We begin on the Powell–Mason Cable Car, hurtling down the vertiginous Powell from the aristocratic heights of Nob Hill – land of silver barons of old, toward central San Francisco. We’re crammed in tight next to other wild-eyed travellers, careering across intersections with the wind in our hair. In the distance, the Bay Bridge shimmers in the mid-afternoon light and yachts dally in the bay. The sun is warm and nourishing and we’re heading to the Four Seasons – we feel energised and expectant; the promise of vivid experience lies everywhere.
San Francisco is a misty city of dreams. This is the land of the hippy ethos, of VW Campervans and girls with flowers in their hair. This is the most liberal city in America they say – the home of acceptance. What’s immediately clear on arrival is that it’s a manageable city; this is not London or even Paris, it certainly isn’t LA. It’s great to visit a major city that can be traversed without too much hardship. The districts are clearly defined geographically and culturally. We’ve travelled from North Beach and rattled through Little Italy to Nob Hill then accelerated at speed down to China Town (the biggest outside mainland China). After the gaudy shop fronts and Chinese lanterns with their quaint suggestions of a softer, simpler time, downtown’s towers of corporate endeavour rear up like monstrous monoliths in the face of the broken-down hippy ideals of this soft focus city.
The Four Seasons San Francisco lies on Market Street, mere moments from the Powell-Mason streetcar’s start point and smack bang in the consumer heartland of San Francisco. A gargantuan Gap stands across the street and the lurid, opiate charms of the Apple Store are but a hair’s breadth away. The hotel enjoys spectacular views over the Yerba Buena Gardens and Conservation area, so there is greenery and a sense of calm amid the throbbing madness of city. The Four Seasons Hotel Group offers an unsurpassed luxury experience for those who can stretch to it, and the San Francisco branch isn’t letting the side down. We stumble up to the front entrance, ungainly baggage flailing behind us. The doorman seems to be expecting me – somehow he knows my name. Once relieved of said cumbersome belongings we make our way up to reception which is discreetly tucked away from the street on the 5th floor. Once again, people start greeting me by name, the team work quickly to make you feel at ease (or indeed, deeply paranoid). We’re cheerfully informed that our room is on the sixteenth floor – sweet Jesus this is going to be a hell of a view.
Through some serendipitous quirk of cosmic alignment, the sun is beginning to droop in the sky, sending hot pink light across the rooftops as we enter our extravagantly proportioned room. The view is perhaps the finest I’ve experienced in a hotel. We’re stuck up high, above the houses, above the rooftops, in line with a majestic American flag that flies high on the government building facing us. The light is dying rapidly and rooms across the city start to brighten up, giving us the voyeur’s insight into others’ lives. The people on the street far below carry on with their busy business, but up here it’s just us and the dusky skyline.
The suite we’re in is majestic. The style is minimal-modernist, nothing is superfluous. Muted browns vie with grey leather in a way I really can’t do justice to. The bathroom is pleasingly spacious and hewn out of solid marble. The windows that frame our two rooms are floor-to-ceiling, covering every wall, so by the time darkness has descended we have a 360 degree vista of the city night. Exhausted, we fall asleep on goose down, Egyptian cotton encasing us and the sounds of the city night washing over the room.
If sunset was charming, sun rise is their trump card. Peeling back the curtains, I see light come up around the skyscrapers which feel so close I could stroke them. The room gets brighter, more illuminated by the morning and as it does, I get more and more of a sense that we are at the centre of everything. We shower in a state of jubilation and then it’s time to move on, we have a long drive ahead. It’s time for us to hit the coast road, Route 1, to find a place where sun and sea make a perfect union. Next stop, Santa Barbara…
Four Seasons San Francisco, 757 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103, United States. Tel:+001 415 633 3000. Website