Noe Valley Voice May 1999

Noe Valley's Hidden Bed and Breakfasts

By Pat Rose

Bed and breakfast inns and private guest houses can offer a pleasant alternative to expensive downtown hotels, and they also allow visitors to experience San Francisco's unique neighborhoods firsthand.

Noe Valley is home to its share of quaint (and sometimes quirky) B&Bs, and the Voice decided to update its list before our friends and family descend on America's most popular city this summer.

The nine guest lodgings listed here offer a variety of hospitality styles -- from a European tourist home to a fully furnished private apartment. If you choose to stay in one, remember that you are a guest in a home, not a hotel, and should treat it accordingly. (Also, be forewarned that these B&Bs don't allow smoking.)

A nice advantage for most is their proximity to 24th Street or Church Street--our two shopping areas. More importantly, all of the owners are friendly and accommodating hosts who love to meet and entertain people.

Oliver House

25th Street near Vicksburg

Contact: Patti Oliver at 695-0700

This cozy, one-bedroom B&B is actually an in-law apartment on the ground floor of owner Patti Oliver's home. She converted the room four years ago, she says, as an alternative to renting it out. "By using the apartment as a bed and breakfast, we have more flexibility and can make it available for family and friends when they visit."

Guests enter Oliver House through the bedroom, which is decorated in Laura Ashley­ style prints. Floral pink wallpaper, handmade quilts, and decorative pillows accent the room, which offers a double bed, desk, dresser, and walk-in closet. Cat motifs are everywhere -- cat books, cat dolls, and ceramic cats sitting on the shelves. But guests don't have to worry about the real thing wandering around because Oliver's cats are kept upstairs.

The living room has a couch and chairs set around a brick fireplace, and a large red and white quilt adorning one wall. A collection of Stratfordshire blue and white dinnerware is displayed on a sideboard along another wall. A small bathroom off the living room includes a tiled shower.

A kitchen at the far end of the room has a stove, microwave, and small refrigerator, and is well stocked with dishes and cookware. Oliver says she's happy to lend guests anything else they need for stovetop cooking.

Breakfast is usually a sweet roll, fresh fruit, juice, and coffee, which Oliver stocks in the kitchen before guests check in. (Special breakfast requests can be accommodated if guests let Oliver know in advance.)

Oliver House has cable television and a private phone line. While there is a no-children policy, Oliver does allow infants who are not yet crawling, and there is space for a small port-a-crib in the living room.

Rates are $95 per night for a two-night minimum, and weekly rates are available. Booking at least a month in advance is recommended, although Oliver says she does not have a traditional busy season.

"Most of our business is parents visiting the neighborhood for the birth of a baby or other events. We like having parents or grandparents who have ties to the neighborhood -- usually they are quite delightful people."

Dolores Park Inn

3641 17th St., between Church and Dolores

Contact: Bernie Vielwerth at 621-0482

Down the hill from Noe Valley (and two blocks from historic Mission Dolores) is a striking two-story Victorian mansion that was built in 1874. This historic house is surrounded by a gold-tipped wrought-iron fence and bordered by a garden of cala lilies, fuchsia, magnolia and palm trees, and a water fountain. Owner Bernie Vielwerth, who bought the mansion 23 years ago, has spent years restoring and decorating it.

Inside is a double parlor filled with antiques. An 1860 Queen Anne secretary sits next to three bay windows that light up the room with morning sun. In the afternoon, guests partake of coffee, tea, or wine while resting on a Victorian settee in front of a large brick fireplace.

Down the hall is an ornate dining room with a glass table, red velvet chairs, and a marble fireplace. Breakfast, which includes eggs, toast, waffles, juice, cheese, and bagels, is served from 8 to 10 a.m.

Guests can also dine outside on a patio behind the kitchen, where they'll meet Vielwerth's menagerie of finches, cockatiels, canaries, and hummingbirds (and perhaps his two dachshunds, who follow him everywhere). A parrot named Congo can be heard whistling from the nearby carriage house, where Vielwerth resides. The carriage house has a jacuzzi, which guests are invited to use during the day and early evening.

Upstairs at the inn are three guest bedrooms, all furnished with antique armoires and lace curtains, and sharing a bathroom and shower down the hall. In addition, the house offers a two-room suite with a four-poster bed, television and VCR, kitchen, marble bathroom, and a 20-foot outside deck.

Rates range from $89 to $189 per night, with a two-night minimum. For longer stays, Vielwerth will negotiate a weekly rate.

Dolores Park Inn is popular and heavily booked year-round -- 75 percent of the guests are repeats -- so call for reservations well in advance. The inn is half a block from the J-Church streetcar and within walking distance of the 16th Street BART Station.

Liz's Bed and Breakfast

Church Street between Clipper and 26th streets

[Contact removed: no longer in business]

If you like the idea of a European-style bed and breakfast, you'll like Liz Bernheimer's home on Church Street. Two flights of steps lead up to a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment, which Bernheimer shares with her guests (and her Siamese cat).

