Hotel Review: Hilton juggles quantity and quality in San Francisco’s Union Square

Union Square has long been a useful anchor for visitors set to explore San Francisco, one of the most consistently impressive and dynamic cities in the world. It’s why many big-name hotel chains can be found spread throughout the heart of metropolitan heart of San Fran, with Hilton Union Square remaining one of the most recognisable and central – not to mention the largest. Hilton’s properties always manage to land right in the thick of the world’s most famous cities, and this enormous property is certainly no exception to the rule; you’ve got the endlessly buzz of a busy lobby – a constant meeting point for locals and guests – the reliable comfort that comes with a Hilton signature, and one of the most impressive views in the area.

The hotel has a gobsmacking 1,919 guest rooms and suites to manage, easily making it one of the largest hotels in the state. This is spread across three towers and 46 floors that dwarf nearby buildings and allow for those aforementioned views which sweep up the entire city, alone justifying the price jump from the much smaller entry level rooms. As you can imagine, this is a big operation and, if you’re checking in to the hotel around afternoon or evening, it can feel like you’ve just arrived at a busy bus terminal (albeit one with a swanky bar in the middle).

It’s a wonder the check-in process is so fast and seamless. It’s not extraordinary or anything unusual from your everyday big-ticket hotel, but the fact that staff manage such a busy scene and still have enough time to provide some basic hospitality is appreciated.

The rest of the lobby, as unadorned and dull in design as it is, features a convenient mini-market and deli dubbed Herb N’ Kitchen so guests can grab-and-go some hot and cold meals, but some more substantial dining is found in a modern gastropub on the ground floor, Urban Tavern, which serves up farm-to-table dishes: everything from Pork Belly & Waffle with maple bacon, to Roasted Jidori Chicken with Chinese sausage and shiitake sticky rice stuffing. There’s also a more refined in-house restaurant called Poached, which is where guests will find the continental breakfast buffet, which is varied and dominated by plenty of fresh fruit, smoothies and even a yoghurt bar.

As far as food and bev, Hilton’s biggest drawcard is their rooftop bar CityScape, an uninspiring name but a wholly impressive space. Large and full of energy, it’s where you’ll find suited-up locals counting down cocktails after work and wide-eyed guests hoping to find somewhere hip and happening without leaving the hotel. The view is unsurprisingly jaw-dropping, but good luck securing the best seats in the house.

My Balcony Skyline View room was located in San Francisco’s highest hotel tower, so those views I mentioned above stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the modern amenities. Design may be minimal and rather expected here, but little is needed to make an impression when you have a moderately sized balcony to sit out on and peer out over the city. Whether it’s day or night, San Francisco sure is a stunner, and a unique sight given that floating log of fog (nicknamed ‘Karl’) that frames the skyline. You’re also far up enough that not too much noise can get past those glass sliding doors once their closed.

The King Size is super comfortable, and there’s plenty of space dedicated to the living area. The bathroom however: a paltry afterthought, though still given enough space for a good shower and a comfortable tub. It’s mostly business as usual here, with a working desk, HDTV and all the expected features of a good, thoughtful high-end hotel like good connectivity and curtains with blackout blinds. Elegance and cleanliness are clearly valued over any charming design, or even much of a personality.

Views are once again used to make the rooftop pool wholly worth of San Fran’s spectacle day or night, though better could have been done with the large and otherwise satisfying gym. There’s smaller windows in front of the treadmills, but the opportunity to go full floor-to-ceiling like many other modern hotels do is missed.

A big reason many book a stay at Hilton Union Square is – well, aside from the availability – this is the heart of the city. It wouldn’t be a Hilton without an overbearing lock on a perfect location, offering business and leisure guests quick and easy access to some of the city’s best restaurants, the theatre district, and one of the country’s most populated shopping districts. Plus, you’re only a few steps away from Union Square station and a stop of the Powell Street cable car, so everything from scoffing down a large burrito in Mission District to visiting the smelly sea lions at Pier 39 is within reach. Just make sure you don’t overlook the city’s fantastic museums, especially SFMOMA and the iconic Exploratorium.

For more on what to do around the city you can visit our first-timers guide to San Francisco HERE.

The average nightly rate at Hilton Union Square starts at $240 AUD.

FOUR STARS OUT OF FIVE

Address: 333 O’Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA
Contact: +1 415-771-1400
Website: hilton.com.

The writer stayed as a guest of Hilton Union Square and SF Travel.

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Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review, an obsessive hip hop nerd, a whisky drinker, and a lover of all things travel. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter with @chrisdsingh.

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