The Inquisitive Traveler
It’s easy to be complacent in your surroundings and unaware of the energy and excitement that linger nearby. But several hotels around Union Square have been made over and are worth a closer look. Recently my husband and I decided to experience this scene while taking public transportation to minimize our carbon footprint. We stayed overnight at each of three very different properties and had relaxing, delicious and fun times.
The Westin St. Francis has been the “Grand Dame” of Union Square for over a century. Owners recently infused $40 million to upgrade the interior, and even though much has changed, some things remain the same. Take the Great Magneta Grandfather Clock, for instance. It still stands sentinel (albeit in a redesigned lobby) and remains the place to meet. Once there, slip into the newly created Clock Bar for some cocktail sensations. And then head to Restaurant Michael Mina for an unforgettable dinner.
Located just off the lobby, Michael Mina’s takes you on a gastronomic adventure. Whether it’s a three- or six-course menu you choose, you will savor and devour the aromas and layers of flavors. How about the soft-boiled hen egg with morel mushrooms and asparagus in a bearnaise emulsion, or Japanese Wagyu beef with porcinis, shallots and fava beans? And that’s only the beginning. With the right wine pairing, this is a meal you will long remember.
After our feast, taking the elevator “home” was a treat – along the way, we walked through wide, elegant hallways, and enjoyed the black and white photographs of the hotel and old San Francisco that decorate much of the interior. Our room in the main building overlooking Union Square was part of the renovation. Classic crown moldings, high ceilings and crystal chandeliers combine with upscale and ergonomic furniture, flat screen televisions, and comfortable signature Westin Heavenly Beds. Off we drifted.
The next morning, we grabbed a continental breakfast at Caruso’s in the Tower Lobby and left to view the King Tut exhibit at the de Young Museum. The hotel has special packages for museums, the symphony, and other special events around town (even for Michael Mina’s). Before heading home, there was time for a luxurious massage in the spa. By the time we jumped on Muni, we felt like we had been away for several days.
Next up was Parc 55, a quick walk from the Powell Street BART Station. After this hotel’s $30 million renovation, you might not even recognize it – the spacious lobby with its soaring ceiling is on the second floor and bustles with activity.
Our Club Level room had the same warm, modern décor that is found throughout the hotel – and with endless views of the City. It was easy to kick back and relax, turn on the plasma flat screen, charge up our electronic toys with the “jack pack” (a power strip with plenty of outlets in one place), and not have a care in the world.
Dinner that night was at Cityhouse, the hotel’s new restaurant and lounge. Adjacent to the lobby, it overlooks Market Street and serves modern American cuisine. The sensational ingredients in both signature cocktails, the Pearadise (infused vodka) and Japanese-inspired Rising Sun, got us off to the right start. We sampled from the raw bar and then couldn’t resist scallops served with Dungeness crabmeat and shimeji mushrooms and the corn-fed certified Angus beef tenderloin from the wood smoker.
In the morning we ambled into the Club Lounge. (The top six floors of the 32-story building comprise the Club Level.) Open most of the day with time-appropriate food service, “honor bar” cocktails, and coffee, we found everything we needed to start the day including a magnificent sunrise. And then we were off – but with a third experience waiting in the wings.
Conveniently located in the heart of the theater district, Hotel Frank has the feel of a small European boutique hotel with attitude after a $10 million renovation. It’s hip yet classic, combining Beaux Art, Art Deco and modern styles. A black and white houndstooth pattern exists throughout – from the carpet to the shawl collar of the plush bathrobes. Emerald green adds contrast in an amazing crystal chandelier off the lobby and in leather crocodile-patterned headboards in the guestrooms. Each room is adorned with hand-blown glass lights hanging from the ceiling. There’s even a six-foot-high white leather sofa bed in the lobby.
Since there is no restaurant in the Frank, we opted for Max’s on the Square located right next door. This way we kept with our theme of “taking the elevator home.” Max’s has several “laws,” but the one worth noting at the start is #8: “This is a bad place for a diet.” Known for its comfort foods (and large portions), we opted for crab cakes and potato latkes to start, then chose Grandma’s honey-roasted chicken and a Max’s Combo sandwich with corned beef and pastrami; for dessert, the decadent chocolate fudge brownie. After this meal the only thing left was to crawl into our comfy bed and dream. The next morning we grabbed coffee in the lobby and went back out into the real world.
Let’s not forget Union Square Park. During each of the three visits, this historic urban space (dates from 1847) was full of people. Often times, the square is wide open with benches for great people watching. Other times, huge tents house special events like the annual S.F. Chefs Food Wine or the Nike Women’s Marathon. And now, you’ll find the ice skating rink. No matter what, internet access is always free. And you’re steps from great shopping.
A getaway in the City is fun. It’s good for your mental health and easy on the environment. And at recently upgraded hotels – it can be a whole new experience. You’ll be energized as you relearn why you live in San Francisco.
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
Patty Burness is the travel writer for Northside San Francisco. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.