by Michael Blanding
Part of a Japanese hotel chain that started as a subsidiary of Japan Airlines, the Hotel Nikko San Francisco is the only U.S. branch in a worldwide network of more than 70 hotels. As such, it is run independently, with the feel of a boutique hotel despite the fact that it contains some 532 rooms. The Japanese flavor is apparent in subtle touches throughout the property, such as orchids in guestroom bathrooms and porcelain sinks, or a Zen rock garden on the way to the pool, while the lobby of the hotel gives the feel of an upscale shopping mall, with marble floors and waterfalls and a range of shops catering to business travelers.
The hotel prides itself on its impeccable service, with a glass of wine offered to travelers upon check-in and concierges belonging to the Les Clef d’Or, an elite organization that admits only the most experienced hotel staff. The upper floors of the hotel, dubbed the “concierge level,” offer an even more attentive level of service, along with a nightly wine and beer reception for guests. Despite that service, however, the hotel does tend to pile on the fees, with $50 a night valet service, and extra fees to use the pool and fitness club. And while Wi-Fi is free, guests have to pay extra for high-speed streaming service (complimentary on the upper floors).
The hotel is located a few blocks from Union Square, which is invariably described as the heart of San Francisco, just a couple of blocks up from the main cable car turnaround at Powell and Market. The area is convenient to department stores and theaters and a good jumping off point to explore both the neighborhoods to the south and waterfront to the north. It does, however, skirt the edge of the Tenderloin district, a somewhat sketchy neighborhood of by-the-night hotels that is a magnet to the city’s homeless population. While the neighborhood has come a long way (there’s now a craft brew pub offering Tenderloin IPA), pedestrians should still use caution at night.
Despite opening more than 25 years ago, the hotel has undergone extensive renovations, most recently upgrading all of the rooms in 2012, and is again scheduled to renovate them in late 2016. Accommodations are elegant and comfortable, and many of them offer spectacular views of downtown San Francisco. In early 2016, the hotel will also open a refurbished rooftop pool, a rare commodity for hotels in the city. Apart from that, there are few amenities specifically for families, as the hotel tends to cater to business travelers. However, the standard of comfort and service here, as well as the central location, definitely means it deserves a look.
Our Editor Loves
- Prime downtown Union Square location
- Rooftop pool and roofdeck
- Understated Asian decor
- Family Room 5+
- Free Wi-Fi
- Meal Plan
- Onsite Dining
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Rooms at the Hotel Nikko are elegantly furnished with walnut wood furniture, and a pleasing slate blue-and-white color scheme, along with subtle Japanese artworks. All beds include the hotel chain's signature "Subarashii Yume" pillow-top mattresses (the name means "wonderful dreams" in Japanese), as well as both mini-bars and separate refrigerators, and writing desks. All rooms also include iPod docks and flat-screen TVs with OnDemand movies and DVD players by request. The upper floors have beautiful views of downtown, and if you crane your neck from some, you can just see the tip of the Golden Gate Bridge. Cribs and rollaway beds are available for an extra charge of $30.
Petite One Queen Bed
The smallest rooms in the hotel, these guestrooms are probably only suited to families with an infant or young toddler. Bathrooms include a shower, but no bathtub.
Standard size rooms include a king-size bed, along with larger bathrooms with marble vanities and bathtubs in addition to a shower.
Nikko Business Level
Rooms on the 20th and 21st floor include a few extra perks, along with their nicer views. High-speed Internet is free, as is access to the pool and fitness club, which otherwise require a fee. These rooms also include breakfast in the price.
Imperial Club Rooms
The top three floors of the hotel are reserved for the nicest rooms, served by their own elevator, and offering turndown service nightly, along with a TV in the bathroom mirror and a private lounge that serves breakfast in the morning and a wine and cheese hour at night. Bathrooms also include rainfall showerheads.
The corner rooms on the executive level feature beautiful views from a separate sitting area with a couch and its own TV. A separate bedroom contains a king bed, along with another TV.
The full-size suites turn the luxury up a notch with either king or two queen beds and a separate living area with a sofa and striking views over the city. The suites include two 42-inch, flat-screen TVs, as well as two bathrooms.
The Nikko's version of a Presidential Suite features a bedroom with two queen beds, a living room with sofa, and two 42-inch, flat-screen TVs. In addition, it has sliding paper doors opening out to a balcony with its own Zen rock garden and views over the city to the bay, and a bathroom with a granite soaking tub and rainforest shower.
The hotel is pretty, the bed and pillows were comfortable and the bartender Jason was a great mixologist! Had a wonderful stay and would go back. Walking distance to convention center and Starbucks in the lobby.
