The Secrets of San Francisco

Andrea Gross | Jan 5, 2012, 10:33 a.m.


The Nob Hill cable car allowed the upper class to live above the “low lifes.”

Nob Hill

We take a cable car to the Fairmont, the grand dame of hotels atop San Francisco’s Nob Hill. It seems apropos since the cable car is what allowed the 19th century’s most privileged folks to live in rarefied hilltop air, far above the “low-life” who frequented the docks. The street was simply too steep for horse-drawn carriages.

Valerie Huff, owner of Hobnob Tours, meets us and leads us first through the public rooms of the grand hotel, then on a 2-hour, flat-ground tour of the neighborhood. Before the earthquake of 1906, the area was filled with grand mansions and luxury hotels, all but two of which were destroyed by the post-quake fires. Today the area is again filled with homes of the affluent.

Valerie laughs as she dispenses gossipy tidbits. I learn, for example, that two feuding barons each hired bodyguards to protect one from the other, and that a rich widow disinherited her son when he opposed her marriage to a younger man.

By the time the tour ends, I know why Nob Hill is sometimes called “snob hill,” and I’m reveling in my insider status.

We’ve only begun to explore the neighborhoods in depth, but for now my mind is full and my feet are sore!

For more information:

North Beach





Nob Hill


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