West Coast Loop – Part 5 – Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel (and a day with Jack Nicklaus)

Overview: A below average “grande dame” hotel in a great location
Strengths: Location, views
Drawbacks: Most aspects of the hotel


My last stay at the Mark Hopkins was in 2008, and sadly, I can report nothing has improved.  Located on the top of San Francisco’s Nob Hill (the hotel uses One Nob Hill as a vanity address), the Mark Hopkins was for many years the highest hotel in San Francisco.  One of the city’s grande dame hotels – it was once a hub for well-to-do locals and visitors.  Today, it is largely the bastion of those on discounted corporate rates and groups on tours.

Arriving at the hotel, two uniformed valets greeted my taxi, but no one assisted me the door to the hotel.



The check-in desk is off to the left of the small lobby.  There was some confusion over my Royal Ambassador benefits (guaranteed upgrade, etc), but most were sorted out.  (I never received any in-room amenities.)



I was given a room on the tenth floor, far superior to my colleagues – all on the same rate – who all ended up on the second floor.

The room was what you’d expect from a moderately renovated 1926 hotel room.  It was clean, with few nicks on the walls, but clearly in an old hotel.






While I didn’t get any of the Royal Ambassador amenities, I did get some sort of 10% off coupon for Bloomingdales.


The bathroom was small, though well lit.  It had the dreaded billowing shower curtain.  Yuk!



I ordered breakfast in-room both days.  It was prompt and tasty both times.





We had drinks at the Top of the Mark (bar on the top floor) one night.  Whilst the view was very good, the bar itself was more akin in personality to an airport bar than anything else.  We sat at the bar near the entrance to the back room, but that area had that “nasty food service smell” to it.  We moved away, it the smell was still evident, but duller with the benefit of some distance from what must have been the source.

Throughout my stay, there were cleaning items and used food trollies in the hallway leading to my room.  :(



The hotel used to offer a full service restaurant off of the lobby.  That has been closed, and it is now simply the club lounge.  I poked my head in for a minute, and it was quite a spacious club lounge.  Against that, this is a purportedly four star hotel without the benefit of an on-site restaurant now.  I imagine the decision to close the old restaurant was a financial one – but I would have thought this to be a requisite for a hotel of the caliber that the Mark Hopkins aspires to.

* * * * *

The Mark Hopkins holds a special place in my heart – it was the first four star hotel I’d ever stayed in.  Back in the mid-1990s, after graduating college, I treated myself and a lady-friend to a few days in San Francisco (using AA award tickets to get there – with a free stopover in Chicago).  We had a great time.  I recall even then thinking that if this was a “luxury hotel,” I wasn’t too impressed.  They offered a higher level of service then, with a man assisting us to our room and returning with ice.  They also offered a full-service restaurant back then (now it is just the club lounge), etc.  The best thing that could happen would be for a Ritz-style close it down for two years and fully renovate the property.  I’m not sure the math of such an exercise pencils out.

Today, in two of their weaker cities (New York, San Francisco), Intercontinental has flagged second, much newer properties.  I wonder if the new properties foreshadow the de-flagging of the Mark Hopkins and New York’s Barclay?

While it would be sad to see the Mark Hopkins unflagged as an Intercontinental (lest it go further down hill), unflagging the Barclay (a hotel with no historic significance) couldn’t come a day to soon!)

* * * * *

The purpose of my visit to San Francisco was mainly to see the US Open with some clients.  The Open was being held down at the Olympic Club. 

I’ve always been a big Jack Nicklaus fan.  In addition to time spent at the Open itself, my client and I were able to participate in a number of special events with Jack – on what turned out to be a notable day (at least in golf circles).

2012 marked the 50th anniversary of Jack’s first US Open win in 1962 (and also his first professional win).  This year, the USGA unveiled a new medal for all future US Open winners – the Jack Nicklaus medal.  We got to spend about half of the day with Jack in a small setting (< 50 people) on the day the medal was announced and unveiled.  That same evening, the USGA premiered their first feature documentary – of the 1962 US Open.  Jack joined us for the viewing of the film in a small theatre in San Francisco and then stayed for dinner with the group. 


I’ve had the opportunity to be at small events with Jack in the past – but this one was the best.  Importantly, my client still mentions it every time we speak.

Nicklaus has been married to the same person for over five decades and both on and off the course is truly a sportsman and a gentlemen.  More people in sports today should uphold these same principles that Nicklaus has personified now for well over 50 years.

* * * * *

I also draw your attention to Sanraku.  This little gem of a sushi restaurant is a 3-4 block walk from the Mark Hopkins.  I ate dinner here one night at the sushi bar.  It was incredible.  Frankly, the quality of the fish was close to Sasabune in New York City.  I called in advance, which was essential, as there was a queue out the door to be seated.  I left everything in the chef’s hands with a call of Omakase – and could not have been more pleased.

If you are in San Francisco and are a sushi fan, I’d highly recommend including Sanraku in your plans.  The prices were reasonable, and you could call them very reasonable when the quality was considered.

* * * * *

Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel
One Nob Hill (also 999 California Street)
San Francisco, California 94108
+1 415 392 3434

704 Sutter Street
San Francisco, California 94109
+1 415 771 0803


Sanraku is one of my favorite restaurants in S.F. Took a friend there in May, who had never had sushi in his life!, and he walked out a very happy camper.

The salmon was so fresh that it literally melted in our mouths.

Geoff July 27, 2012 at 02:16 pm

Its sad about the Mark Hopkins... I have had the exact experience you had no amenity as an Ambassador and on a subsequent stay as a Royal.

Its become threadbare, and well the staff is indifferent.

Can't see staying here ever again, when the IC SF is superiour in every way from recognition and communication to just the over all comfort of the rooms.

  • no shower curtains!
dmel August 10, 2012 at 09:54 am

Tom, how much does omakase at Sanraku set you back? Is it a set price or based on what you're served? The menu on their website only shows it for "starters" -- 5 pieces for $21.

I went straight omakase, and I ended up picking up the tab for the person sitting next to me (who I randomly sat next to). That person had a cooked dish.

All in, the bill including tax, tips and a few beers was about $150. I suspect my total was $100, and about $50 for the other person. Very reasonable for the quality of the offering.