I had never timed a getaway so perfectly.While chatting to a fellow outbound JFK- SFO passenger, I joked that I had decided just that morning to escape the ‘crippling and potentially historic blizzard… that could bring epic travel difficulties’ (and I quote CNN). Never had I encountered security so painless, a gate so quiet, and a flight so miraculously organized and on time as on the morning of ‘The Blizzard of 2015.’ Four hours later, in and out of sleep patterns in the middle seat, I started to feel a tad queasy. I stood up to stretch my legs, and I fainted.
I came to on the floor outside of the cabin bathroom. I could feel myself shaking and I remember having a millisecond dream that I was flying in space through a rather rocky earthquake. Well, technically, no falsehoods there. Suddenly I was brought to my feet, and the first thing I noticed was that my forehead was pounding as if Elaine from ‘Airplane’ had whacked me with her guitar. I was surrounded by nurses coincidentally on board as well as frightened flight attendants. Doubtless the entire plane behind me was now awake and anxious about the commotion. An oxygen tank, a mask, someone taking my pulse, and all of them talking about me as if I were in a bubble and couldn’t hear them. ‘What’s her name?’ ‘She won’t say.’ ‘Is she alone?’
Yes, I was alone. I travel solo frequently, and while I’ve had the odd ‘State of Emergency,’ nothing has deterred my yen for escape and exploration. Oddly enough, this was not the first time I fell face-forward. I once was so entranced by what may lay behind the glass door of a hotel on the edge of a Positano road, I did not see the three steps in front of my toes, and I went flying face first into the glass door.
The most lovely nurse on board was burdened with my care for the remaining hour and a half of the flight, and as it so happens, she and her husband were seated in first class. After I displace her poor husband in order to sit next to her and be able to lay back with my oxygen tank and ice pack, I realize that with all of these impossible to understand point systems, the blackouts for upgrades, and the ridiculous costs of buying the seats out right, the trick to securing a first class ticket is quite simple. All one has to done is pass out in the aisle.
The Mandarin Oriental has arranged for a car service to pick me up from the airport, and I feel more comfortable going to a hospital closer to the hotel rather than ride along with the paramedics to an ER of their choosing. The driver is patiently waiting for me to escape the sugar test, and he proves himself to be a wonderful representative of the Bay Area’s finest and friendliest; we chat the whole way into the city, and not only is he genuinely concerned about the growing bump on my head, he enthusiastically answers my questions about his city; the various neighborhoods, how the area is changing, which companies are where, etc. I get out of the car at the hotel just long enough to be greeted by one of the smiling front desk gentlemen who whisks away my bags, and the driver kindly escorts me to St. Francis. My first four hours in San Francisco are spent in a crowded ER, but when I am finally seen by the friendly,confident, warmhearted doctor and her hardworking, even-keeled nurse, I feel much better, forgetting of course about the battered drug addict and possible homeless men in the beds next to me. Needless to say, I am eager to trade in my hospital blanket for the soft sheets at the Mandarin. I call the hotel, and a complimentary car service available after 5pm arrives within five minutes. Oh, and, all was fine with my head, just a lovely memento in the form of a horrendous headache for the duration of the evening.
It feels like days since the scramble from the imminent blizzard in New York. I receive my key and shoot up to the 44th floor. The short walk to my Deluxe Bay Room includes a glass skybridge with floor to ceiling windows on either side; the bay on the left, the city on the right. Inside number 4412, with its magnificent bay view, I feel like the puppet master; I stand above the lights from North Beach to downtown, with the Bay Bridge twinkling outside both oversized windows that span the width of the room. I breathe in the calm of the night and close the thick, sumptuous curtains. It feels larger than its 400 square feet, and I am already configuring the layout as if I were taking the whole room home with me, plopping a kitchen into the entryway, and keeping every detail of the design. The room is decorated in preparation for a guest who requires a light, soothing landing (enter head injury.) Pastel artwork, cream colored window treatment, neutral walls, white bedding, and a gentle, sea-colored sofa envelope me in a state of peace. For the first time in a hotel, I find that I genuinely like the carpet. The gentle pattern in its soothing creams looks as if it was just laid yesterday. I learned that because the carpets in the hotel are some form of cream or neutral coloring, they are replaced as soon as a spilled glass or other accident creates a flaw.
