By Ken Hegan for MSN Travel

VertigoMovies made me fall in love with San Francisco. Five of my favourite films were shot there:

#5) Harold and Maude

#4) Bullitt

#3) The Maltese Falcon

#2) The Game

#1) So I Married an Axe Murder

[not to mention Vertigo which I’ll cover below].

Each of these films make the city feel misty, romantic, dangerous, and gritty.

Last week I had a chance to visit San Francisco on my return from Huatulco, Mexico. It would be a super-short layover, though, just 10 hours from landing to takeoff. That’s the same length of time that Tom Cruise had in Collateral to taxi around L.A. and whack people like they were chores on his ‘To Do’ list.

I’ve liked every San Franciscan I’ve ever met, so I couldn’t think of anyone I wanted to whack. Alas. But San Francisco is too sexy a city to miss.

So we booked the layover and snagged a room at Hotel Vertigo, chiefly because it appears in the 1958 Hitchcock classic, Vertigo [prior to 2009, Hotel Vertigo was called the York and it acted as the fictional ‘Empire Hotel’ in Hitchcock’s film].

We took the BART train from the airport to downtown (35 minutes). Then we hoofed it eight blocks from Union Square to Hotel Vertigo. It’s located near the theatre district, Convention Center, Market Street, Westfield Center, City Hall, the Opera House, and Nob Hill.

While I checked in, my Superfine Girlfriend posted braggy Instagram photos (“Guess which movie they shot here”). And why not? It’s a terrific film to be associated with; last year the British Film Institute named Vertigo the “Greatest Film of All-Time,” plus the Hotel Vertigo’s a work of art in its own right. It’s a sleek, stylish, and slender gem…even the elevator’s kind of skinny.

Hotel Vertigo

The hotel’s colour scheme is orange, creamy, & swirly, inspired by the poster from Hitchcock’s famous film. In our room, the artwork (see below) were either stylized mirrors or those creepy paintings where the hotel manager watches you with hypnotically magnified eyes…


Also: if you miss your pet while you’re on vacation in San Francisco, Hotel Vertigo’s lobby features a row of ghostly white ceramic animals. There’s a pooch, a parrot, and a pink flamingo:

Ceramic animals

Naturally, we climbed the spiralling stairs to the fourth floor to see the famous room from the film (Kim Novak’s ‘Judy’ character catches the eye of ‘Scottie’ (Jimmy Stewart) who follows/stalks the beauty to room #401). Unfortunately, the door was closed and I forgot my crowbar so we couldn’t break in. So I stood near the door and whispered “Juuuuuuudy, Juuuuuuudy” until it stopped being funny (9 seconds).

Vertigo 2

She still lives in room 401

Then we grabbed pizza from the joint next door, showered off the Mexican sand, passed out for 4 hours, then rode the BART back to the SFO airport. No time for anything else.

Too bad, because San Francisco is a fantastic city that deserves a longer visit. If you’re able to head down there soon, be sure to stay at least two nights. Especially since San Francisco’s Bay Bridge will be a massive art installation for the next two years.

Starting March 5th, the western span of the Bay Bridge will be lit up with 25,000 LED lights strung along its support cables, turning the bridge into “the largest light sculpture in the world.” This $8-million installation will be 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers) wide and 500 feet (152 meters) high…that’s eight times the scale of the Eiffel Tower.

And they won’t be static bridge lights like you see on the Lions Gate Bridge to North Vancouver. Rather, the Bay Bridge lights will be an evolving light show. Here’s an artist’s rendering (just imagine the lights are moving):

Bay Bridge
According to the bridge’s website, the lights will be an “ever-changing, dazzling light sculpture.” More specifically, “the artist will use patterns of weather, the water and the traffic of cars, ships and wildlife as inspiration for creating his software algorithms. The patterns will never repeat.”

So it’s like those awful Hypercolor T-shirts that changed colours when your body heated up because you were nervous about some college girl who utterly ignored you because you had bright red hair. And by you, I mean me.

Bay Bridge lights artist

Another artist’s rendering

The Bay Bridge light show, designed by veteran MOMA artist, Leo Villareal, is inspired by the bridge’s 75th anniversary. The lights will shimmer and shine “from dusk to midnight for two years.” San Francisco’s tourism board estimates it will attract scores of tourists who will “inject” $97 million dollars to the local economy.

Naturally, I trust that ‘inject’ is a figurative term and not literal. I think we’d all hate to see dark-hearted tourists descend on San Francisco at night to commit a 10-hour, Tom Cruise-style killing spree, using the Bay Bridge to light their way while they inject horrible liquids into innocent locals.

Play nice, fellow travellers.

— Ken Hegan

For more info on the Bay City Lights, visit

VIDEO: Watch the official trailer for Vertigo

Read more of Ken’s travel stories here and follow him on Twitter: @KenHegan

Ken was a guest of the San Francisco Travel Association