A trip to the Top of the Mark, the restaurant/bar at the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill, is one of the quintessential San Francisco experiences; everyone should do it at least once!
It's so traditional, it's become a little uncool to go there; but doesn't that make it retro-cool? I can't figure that out, but I do know they have one of the most spectacular and scrumptious brunches I have ever enjoyed. And what a view!
The Mark Hopkins Hotel is one of the Grand Dames of San Francisco, catering to the rich and famous of the 1920's, 30's and 40's, and sitting on top of Nob Hill since 1926.
The hotel sits in the area that the wealthy of 19th century San Francisco built their mansions. Most of the Nob Hill homes were destroyed by fire in the 1906 earthquake, which also claimed the turreted mansion of Mark Hopkins.
One of San Francisco's most elegant hotels was built on the site of the former mansion 1926 and became one of the most prestigious hotels of the city, along with the Fairmont Hotel across the street.
The Peacock Court (just past the ornate lobby) was the scene of debutante balls, and hosted many of the biggest names of the big bands and entertainers of the gilded age, like Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Xavier Cugat, Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour, and Rudy Valley.
The list of famous guests is too long to list, but includes U.S. Presidents Hoover and Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev, Charles de Gaulle, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones.
Most people go up to the Top of the Mark for the 360 degree view. It's on the top floor of the hotel, the 19th, and has its own elevator.
Which view is better? The sparkling city lights are very romantic, and the day view gives you a great view of the downtown buildings, Alcatraz and both bridges.
The two aspects of the Top of the Mark:
The Mark has long been known as a place to go for a special occasion, like a 21st birthday, an anniversary or marriage proposal.
During World War 2, the bar became a well-known spot for Navy men to meet and have a last drink before shipping out overseas, often promising to meet back there after the war was over.
During it's heyday, the Top of the Mark was a fancy place to go for cocktails and dancing. It still has some of the 1940's ambiance, but unfortunately it's gotten a reputation for mediocre service. According to their more recent reviews, though, the food seems to have improved quite a bit.
Looking for a hip bar with a young vibe, this ain't it. It does tend to attract an older crowd who enjoy the nostalgia of it's romantic history, but many young visitors appreciate that as well. It used to enforce a strict dress code, which did help preserve it's classy, upscale feel, but that has slipped, so it's gotten a bit of a dated feel without the elegance of past years.
Nevertheless, many people still love it, and in spite of everything, I think it's worth it to experience such an interesting bit of San Francisco history in a spectacular setting.
They don't serve actual meals, but have a menu of small plates to go with the drinks, ranging from home-made potato chips and sliders to pricy caviar dishes. Desserts, too.
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The hotel itself, the Mark Hopkins, is a great place to stay, with old-fashioned elegance and excellent service, according to many reviews. See Mark Hopkins for booking info and prices.
Tips for having a great evening at the Top of the Mark:
They show a movie on Tuesday nights, but it's not that easy to see or hear from many of the tables.
I can't count the number of brunch places I've been too, but this one tops the list.
The elegant setting and fantastic views would be reason enough to go, but the food is sensational! The variety is impressive and the quality lived up to the presentation.
Pates, smoked fish platters, several kinds of caviar, crabs, oysters, cheeses, artisan breads, blini, many salads, and artistic little plates of imaginative appetizer combinations...for starters. Unlimited glasses of champagne and orange juice served at your table to wash it all down.
Entrees: soups, leg of lamb, prime rib, beef medallions, stuffed chicken, salmon, scallops, tortellini, and more.
Yummy breakfast foods, including crepes and dim sum.
And the grand finale, a beautiful display of desserts: tarts, cakes, candies, mousses, puddings, etc.
The hardest part is deciding what to eat, since it might not be possible to try everything!
The Mark Hopkins Hotel is located on Nob Hill, at the corner of Mason and California Streets, just uphill from Chinatown (two very steep blocks) and 6 blocks from Union Square.
