Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators
A classy boutique hotel with exceptional service
Nob Hill, San Francisco's swankiest neighborhood, is home to many of its grandest hotels -- stately old buildings with cavernous marble-filled lobbies and hundreds of rooms. Then there's the elegant 136-room Huntington Hotel, the neighbor that stands out by being intimate and unassuming. Opened in 1924 as a luxury apartment tower, the 12-story, ivy-covered brick building was converted into a hotel right after World War II. It's been family-run ever since. Celebrities favor the Huntington because it's cut off from the gawking public. When asked which celebrities had stayed at the hotel during his 20 years there, the doorman declined to give any names. That's rare discretion in the hotel world, but not surprising for the classy staff here.
Even if hiding from your fans isn't your concern, you'll still find plenty of reasons to stay at this luxury boutique. The rooms, all former apartments, were renovated in 2009 and feature 32-inch flat-screen TVs and pillow-top beds. The hotel's hilltop location means the rooms have great park or city views. The service is polished and attentive (the doorman always remembers your name). And guests get free use of the pool, fitness room, and patio at the hotel's Nob Hill Spa, one of the best spas in town. The Big 4 Restaurant, named for the four tycoons who built the Central Pacific Railroad (C.P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker) and lived in lavish mansions on Nob Hill, is excellent.
Among boutique hotels, only the Campton Place Taj can compete. But while its rooms are luxurious, the Campton has fewer features and a less-relaxing setting owing to its Union Square location. Among the grand dames of Nob Hill, the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins and the Fairmont have similarly sized rooms and comparable in-room amenities, but rates are generally higher, making the Huntington a great value for the area.
White-glove service from a highly professional staff
White-glove service isn't uncommon at a luxury property. But at the 136-room Huntington, the treatment feels more intimate and personable -- even compared to Campton Place, another luxury boutique. The staff is formal for sure, but the stately demeanor is all about professionalism, not snootiness. Most employees have worked at this family-owned hotel for years -- two doormen for as long as 20 years.
High up in the quiet, upscale neighborhood of Nob Hill
The Huntington sits at the southwest edge of Nob Hill, on the corner of California and Taylor Streets. Its high perch means a grand view from nearly every floor -- even the outdoor patio at the basement-level spa overlooks the tops of buildings. Rooms that don't face the city and bay have a view of Huntington Park and the majestic Grace Cathedral that's just as lovely. The downside of such great heights is the effort it takes to get up the hill. Unless you intend on holing up in the hotel (not a bad proposition, if you consider its comfortable rooms and serene spa), you'll have to face those steep inclines. Fortunately a cable car stops at the hotel.
The area, Nob Hill, is jokingly -- okay, half-jokingly -- referred to by locals as "Snob Hill," and that tells you quite a bit about the neighborhood. It's primarily residential with a few luxury hotels mixed in (the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, the Ritz-Carlton, and the Fairmont are among its distinguished neighbors). Except for those that live in the area, locals don't really hang out here. 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.
Elegant and comfortable rooms renovated in 2009
Even though this former apartment building has been a hotel for decades, the comfortable rooms still feel homey -- if not quite luxurious. At 335 square feet, they are larger than the standard San Francisco hotel room and about the same size as the entry-level rooms at higher-priced Nob Hill neighbors like the Fairmont, Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, and Ritz-Carlton.
The rooms, which were renovated in 2009, feature avocado- or teal-colored walls, dark wood furniture and tangerine armchairs,on the walls, as well as by local artists. But there's no minibar or coffeemaker, and beds lack down duvets, something even midpriced hotels have.
One of San Francisco's best spas
Boutique hotels are a dime a dozen in San Francisco, but the Huntington is the only one that houses such a standout spa. The Nob Hill Spa, named one of Luxury SpaFinder's "Top Ten Urban Hotel Spas in the World," was voted "Reader's Choice for Best Pamper Spot" by San Francisco Magazine in 2011. A large part of the spa's appeal is its vantage point: From its perch high on Nob Hill, the spa has city views that can be enjoyed from the lounge and pool area or the breezy outdoor patio.
A family-friendly neighborhood, but not a family hotel
The quiet residential neighborhood around the hotel may appeal to families -- the park in front of the hotel has a playground with swings and monkey bars and manicured lawns where locals picnic and walk their dogs. The hotel, though, isn't as family-friendly. Of the hotel's 136 rooms, only a handful have two beds. And while there's a pool, it's part of the Nob Hill Spa, which is open only to guests 16 and older. Also, the formal atmosphere isn't an ideal setting for rambunctious kids.
Aging gracefully, with constant care
For a hotel that's been around since 1924, the Huntington has been remarkably well maintained. Even the old brass fixtures like the mail chute looks as though they are polished constantly. Rooms were renovated in 2009.
A fine-dining restaurant popular with the neighbors
The hotel's hushed air of civility extends to the restaurant off the lobby. Named for the four tycoons who built the Central Pacific Railroad (C.P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker), the Big 4 Restaurant is a swanky affair, replete with vested servers who quietly appear when a wine glass needs to be refilled. Green leather booths, dim lighting, dark wood, and railroad memorabilia on the walls give the impression of a tavern, but this is a fine dining institution helmed by award-winning chef Gloria Ciccarone-Nehls.
Taken over in late 2011 by Singapore-based Grace International, this 136-room historic hotel in swanky Nob Hill has an attentive staff, a quiet, intimate atmosphere, and old-world grandeur to spare. Homey rooms, though not quite luxurious, are large for the price. Plus, guests can use the indoor pool and other facilities at the excellent spa for free. All in all, one of the city's best boutiques.