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Make it The El Drisco (Hotel) In San Francisco
by John Edelson

We all have our own definition of home: Mine is a place of security, a headquarters that I frequently check in to. It's the little things that make a home: the sweet scent of an afternoon tea, or memorizing where each creak in a wooden floor is. El Drisco Hotel, built in 1903, perches along a ridgetop in the ritzy San Francisco Pacific Heights, as close to home as you can possibly get.

My first impression is related to the famous Disneyland Haunted House ride. The long hallways felt somewhat scary, with vertically-striped wallpaper reminiscent of 19th century Victorian homes. The concierge at the front desk is exceptionally pleasant. Even though I have only one bag, he still offers to help me take it to my room - very professional. I must add that the candies near the large, wooden front door make me feel like Pavlov's dog; my mouth watering thinking about them on my way in or out of the hotel.

Granted, I'm six foot five, but it is still strange ducking under the elevator doorway on the way to my room, reiterating my theory that one hundred years ago, people actually were shorter. Possibly this is just another aspect of this incredible Edwardian architecture hotel, reinforcing life of a bygone era. I am confused upon reaching my room - #406; opening the door is a revelation of yet another hallway leading to two private rooms across from one another. The wooden and carpeted floors slant slightly to the right, the style of any historic hotel that has seen a century of guests.

Upon entering the room, I am greeted by nicely laid out robes, slippers, and a very impressive view - this is a "Deluxe, City-View Suite", consisting of two adjoining rooms. One room is maintained with Victorian-era furniture, and a couch that pulls out to a queen-sized bed. In the other room is the main queen-sized bed, a boudoir, and a dark, plum-colored wooden desk, slick with lacquer. When I sit down at the desk to go over my daily plans, I secretly imagine I am a wealthy CEO making important business decisions from my office overlooking the city.

The Drisco boasts 43 guest rooms, 19 suites and plush robes and slippers in every room. Each room also has a CD player, television with VCR, and snacks if you can't make it until dinner. The television probably doesn't get much attention considering the gentle sea breezes occasionally strolling in through the vintage-style windows, summoning you to go out and keep it company.

In fact, Pacific Height's prestigious residents live down the block on "Millionaires' Row"; their houses are reminiscent of renovated Victorian castles. I can't imagine what's not to like at the Drisco, serving as a social center for the wealthy neighbors. There's a continental breakfast buffet each morning, town car service into and out of the city on weekdays, and an evening wine aperitif for those with more sophisticated tastes.

Let's talk about this breakfast. It's not a restaurant. It takes place in the sitting area on the bottom floor of the hotel each morning, from 7 a.m. -10 a.m.; tables are filled with hot and cold cereal, freshly squeezed orange juice, and chocolate or spinach and feta-filled pastries, so delicious to awake to in the morning, with uncomparable service. I'm not talking about an entire staff of waiters, bussers, and managers. I'm talking about one woman. She goes by the name of Raisa, and she likes to be called "Mom" by the more frequent guests, because she's constantly giving; pure and true generosity. Those types of people are tough to find, and the Hotel Drisco is lucky to have her.

"Can I make you some eggs?" I tell her I'm fine, but she insists I try her eggs. I couldn't resist - they were excellent. She's charming. She tells me that this house - as she calls it, feels like home to her - that it has a spirit. Not the type of spirit that wanders the halls to scare guests, but the sort of supernatural entity that desires guests to stay and keep it company; a giving, friendly, good spirit. I don't believe in ghosts, but for some reason I understand what she was talking about by the end of my stay. I truly did not want to leave. The Drisco feels more homey than my apartment in San Diego.

The most eyebrow-raising characteristic of the Drisco is the location. Face South and you teeter on steep Broderick Street, peering out to the hills of twin peaks and all the compacted houses in between. Face North and you stand with a bird's eye view down the road to the gorgeous blue marina beckoning below. On a clear day you can see the Golden Gate Bridge and the island of Alcatraz. Other days the tips of the bridge supports peek out over a blanket of cottony clouds and fog.

One thing is certain - there isn't a better area for exercise. A block and a half down Pacific Avenue the gigantic houses end and nature begins. There are various parks throughout the Pacific Heights area, including Alta Plaza Park. This small hilltop park to the west of Fillmore Street, offers tennis courts, a playground, and panoramic city views. On the other end is Lafayette Park, with grass filling its two-square-blocks, and on warm days filled with sunbathers and dog walkers. It's common to see locals taking an afternoon jog, or checking out the tradesman architecture of the gigantic mansions in this area.

Most visitors tend to stay along Pacific Avenue, but for a heart race, jog along one of the north/south streets. Some of them are so steep and so long, you could bowl down into the heart of the city. Of course if it's raining, as it unpredictably does in San Francisco, hop on an exercise machine in the Drisco basement or at the Presidio YMCA fitness center, compliments of the hotel.

Is there anything the Drisco doesn't have? I don't think so. The staff is the final touch, making the historic hotel feel like you're truly at home. Gerard, the French-descent manager, is a pleasant conversationalist; especially for hotel and neighborhood information. For example: one of the rooms is dubbed the Eisenhower Suite after one of Drisco's more distinguished guests. He tells me about how the Hotel Drisco combines the traditional elegance and style with the convenience and comfort of a world-class hotel.

The resourceful staff plans daytrips, such as "The Joy Of San Francisco In Four Days," detailing areas like Fillmore Street, a popular tourist destination. Fillmore Street has historically been a bastion of unique establishments. Store owners promote a sense of community with friendly touches, such as setting out bowls of water on the sidewalk for thirsty pups. On the back of the city tour page is a map of the city - you won't get lost - the staff won't let you.


Josh Edelson, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent. Join the Travel Writers Network in the logo at