In dim lighting and to the sound of spa music on the flat screen, I dine on a warm bowl of post-ER oatmeal and a complimentary pot of chamomile tea poured from a beautiful Japanese, iron teapot. I relish the shower and slither into bed. Here is where my days of Wellness at Mandarin Oriental San Francisco begin. This is a bed so extraordinary it deserves a chorus of angels singing ‘ahs.’ This Bed becomes my overarching ‘ohm’ chant for the entirety of my stay. Unless Apple comes out with iBed or Apple Bed or something to that effect, I forecast a life of mediocre mattresses in comparison to this Simmons California King with its centium satin sheets, goose-down comforter, and pillows with hypoallergenic feathers encased in foam. I am quite certain that the bed saved me from lingering head pain from my Flight Fainting. It nurtured me back to one hundred percent.
I could have stayed under the covers all day, in part due to the blackout curtains, but mostly because of The Bed. The commute to Equinox is approximately one speedy elevator, one cheerful good morning to the lovely doormen, and one half block away. So what excuse is there, really, to miss an early morning yoga class or sweat session if you are so inclined. The club found a home in San Francisco’s old stock exchange building, and with a well-sized and seemingly never crowded yoga studio, I find myself ‘ohming’ outside of my MO room.There are certain months, however, when the Mandarin hosts yoga on the sky deck. I would certainly have stayed inside the tower for sunrise yoga above the city, looking out at the bay and the two bridges, and chanting ohm with fellow guests who also take advantage of the magical calm inside this urban retreat.
Breakfast at Brasserie S&P is the picture of current, modern luxury. There is no breakfast buffet with sad fruit left at room temperature for who knows how long, or malodorous bacon left under a heated metal casket only to perfume the entire room upon opening. With a downtown location adjacent to 345 California Street, one of the city’s most prominent downtown addresses, MO San Francisco is a sweet spot for many a breakfast meetings. I understand from chatting with staff that the hotel sees ebbs and flows of the two groups of travelers: during one ebb, business travelers seem the majority, at the flow, leisure travelers amplify. I settle into a cushy banquet table with an oversized velvet pillow in shades of sea gray to keep my posture in fine yoga form, and take in the FT-reading guest on my right, and the spandex-clad young lady on my left. I notice many healthy options in the room: beautiful plates of fruit, bowls of organic oats, tofu scramble, poached eggs, fruit smoothies, and smoked salmon scramble. Alas, the menu is not as unadorned as I make it sound; it is a fine and sophisticated breakfast menu that calls out the origination of local produce and ingredients. Current highlights include Dungeness Crab Benedict, Petaluma eggs, Braised Kale and Warm Lentils, and for the occasional indulgence: Semolina Waffles with berry lemon compote, Gluten Free French toast with roasted bananas and caramel sauce, and Brioche French Toast with fresh berries. I shall stop there or I might as well screen shot the menu.
I begin each morning with an excellent cappuccino and a warm dose of the affable Peter, who quickly becomes a warm, familiar face at Brasserie S&P. Post yoga, I choose the Green Mixology, a green juice that I aim to replicate at home (kale, apple, celery, cucumber, lemon, and ginger, served in a Mason Jar, because apparently San Francisco has a thing for Mason Jars). My fruit plate is beauteous each morning; citrus is at the height of its season, and the berries taste like berries as opposed to what we have in the northeast: rocks or otherwise flavorless colored things posing as berries . I recently read that San Francisco is a mecca for the organic-eater, and I can now say first-hand that this is most absolutely true. Strauss yogurt is clearly a preferred local brand in the city, and it is often the Greek yogurt of choice on most café breakfast menus. Peter also kindly brings out a few walnuts, et voila, a perfect Wellness breakfast.
