The Gardens of Fairmont

The Nob Hill hotel has a picturesque rooftop park open to locals.

(Photo by Daniel Kim)

The Fairmont sums up Nob Hill in many ways, and dazzling visitors is one of them.

Standing on the edge of the cloud-like hill that is California and Mason streets, the Fairmont has stunning views of downtown and the East Bay. Guests willing to pay for a room can take in such a view from the perfectly manicured, picturesque rooftop garden, but so can city locals willing — or, forced — to pay for their own ridiculously high rents.

In the multiple listicles about private spaces open to the public, the Fairmont’s rooftop garden has been misconstrued as a formally designated privately owned public open space, or POPOS. While not registered as such, the garden is more of a hidden local gem, says Fairmont spokesperson Melissa Farrar.

“It’s not part of the public park space in any way,” she says, adding that locals come and enjoy a cup of coffee or a book there. The pet-friendly atmosphere extends to the garden, where owners can grab dog-waste bags.

The Transamerica Pyramid sticks out in front of the park, which contains a rounded hedge that lines the centerpiece fountain, with bright green grass, flowers, and palm trees on the other side of the walkway.

“It’s a little oasis from the city,” Farrar says.

A rooftop pool sat where the garden is sometime between 1920 and 1967, she says. Now, it’s also often rented for ticketed events, weddings, beer gardens, and lunches.

Starting last year, the Fairmont began offering marriage proposal packages for the space, with strawberries and Champagne at a flower-decorated table for two. But the secret park is not the hotel’s only patch of greenery. On the way to the rooftop garden, past the gift shops, is the herb garden, which is most definitely closed to the public but put to good use. Those who dine at the Fairmont can enjoy house-grown rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, chives, cilantro, and lavender.

In 2010, the Fairmont partnered with Marshall’s Farm, of American Canyon, to install honeybee hives to help boost the bee population in its first step to the herb garden. There are two hives in the chef’s garden, and seven hives on the other side of the roof garden.

The hotel marks the installation of its beehives as a chapter in its environmental stewardship, as Colony Collapse Disorder affects the global bee population, which is vital for pollination.

And thanks in part to the flowers in the nearby rooftop garden, the hives are thriving. In 2011, the Fairmont produced about 800 pounds of honey, which the hotel serves to guests in soups, salad dressings, pastries, and as part of tea service.

Guests and locals can buy honey made from the bees, perhaps to help with any seasonal allergies, or even taste it in the hotel’s honey beer series. Next time you’re craving a Sophia Coppola-style afternoon of tea amid the gardens, waltz through the Fairmont Hotel lobby, down the hallway on the right, and slip into this idyllic rooftop.

Check out more stories in our feature on Nob Hill here:

Lights, Camera, Action at the Fairmont Hotel
With more than 10 major films shot at the Nob Hill site, Hollywood has designated it San Francisco’s reigning cinematic hotel.

A Slow But Steady Thieving
Four bronze tortoises regularly disappear from Huntington Park’s fountain.

The Ascent to Jones
Scaling Nob Hill in pursuit of its flattest blocks.

Don’t Miss the AIDS Memorial Quilt Exhibit at Grace Cathedral
By bathing 15 panels of the quilt in light, the stained glass windows sanctify the 20,000 San Franciscans who died in the modern plague.

Infinite Appetite, Finite Budget: Nob Hill
From the House of Prime Rib to Buffalo Theory, Nob Hill’s food scene might be more diverse than you think.

Nob Hill Has One Grocery Store, and It’s Proudly Independent
Sometimes described as a cross between Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, Le Beau Market has a rooftop garden.

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