The Perfect Day in Nob Hill and Russian Hill: Tips to Enjoy the Perfect Day in these Two SF Neighborhoods

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Updated: July 9, 2021

Are you looking for an easy self-guided tour through the Nob and Russian Hill neighborhoods? The itinerary below offers you a great overview of these two neighborhoods in just one day.

Nob Hill is a classic, upscale district with high-end housing and some of the best historic hotels in the city. In this neighborhood, you will find Grace Cathedral, the Fairmont Hotel and the Cable Car Museum.

Just down the street, you will find the enchanting district of Russian Hill. Originally settled by Russian immigrants, it now offers luxury housing and several fantastic restaurants and bars. It's also where you will find the crooked block of Lombard Street.

The itinerary below walks you through each neighborhood, so you don't have to back track. It also allows you to make the most of your day.

Feel free to modify the route as you go as the most important part is to enjoy every step of your journey!

9:30 am: Admire the Beauty of Grace Cathedral

Start your morning with a visit to the gorgeous church on the hill, Grace Cathedral.

Your visit starts before you even enter the doors with a look at the golden "Gates of Paradise."' It's a replica of the doors at the Baptistery of the Duomo in Florence, Italy. It features 10 biblical scenes including Adam and Eve and Noah and his family.

The golden doors of Grace Cathedral in SF

The best time to photograph the doors is while the sun is rising in the morning. This is when their golden color shines the brightest.

While you are outside, you can also spend some time admiring the outdoor Labyrinth, a symbol used for prayer and reflection found in religious centers throughout the world. You can also 'walk' the three stages of the Labyrinth to release your inner conflicts and empower yourself for the future.

Once you complete your visit outside, it's time to step inside. This is where you will find the Interfaith AIDS Memorial Chapel, their indoor Labyrinth and almost a dozen colorful murals.

It usually takes about an hour to walk through the entire church.

Click here for additional pictures and information on what to expect during your visit.

10:30 am: Walk through the Historic Fairmont Hotel

After your visit to Grace Cathedral, walk across Huntington Park to the beautiful Fairmont Hotel. This SF classic offers a view into the past.

The United Nations Charter was drafted here in 1945. It has also been the site of many movies and housed dozens of famous politicians, dignitaries and stars.

The lobby of the historic Fairmont Hotel in SF

Step inside and take a seat in the lobby. Spend a few minutes here soaking in all the details from floor to ceiling.

Once you finish, head down the hallway to the right of the entrance (as you are facing the entrance). This is where you will see the plaque stating the location of the drafting of the UN Charter.

Keep walking down this hall and take a right. In this hallway, you will find a mini museum with photos of the hotel's past including images of the people that stayed and the movies filmed here.

Once you finish, head to the opposite side of the first floor of the hotel and peer into Cirque. This old-fashioned saloon features several gorgeous murals. Although it is only open for private events, you can get a decent look at it from the doorway.

Click here for additional pictures and information on the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

12:00 pm: Walk Two Blocks to the Cable Car Museum

Although it's only two blocks away, the walk between the Fairmont Hotel and the Cable Car Museum takes a little effort. The first block is STEEP, so be careful as you go. The second block is not as bad, but still slightly hilly. Fortunately, the walk is downhill all the way!

Before you head down the first hill, make sure you spend a little time admiring the views of the SF Bay. From this point, you can see part of Angel Island (the largest island in the SF Bay – click here for more information on this SF attraction) and a small portion of North Beach.  It's gorgeous and is a 'picture perfect' moment.

12:15 pm: Grab Lunch at the Gallery Cafe

It's best to stop and grab some lunch before you continue. As you reach the Cable Car Museum, you will see a small place across the street called the Gallery Cafe.

This cute restaurant offers simple sandwiches, delicious Quiche and paninis. They also serve a variety of coffees and their breakfast menu all day. It's the perfect place to stop and refuel before continuing on your journey.

An alternative option is to grab lunch at the Laurel Court inside the Fairmont Hotel. The food is good although it is pricey. Every day starting at 11:30am, they serve up gourmet salads and sandwiches starting at around $17 per dish. You can also sample their fish tacos, quesadillas or their popular Fisherman's Wharf Dungeness Crab Cakes.

1:00 pm: Watch the Wheels Spin at SF's Cable Car Museum

The Cable Car Museum is a fun place to visit for anyone interesting in learning more about the history of our famous cable cars. The city introduced these beauties in 1873 to take passengers up and down the steep street of Nob Hill.