Nice hotel in good location, front desk staff could do with some improvements, not-so-flexible approach to booking-changes, cumbersome processes.
Spa facility looks nice - unfortunately I didn't have the chance to use it during my stay.
The Nikko's newly renovated pool area features an indoor saltwater pool lit by a triangular shaped glass ceiling from above, along with a view of the city through floor-to-ceiling windows. The pool is approximately 50 feet long, and ranges from depths of 2.5 to 4 feet. Next to it is a small Jacuzzi that is open to both kids and adults. There is a nominal charge for using the pool facilities of $25 per family, per stay.
Outside the pool area is a wide wooden deck sheltered by a glass windbreak. It includes three firepits, surrounded by comfy banquettes; the hotel provides S'more's kits for make-your-own desserts in the evenings. Next to the deck, there is also a small grassy "dog park" for those travelling with pets.
The lobby of the hotel features a number of shops and other services to help make travel easier. In addition to a small gift shop selling magazines, snacks, and tourist souvenirs, they include an onsite travel agency, a UPS store for printing and shipping needs, and Beverly Hills Car Rent-A-Car for when you are in the mood to rent a Bentley or Ferrari. There is also an ATM, dry cleaner, and hair salon.
Perched above the lobby, the Nikko's restaurant exudes a sexy, retro vibe -- with black chandeliers and bubbling backlit water panels that change color over time. The menu is a blend of California and Japan steak house, featuring wagyu beef onglet and kurobota pork chops alongside filet mignon and rack of lamb. The restaurant, however, is best known for two things -- its cocktails, expertly overseen by mixmaster Robert Albright, and its sushi -- with an exclusive nine-seat sushi bar. Despite the adult vibe, ANZU is more than welcoming to children, with a children's menu that includes all the classics -- including burgers, chicken nuggets, and mac n' cheese -- along with California-themed pictures to color. It's also serves a breakfast buffet daily with American and Japanese offerings, and kids' breakfast items such as Belgian waffles and pancakes. The restaurant is open daily from 6:30 to 11 a.m. for breakfast, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch, and 5:30 to 10 p.m. for dinner.
The national coffee chain has a branch in the lobby, selling snacks and pastries alongside coffee drinks.
Room service is available 24 hours a day.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Some rooms are pet-friendly, with a $50 fee for dogs that includes a doggie bed and treats. There is a small dog park on the roof, in addition to nearby Union Square, where they can stretch their legs.
The concierge desk provides referrals to area babysitters.
The Art of Smart Timing
San Francisco has nice weather year-round, especially during the peak travel seasons of spring and fall, when one sunny, 70-degree day follows another. Summers can fall prey to San Francisco's famous fogs, while winter months often bring rain, both times when rates may be reduced. Because the Hotel Nikko caters to business travelers, weekends and holidays are good times to look for bargains, including a $99-per-night special.
All major airlines serve San Francisco International Airport, located a half-hour drive south of the city. Taxis run around $40 to $45 for the airport to Union Square ($55 for an Uber). It's also easy to take a train from the airport -- Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway trains run every 15 minutes and take 30 minutes to arrive at Powell station, just a couple of blocks from the hotel. If you decide to rent a car, keep in mind that parking at the hotel is not cheap -- overnight valet parking is $50, with in-and-out privileges throughout the day. Public parking across the street is available for $32 per night.
The Hotel Nikko is conveniently located right in the center of the city, with shopping, restaurant, and entertainment options all within an easy walk. To hit the major tourist destinations of Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, North Beach, and Chinatown, it's easy enough to jump on the Powell and Market cable car, which runs a block from the hotel.
Buses also run down nearby Market Street to the southern neighborhoods of Haight-Ashbury and the Mission, and BART trains head downtown and over the Bay Bridge to Berkeley and Oakland. A car is certainly not necessary to get around -- and may be a liability on San Francisco's notoriously steep streets -- but comes in handy if you plan on an excursion out of town or across the Golden Gate.
For Mom and Dad
The hotel has a fitness center with treadmills, free weights, and exercise machines, as well as a sauna and steam room. There is a $15 fee per stay to use the facilities, unless you are staying on the executive or Imperial level.
Next door to the restaurant ANZU, the hotel has its own club, Feinstein's at the Nikko, created by 5-time Grammy and 2-time Emmy winner Michael Feinstein, an expert in 20th century American music. The cabaret-style theater hosts comedians of the Saturday Night Live/Tonight Show caliber, as well as Broadway performers and B and C list Hollywood actors (Tony Danza, Minnie Driver). Patrons must be 16 and older, and there is a $20 food and beverage minimum per person.