Story by Carol Canter. Photos by Carol Canter and Jack Heyman.
Sipping a sunset cocktail at Cityscape, from its sleek perch on the 46th floor of Hilton San Francisco Union Square is an unparalleled celebratory high, an affordable way to access a priceless 360 degree panorama of this legendary city by the bay. For me, it was the scenically orchestrated opening to my San Francisco Staycation, and as I looked through the evening’s rose gold hues toward the East Bay hills of my home, I felt far away and free of cares!
I ordered the Noe Valley in homage to my former SF neighborhood, savoring the blend of Tito’s Vodka, aperol, lemon, agave and a splash of prosecco. The landmarks were there for the naming, from the iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the San Francisco Bay Bridge, nothing short of a breathtaking canvas of light. What fun to be a tourist close to home, savoring the many lures drawing 26 million visitors a year to San Francisco — including those who stay at the 1921-room Hilton San Francisco Union Square, the city’s largest hotel.
From the dreamy heights of Cityscape we descended to Urban Tavern, a street level metropolitan gastro pub to dine on such inspired fare as the Charred Spanish Octopus with creamed chickpea, roasted tomatillos, burnt salsa verde, cherry peppers, lime crème and corn nuts and the Country Fried Wild Mushrooms with faro, sweet red pepper vinaigrette, cauliflower emulsion, baby kale, preserved lemon and grilled artichokes.
I was part of a small group of travel journalists celebrating the 100th anniversary of Hilton Hotels, established May 31, 1919 when company founder Conrad Hilton acquired The Mobley, a hotel in the small town of Cisco, Texas. From its Cisco roots, the brand went international in 1949 with the opening of the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico. Hilton’s portfolio now spans 17 brands and more than 5,700 properties, including the neighboring Parc 55 San Francisco, a Hilton Hotel just a block away.
The 55th anniversary of the opening of Hilton San Francisco Union Square May 25, 1964 was the second reason for the weekend celebration. We raised a glass to the Beatles, who stayed at the hotel the night before opening their 1964 U.S. tour in San Francisco, and to a nostalgic photo of the uniform of many colors worn by Hilton housekeeping staff during that same legendary decade. Two “retired” rainbow flags were used to replicate the uniform, and highlight the hotel’s relationship as patron of and partner with San Francisco Pride. As the only San Francisco hotel with a Community Relations Director, the property prides itself on outreach and support not only of the LGBT community, but also the surrounding Tenderloin neighborhood and many local arts organizations.
And a partnership with Alcatraz Cruises brings a replica of a prison cell, authentic artifacts and interactive displays right into the lobby of the two neighboring Hilton hotels as part of “Alcatraz: Life on the Rock,” a Traveling Exhibit.
“Future IDs at Alcatraz” turned out to be the highlight of a Saturday visit to the island, a profoundly moving experience of art and transformation created by former prisoners as they envision a future identity for themselves after their release. Their goals, dreams, fantasies emerge in stark contrast to their prison-issued IDs. Presented in partnership with the Art in the Parks program of the National Park Service, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and Headlands Center for the Arts, the installation encourages dialogue and reflection on the criminal justice system and second chances in a nation that has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its incarcerated people. “Future IDs at Alcatraz”, free with purchase of an Alcatraz ticket, runs through October 2019, daily 10am-4pm.
There was much to mull over as we explored the gardens of Alcatraz the floral colors a dramatic counterpoint to the grim cell block with its legendary tales of endurance and attempted escape. Standing on the deck of the return ferry back to Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing, gulls circled overhead, San Francisco Bay was a silvery shimmer, and the feeling of freedom was overwhelming.
Dinner at the Michelin-star Kin Khao at the Parc 55 Hilton was highlighted by some standout dishes: “Sweet savory, voluptuous pork belly cooked in a clay pot” and the Butternut Squash Panang. The Black Rice Pudding, served with caramelized jackfruit in hibiscus, salty coconut cream, puffed rice+peanut+sesame praline was a dessert to remember, a tasty prelude to a special treat at SFJAZZ, the nation’s only stand-alone center built expressly for the appreciation and development of jazz.
Marcus Shelby, bassist, arranger, educator and bandleader, a figure synonymous with Bay Area jazz and the spirit of collaboration, introduced the audience to “Blackball: The Negro Leagues and the Blues.” It was part 3 of a 4-night artistic residency that culminated with Shelby’s superlative orchestra honoring the “swinging, blues-heavy legacy of jazz’s greatest composer, Duke Ellington.” SFJAZZ, a veritable San Francisco treasure, enters its 37th year presenting the very best performers from around the world to make our city a world-class jazz venue.
A Sunday “Wine Country Encounter” was orchestrated by Tower Tours, a family-owned business that gave us “locals” and our out-of-town colleagues a welcome break from driving. That way we could relax into a tasting in a Gloria Ferrer wine cave, sample the elegant olive oil and Balsamic vinegar production of Figone’s Olive Oil Company, a working Sonoma Valley mill, and indulge in wine-infused truffles, chocolates and brittles in historic downtown Sonoma at Anette’s Chocolates . For more information, contact Hilton San Francisco Union Square ; Contact San Francisco Travel.