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Suite Dreams

Amusement parks and the great outdoors have long been the destinations of choice for traveling families. Now a city hotel in San Francisco offers a metropolitan option—a “Kids’ Fantasy” that works for mom and dad too.

By Matt Katz

 

addy likes a drink. There, I’ve said it. I’m not talking about knee-walking in a dive bar. I mean mature drinking. A good drink. The kind that comes in a heavy rocks glass, or a rose petal of thin crystal if you’re drinking wine. I thought parenthood might quell the thirst, but if anything it’s made single malts a little smokier, big syrahs a bit bolder.

My wife, aka mommy, prefers the temporary quietude of a bubble bath where lavender aromas return to a world of—let’s just say, diapers. But it’s the same idea. Really, let’s be honest, one parent to another: our kids may be the apples of our increasingly sallow eyes, but it’s good to get away at times.

Once a bank building, the hotel’s formidable exterior leads to a marble-heavy, chandeliered lobby.

So while I sit at the decidedly masculine bar of this city hotel, enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail before we pack up the milk and hit the streets of San Francisco, mommy revels in her own soapy moment of cute-free solitude. Which raises an obvious question. But our daughter is fine. In fact, she’s enjoying the sort of four-diamond service normally reserved for people tall enough to go on roller coasters.

At the moment, she’s stuffing herself, along with two teddy bears and an Etch A Sketch, into the folds of a giant beanbag. She’s not concerned with mommy-daddy business. And that’s the beauty of this particular city hotel—the Omni San Francisco, which recently unveiled its Kids’ Fantasy Suite, a Pottery Barn fairytale of colors and toys and games (i.e. distractions) attached to a blissfully quiet Deluxe King room.

With a nod to antiquity, the Palace of Fine Arts was built around the theme of a Roman ruin, in the mood of a Piranesi engraving.

Now seems the right time to expound on the hotel’s amenities. But first a story. Upon arrival, a bellhop came bounding across the lobby to greet us. To greet our daughter, actually, and to bestow upon her a cartoonish gift bag, a backpack with minikin shoulder straps stuffed full of a young traveler’s essentials: toys, licorice, a wee flashlight and canteen, a kazoo. Important stuff.

Bear in mind that this is a classy property in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district. After a six-hour drive from Ventura County, the (Italian) marble-heavy, (Austrian crystal) chandeliered lobby alone could be intimidating for a little kid. The daffy greeting took the edge off. Even before we’d checked in, it showed us—showed her—that there is no entrance fee of hauteur for enjoying the Omni. No sense of elitism, in spite of the elegance.

To be sure, the hospitality industry is rife with marketing gimmicks. But some work for the guests as well as the hotels. This one, for example. The Omni’s Sensational Kids program, which includes things like the Fantasy Suite and gift-bearing bellhops, eased a road weary family through the check-in process and into the elevator without a tear.

On the tenth floor, armed with her new kazoo, our daughter entered her side of the suite and dove into the lap of an enormous teddy bear. While we unpacked, she upended a box of toys, buried herself beneath a beanbag, and squealed at the sight of oversized crayons adorning the walls.

The Kids’ Fantasy Suite, filled with fun distractions.

Our side was considerably more mature. High ceilings, marble bathrooms, and classic twenties-style décor lend guestrooms at the Omni an air of sophistication. The property was originally built in 1926 to house a bank, and from the street it retains a formidable appearance. The interior, however, was recently overhauled. Which means that everything from the plumbing to the lighted makeup mirrors works without a jiggle or a trick. Older hotels may have a certain coziness, but there’s nothing like the hard snap of a newly installed deadbolt, or the satisfaction of a faucet that springs to attention without an elderly groan.

A Deluxe King guestroom at the Omni.

Situated in the thick of downtown, the hotel—which most locals know for its highly regarded restaurant (and adjacent bar), Bob’s Steak & Chop House—is close to many of the city’s top attractions and has the added convenience of being located right on the cable car line. With the iconic cars rattling past, bells ringing, and the uniquely San Francisco smells of sea and smog and worlds of traditional foods wafting by, it is an ideal base for traveling families.

he interior of the Exploratorium.

From the hotel, we strolled easily to Chinatown and Union Square, North Beach and the Embarcadero. Our daughter’s gift bag/backpack included a list of family attractions, among them the Exploratorium, a unique collection of science, art, and human perception exhibits housed in the stately Palace of Fine Arts. From jousting with giant electrical arcs to sipping water from an unused toilet—a “sip of conflict” that explores the tension between reason and emotion—the museum’s hands-on exhibits strike a perfect balance between education and entertainment.

But for our family, nothing was quite as good as aimless wandering in a city that opened itself to us at every turn, offering old-school eateries, contemporary boutiques, and a seemingly endless cast of characters. On the waterfront, our girl fed a sea lion and made her first contribution to the Arts, toddling over to drop a dollar in a clarinetist’s top hat as he wooed her with “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

San Francisco’s iconic cable car runs past the hotel, lending local flavor to the travel experience.

By the end of our last full day in the city, the three of us were ready to spend some time in our personal spaces—namely, the bubble bath, the beanbag, and the bar. As the bar patron of the family, I don’t mean to suggest I was stumbling cockeyed across the lobby’s Italian marble floors. It’s not like that at all. Just enjoying quiet sips of a single-malt Scotch many years older than our daughter while the well dressed torrent of financiers and corporate climbers rushed past at street level and the cable car clanked up Nob Hill from the Financial District, running back and forth past the hotel on California Street like a postcard in motion.

There comes a time when parents no longer need the art of distraction, when our kids wouldn’t dare be seen with us in public anyway. Until then we find moments of solitude. And there is no solitude like that of the city.

12-01-2009

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