Christmas Gawking. No Charge. No Waiting.

By Anita Garner

St. Francis Hotel Doormen

It’s okay to stare in hotel lobbies.  Everybody does it.  At Christmas time, hotels in my favorite city will knock your socks off.

When I’m a guest, some people upstairs are having room service coffee, I’m in the lobby with my cup, because I love it there.  For this list, it’s San Francisco. I’ve stayed in all these places but you don’t have to be a guest to enjoy them.  I also don’t need a city in order to have a good long Christmas gawk. If I’m in a tiny town, I find me an inn. If I’m in the country, I take a day to head to the nearest hostelry that sparkles.

In The City By The Bay , if you drive, park it. Repeat – park the car. Don’t even think about moving it. There are plenty of ways to get around without spending the day looking for elusive parking spots. Coming in from the ferries, visitors hop off and walk across the Embarcadero to the Hyatt Regency.

Hyatt Regency San Francisco

The Hyatt anchors a festive complex at Christmas with an ice skating rink  outside and a lobby with a view. There’s music.  There’s plenty to sip.  A couple of steps away are four skyscrapers, Embarcadero Center, each of them outlined top to bottom with lights, forming a unique shopping place.

Ice skating outside the Hyatt, looking across at Ferry Building and Bay Bridge

Over to Union Square and the St. Francis.  You’ll be greeted by their Beefeater doormen, who’ll put on an elegant show finding you a cab. Every year their chefs outdo themselves creating bigger and fancier gingerbread houses – castles even – smack in the middle of the lobby.

St. Francis Hotel San Francisco

Head out and walk around Union Square from there.  This could easily take several days, but do your Christmas best to see it.  Macy’s windows are justifiably famous, a don’t-miss San Francisco tradition.

Union Square looking at Macy’s

Cross over to Neiman Marcus to see their enormous tree. When they bought the old City of Paris store, they promised to preserve its several-stories-tall rotunda and they did.  The tree’s so big you’ll need to look at it from different angles, inside and out.

 

Neiman Marcus Rotunda Tree

 

 

When you can tear yourself away from Union Square, up to Nob Hill you go, cable cars clanging.  There’s not a more Christmassy sound. Top of the hill, across the street from each other are the Mark Hopkins and the Fairmont.

When I didn’t live in The City, I stayed at the Mark.  You get started at a place and they say hello like they mean it and as a woman traveling alone, I always appreciated the manager popping out from behind a desk to walk me to the elevator, then to my room.  Pull up in that courtyard, someone whisks your car away and you won’t need to get it out again.  The cable car runs right by. That was my homey place for years, and oh my, the lobby.

Mark Hopkins Hotel San Francisco

 

 

 

 

 

Across the street at the Fairmont, the king/queen of gingerbread houses stands two stories tall, and they serve tea inside it.  Oh yes they do. Any time of year the lobby at the Fairmont is festive. It’s a congenial place.

The Fairmont San Francisco

One more stop on the hotel tour – back from Nob Hill to The Palace Hotel.  During carriage days, guests pulled up and were ushered inside to luxury while someone took their horses away for a stay. Today the former carriage entrance is The Garden Court.  It’s indescribable all year and all year you’ll need reservations for brunch, but please don’t miss the gawking opportunity. Christmas at Garden Court is another layer of magic.

Garden Court at The Palace Hotel

Wherever you are, I hope this season you’ll get yourself into a lobby near you and sit a while.  Sip something.  Listen to the music.  Watch the happy people.  Gawk.

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Christmas music for the trip.  Chris Whiteman on guitar.  Right now I’m listening to Chris play “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”  Much more from Chris at  his YouTube channel. 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Luxuries

The shopping season is a good time to adjust old habits and spend a little on ourselves.  After accumulating more years on this earth than we have left, it’s time to stop scrimping on certain purchases.

We scrimp on the darndest things, denying ourselves small pleasures.  Of course your luxuries might be my necessities and vice versa, so here are a few of my purely subjective places to consider not trying to save.

Coffee.  The best tasting coffee you ever had probably won’t break the bank.  I can’t find a cheap, really good-tasting Colombian, so I buy a brand I know will deliver.

Toilet tissue.  Maybe not one of life’s little pleasures, but something we’re in contact with often enough.  I know people who buy stuff so harsh I swear you can still see the wood chips in it.  Why?  Cushy rolls are only pennies more.

Name brands.  Buy generic when it doesn’t matter to you either way, but if you’ve got a favorite brand and you’re convinced it’s the best, get it.  Example:  Cotton swabs.  Every time I buy generic, I regret it.

Bottled iced tea.  I know it’s practically free when you make it at home, but on the road, those attractive bottles are a treat.  Okay, they’re nice at home too.

Hiring someone to do a chore.  Pick your most onerous job and pay somebody to do it.  Mowing the lawn.  Taking the stove apart and cleaning it.  Bathrooms.  Windows.  If you hate it, farm it out once in a while.

Sound system.  Get the best sound you can afford. I’m not talking about the kind where the crew comes over to your house and installs it.  If you have a home theatre, you don’t need suggestions from me about good sound.  But if you don’t, get yourself a reliable, compact system.  Speakers are small but the sound can get as big as the neighborhood will allow.  Vinyl is back and today’s sound systems allow for turntables too.  When you love music, good sound isn’t really a luxury.

Parking closer (and paying more.)  There are times and weather that make finding a parking spot the biggest hurdle of all.  Splurge on the valet or the closest parking structure.  I live in an area (San Francisco) where the joke is, if you’re visiting here and you find a parking space, consider moving here rather than moving your car.  

Another place I used to live, (and still visit monthly,) Los Angeles, is similarly parking-challenged.   I noticed for several years during my annual trips to Neiman-Marcus sales in Beverly Hills, that their valets parked only Rolls Royces and Bentleys and similar shiny exotics right outside the valet stand, the place clearly visible to all emerging customers.   That kind of display doesn’t intimidate me today.  Having enough years on us helps us appreciate, unapologetically, our old faithful conveyances for as many years as we prefer to drive them.  We can give them the full valet experience whenever the mood and the budget allow.

As we go along with this blog, I’m learning that just because I feel like posting, poetry doesn’t always emanate, but lists often do.

Ó By Anita Garner