Archive for September, 2012

San Francisco Weekend Planner

I recently spent a lovely long weekend in San Francisco.  I have been before but it’s been 5+ years since I went for fun (not work) and, as always, the experiences diverge wildly.  San Francisco has something for everyone.  It’s very difficult to condense all the city has to offer into one perfect weekend.  But.  It’s a Sunday and I’ve got the time, so I’ll give you a little lowdown on how to work SF to your advantage!

Arrival: I have only flown to SF.  Obviously, if you can drive, skip this.  I have flown to both Oakland and SFO, and am very, VERY, partial to Virgin America as my airline of choice.  I adore V.A. anyway, and there are these fabulous direct flights across the country, so according to me, it’s the only real way to do this trip.  Virgin does not appear in Expedia or Priceline or Kayak searches, so you need to go directly to the airline’s site.  Go there now.  Buy ticket.  I’ll wait.

When you arrive in SF, it’s fastest to take the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, according to my seatmate on the train) into the city.  The BART doesn’t work like ‘normal’ subway systems.  Instead, you type into the ticket machine your precise destination, and the ticket price is calculated (from SFO to Powell, a major downtown stop, is $8.25).  The ride takes about 30 minutes.


Most major downtown hotels are close to one of the BART transport stops, and if this is your first time in the arena, it would behoove you and your stress level just to pick a hotel that’s near one.  Why bother with the expense of a cab, or the confusion of lugging your stuff around a new city to find your out-of-the-way hotel?

The first time I went to SF, I did a little research via TripAdvisor, and found a funky boutique hotel which is now a college dorm.  Weird.  I’ve also stayed at a Hilton (for work) up near Fisherman’s Wharf, which was great, but not quite in central tourism world.  For my recent trip I stayed with my sister in her spare room.  Definitely the cheapest option if you’ve got a connection.  Given that SF is funky hipster town of the world, it is probably also a great source of fun hostels and Couchsurfing hosts, but I can’t personally vouch for any.

To Do:

This is where planning gets personalized and difficult.  To suit my interests, I quickly search for fun free/cheap stuff to do, and follow that up with some restaurant research.  Given that SF has the most restaurants per capita in the country, you should be able to satisfy any palate.

The most well-known tourist attraction are covered in any guidebook or article, but if you have somehow missed the memo, here are the highlights.

1. Ride a trolley

2. Walk around downtown (wear good walking shoes…remember that this place is super hilly?)

3. Visit Fisherman’s Wharf (where I can watch the sea lions for an hour easily, which is free!)

4. Alcatraz (give this 2-3 hours at least…)

I’m a big audio tour fan, and this one is not-to-be-missed. Comes with admission onto the island.

5. Telegraph Hill (near that crazy curvy street, look for the Telegraph Hill parrots)

6. Haight/Ashbury (hippie love, now home to expensive thrift stores)

7. Golden Gate Park

Me and my sister chillin’ in front of a park Sphinx.

8. Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge

Finally did the big walk this year (about a mile each way…)

If you have time and transportation, the city is a mere hour or 90 minutes from Napa/Sonoma, and you can also explore Berkeley and Marin County easily.

Quick note on transportation within the city.  I have a very good sense of direction (within my family it’s one of my two key strengths…the other being ordering well off of restaurant menus), and I find the SF metro system very confusing.  The major stops downtown are easy to navigate and well-marked, etc.  However, once you start heading into actual neighborhoods, the train is above ground, stops are not well marked (if at all) and many stops are not marked on maps either (they’re indicated by a little hatch mark).  So annoying!  This is one reason why I haven’t ventured far away from downtown on previous trips.  This time, I had a local to help me navigate, but I seriously don’t know how you would figure it out otherwise.

I think I’ve talked enough.  But, in case you had a burning question about my food preference, my primary tip to those who care is to eat lots of Asian food – the city is amazing for all types (I had Vietnamese twice in two days…my personal favorite).



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