The guest bedroom has a double bed, dresser, and bookcases, plus a view of the outside deck, full of potted geraniums, impatiens, and petunias. The deck is accessible through Bernheimer's room, and deck stairs descend to a small garden and patio, which guests are welcome to use.

The living room has hardwood floors, a Steinway grand piano, and an easy chair next to the fireplace. Guests are invited to make themselves comfortable here as well.

Bernheimer serves breakfast every morning from 7:30 to 9 a.m. In addition to her famous Swedish pancakes and giant popovers, the menu includes juice, fruit, tea, and coffee. "I love to visit over breakfast," says Bernheimer. "I wouldn't do this if I couldn't get to know the guests." She has entertained visitors from all over the world, and has often been invited to the homes of those who want to return the favor.

Bernheimer has a collection of maps and books about San Francisco, and says she is an excellent tour adviser for offbeat activities like the Mission District Mural Walk.

She charges $70 per night with a three-night minimum and two-week maximum stay. Sorry, no children. May through October is her busiest season, and booking ahead is advised.

Hilltop Guest House

Diamond Street near 21st Street

Contact: Sandi Risser at 285-7189

This elegant home, built in 1941, was renovated four years ago by owner Sandi Risser to create separate living quarters for her guests. The Hilltop's entrance is a bright foyer with windows looking onto a small patio garden. Up a flight of steps are the living room, dining room, and kitchen, which are shared by the Hilltop's two guest suites.

The living and dining areas are surrounded by windows with views of downtown and are tastefully decorated with period pieces: an early 1900s Victrola that belonged to Risser's grandparents, an antique secretary with San Francisco tour books and maps, and a baby grand piano. There are two comfortable settees in front of a working fireplace, and a granite dining table and chairs at the far end of the room.

Off the dining area is a small kitchen with the original tile floor, and a breakfast nook with a view of Twin Peaks. The kitchen has all the major appliances, and Risser supplies staples such as tea, flour, sugar, olive oil, spices, and paper products. She does not provide breakfast, so her guests shop for and prepare their own food (or eat out).

Down the hall from the living room is the "Sunroom Suite," a large room with a queen-size bed, overstuffed chairs, and its own corner sunroom complete with chaise lounge and skylight. The bathroom has a toilet and sink, and the shower is across the hall in a shared laundry room.

Downstairs, the "Garden Suite" features a private entrance, a small living room with a futon bed, a kitchenette with microwave, a bathroom and shower, and a back bedroom with a double bed and portable space heater. French doors off the living room open to the front garden.

Each suite has large walk-in closets, a private phone, and cable television. The house is a four-block walk from 24th Street, and a short distance from either the 35-Eureka or 24-Divisadero bus.

Risser charges by the week: $300 for one adult and $325 for two. Her monthly rate is $1,200 for one and $1,250 for two.

"Our average guest stays two weeks visiting family and friends in the neighborhood. I also get a lot of business people who are here for meetings, or people who are relocating and need to house-hunt." Risser says many of her guests come back, "some five or six times."

Spare Room

30th Street between Sanchez and Noe

Contact: Judy Berg at 282-2550

For travelers on a budget who don't mind strolling two blocks to Church Street to buy their own breakfast at Hungry Joe's or Cafe J, the Spare Room is a real bargain.

Owner Judy Berg offers a bedroom with a private entrance at the back of her Victorian-style house. A short set of steps leads up to a small patio/garden and into a small bedroom. The room has a double bed, dresser, and desk, and a space heater for cold nights. Another door off the bedroom leads to a small side porch, also for guest use. To access the recently remodeled bathroom and shower, guests must go back outside -- the entrance is halfway down the stairs.

Berg charges $45 for one night and $40 per night for two nights or more, with a one-week limit. June, July, and August are her busy times. "We like people to come by and look at the space before renting it if they can, because it's unusual. It works well for some people, but not for everyone."

Berg has quite a lot of guests from other countries, including Canada, Mexico, and Switzerland.

The Hidden Cottage

1186 Noe St., near 25th Street

Contact: Dave or Ginger Cannata at 282-4492

This two-story white Victorian was originally a farmhouse built in 1870, back when the valley was a dairy farm. Owners Dave and Ginger Cannata, who live in the farmhouse with their two children, offer a room at the back of the house with plenty of peace and quiet.

A footpath winds around the side of the house and through a garden full of impatiens, roses, and plum trees. A wooden staircase ascends to a light and airy bedroom with a skylight. The bedroom has a queen-size cast-iron bed, a restored oak dresser, comfy chairs, a ceiling fan, a television and VCR, private phone, and two closets. The large bathroom has marble floors, a skylight, and an inviting double tub. A deck off the bedroom features potted ferns, chairs, an outdoor shower, and lots of privacy.

Breakfast includes coffee, tea, croissants, and fresh fruit delivered in a picnic basket.