On each interaction with MO staff, I am always greeted with a smile and called by name. I quickly get to know those at reception, at the spa, in the breakfast room, at the door; everyone is so friendly, it is hard not to. Why wouldn’t I stop to chat with these lovely people with an uncanny genuineness difficult to find in such quantities and with such ease in other urban cities. Along with their kindliness and attentiveness, the MO staff possess luxury hospitality training so meticulous, one has to credit each staff member with finding that Goldilox balance that effortlessly guarantees positive, memorable guest experiences. Before a Bart trip down to the Mission early one morning, I have a lively chat with Katharina at reception, who shares my zeal for strong coffee followed by cafes and eateries with character and good food. I rattle off my coffee and food-centric tour of the Mission, and she congratulates me on being so well-researched. She also tips me off to a few other in-the-know spots in the neighborhood, as she also likes to traverse the various pockets of this food mecca south of Market Street. I find a kindred spirit in Katharina, and off I go on my first Bart ride. (For all of you San Franciscans who complain about Bart, please do not complain so much about your wide, spacious, civilized, quiet underground transportation which has excellent mobile service. I invite you to ride New York City subways at all times of day, especially during rush hour, when we are stuffed into the cars like something that is vacuum-sealed and sucked of all oxygen, breathed on by five different strangers with meningitis and staph, gripping a pole that is also infected with umpteenth viruses. I do not exaggerate according to a recent MTA health study. So, yes, Bart is underground, but to me it feels like a Seabourn cruise).
All of the eating and exploring leads me to feel satisfactorily spent at the end of each day, and I relish arriving ‘home’ at the MO San Francisco, a property that feels spa-like with an unbeatable downtown location. Unlike many of the city’s other hotels, Mandarin itself feels new and rejuvenated. For it’s 25th birthday, the hotel gifted itself with a full renovation, and it feels as if it was just completed yesterday. With only 151 rooms and 7 suites, the hotel feels just the right size; there are no long, exhaustive hallways, and it is comforting to feel familiar with the staff straight away. The design theme is modern comfort; the color scheme is California epitomized: sea blues, pastels, and creams. Michael Booth, the interior designer who outfitted the entire property, is based in San Francisco, and he succeeded in giving the hotel a true sense of place.
Two of the hotel’s largest suites are on the 38th floor, each with private terraces. The Oriental suite with bay views feels like a chic city apartment made all the more sumptuous and zenlike with carpet throughout, a separate dressing area, a fabulous bathroom with a very modern, sculptural, floating tub and a wall that can be tucked away in order to open the bathroom to the master bedroom. There is also a custom-made headboard wall made of soft leather so as to create a softer environment.I particularly love the powder room with its patterned, gold wallpaper, a departure from the blues and creams but a welcome addition of style. This suite is perfectly set for entertaining, with its powder room, ample living space and separate dining area, and its fluidity onto the private 800 sq ft terrace which often accommodates a long banquet table and always accommodates spectacular views.Imagine hosting an alfresco evening from the top of the city, with a bay breeze, a pink sunset, and plenty of San Francisco herring and Dungeness crab.
I am so soothed by MO San Francisco’s seamless service, Pacific Coast color palette, dream-enhancing Bed, and its spectacular views, that I forget entirely that a corner of my forehead is as green as the shallow waters of the Bay. My head injury forgotten by Day Two, I continue my San Francisco adventure with long days of hiking, beach walks, strong coffee, and excellent food. My legs exhibit a love/hate relationship with this new ‘we can walk all day outside because it is only 65 degrees in January’/ ‘why are there so many of these maddening hills’ that by day two, my body begs for a Mandarin Oriental spa experience. In my next MO San Francisco piece, I will share my escape into one of MO’s most renowned characteristics: the spa. The hotel may be in one of the city’s most powerful,charged high-rises, but inside, I am somewhere between the cliffs of Big Sur and the tranquil Sonoma coastline. With a water-like synergy between the blue sky, the blue bay, and the ambient blue interiors, the Mandarin Oriental San Francisco is truly an urban wellness retreat.