On our first visit to San Francisco I think we gave very little thought to which hotel we would stay at. Not that we didn't care, you understand, but we always considered the Westin St Francis THE place to stay, and so we never gave the Fairmont or the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental (being the two main competitors in my mind now) a second thought. We booked our stay through Kuoni as part of a tailor made itinerary, and paid approximately £170 for the room per night (we were there 7 nights). After an eventful taxi ride from the airport we arrived rather dishevelled at the hotel (I didn't realise the San Francisco taxi drivers re-enacted scenes from Bullitt for every tourist!!). The Hotel is conveniently located on palm tree lined Union Square, and is a large imposing stone building with red canopies over the ground floor entrance and upmarket integral stores. Behind the landmark building about twice its height towers a modern building that you would not automatically assume was also part of the hotel, but it is. This is known as the Tower Building, and is very out of place from the outside. It looks more like an office block or a tourist class hotel building, apart from the rather swanky looking set of 5 glass elevators zipping up and down. Once inside, the lobby is dramatic and is featured on most travel programmes to San Francisco - the hotel being quite an institution there. Actually the lobby is in two fairly different styles, the front part being very sumptuous with a marble floor accentuated by a colourful plush carpet in the centre with a large round polished table topped with a dramatic flower arrangement. The carved ceiling, huge chandeliers and dramatic black marble columns finish off this spectacular lobby. Off this area is the main cocktail bar as well as Dewey's, a more informal sports bar serving light snacks. Up a small central staircase at the rear of this original lobby leads you to the new part of the
hotel. Here the style is still luxurious but rather different. The black marble columns have been replaced by square mirrored ones, and the ceiling is a plain light colour with less ostentatious chandeliers. The floor is still marble, and there are lots more places to sit in here, with comfy chairs and sofas. In this newer lobby are the check in desks and concierge, where the formalities were completed quickly and efficiently, and we were soon exploring our room. Our room on the 12th floor was in the new tower building. This means you take the glass elevators to your room, which are extremely fast (you leave your stomach various floors below) and if you go right to the top offer a great view of Union Square. Unfortunately our room on the 12th floor was barely half way up and because the original building is right in front, we got no view whatsoever from our room (apart from the rather dramatically cracked stone building). If you are in the Tower Building, you really should request a very high floor. The room was large with light beige carpet, light peach coloured walls, and blue and stone patterned bedcovers with blue valance and cushions. There was a tall TV and drawer unit in a dark wood and a desk in front of a good sized mirror with two chairs. The desk was length ways in front of the mirror, meaning it didn't make a very good dressing table, but it was easily moved!! In front of the large windows, set off by dramatic draped curtains in a blue and peach striped pattern, was a table, floor lamp and two armchairs. In our room we had two double beds with dark wood headboards each with a bedside table and lamps. The whole effect of the room was very pleasing, and tasteful. I am guessing the rooms in the original building are more traditional and perhaps a little more luxurious, but we had no complaints whatsoever. The amenities you would expect of a 5 star hotel are included, such as mini bar, hairdryer, well equipped bathr
oom etc. Perhaps the one thing that was missing in the rooms was a feeling of being in a 5 star hotel! Over the next few days we became acquainted with our new 'home'. The Westin St Francis surprisingly does not have a swimming pool although it did have a fitness centre. We don't always visit the swimming pool, but I guess it's nice to know one is there. We hired a car for part of our stay, and the most convenient place to park is in the underground car park on Union Square. It is only a stones throw from the entrance, but we may have felt a little unwilling to pick up or drop off our car late at night (possibly irrationally). I am sure they must have some kind of valet parking, but either it was stupidly expensive or it wasn't very well publicised as we did not even consider it - I can't remember why. Some time before we arrived at the Westin we did consider dining at the hotel restaurant, the St Francis Grill, which had a good write-up in our Eyewitness Guide. Then reading about other restaurants, in particular the seafood ones down by Pier 39, we got distracted and decided not to dine in the hotel restaurant. This may have been a mistake, as the restaurants we encountered at Pier 39 were pretty poor (even the ones that are supposedly upmarket). At the hotel however we did have two light meals in Dewey's Bar. The cocktails left a bit to be desired, and you got the impression to get a decent martini you had to go in the rather formal cocktail bar, but that did not serve food. The food we had in Dewey's Bar was very average - some spicy shrimps I had were so overcooked they were practically impossible to eat. The bar is however quite busy and it overlooks Union Square with the constant noise of the cable cars whizzing past, and so is quite a pleasant place for a beer. It is just a pity in a hotel of this standard that the bar is so downmarket. The best thing about the St Francis is undoubted
ly its location. Smack bang on Union Square it is on the two main cable car routes down to Fisherman's Wharf. It is also really close to plenty of bus routes going all over the city. In the evening we found the easiest and quickest way to the Wharf was on Bus 30, as the cable Cars were always packed - no good for when you have a dinner reservation to make. The hotel is only steps away from the main thoroughfare Market Street, from where you can catch a bus to City Hall and Haight Ashbury. We found the position of the hotel ideal for our needs. As our sightseeing gladly wasn't based around the touristy Fisherman's Wharf, but tended to be all over the city from Golden Gate Park to the Embarcadero, we found the central location perfect. It is worth noting though that although the cable cars stop right outside the hotel, you are much better to walk down to Market Street (by the Gap) and get on at the end of the line. If you wait outside the hotel the cable cars will always be full. You are also easy walking distance from Chinatown and the Financial District. You really can't beat the location. I would recommend trying Kuleto's just down from the hotel, as it was the best restaurant we dined at in San Francisco, although this was at the end of our holiday when it had eventually sunk in that you should definitely avoid the tourist dominated restaurants, especially the ones with special offers and coupons! Often there are things going on at Union Square, which makes for a really lively venue on your doorstep. We managed to take in a free Jamiroquai gig while we were there. In short I must admit we very much enjoyed out stay in San Francisco, but perhaps more than our stay at the Westin. When we return we would be unlikely to stay there again. Although the lobby is amazing and the hotel deserves its landmark status, there is something about it that doesn't quite live up to the hype and its rating. Although Nob Hi
ll is by no means as convenient a location, I would be tempted to stay at one of the two landmark hotels there. With our past history, the sensible money is on the Fairmont next time!!