Nob Hill is one of San Francisco's most affluent neighborhoods; known for its iconic sites, impressive views, and sheer history. Here are some of the coolest ways to experience this beloved hilltop 'hood from walking tours to basement bars and beyond.
An absolute stunner that's been welcoming visitors since the mid-1960s (though it had been under construction for decades), Grace Cathedral is a Nob Hill landmark. It's the third largest Episcopal Cathedral in the U.S.: a French Gothic masterpiece known for its twin towers and dozens of stained glass windows —showcasing more than 1,100 figures — as well an extreme openness to people from all walks of life. There's so much to see here, from the cathedral's replica doors of Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise" to its Keith Haring AIDS Chapel altarpiece. You can meditate while walking both an indoor and outdoor labyrinth, view displayed works by the cathedral's resident artist, or attend yoga sessions, jazz concerts, and even occasional dance parties. Want to know more about the cathedral's architecture and history? Download its GraceGuide app and get ready for a walk through time.
San Francisco's iconic Top of the Mark is a must-stop on any Nob Hill visit. Since first opening in 1939, this iconic penthouse-level cocktail bar and lounge has been drawing crowds with its spectacular views and classic character, including a seemingly endless menu of martini variations. It's also brimming with local lore and history. The Top of the Mark's northwest corner is nicknamed “Weeper's Corner” for the many women who'd gather to catch a final sight of their men as they shipped out during WWII, and there's still a collection of “squadron bottles” on-hand — a tradition that began with the Korean War. The bar is especially popular at sunset, when the sky lights up in colors like red, orange, and pink.
Looking at the Fairmont, it's hard to imagine that tucked away on the bottom floor of this luxury hotel is one of the country's oldest and greatest tiki bars. The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar opened in 1945, replacing what had been a beloved indoor swimming pool that attracted celebrities and hotel guests. A former MGM set designer designated the Polynesian-themed bar and restaurant, turning the pool into a central “lagoon” featuring tropical “rainstorms,” replete with manufactured thunder and lighting, with canoes hanging from the ceiling and a dance floor constructed from the salvaged wood of a former schooner. There's even a thatch-covered floating barge where the bar's Island Grove Band performs Top 40 hits. Dishes include cashew shrimp and kung pao chicken, but it's the rum-filled Mai Tais and Fog Cutters that visitors truly love.
Nob Hill's mid-century SF Masonic Auditorium is both a meeting space for the California Freemasons — a long-running fraternal organization that first came to California around the time of the 1849 Gold Rush — and an incredible concert venue often called “The Masonic.” Live Nation operates this 3,300-seat, multi-tiered venue, renovated in 2014 with new lighting and art installations, a state-of-the-art sound system, and open space for both general admission and seated shows, making seeing a performance here a complete sensory experience. Tenacious D, Chelsea Handler, and SF-native Ali Wong are just some of the acts on tap.
What better way to learn about the last manually operated cable car system on the planet that with a visit to its home base? Located directly along the Powell/Mason cable car line, San Francisco's Cable Car Museum is a wonder ode to local history. Learn about Andrew Smith Hallidie, who tested the world's first ever cable car on the city's Clay Street in 1873, and how 23 different cable car lines once ran throughout the city (today there are only three). The massive engines and winding wheels that pull the remaining cables are on full view, along with historic photos, mechanical devices like grips and brake mechanisms, and even three antique cable cars. There's also an on-site shop that sells actual cable car bells.
Tucked away inside Nob Hill's towering 134-room Huntington Hotel is three-stories of unbridled luxury. The Nob Hill Spa is relaxation at its best — a lavish day spa where you can indulge in a facial, decompress in a steam room filled with the minty scent of eucalyptus, and find peace in the wading waters of an indoor pool. Along with 10 treatment rooms, several saunas, a whirlpool, and services ranging from a bamboo massage treatment to a lavender salt body scrub, the spa also offers a range of cuisine and beverages, like “classic” shrimp cocktail, a grilled chicken wrap, and glasses of pinot grigio and Syrah.
Delve into Nob Hill's fascinating past on a neighborhood walking tour. SF City Guides hosts volunteer-led tours through the streets of this upscale neighborhood, focusing on everything from Hitchcock filming locations to the Pacific-Union Club, an exclusive men's club that — along with the neighboring Fairmont Hotel — was one of only two Nob Hill structures to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire.
Dine Your Way Through the Neighborhood
Just a block or so from Grace Cathedral is the beloved Nob Hill Cafe, a cozy Italian restaurant known for its big bowls of pasta and Tuscan-style cuisine. If it's no-frills seafood you're after, don't miss the counter at Swan Oyster Depot on Polk Street — serving patrons for over a century. Located on the ground-floor of the Huntington Hotel, the iconic Big 4 restaurant exudes class with its green booths, white tablecloths, and endless California memorabilia, not to mention hearty entrees like braised boneless short ribs and chicken pot pie. There's a piano player nightly, but you can also belt out some tunes of your own at the neighborhood's Encore Karaoke Lounge.