Nob Hill

Summary: Traditionally known as the richest, swankiest hill in the city, Nob Hill offers many upscale restaurants, great apartments, and five star hotels.

Nob Hill has long had a reputation for being the stodgy, upscale neighborhood of San Francisco. In a city filled with high cost neighborhoods, the area has earned the moniker of “Snob Hill,” even though it is no longer considered the most expensive residential area (Sea Cliff has displaced it for that title).

The long shadow of the Big Four (the four tycoons that made their money from the railroad) still hangs over the heart of Nob Hill, Huntington Park [F1]. Surrounding this park you find some of SF’s most expensive hotels, three of which still bear the name of the tycoons who gave this area its swanky cachet—the Stanford Court [F2], the Huntington [F3] and the Mark Hopkins [F4]. The Fairmont [F5] would be a fourth hotel, but the fourth tycoon was Crocker, who gives his name to a local art museum instead. The other notable resident of the Huntington Park area is Grace Cathedral [F6], one of the most prominent churches in the area, dominating the view in front of the park. One of the main draws to the area is the cable cars and the Cable Car Museum [F7] where you can see how the cars are pulled.

As you would expect in such an upscale area, you can find many high-end restaurants serving everything from steaks and seafood to French, Italian, or Chinese dishes. As in Russian Hill, most of these are located on Hyde and Polk streets, with the Hyde Street Bistro [G8] and the Nob Hill Café [G9] being the standouts worth mentioning. Nob Hill has felt the effects of the recession however with some mainstays such as the Mozart Café—a kitschy neighborhood favorite, closing its doors recently. Nearing the border with the Tenderloin, you also find a smattering of gay bars and the Lumiere [G10], a small movie house featuring foreign and independent films.

In many ways, Nob Hill embodies some of the worst features of San Francisco—it is noisy, overcrowded, and expensive to both live and visit. As with other areas, parking is difficult and made even more so by steep inclines. Many refurbished Victorians line the streets but you tend to come across a far greater number of older stone buildings. As with Russian Hill to the north, this is largely an enclave for singles and married childless couples, the close quarters of apartments and condos not being conducive to childrearing, despite the high prices.

Unlike Russian Hill, however, Nob Hill’s greater traffic and the proximity to the Tenderloin means higher crime rates—especially the property crime you would expect given the parking situation and the affluence of the area. Although you do not get the sorts of murder rates you find in the Tenderloin (no one has been killed in Nob Hill for close to half a decade) incidents of robbery and assault are a minor though regular feature of the area.

The residential area largely centers around the western slope of the hill. This is the area that most resembles other residential areas in the city with corner markets, local restaurants, and fewer tourists. Prices throughout Nob Hill are high, but at its southern extremes as you near the Tenderloin, rents drop accordingly. (Beware, however, as some residences billed as “South Nob Hill” are actually in the Tenderloin. The border is usually considered to be at the St. Francis Hospital.)