San Francisco’s Nob Hill is steeped (pun intended) in history, evinced by a plethora of significant architectural icons including Grace Cathedral, the Mark Hopkins Hotel, the Fairmont, Masonic Auditorium, 1201 California Street and the Pacific Union Club.
Known as California Hill prior to the 1850s, the neighborhood was reputedly renamed for the nabobs (or “nobs”) Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins and Crocker who built their mansions there after amassing fortunes in the railroad industry.
Called “The Big Four,” these tycoons were investors in the Central Pacific Railroad, which brought to completion the first Transcontinental Railroad in the United States. Not surprisingly, they chose to live on high ground where the views were spectacular and where they didn’t have to rub elbows with the denizens downhill.
Their grand estates did not survive the ravages of the 1906 earthquake, yet still today Nob Hill is synonymous with wealth and prestige. In addition to a host of seminal San Francisco landmarks, the hill is home to many well-kept Edwardian flats and apartment buildings, as well as several notable 20th-Century “vintage” high-rises like the Gramercy and the Comstock.
Perhaps most famous is 1201 California – known as the Cathedral Building. It was designed by the architectural firm Weeks and Day, which also created the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Constructed just prior to the publication of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, the building was his inspiration for the “Coronet Hotel.”
Hammett famously intertwined real parts of San Francisco with fictional settings in his legendary novel. The femme fatale Bridgid O’Shaughnessy briefly stays at the Coronet and meets private detective Sam Spade there. Hammett writes, that (disguised as a Miss Wonderly) O’Shaughnessy “…in a belted crêpe silk dress, opened the door of apartment 1001 at the Coronet.”
Ninety years later, Nob Hill retains its allure and appeal. It is clean, pleasing, safe and relatively quiet for being so close to the city’s professional heart. There are numerous restaurants, shops and markets on and surrounding the hill: The Big Four, Trader Joe’s, Venticello, Nob Hill Hardware, Brownie’s, Top of the Mark, Nob Hill Grille, CVS Pharmacy, and the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar.
It’s a very walkable neighborhood with every destination on the downslope (walk down, Uber up). And MUNI and nearby cable car lines make it a cinch to get to and from the financial district, Union Square, Chinatown, Aquatic Park, North Beach, Polk Street, Pacific Heights and other destinations.