Dave Cannata says that while many of his guests have neighborhood connections, he has seen an increase in European visitors because of recent write-ups in travel books. "We also have quite a lot of repeat guests," says Cannata. "We had a couple who first visited when their daughter had a baby, and they came back recently for the birth of her second child."

The room is generally booked a month in advance, and April through August is prime time. Double-occupancy rates are $150 for one night, and $125 per night for two nights or more. The room limit is two people, and private parking is available.

Noe's Nest

3973 23rd St., near Noe Street

Contact: Sheila Rubinson or Cindy Thomson at 821-0751

If you're looking for a place with lots of interaction, try Noe's Nest -- there are always visitors coming and going. Owner Sheila Rubinson has turned her home into a B&B, and she welcomes guests as part of the family.

Rubinson says many of her guests are older parents visiting family in the neighborhood. She makes an extra effort to make them feel welcome, chatting over coffee, offering discounts from 24th Street merchants, and occasionally showing them around the city.

The main floor of the house, including the kitchen and common area, is decorated with a mix of Aboriginal masks, Japanese furniture, antiques, and family photographs.

Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 11 a.m. on the front enclosed deck, and usually includes fruit, lox and bagels, cream cheese, quiche, and pancakes. (Guests' family and friends are welcome to join in for $5 per person.)

Each of the five guest rooms has a theme. The smallest is the "Oriental Room" at the front of the house, which has a queen bed, a Japanese-style lacquered desk, oriental rugs, and a sleeping loft over the bathroom and closet.

The larger "Garden Room" at the back of the house has a fold-out couch, queen bed, a working fireplace, and a picture window with a view of the garden. A large bathroom with a tub and shower also looks out to the garden, and after a bath you can stroll out to a private deck. The patio garden below has a hot tub accessible to guests through an enclosed alleyway on the side of the house.

The garden also has a new guest room, the fun and funky "Tree House," whose floor and walls are covered in leopard print. It has a queen-size bed, a bathroom with shower, and skylights. Back through the enclosed alleyway is the "French Room," which sleeps two and offers its own private entrance.

Upstairs are two more rooms: the "Castaway Room," featuring a 1920s-style brass bed and a window seat, and the "Penthouse Suite," boasting a steam room, king-size bed, corner fireplace, washer and dryer, and a full deck with a view of Noe Valley.

Each room has its own bath, cable television, VCR, and private phone. Rates are $95 to $170 per night double-occupancy, with $10 added for each additional person. Reservations are recommended. "Booking six months ahead is not too early if there is a particular room you want," says manager Cindy Thomson, "though we are able to take last-minute reservations when we have an opening."

The Victorian Garden

26th Street near Noe

The Edwardian

27th Street near Church

Contact: R. Geikow at [phone number removed]

If you're looking for a cozy apartment with all the amenities of home, you'll be pleased with either the Victorian Garden or the Edwardian, two guest houses owned by Noe Valley resident R. Geikow.

The Victorian Garden has a street-level entrance at the side of a charming Victorian on 26th Street. The house itself has a full-time tenant, while the in-law apartment is used for guests.

"I liked the idea of a B&B as an alternative to renting the apartment full-time," says Geikow. "It gives me the freedom to use the space when I need it for my own friends and family, and I can book guests when it works with my schedule."

The apartment is full of mementos from the owner's travels -- pottery from Portugal, a soap dish from England, watercolors from Ukraine. The bedroom has a queen-size bed, closet, desk, armchair, and private phone. The shower-only bathroom features colorful Mexican tiles.

Off the bedroom is a galley kitchen with a full set of dishes and all major appliances. Guests make their own breakfast from a pantry stocked with cereals, bread, oatmeal, and even pancake mix. Milk, yogurt, and fruit are in the fridge.

An informal living room has comfortable furniture, a television and VCR, and a large picture window that overlooks the garden. An outside patio offers a table and chairs and a gas grill for barbecuing.

The Edwardian is a ground-level apartment on 27th Street with a more formal living room -- with hardwood floors, upholstered furniture, cable television, stereo, private phone, and a large sofa that converts to a queen sleeper.

A fully equipped kitchen is large enough to accommodate a pantry and a dining table and chairs. At the back of the apartment is a light and airy bedroom with a queen-size canopy bed and a view of the garden. The bathroom, which includes a shower and tub, was recently retiled with handpainted Italian tiles.

In the garden, Geikow grows tomatoes, squash, and other vegetables interspersed with climbing jasmine, miniature roses, and red fuchsia bushes.

The rate for both B&Bs is $110 per night, double-occupancy, with a two-night minimum. The charge for an additional guest is $25 per night, and children are welcome.

The Edwardian and Victorian Garden are busy year-round, and Geikow suggests booking six to eight weeks ahead for weekend stays. The majority of his guests are seniors or parents of Noe Valley residents, and his neighbors often refer guests to him. "We've now been in the business long enough that we have people returning, sometimes six or seven times," Geikow says.