The Parsonage

Hayes Valley, San Francisco, United States Book from

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
Elegant and welcoming 6-room B&B, with wonderful cheerful hosts and excellent breakfasts, in landmark Victorian residence
Stay at The Parsonage and step into San Francisco history. Built as an 1883 Italianate residence, this Landmark listed Victorian remained in one family for over a century. But its life could be said to have truly begun only when Joan Hull and John Phillips bought the property 25 years ago and "gently nudged it into the 20th century".

Once retired (John from the Dept of Housing, Joan used to be a Unitarian minister), they turned their elegant home into the perfect 6-room B&B. Interiors reflect its heritage - original chandeliers, working marble fireplaces - and the owners' interests. Joan has collected antiques since her teens, John lived in Africa for a time; both love travel - the dining room's trompe l'oeil murals were inspired by a trip to Italy. The light-filled double-height parlour is home to Georgian-era furniture, contemporary art and comfortable couches, which are perfect for reclining, map or reference book in hand, to plan the day's adventures. When you return to your new home after exploring the city, you'll find brandy and chocolates on a tray. Old-fashioned hospitality is never out of date.

Highs

  • Excellent multi-course breakfasts
  • Self-described 'neurotically hospitable' types, Joan and John make you instantly feel at home in a most convivial manner, and can advise on destinations, book tours, tickets and restaurants
  • Beautiful home filled with family heirlooms, art and photos, fresh flowers, antiques and collectibles - and thankfully free of ornate Victoriana
  • Hayes Valley is bursting with cafés, galleries and restaurants; close to Civic Center, Market Street and the Castro, good transport links
  • Superbly comfortable beds

Lows

  • No other meals served, so you'll have to eat out - a lucky opportunity to explore San Francisco's great restaurant scene
  • Few mod cons and no gadgets in the rooms aside from complimentary WiFi - most refreshing for many
  • The immediate vicinity isn't that exciting, but it is quiet and just a short walk/bus ride to the action
  • Not for those seeking a more hipster vibe

Best time to go

San Francisco is great all year round, the best times to visit weather wise are usually spring and autumn.

Our top tips

Hike or drive up to Twin Peaks for 360º views over San Francisco

Great for...

Family
Foodie
Honeymoon
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique B&B
  • 6
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

The rooms are all named for notable ladies of San Francisco and are arranged over the 1st and 2nd floors of The Parsonage, up a very long flight of stairs, although there is a newly installed elevator to whisk guests and luggage from the garden to all floors.

At the top of the stairs is Luisa Tetrazinni, whose west-facing bay window makes the most of the sunshine. It has a working marble fireplace, an English armoire, and a sofa in the bay window.

Next door you'll find Lagan Suite, which has fine views to the north and east, including the dome of City Hall. It has an English dressing table and French 7-drawer chest. This is ideal for families as it has an additional Napoleonic antique daybed.

Ascend a smaller flight of stairs for Julia Morgan above, which fittingly overlooks the Julia Morgan-designed Zen centre building. Perfect for longer stays, it has a dressing table, studded leather couch and chaise longue. Its desk and chest of drawers were made by John's grandfather.

Next door is the only twin, Lily Coit, whose walls are a shade of duck-egg blue. Beds are 17th-century Italian with headboards carved out of a single piece of wood, and 3/4 (smaller than a double and larger than a single) in size. There are two Louis XVI chairs in the west-facing window alcove and an Edwardian compactum serves as the closet.

South and west-facing Alma Spreckles has a working marble fireplace, satin antique couch and oil paintings, and is best for romantics with its lovely 4-poster bed originating from a South Carolina rice plantation.

Since our visit, the small Ruth Azawa room has also been added. Street-facing, it's quiet than the other spaces and would work well for both couples and solo travellers.

All rooms have queensized beds, apart from the twin Lily Coit, with supremely comfortable handmade McCroskey mattresses and ironed linen, plus an antique writing desk of some kind and a vintage wardrobe.

Bathrooms have marble basins and showers with hairdryer, bathrobes, and a heated towel rail adorned with big thick Turkish towels. Julia Morgan's has a green marble shower plus fabulous antique dresser, while Alma Spreckles is the only one with a clawfoot bathtub in addition to a skylit shower.

Features include:

  • Bathrobes
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Phone

Eating

I thought I'd heard it all, but never had I come across the phrase "I catered my way through theological school" before meeting Joan! She and John are justly famous for their multi-course breakfasts, superb fare served every 8-10am morning (earlier if requested).

