Classic Holiday Elegance at the San Francisco Hyatt Regency


San Francisco is always a great place to spend any holiday. Among the city’s legendary hotels, the Hyatt Regency stands out for spirited yuletide activities. Here’s a little history and some good reasons to plan a stay at this famous hotel during this merriest of seasons.


The hotel is just steps from the iconic Ferry Building on San Francisco Bay that miraculously survived the Great Earthquake of 1906. The Hyatt Regency opened at the foot of Market Street in 1973, and is itself a survivor of a great quake – the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that destroyed the nearby Embarcadero Freeway that separated the hotel from the waterfront for almost two decades.


When the double-deck Embarcadero Freeway was removed in 1991 it opened up the Hyatt to the bay. The San Francisco Hyatt Regency, which was hailed as a marvel in architectural design in the 1970s, is now the centerpiece luxury hotel to an amazing revitalization of the waterfront.


We were at the grand opening of the Hyatt Regency back in 1973. It was then, and still is today, a fusion of energy and elegance. It remains a breathtaking experience to simply stand in the towering innovative lobby – the largest according to the Guinness Book of World Records – and watch the glass missile like elevators zip between floors.

The Hyatt Regency goes to the movies


The Hyatt Regency San Francisco offers its own special atmosphere. The famous lobby “starred” as the atrium in the fictitious Glass Tower Building, in the movie the “The Towering Inferno,” and was the cause of Mel Brooks’s acrophobic experience in “High Anxiety.” The hilarious scene provided the audience an appreciation for the angst of looking straight down 17 stories inside a building.


Several other film makers have used the famous atrium, and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco is still in demand by movie makers interested in capturing the lobby’s visual enormity and inimitable vibe.

Deck the Halls


On November 22nd, the Hyatt will put on its traditional holiday dress and light its magnificent 30-foot Christmas tree. That date coincides with the celebration of outdoor lights that will illuminate the four buildings of the nearby Embarcadero Center.


The Center’s more than 70 elegant shops and 31 restaurants are already preparing to tantalize throngs of holiday revelers.


Outside, the Holiday Ice Skating Rink will magically reappear like Santa for its annual visit.


Inside, the Hyatt Regency will feature 300,000 cascading lights in the atrium lobby along with its traditional Snow Village chock full of motion oriented toy-joys for every age.


It will also snow inside the Hyatt Regency all through the holiday season. Yup, you read it here.


Guests and visitors can look forward to Holiday Happy Hour(s) for the thirsty in the lobby level Eclipse Lounge, and a Breakfast with Santa at the hotel’s Eclipse Restaurant. There’s too much planned activity to report it all in this short story, so check with the hotel for a complete list of holiday activities.

Something new this year

The holiday light displays from the entire Embarcadero complex will provide an enticing visual segue to the fantastic light show on the nearby and new San Francisco Bay Bridge – don’t miss it.

Getting around San Francisco during the holidays


The Hyatt has enviable access to all Bay Area public transportation, including MUNI, BART, bay ferries and San Francisco’s historic streetcars. The California Street Cable Car line stop is almost on property, and is well known to be a location where riders can gain easy access to the popular streetcars.


If you are driving to the city, The Hyatt Regency is very close to generous parking facilities in the four Embarcadero Buildings.

Rooms at the Hyatt 


Although the San Francisco Hyatt Regency celebrates 40-years in 2013, she is still the grand dame of Market Street and one of the finest luxury hotels in the City.


Our comfortable suite at the Hyatt was furnished with trend-setting contemporary décor,


and had a veranda with stunning views of the Ferry Building and bay beyond.


We also had an excellent perspective of the Transamerica Pyramid and the annual ice skating rink in Justin Herman Plaza.

The Regency Club Lounge


When you make reservations, be sure to ask about the top-floor Regency Club Lounge.


Once a revolving restaurant with 360 degree views of the city and bay, the Lounge is now private space reserved for select guests of the hotel.


While we were there, the Club Lounge was offering a buffet of delicious victuals, and an assortment of wines and beverages – a nice way to start the evening. Lounge guests also enjoy hors d’oeuvres, nibbles, and an upscale continental breakfast.

A New Year’s Eve place of distinction


The Regency Club Lounge is a terrific spot from which to watch San Francisco’s grand New Year’s Eve Fireworks celebration. The Club is an elegant and warm alternative to the crowded streets, and this year the hotel is offering a New Year’s Eve Regency Club Package.


The special offer includes a luxury room in one of the hotel’s top floors plus private access to the panoramic Regency Club Lounge. Additionally, each guest will receive a complimentary cocktail, a champagne toast at midnight, a scrumptious appetizer and dessert buffet, and even free valet parking. Now that’s the way to spend New Year’s Eve – safe and snug in the San Francisco Hyatt Regency.


For more information about holiday festivities or to make reservations at the Hyatt Regency go to their website at

Happy holidays and happy travels.

You might also like these other San Francisco stories by Wayne and Judy:

Luxury cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

Three great reasons to book your next cruise out of the Port of San Francisco

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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The Madonna Inn: An Enduring and Endearing Curiosity



The Madonna Inn has fascinated travelers for over 50 years. Here are the reasons why it is so famous.

There is nothing like it – anywhere

The Madonna Inn Resort and Spa spreads across 2,000 acres of scenic Central California. The sprawling complex of glistening white and pink buildings houses an assortment of banquet rooms, restaurants, a cocktail lounge with bandstand and dance floor, boutique and wine shops, a pool and fitness center, an Expo Center, an equestrian event center, and a fabulous spa. Need a limousine? No problem – there’s a company on site.

