The Hotel with a Heart Turns 55!

By Ariel Johns

Since opening its doors on May 25, 1964, the Hilton San Francisco Union Square has welcomed convention goers, families, professionals, tourists and such celebrities as Lucille Ball, John Wayne and the king himself, Elvis Presley.

Located in the center of three popular neighborhoods, Union Square, SOMA and the Tenderloin, this landmark hotel perfectly captures the energy of the “The City” with its vivacious and upbeat vibe. Don’t let the 2,072 rooms intimidate you. The hotel operations are flawless and efficient. At no time will you expect to wait for an elevator, stand in a long line to check in or wait for extended lengths of time to pay for your grab-and-go meal at the hotel lobby café. The friendly staff are well trained and ready to accommodate your every wish. All guests are greeted with smiles and are welcomed with open arms. It’s no wonder this Hilton is also called the “hotel with a heart.”

The Hilton is in a prime location, situated near some of San Francisco’s most spectacular sites, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street and the most famous prison in history, Alcatraz.

From 1934 to 1963, the federal prison Alcatraz housed some of the most notorious criminals in American history including serial killers, bank robbers and infamous mobsters Al Capone and George “Machine Gun Kelly.” San Franciscans were comforted by the safety of knowing these vicious convicts were locked away on an island 1.25 miles off the coast.

Prisoners sent to Alcatraz were known for being troublemakers at other federal penitentiaries. Guards were on high alert as inmates’ daily plans of escape and freedom were whispered amongst the cell blocks. Thirty-six prisoners made 14 escape attempts resulting in one multi-day prison riot and a daring escape attempt that may or may not have been successful. Inmates knew that escaping Alcatraz meant not only outsmarting the well-trained and heavily armed corrections officers, but also fighting choppy waters and rough currents to get back to the mainland. In June of 1962, inmates Frank Morris and brothers Clarence and John Anglin hatched a plan to escape from the prison. During the wee hours of the night, as the other inmates slept, Morris and the Anglin brothers carefully crept through holes they had carved out of the walls in their prison cells. After leaving their rooms, the three men navigated  through the walls to a crawl space. There they met and finished constructing a handmade raft that would sail them from the island to the mainland. None of the three escapees were ever seen again.

So, was the biggest escape in Alcatraz history a success? You can draw your own conclusions. According to the FBI, all men drowned in the bay. To learn more in-depth details about the escape and other events that took place at Alcatraz, stay for one of the panels or discussions held daily at the penitentiary. The Escape presentation leaves tourists debating if Morris and the Anglin brothers successfully made it off the Rock.

From now through September 15, make sure to check out the history panel featuring a real-life Alcatraz alum sharing anecdotes from his time at the prison. Sign up for tickets now as spaces will sell out.

Alcatraz is not the only excursion visitors to San Francisco should see. SFJazz is the first stand-alone building designated to jazz in the United States. Only 20 minutes from the Hilton San Francisco Union Square in the Performing Arts District, SFJazz has become known as one of the world’s leading presenters of jazz music and education through classes, workshops, music programs and concerts. The venue is intimate with superb acoustics. I had the honor of seeing the Marcus Shelby Orchestra present Blackball: The Negro Leagues and the Blues. Blackball narrates the story of the Negro Baseball Leagues through jazz, acting and singing.

SFJazz is the perfect place for a date night or an evening out with old friends. Check their website for details on upcoming shows featuring both domestic and international jazz musicians.

End your night back at the hotel with a nightcap and dessert at the hotel rooftop lounge, Cityscape. Sip delicious libations and sample decadent desserts all while looking at the 360-degree views on the 46th floor. Relax as you take in the mature and sexy vibe. The night has come to an end and it is time to return to your room. Rest up as your wine tasting excursion will be leaving the hotel in the morning.

You cannot travel to San Francisco without making your way to world-famous wine country. Tower Tours offers a wide variety of small group wine tasting excursions. For those who want a unique culinary experience to complement their wine tasting, I recommend The Taste of Wine Country tour. This trip takes you to a Sonoma winery, where you will sit in a wine cave as you taste wines and cheeses, escorted by your own personal host. After the winery, venture to a working Sonoma Valley olive oil/balsamic vinegar mill where you can sample fresh oils and vinegars passed down from generations. Lunch is up next. Allow this time to relax and absorb all that downtown Napa has to offer while eating amongst the eclectic shops, including your last stop on the Taste of Wine Country Tour, Anette’s Chocolates. If like me, you have a sweet tooth, Anette’s is the perfect oasis of everything chocolate. From truffles to sauces, Anette and her brother Brent have mastered the art of chocolate making. Customers are invited to sample the freshly made chocolate while they wait for their order. Make sure to try the ice cream located in the rear of the shop.

The Taste of Wine Country has concluded, and it is now time to return to the hotel. Enjoy a night in with room service from Herb N’ Kitchen or dine out at the casual and contemporary Urban Tavern. Cable 55 and Kin Khao are two other restaurants located only a short walk away, at the sister property, Hilton Parc 55. Each restaurant has its own unique flair. Whether you are in the mood for seafood, American or Thai, the Hilton San Francisco Union Square and Parc 55 have something for everyone.

For 55 years, the Hilton San Francisco Union Square has been welcoming guests with its high-energy atmosphere, delicious eateries, charming staff, impeccable location and rich history. Book a room during your next trip to San Francisco and allow the “hotel with a heart” to elevate your vacation experience and make an imprint on your memories.

Disclaimer: California News Press and its contributors may have received goods, services and/or other professional courtesies to facilitate this review. All opinions are those of the author.

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