San Francisco’s Nob Hill and Russian Hill
Nob Hill is one of San Francisco’s most famous hills, situated adjacent to and south of Russian Hill. It overlooks both Chinatown and North Beach, and offers great views of San Francisco Bay as well. The hill, which takes its name from the Indian word, “nabob,” became the chosen locale of the rich and famous of the 19th century, led by the transcontinental railroad’s “Big Four” who built palatial mansions here in the late 1800s, most of which were destroyed during the 1906 earthquake and fire.
Nob Hill Today...
While Nob Hill's mansions of the 19th century are largely gone, prestigious hotels with sweeping city and bay views, built on the sites of the original mansions and bearing the names of the “Big Four” railroad magnates, now crown the hill. Among these are the Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental Hotel, Stanford Court Hotel, and the 24-story Fairmont.
Also of note on Nob Hill are the French-Gothic Grace Cathedral on Taylor Street, believed to be the largest Episcopal cathedral in the US, dating from 1929; and the Cable Car Museum on Mason Street, housed in a 2-story brick building, where you can get a close-up look at the cable car machinery, with its giant cogs and wheels and cables that control the Powell-Mason, Powell-Hyde and California Street lines.
A twin-peaked hill adjoining to the north of Nob Hill and overlooking North Beach, Russian Hill was once home to a small but vital community of artists and writers, among them the likes of Mark Twain, Bret Harte and Robert Loius Stevenson. And unlike Nob Hill, many of Russian Hill’s 19th-century homes remain, largely spared by the 1906 fire.
Russian Hill is now among the city’s foremost neighborhoods, with landscaped paths and tucked-away stairways dashing off between steep streets, offering grand views of the city and bay. The principal lure here is of course Lombard Street, between Hyde and Leavenworth streets, billed as “The Crookedest Street in the World.” Besides which, the Macondray Lane pathway and the Vallejo Street stairs (between Mason and Taylor) also offer picturesque walks and scenic vistas.
On Russian Hill too, on Chestnut Street, is the renowned San Francisco Art Institute, where you can visit the Diego Riviera Gallery to view a 2-story mural by the late Mexican artist, “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City,” circa 1931.
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