Jay and I haven’t traveled anywhere longer than a weekend away, just the two of us, for a few years now. When we celebrated our 10th anniversary this summer, I really wanted to plan a vacation so we could celebrate. His parents generously offered a time share trip to Mexico, which would have been great, but I wasn’t ready to leave all three kids and their busy schedule on someone(s) for quite that long. My dad always raved about San Francisco. He wasn’t much of a traveler, but when he graduated high school he and his buddies hopped in a car and drove down the coast and stopped in San Fran. He also worked for a company whose head office is in the Bay Area, and got back to San Francisco in his adult years, and I know he just absolutely loved it.
I brought the idea of San Fran up to my country mouse of a husband, and he was keen on going too. I don’t think I could get him to be a city mouse in a big, huge city like New York, but there’s a charm about San Francisco that he was eager to see as well.
How To Plan a Trip to San Francisco
Our flights were generously taken care of from credit card points (RBC Avion) from the farm, so all we had to pay were our flight taxes. I am an avid Ebates.ca shopper and I’m always using websites like Expedia or Hotels.com to scour the web for the best hotel deals.
I read a ton of blog posts which I found through Pinterest and asked all about San Francisco on my Facebook page and got a lot of recommendations. I definitely had a list of “must see” tourist attractions and places I wanted to go, but left the bulk of the planning until much closer to our trip.
Where We Stayed – Hotel Zoe in North Beach
Based on many people’s recommendations, and being the kind of people that we are that don’t like a ton of noise and activity, I decided to book a hotel close to Fisherman’s Wharf, and ended up at a nice boutique hotel called Hotel Zoe. It was recently remodeled and the lobby is small, but beautiful and modern. We booked a room with a king-sized bed and at first it seemed ridiculously small, especially for the full price it was worth! However, it had a nice, big TV, the room was clean, fresh and nicely decorated, and most important–the bed was ridiculously comfortable! It had a small table and chair to put some stuff on and a fridge. We definitely didn’t have a view, which was too bad, but our room, and the area in general, were surprisingly quiet. I only heard sirens one night, never ever heard vehicle or foot traffic, and only heard the maids talking very loudly in the hallway one afternoon that we came back to rest for awhile.
The location ended up being absolutely perfect, we couldn’t have had better luck our first time in San Fran. It is very central in North Beach and minutes away from the Wharf which has lots of shops and restaurants and, of course, Pier 39. Right across the street and up one block from our hotel was a Safeway store. We bought our breakfast foods and even some deli sandwiches for lunches and saved a LOT of money this way. There is also a Trader Joe’s behind the hotel, but I didn’t use it.
We both highly recommend staying at this quiet boutique hotel. There are “hidden fees” that were charged at the hotel and not right on my Hotels.com booking. They charge a tourism fee of $25/day that you are there; it ended up costing us $175 CAD per night total. I did see this when I booked, so beware to factor that into your accommodation budget. If you choose to forego your room being cleaned, they will give you a $5 credit per day (not including check in or check out day) towards their hotel restaurant Pescatore.
I did look into AirBNB a bit, it certainly can be cheaper, but I wanted to not have to worry about cleaning at all and wanted complete privacy and a guaranteed comfy bed, so we went with a hotel. To stay in North Beach for a private room (very rarely an entire apartment to yourself) you’re looking at $95-$190/night.
How To Get Around (and not to get around!) San Francisco
Don’t Use Airport Shuttles!
Right before we left I booked an airport shuttle with airportshuttles.com. I am specifically not linking to the website, and I’ll tell you why! When you pay $33 CAD for a round-trip from SFO (San Francisco International Airport) to the city of San Francisco (a 30 minute drive) and you think it’s too good to be true, IT IS! I called the company, like the instructions said, to let them know we arrived and had our bags so the shuttle van could come pick us up. We didn’t have to wait long and a rickety old silver van picked us up, we were the first ones on the shuttle. We circled SFO six times for a half an hour so our crazy driver could look for more passengers. He even stopped to flirt with a lady (who clearly didn’t want to be flirted with) and was trying to pick up people at other stops. On the last stop, and after finally finding more people, we asked if we were finally going to go in to San Fran, and he said no, he was going to do one more round, and then stop for fuel!!! Jay and I looked at each other, got off the van, grabbed our luggage while the angry (and quite possibly drunk and/or high) driver yelled at us. I will never book a shuttle again EVER because of this awful experience with American Airport Shuttle. The company did give me a full refund after I complained, though, so that was at least good.
