For the uninitiated to California’s Bay Area, the first thing that needs to be pointed out about Sofitel San Francisco Bay is that it’s not actually in San Francisco, but Redwood City, about 25 miles south of the city. If traveling by foot, bike, or public transport, it’s important to consider, as the Bay Area Rapid Transit, the regional rail service in the San Francisco Bay Area, only goes as far as the airport, leaving only a semi-reliable hotel shuttle (and potential wait) or a $40-50 taxi ride one way as your means of getting to the hotel.
Cars, however, can easily enter the vast business complex around the Redwood Shores Lagoon that’s home to computer technology giant Oracle and Sofitel San Francisco Bay and glide under its arcaded entrance for a drop off. Once, as my astonished taxi driver pointed out, the building, which opened in 1987, stood virtually alone among the waterways, no doubt adding a greater sense of tranquility than exists today, as ferrying business shuttles zoom in and out of the complex and joggers circle the paved lagoon path. Nonetheless, compared to downtown San Francisco, the area still remains remarkably quiet, especially before and after work hours.
Although the uninspiring pale gray, angular exterior of Sofitel San Francisco Bay dulls anticipation somewhat, it’s revived upon stepping inside bright and airy black and white marble lobby, crowned by a tentacled Dale Chihuly glass chandelier in all permutations of blue. It bespeaks the elegance instilled by the French owners of the Sofitel brand and umbrella operator, Accor. A stroll through the attached reception, corridors, café, Bay Bar, and Bay 223 restaurant confirm the efforts, with debonair touches and French motifs throughout, perhaps no more visible than in the outdoor pool area, dotted with Parisian lampposts and metro signs.
Much of the interior cosmetics is thanks to designer Jill Cole, who undertook a renovation in 2012 and imbued the common areas and bedrooms with a minimalist beige palette, dark woods, red splashes, and a lavender aroma in homage to the growing fields in nearby Sonoma County, a direct connection to those in southern France. The furniture in the rooms, also echo European tastes, by playing off the heavily Bauhaus-inspired work by mid-20th century designer Florence Knoll. However, probably the greatest room highlight remains the motionless lagoon outside the window, which required no more tinkering than simply opening the curtains.
Indeed the view from my Superior room (starting at $156 per night), one of 421 rooms and suites across nine floors, transmitted no small amount of pleasure through the window, especially if working at the desk just on the other side of it. As for the rest of the room, the layout is more or less standard with an enclosed standard bathroom (with product by Lanvin) near the door and main living area beyond, at the center of which is a very comfortable king size “SoBed,” topped with a featherbed filled with 10% down and 90% feathers.
Considering the lofty position of San Francisco in the world of cuisine, it must be a challenge to establish a viable restaurant in any hotel to compete with the impressive array of choices in the city. However, Sofitel’s Bay 223 restaurant does so more than adequately, serving “California-inspired French cuisine” among high-backed, semi-circular blue booths, arm chairs, and semi-veiled sofas tables, and an attached cocktail bar. Appetizers from Ahi tuna tartare, ceviche, and lobster bisque range from good to excellent, as do entrees like seafood risotto and braised short ribs, however, beyond the lavender-infused chicken breast, there aren’t many examples of inspired culinary innovation, but without question, much effort is expended by the kitchen within the means and parameters of the hotel environment, and they largely succeed. The cocktails are prepared with equal gusto, especially the delicious Backyard Blackberry Margarita with Don Julio Blanco, hand pressed blackberries, fresh thyme, and champagne brut.
Compared to some of Sofitel’s amazing design work around the world, for example at the Sofitel So Bangkok and the Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam, there is somewhat of a letdown at the more modest, garnish-like flair of the San Francisco Bay branch, but that by no means indicates any displeasure with the service. Indeed, the hotel staff (as at every Sofitel I’ve experienced) excels at it and furthers my love of the brand. Although Sofitel no longer stands alone in Redwood City, it certainly still stands out.
Mike Dunphy Stayed as a guest of the Sofitel San Francisco Bay
All photos by Mike Dunphy