WHILE STARING AT THE GLORIOUS FACADE standing proudly atop Nob hill, your first thought is this: Never did a temple of insurance enjoy such a glorious afterlife. You have been told that the 110-year-old structure was once home to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, but that hardly seems possible, given the sumptuous vastness before you.
This should not be the domain of bean counters, you think to yourself, but swells and jetsetters. And so it is. Since 1991, the building has been home to the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco, and you get the sense that even without its dramatic setting, the property would still be a crowning achievement for the brand. Even on a hill renowned for the opulence and luxury of mansions past, the Ritz-Carlton stands out.
Entering its stunning marble lobby, you’re struck by the sweeping scale of the structure. Entering its rooms, you’re impressed by the size. The suites that occupy the eighth and ninth floors’ Club Level are large, many with unparalleled views of the surrounding city, including Coit Tower, Russian Hill and more.
San Francisco is a city of fragile opulence, and for that reason alone has long been a mecca for travelers the world over, Houstonians included.
Summertime flights to the city can regularly be found for $300 or less (particularly in August), and while that might not be the concern of travelers planning to stay at the Ritz-Carlton, everyone can appreciate such savings.
Speaking of which, non-Club level rooms at the RC start at less than $400 a night, and they are not to be sniffed at. They are comparatively large and well appointed. Otherwise, the hotel boasts such amenities as a fitness center with steam rooms, a wine tasting lounge where exotic wines are proffered in an atmosphere equally exotic, and a nightly happy hour toast that references the San Francisco fog in ways we won’t spoil.
San Francisco is a city of great eating, of course, and among the hotter restaurants you’ll find is SPQR helmed by chef Matthew Accarrino (the acronym refers to the People and Senate of Rome—apropos for an eatery with an eclectic Italian menu). And while modern Italian cooking is everywhere in evidence, it’s in the quality of its source ingredients that SPQR really shines. Our own dinner there featured spectacular California wagyu beef and diver scallops, as well as a veritable army of great pastas, from capellini to fusilli to gnocchi. The wait staff stands at the ready to recommend a wine pairing with every course, and every suggestion should be heeded, as SPQR’s wine selection is exceptionally well-curated.
Prefer beer? Don’t miss Radhaus, a relatively new beer hall on the grounds of Fort Mason, a former army post. The vast, 4,000-square-foot establishment, with no fewer than 10 German beers on tap, boasts unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge through floor-to-ceiling windows, not to mention a surprisingly fine teutonic menu. Everything we tried there, from the Bavarian pretzels to the bratwurst, sauerbraten to wiener schnitzel were all excellent.
The bustle and noise of San Francisco are not for everyone, of course, and devotees of a quieter northern California will be pleased to learn that there is a Ritz-Carlton for them too. It’s located in Half Moon Bay, roughly 30 minutes from San Francisco proper, and the 261-room, jaw-dropping property pairs well with its jaw-dropping location, on a high bluff overlooking the Pacific.
Fire pits for oceanside s’mores, lighted tennis courts, and a large and stately spa are just a few of the amenities at this sprawling resort, which is also a favorite of golfers far and wide, thanks to its two championship courses. Our own room there featured incredible views of the roiling sea and the grassy landscaping leading down to it, a perfect place to get away from it all.
This is not a property you will want to escape from, but daylong excursions are still to be recommended, particularly to area wineries like Beauregard Vineyards. This 65-acre boutique property at the base of the Santa Cruz mountains features a handsome and cozy tasting room. Ask for a tour of the cool rooms where the wines are carefully aged, a fascinating experience in and of itself.
Northern California is worlds away from Houston, particularly in the summer months, and you can’t go wrong with any excursion in that direction. If the two Ritz-Carlton properties come highly recommended, it’s thanks to the exceptional hospitality demonstrated by each, the wonderful and dramatic locations they occupy, the large and creatively-appointed rooms, and the variety of restaurants and other noshing opportunities, all of them worthy companions to one of the greatest food cities in the world.
Wondering when to go?
The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, has just launched its Picnic With Painted Ladies package, available during all warmer months (so, basically, now until the end of summer), which provides guests luxurious overnight accommodations along with a swanky picnic—including a premium blanket and pillows, and delicious fare from the hotel's culinary team—in Alamo Square Park, where you can view the city's famous, historic Victorians, the "Painted Ladies."
The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay will debut its first ever Rosé Garden event on September 7, with rosés galore on its beautiful lawn, accompanied by a weekend of rosé-themed spa treatments, a rosé champagne brunch and a show stopping rosé champagne tower, among other highlights.