We ended up getting a taxi, which I had researched would cost $50-$60 USD, and got to our hotel and it ended up costing us $83 CAD. It was hard to suck it up and pay that much for transportation, but in the moment there was no other choice. We didn’t use taxis at all once we were in San Francisco.
San Francisco is made for walking, as long as you can physical walk up some steep hills, so we brought our comfortable running shoes, and I’m glad I did. I threw “fashion” aside and just wore Skechers with memory foam and I was extremely comfortable our whole trip. We did upwards of 10 km of walking on our busy days, and that was even with using public transportation too! San Francisco is one of the hilliest cities in the world, so you might have shin splints from walking up those steep hills and shaky knees walking down those steep hills, but overall it is a very easy city to get around, especially Fishermans Wharf, it’s right at the water and flat!
I feel like the biggest nerd, but as a first time Uber user, I am absolutely hooked and in shock and awe! When we go to the city (Calgary) we have to drive ourselves, so we have never had the need for Uber before. I downloaded the app and signed up before we left, just in case I felt like we should use it. We used it for the first time to go to the movies one night (the only day it rained when we were there) and it only cost us $6 CAD for a fairly long ride to the theatre, using the car pool option. I never paid more than $7 CAD to get around after that, and I can’t recommend it enough—San Francisco is the perfect city to use Uber in, even if you’re only using Uber 1 way and can walk back to your hotel (mostly down hill where we stayed). I felt very safe using it, even at night by myself to do a Target trip that my husband didn’t want to accompany me on. Make sure to download the app and sign up if you’ve never used it, and Canadians: make sure you get an American data plan for your cell phones!
They are 100% a must-do in San Francisco, but they are also 100% a tourist attraction and not a means to get anywhere on time or efficiently. We made the big mistake of not researching this before we left and bought a very expensive day pass for the two of us for $50 CAD. We waited one hour in line after we bought our passes to board our cable car at the Powell-Hyde turn table station. Know what? Learn from our mistake—buy a one-way ticket for $7 USD at a station or directly on the cable car. Walk 1 block or so up to the next stop up from the station and board the next cable car, they always save room for the next stop(s). Later in the day we did just that, rode the line all the way up to Union Square to walk around a bit, and then walked back up and down to go have a bite to eat.
Hop On Hop Off Buses
I actually didn’t come across the recommendation to use a tour bus to go around this city in my blog post reading. It just so happened a friend was going to San Francisco at the same time as us and told me this is what she was doing. I was getting pretty overwhelmed trying to plan our days in San Francisco, I didn’t have anything planned other than our trip to Alcatraz. I ended up taking her advice and buying us a hop on hop off tour with Big Bus Tours. I bought our tickets off Ebates.com and saved 12% there with a discount code. It was an amazing way to see almost all of the city and to be able to stop and take our time at one area and get back on when we needed too.
Everyone and their mom recommended the best way to get around San Francisco is renting a bicycle. “You simply must!” This did not interest me one iota…at all! Sorry, I’m no help in this department, but there are places all around to rent bikes from, even at our hotel.
What To Wear in San Francisco
When we went at the end of November it was 18-20ºC and we had one rainy day that dropped to about 12ºC. Even though the temperature was what I’d call a nice summer day at home, it felt very different and much more cool. When the sun was out it was warm, otherwise we had light jackets or hoodies on the whole time, especially at night. It also gets foggy and overcast frequently and the wind can pick up too. I would definitely bring layers, a light waterproof jacket and comfy clothes for exploring the city!
I have much more to share about the rest of our trip to San Fran later!