This is Disneyland without the rides, but it has something beyond comparison – bizarre guestrooms. All the rooms have descriptive titles such as Jungle Rock, Bridal Falls, Caveman, Yahoo, Irish Hills, Matterhorn, Time of Your Life, and Oriental Fantasy.

In the largest lodging building, boulders as large as 200 tons were assembled to create rooms with rock walls, rock fireplaces, and in some cases, rock waterfall showers.

Many were skeptical about the feasibility of constructing guestrooms around rocks bigger than cars, but we have it on good authority that the Inn’s creators Alex and Phyllis Madonna took comfort in an old Chinese proverb. The maxim goes, “Those who say it can’t be done should not bother those who are busy doing it.”  Structural design such as this is just not seen outside the confines of the Madonna Inn.

The famous men’s room urinal

The men’s toilet in the main building where the stores and restaurants are located is so unique that members of the gentler sex often pop into the men’s loo to see the famous rock wall urinal – complete with waterfall flush. The sinks in this lavatory are fashioned from giant clam shells – overall, it is a bathroom you will remember.

Other unique adornments at Madonna Inn

The building housing the Gold Rush Steak House and adjacent Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge is finished with intricate hand carved doors, posts and beams, wine barrels, and railings. Many were done by Alexander Zeller a famous Bavarian master wood-carver who died suddenly in the 60s and before he could complete his work at the Inn. If you look closely in the bar (there is a photo in the slide show) you will see where Mr. Zeller’s carving ends, but his beautiful preliminary sketches continue. Those sketches and outlines are in themselves, worthy works of art.

The Conference Center

The Alex Madonna Expo Center is just a short distance from the Inn’s main facilities. This is a complex with a capacity for 2,600 guests and over 20,000 square feet of floor space making it the largest event facility on the Central Coast of California.

The Pool and Spa

Popular demand resulted in the construction of The Spa at Madonna Inn in 2008. It is in the same area as the elegant 90-foot long European pool with beach style entry.

It is easy for guests to enjoy a relaxing and rejuvenating therapy session by Licensed Massage Therapists and Estheticians in The Spa, and then take up a comfortable lounge at poolside to listen to the soothing cascade of the Inn’s 45-foot waterfall. There is also an exercise room at this site, and a large pool bar room. Life is good at Madonna Inn.


As you might expect, a beautiful and unusual resort like the Madonna Inn attracts many weddings. What a site for a marriage ceremony to remember.

The Gold Rush Steak House

The gold rush setting of California’s past provides the vibe and festive atmosphere for this animated restaurant that boasts live band performances several nights per week. During our Saturday night dinner, the guests enjoyed big band sounds that delighted more than a dozen couples who never left the floor until the music stopped.

The milieu in the Gold Rush is reminiscent of the elegant and dressy super clubs of yore. If this were 1960, the evening entertainment might have included an unexpected celebrity appearance, or an Astaire and Rogers style cabaret.

However, do not be deceived – the Gold Rush is not at all formal and caters to the comforts of its traveling patrons. Guests arrive garbed in everything from suits and gowns to casual attire.

The Gold Rush Tree

Despite elegant furnishings throughout, a 28-foot golden tree fixture with floating cherubs still captures the attention of every eye that enters the Gold Rush Steak House. The “tree” is generously decorated according to the season and is a notable and exciting centerpiece for dining room activity.

Welcome to delicious

We started our meal with a relish tray appetizer of fine cheese, thin sliced Italian salami, fresh celery, various peppers – and other goodies. It was an easy segue into a crisp fresh garden salad with an excellent choice of dressings.

The Gold Rush menu is extensive with excellent entrée selections. The cuisine and wine list is both approachable and sophisticated. After much deliberation, and based on local recommendations, we settled on the filet mignon with baked potato and a carrots and string beans accompaniment.

The tender and delectable house steaks are seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked to perfection over an oak pit barbecue. The results are tantalizingly delicious. Note: Those who prefer their meat unseasoned should advise the server when ordering.

Did we mention desserts?

Take a peek at the Champagne Cake in the photo gallery

Controlling quality

Owner Alex Madonna knew the best way to ensure his “World’s Best Steaks” for the Gold Rush dining room was to control the feed and production process. It is not surprising that he collaborated with John Wayne in buying and raising cattle for the Madonna Inn. Our guess is that the two men enjoyed a friendship that had much more in common than an ability to select and raise good livestock.

Yes, the Madonna Inn is wonderful and fun, and we recommend it highly. It is an especially rewarding experience because it is founded on an all-American family success story. In these difficult times, we can all use an occasional smile and a little extra inspiration.

Be sure not to miss our *photo gallery* of the Madonna Inn, click here.

For reservations and more information about the Madonna Inn look at their website at:

You can also check out to locate other attractions in the area such as Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument (Hearst Castle), in San Simeon, CA, which is about 45 miles away.

Click here to read our story describing the interesting history of the Madonna Inn.

If you go

The Madonna Inn is about 225 miles south of San Francisco (take Exit 201) and 175 miles north of Los Angeles (take Exit 200A) just off California Highway 101. Follow the signs to the Inn.

Happy travels!

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff – Photos of Madonna family courtesy of Madonna Inn

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