The whole time we were in San Francisco, I was writing little Yelp reviews in my head about everything we did, whether positive or negative. Reading reviews online helped me decide some of the things we were going to do, and I wanted to put my thoughts down regarding all of our travel experiences there!
SF transit — I tried to read up a little bit about how to get around in SF, but I mistakenly just assumed that walking and the BART (subway) would be all we needed. So wrong! Many of the things we wanted to do were miles and miles apart, and while I am all about walking, at some point your legs and feet are just worn out — not to mention I got horrible blisters on Day One.
Getting to the city from the airport was easy enough using BART. But once we were in the city, we ended up utilizing the cable car (part of the MUNI system), the Sausalito ferry, and the Golden Gate Transit bus, on top of the BART, because the BART just really seemed to give limited access around the city. (For example, to go see the Painted Ladies, we took the BART to the Civic Center stop, and then had to walk a full mile to get there).
If there is one piece of advice I could give, it would be to get the Clipper card when you first are buying transit passes at the BART station at the SF airport. The Clipper card is a reloadable card that is basically accepted on all of the transit systems. Just make sure you have enough money on the balance, and you can use it to get on any of the various forms of public transit you will need. We just accidentally happened to buy this, and I was so glad we did. I didn’t read it anywhere in the various blogs and articles giving SF advice, but that would be my #1 tip.
Harbor Court Hotel — This was a nice hotel right by the Embarcadero, Ferry Building, and Bay Bridge area. I needed a hotel for us to stay at our first two nights that wasn’t too expensive, and this is what I got as a Hotwire secret deal. When we arrived straight from the airport, it was still a few hours before check-in, so they didn’t have a room ready for us, but we were able to store our luggage there so that we could walk around without it. They got my cell phone number to call me as soon as our room was ready. There was a little coffee barista in the lobby (for paid drinks that you could put on your room bill) and free brewed coffee in the morning. Our room was small, but clean and nice. The only thing that perturbed me was an unexpected amenities fee. That included access to the YMCA next door.
Hyatt Regency — Can’t say enough good things about this hotel. It was footsteps from the Embarcadero BART station, they had a room ready for us five hours prior to check-in time, our room was large and spacious with a nice view of Market Street, there were lots of perks for marathon runners, etc. We got a discount with the marathon rate, and it’s very pricey with normal rates, I believe, so I don’t know that we would want to spend the money to stay here on a regular trip. But if you can, go for it!
Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf — Obviously I think this is a must-do just because it’s so quintessential San Francisco, but we didn’t spend too much time down here. Tons and tons of people, long lines at most of the restaurants, etc. We went on our first day and watched the sea lions for a little while, then went back a couple of days later and withstood a long line of people and wait to eat at Boudin Bakery. Lots of restaurants, souvenir shops, etc.
Napa Valley/Sonoma tour — We purchased our passes through Viator, and the tour was orchestrated by Gray Lines SF. Tickets were about $105 per person. Most of the complaints I read on TripAdvisor about this tour were either people utilizing hotel pickup — and then hotel pickup never showing up or being super later — and the tour being overbooked. So to avoid both of those problems, we just went straight to the tour office to get on the bus, rather than waiting to be picked up at our hotel, and I made sure we arrived super early so that if they did in fact overbook the tour, we would have spots on the bus before they ran out of room. This was a great experience, the charter bus was nice and comfortable, our driver was informative and entertaining. We toured three wineries, ate lunch in downtown Napa, and just had a nice, relaxing day.
Coit Tower — Like Fisherman’s Wharf, this seems to be something everyone recommends you do. I wouldn’t say don’t do it, but I will say I was less than impressed with the experience as a whole. Probably had something to do with waiting 40 minutes in line after an exhausting day of traveling to SF, walking around, tearing up my feet, getting sunburned, and being tired. It was inexpensive, but after waiting in line for 40 minutes to ride up the little elevator to the top, I felt it was kind of small up there and was less than what I was expecting. It was also open air, so it was cold and windy, and then you had to wait in line to ride the elevator back down. It just seems like we waited 40 minutes to go up and then only stayed up there 10 minutes at most before being done with it.
Golden Gate Bridge/Vista Point — This was one of my top priorities, obviously. The bridge was often encased with fog, making it difficult to see fully until you were right up close to it. We took a Golden Gate Transit bus to the toll plaza on the SF side, where we got off and walked over the pedestrian sidewalk. It was super windy and busy up there, but the views were great and it was a pretty easy walk. When we got to the other side of the bridge, we walked over to Vista Point to enjoy the incredible views. This is a must-do.
Sausalito — We didn’t get to do very much at all while actually in Sausalito, as the main reason we were there was to catch the ferry back to SF after walking over the Golden Gate Bridge. But this was such a cute area, much warmer than the city, and it was beautiful to look at as we sailed away. I wished we would have had time to stay and eat a meal there.
Secret Improv Society — This was a fun $20 improv show we went to on Friday night near Union Square. It was very simple, with four actors on a small stage doing different improv scenarios, which required interaction from the audience. Definitely recommend it.
Alcatraz — Another great must-do in San Francisco. Book your tickets way in advance. The audio tour is self-guided, so you can take as much time as you need, and a ferry comes every 30 minutes to take you back to SF, so you can leave whenever you’re ready. I love history like this, and while I had never really read much or cared to know much about Alcatraz before, this tour really intrigued me and I found myself looking up documentaries that I could watch later to learn more.
Painted Ladies/Alamo Square — This was about a mile-long walk from the Civic Center BART station, but it was worth it to me to see the famous houses (that you see in the opening credits for Full House). The walk there was nice and quiet through a cute neighborhood, and then once you get up in Alamo Square, you have this view of the cute houses with all of the city skyline behind it. We also got frozen custard nearby at FK Frozen Custard, which was really good.
We ate at several places, but these were my favorite:
Poke bowls at Big Fish Little Fish — We ended up eating lunch here right after we first got into the city because it was in the Rincon Center right across from our hotel. So it was kind of accidental, but a very happy accident, because it was delicious!!
Dim sum at Begoni Bistro — I wanted to get dinner in Chinatown one night, so we found this nice place that had numerous options to choose from. We ended up sharing pork buns, dumplings, and shrimp fried rice — all amazing.
A burrito at Tacorea — Here I got the California Burrito, whose ingredients included Carne Asada, Crispy Tater Tots, Shredded Cheese, Hot Salsa, Guacamole, Crema, Pico de Gallo. Yeah. It was awesome.
Boudin Bakery — Famous for its sourdough bread, Boudin Bakery has several locations in SF. Because it was the easiest to get to, we braved the crowds at the Pier 39 restaurant. Grilled cheese on sourdough and chili in a bread bowl were our choices, and both were good. It seemed like most people were gravitating toward the New England clam chowder in a bread bowl, but I’m not a big chowder fan.