms are small
Although families would do fine staying here, at this price you can get more for kids elsewhere. The Fairmont and Ritz-Carlton both offer better kids' amenities, like special gifts on arrival, and their rooms are larger, so you're not obligated to spend extra on an upgrade just to fit the family in.
Though old, the hotel is perfectly clean throughout thanks to thorough, daily housekeeping.
Top of the Mark is the highlight, with stunning views
During the time of this review, the hotel restaurant was closed but has since reopened. The Top of the Mark serves a daily breakfast buffet, lunch, and small bites/appetizers at night. Room service features breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
One of the city's grandest dames, the Mark Hopkins sits regally on top of Nob Hill with dazzling views and the famous 19th-floor Top of the Mark bar. Though its elegant style and grand past earn cachet, in substance, this hotel is less impressive (and usually less expensive) than its Nob Hill neighbors: Rooms are dated, and the on-site restaurant doesn't serve dinner.