Guests eat en famille around the circular table in the dining room, which is warmed by a fire during the winter months or on foggy mornings. Expect fresh flowers on the table, family silver, handmade white and blue porcelain, and a copy of the New York Times to browse. All the walls feature a mural of an Arcadian glade, and this coupled with the merry chirping of the caged Gouldian finches and canary in the kitchen creates a most civilised start to the day.

Breakfast begins with fresh seasonal fruit and fruit juice, your choice of tea and coffee and breads from Tartine, the best bakery in San Francisco. Next up expect a homemade delicacy such as French toast, poached pears or baked apples, which is different every day. This is followed by eggs cooked to order, with the most perfect crispy bacon - they will remember your preferences with unnerving skill. Yoghurt and granola are available for those with lighter tastes. On Sundays a set menu is served featuring John's signature waffles with fresh strawberry topping - incredibly the sourdough yeast starter began with John's father in the 1950s.

Although no other meals are served, Joan and John can cater for small intimate celebrations; the weekend after my visit they were hosting a wedding party for 12. They will work out the menu with you, arrange flowers and anything else required.

Fortunately you are never far from a great food experience in San Francisco. You get a sheet of local restaurants when you arrive, and within 5 minutes' walk you're totally spoiled for choice. Joan and John can make reservations for you and advise on eateries from destination restaurants to local cafes. Why not dine at SF landmark, Zuni Cafe, with its iconic copper bar, for their oyster selection and house specialty, the whole chicken roasted with currents and bread stuffing? Also on Market Street is Destino, which does creative South American fare. Or try the seafood institution Hayes Street Grill, just down the road, as are Absinthe (creative international), Suppenkuche (German) and Fritz Gourmet Belgian Frites (coffee and crepes). If the bread from Tartine at breakfast left you wanting more, you can head down Guerrero to the gourmet ghetto on 18th that encompasses Tartine (try the coconut cream pie), Delfina, a neighbourhood contemporary Italian which never disappoints, and its rival Farina.

On your return to The Parsonage, help yourself to chocolates and a nightcap of brandy from the tray in the Parlour.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • The Parsonage is just a 15-minute walk to Civic Center, where culture vultures can listen to the excellent SF Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas at the Davies Symphony Hall, and enjoy the SF Ballet and SF Opera companies at the Opera House

  • The tranquil Asian Art Museum is also at Civic Center; opposite is the excellent Main Public Library

  • Buses stop on the corner to whisk you downtown to shops, cable car termini, theatres and cinemas all around Union Sq; the SoMa (South of Market) district houses the Yerba Buena Center opposite SF MoMA (Museum of Modern Art)

  • Alight at the end of Market Street for the Ferry Building and Farmer's Market; your ferry to Alcatraz leaves from Pier 39

  • The other direction takes you to Golden Gate Park where the de Young Fine Arts Museum and California Academy of Sciences, two flagship architect-designed buildings, are must-sees

  • The Golden Gate Park also houses the Botanical Gardens, Stow Lake, a stand of buffalo and Japanese Tea Gardens

  • Hire bicycles in the park and cycle over Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito for lunch and get the ferry back

  • Take a day trip over the bridge to explore Marin County: the scenic drive along Marin Headlands is superb; Muir Woods houses the awesome coastal redwoods

  • Families should head to the nearby Randall Museum, or to the Zoo

  • Joan and John can arrange for you to join an architectural walking tour, and can also make restaurant reservations - San Francisco is heaven for foodies

  • Hayes Valley is a charming neighbourhood, with lots of boutiques, cafes and restaurants ; there's a good yoga studio just down the road, too

  • Your visit may well coincide with one of San Francisco's many annual cultural events, such as Bluegrass, Jazz, Film, Pride, and the free Stern Grove Festival

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Shopping / markets
  • Yoga

Kids

Children are welcome, though The Parsonage is probably not ideal for toddlers with antiques and treasures around, and a long flight of stairs. A crib and babysitting can be arranged on request. Families usually take the Lagan Suite or two rooms including the twin Lily Coit. There's heaps for kids to do in San Francisco: Randall Museum, Golden Gate playground, Fisherman's Wharf, Aquarium, Zoo, and the excellent Exploratorium.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available

Babysitting:

Babysitting available by arrangement

Baby equipment:

Baby cots available on request

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
10/
Value
10/
Overall

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