Cocktail Hours: open from 4:30 to 11:30 pm every night (4:30 pm to 12:30 am Friday & Saturday, 5 pm to 10 pm Sundays). Live entertainment Wednesday through Saturday, with a cover charge ($5-$15).
Note: they no longer do evening reservations for tables at Top of the Mark. It's first come, first served.
Check their evening entertainment schedule.
Brunch Hours: 10:00 am to 1 pm (last seating), every 30 minutes.
Reservations for brunch are strongly recommended: 415 392-3434, or reserve online at Top of the Mark brunch.
All three cable car lines cross just below the hotel, at Powell and California Streets, and the California line goes right past the hotel. They can take you to Chinatown, the Embarcadero, Fisherman's Wharf and North Beach.
See riding the cable cars for tips on how and where to catch them, how to avoid the lines, and a route map.
Garages nearby are expensive and forget street parking. Some suggestions:
Tip: Use a parking app, Spot Hero to find the cheapest parking in the area, and space availability. Works best to book it ahead.
COVID-19 Status: at midnight on Monday, March 16, San Francisco was placed under a "shelter-in-place order.
All residents were ordered to stay home, except for necessary trips to grocery stores and essential medical visits, and solo outdoor activities like hiking.
The city had been gradually reopening of many businesses and activities, but in December, came under a strict, stay-at-home directive, due to a sudden increase in infection and hospitalization rates.
Since then, Covid numbers have dropped significantly.
Big changes coming June 15 (assuming the Covid numbers stay down). California is scheduled to fully reopen, meaning all business sectors will reopen to full or almost full capacity, including concerts, stadium sports and festivals.
Most recently, March 23, 2021, SF has moved to a somewhat less restrictive status.
Public transportation options have been cut back. See SF transit for more info.
See COVID rules for current SF status.
Mask rules: everyone in SF is required to wear a mask when they are outside and within 30 feet of other people.
Masks must be worn in stores and places of business and people not within the same household must stay 6 feet apart.
SF Curfew has been ended.
What is open? Muir Woods, the Botanic Gardens, Golden Gate Park, Japanese Tea Garden, Pier 39, SF beaches, Golden Gate Bridge, and Twin Peaks (car access on Portola, main parking lot open) are all open.
Parking lots for SF beaches, Twin Peaks, and the Golden Gate Bridge are open. But the Welcome Center lot and Merchant Road lot at the bridge are closed.
Restaurants can now be open to 50% capacity for indoor and outdoor dining, and many restaurants are open for take-out or delivery.
Bars that serve food can serve customers indoors.
Businesses can allow customers inside, on a limited basis (grocery stores 50%).The SF Zoo is open again.
Alcatraz is open. Day Tour tickets only. See Alcatraz.
Hair salons, and open air tour buses and boat cruises can now operate.
Indoor museums are open, including the CA Academy of Sciences.
Travel to SF: non-essential travel to SF is discouraged but the quarantine requirements are no longer in effect.
Hotels are accepting reservations, up to 25% capacity, but travelers are urged to limit contact with others in the hotel.
Exploratorium: still closed.
Indoor swimming pools are open to 25% capacity.
Schools: many private schools are open. SF public schools will start in person learning for elementary students April 12. Older grades: negotiations are ongoing. Hopefully will open for fall classes.
Limited opening: indoor gyms to 25% capacity and indoor movie theaters to 50%.
Indoor concerts, live theater, and sporting events, are scheduled to open April 12 at 35% capacity. Proof of vaccination or negative Covid test will be required. See more info on indoor events.
Some venues are waiting until June 15 because capacity limits don't work for those businesses.
Napa and Sonoma county wineries are open.
For a handy list of what's open or closed in SF, plus info on what's open in other cities and counties of California, see California reopening schedules.
See coronavirus news in the SF Chronicle for details and updates.
See SF closures timeline.
Most recent Bay Area stay home order.
Also see site and parking lot closures for the National Park Service (Alcatraz, Muir Woods, etc.)
Plus helpful info on which parks and hiking trails are open in the Bay Area.
Get the latest tips on visiting San Francisco.