At this free museum, you can read more about the original cable car lines, how the 1906 Earthquake and Fire severely damaged the lines and the fight to save the lines currently in use.  In the basement, you can also step inside a replica of a cable car to take a closer look.

The wheels spinning in the Cable Car Museum in SF

My favorite part of this museum is watching the cables in action. On the first floor, you can look down inside the wheel room and watch the large wheels spin as they move the cable cars up and down the hills.

A visit to this museum takes about an hour. Click here for more details on what it's like to visit.

2 pm: Hop Aboard the Powell-Hyde Cable Car to Lombard Street

Now that you know more about them, it's time to jump aboard a cable car for a ride to Lombard Street. You can pick up the Powell-Hyde Cable Car right outside the museum. Make sure you confirm you are on the right cable car as the Powell-Mason line also picks up here.

Looking up at Lombard Street in SF's Russian Hill district

Take the cable car to Lombard Street, one of the crookedest streets in the world. The Powell-Hyde Cable Car line drops you at the top of this block long gem.

Watch the cars make their way down the hill, admire the beautiful flowers and walk down the steps for the perfect view from below. It's a quick visit and a must see during your visit to San Francisco.

Click here for even more details for your visit.

3:30 pm: Gaze Up at "The Making of a Fresco" by Diego Rivera

Less than two blocks away from Lombard Street is a hidden gem often missed by visitors. Inside the San Francisco Art Institute, you will find one of Diego Rivera's masterpieces.

Diego Rivera is a famous and controversial artist from Mexico. During his visits to SF in the 1930s and 1940s, he completed three gorgeous frescos.

The Making of a Fresco mural in SF's Russian Hill district.

The one inside the San Francisco Art Institute is "The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City". He completed it in 1931. It's considered a fresco within a fresco as it shows artists in the process of building a fresco.

From Lombard Street, walk one block downhill to Leavenworth Street. Take a right on Chestnut to the SF Art Institute (at 800 Chestnut). Walk inside the doors and follow the signs to the mural inside the Diego Rivera Gallery.

It's free to visit and the gallery opens from 9am to 5pm daily.

Do you want to see all three of his murals in SF? Click here more information and details on where to find the other two.

4:30 pm: Head Back Up the Hill to Polk Street for a Few Drinks and Dinner

Once you finish your visit at the San Francisco Art Institute, head back up the hill to Polk Street for a few drinks and some dinner. I recommend starting the evening with a nice cocktail at Tonic on the corner of Polk and Union Street.

You can then make your way down Polk Street to Street Restaurant & Bar for dinner. This small local restaurant serves up gourmet comfort food including a delicious ground sirloin hamburger, a mouth-watering Angus New York Strip Steak with Gorgonzola butter and fries and a big boneless Pork Chop. Their specialty every Sunday night is fried chicken and it's DELICIOUS!

They open nightly for dinner at 6pm (cocktails at 5:30pm) except Mondays. They don't accept reservations so head over early on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights to avoid waiting in line for a table.

Your best options to get here from the San Francisco Art Institute include:

Walking: Tonic is about eight blocks away and the hills are steep. You can take any route (some include stairs instead of streets) to work off a few more calories before dinner.

Taking the 45 Bus: Walk south on Jones street to Union Street. The walk is slightly uphill with a steep climb the last block. From here, the bus will take you up and over the highest part of the journey.

Grabbing a Taxi: The easiest way to get to Polk Street is to take a taxi. Walk down Chestnut Street to Columbus Avenue. This is the best place to grab a cab. The cost should be less than $10 for the ride.

How to Get to the Starting Point at Grace Cathedral

Your best bet from Union Square is the California Cable Car line. Pick it up at the corner of California Street and Grant Avenue. Take it to the stop right outside the cathedral at Taylor and California.

From Fisherman's Wharf, take the Powell-Mason cable car. Pick it up at the starting point on Taylor and Bay Streets. Take it to the corner of Sacramento and Powell Streets. At this point, you can walk. It's only two blocks but the first block is VERY steep. You can also wait at the bus stop here, pick up the 1 bus and take it one stop to the top of the hill.

Other Attractions in Nob Hill and Russian Hill

In addition to the items mentioned in this itinerary, you will also find a few other attractions in these two neighborhoods. Click here for more details and additional places to grab dinner or drinks after your walking tour.

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