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Nob Hill, San Francisco Travel Guide

Nob Hill Summary


  • Historic neighborhood with turn-of-the-20th-century robber-baron manses and beautiful candy-colored townhouses along Hyde Street
  • Adjacent to one of the best Chinatowns in the country
  • Home to some of the nicest hotels in the city (Fairmont, Ritz, Mark Hopkins, Huntington, etc.)
  • Cable car runs right through the neighborhood -- easy access to Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf.
  • Exceptional views
  • Upscale neighborhood; very little crime and vagrancy
  • Home to some excellent restaurants, including San Francisco seafood institution Swan Oyster Depot


  • What goes down, must come up; the "hill" part of Nob Hill makes for steep, exhausting climbs.
  • Hotels are generally more expensive here than in other parts of San Francisco
  • Limited public transportation options --- not many bus stops, and nearest BART station is five blocks away
  • On periphery of sketchy Tenderloin area
  • No major tourist attractions
  • Very little nightlife

What It's Like

Flanked by Chinatown to the east, Russian Hill to the north, and Union Square to the south, posh Nob Hill has long cultivated a reputation for housing the city's upper crust. Indeed, its name derives from the word "nabob," 19th-century slang for "snob." A generation of turn-of-the-20th-century San Francisco tycoons once surveyed the city from its lofty perch. The area retains some of that haughty vibe, though tongue-in-cheek references to "Snob Hill" are slightly exaggerated. Yes, it's upscale, but the Upper East Side it ain't, and it's mercifully devoid of the tourist hustle and bustle of areas like Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square.

The colorful cable cars that clang merrily down California Street, the small San Francisco Cable Car Museum, and Grace Cathedral are the extent of the neighborhood's tourist attractions, and pickings are slim for wallet-friendly eating or drinking options. To absorb the true Nob Hill experience, get your quads in shape and huff and puff your way up the hills, and then, when you've caught your breath, take in those stunning views at the top.

Where To Stay

If you opt to stay in Nob Hill, here's hoping you have your own driver -- the majority of the hotels in the area (the Fairmont, the Huntington, the Ritz) are very high-end. The neighborhood's dearth of public transportation options -- along with those hills -- means that unless Jeeves is ferrying you around in your custom Maybach, you're up for a serious workout. But because of its unique perch, nearly all of the hotels offer unparalleled city vistas. The top-floor bar at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, Top of the Mark, is a notable draw. Budget hotels are few and far between in this zip code -- the Renaissance Stanford Court is about as cheap as it gets -- so be willing to shell out for those views.

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