My trip consisted of 6 days in San Francisco, United States. Travel date–End of October.
Wingz (similar to Uber). The price is $32 USD for 2 people; duration of the ride is approximately 30-60 minutes depending on traffic. Note: To avoid a no show fee, if you need to cancel your ride, make sure to do it 2 hours before your pick-up time.
Before we left, I downloaded Wingz app and booked a driver to pick us up from San Francisco Airport (SFO) to Fisherman’s Wharf (location of our hotel). However, due to unforeseen circumstances, I was not able to find/contact the driver at the airport because my phone stopped working on me. Sadly, I was charged for the ride because I failed to show up.
Car Rental. Parking fee at most hotel is around $50 USD per night. That’s a lot of money! Tip: There’s no fee to leave San Francisco, but there’s a toll fee when coming back to San Francisco. Is an electronic toll, payment is mandatory. If you plan to leave San Francisco, opt in for the ” toll-by-plate ” plan or you will end up paying administrative fee on top of the toll fee. Click here for tips on car rental.
Shuttle. Price range around $16 USD per person, ask information desk at the airport if you want to buy a shuttle ticket. Note: Check to see if your hotel offers free shuttle.
Bart Train. I paid $8.65 USD per person to take the Bart Train to Embarcadero Station (Market Street). Approximate ride time: 30 minutes. The location of the Bart Train is easily located; just follow the sign at the airport. Buy your ticket at the vending machines. Note: The machine does not give change. Remember to hold on to your ticket, as you will need to insert your ticket into the fare gate later when exit. Warning: When buying tickets for 2 people, buy separately or read the instruction on the screen carefully otherwise the machine will load the money into 1 single ticket instead of splitting the money into 2 tickets. If this is the case, tell the station agents and they will open the gate manually for you. I would recommend you plan your route before arriving in San Francisco.
Recommend: To save money, I highly recommend taking the Bart Train and stop at the closest station to your hotel, then either take public transit using muni pass or hail/call a taxi to get to your final destination.
Best Western Tuscan Hotel. This is a 4 star hotel. September, October and early November have the clearest skies and moderate temperatures so hotel rates are expensive around this time. The price for this hotel was $300-350 USD per night. Tip: Hotel rates in San Francisco are lowest in winter.
Pro: The location is well located for easy walking distance to Fisherman Wharf, restaurants and shops, two different cable car stops, tour bus, Ghirardelli Square, on and off bus tours, Alcatraz cruise, bike rentals, Madame Tussauds, Aquarium of the Bay, Ripleys Believe it or not, Bay Bike City Rental. Internet is free! There’s complimentary coffee and tea in the morning, wine in the evening (or so I heard), and free water in the lobby all day long.
Con: No fridge and the price!
Yes, I had to remind myself “YOLO” when I booked the accommodation! The room was clean but a little small for me, could need a little upgrade–typical bed, 32inch TV and a tiny bathroom with separate toilet. It was a little overpriced for the room that we got assigned. Since we opted out of housekeeping, the staff at front desk gave us a $5 voucher to redeem at the adjoining restaurant “Pescatore.” We decided to eat breakfast at Pescatore because of the $5 voucher, but was not able to use it because voucher only valid at super time. We paid $30 US + tip for 2 very basic sandwiches—typical bread and a few pieces of meat. The worst money I have ever spent in my life! Fortunately, we found a Safeway half a block away, and bought delicious freshly made sandwiches every morning thereafter for only $3 US.
Verdict: The hotel is a bit overpriced for the month that we were there, but I would recommend this hotel if you want to stay close to all touristy sites.
Tip: Ideal hotel location in San Francisco is Fisherman’s Wharf. Next is China town or Union Squares—a 15 minutes cable car ride away. However, if you want to save money and do not mind commuting, you could stay pretty much anywhere.
We heard from locals that whether in San Francisco is often foggy in the summer, rain from mid-Nov to March, and chilly at night all year round. However, September, October and early November are renowned for their fog free and sunny days. You could wear “summer” attire such as dress/short during the day. It gets chilly in the evening all year round so a light jacket/hoodie and long pants is recommended to keep you warm at night.
“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Mark Twin
1. Fisherman’s Wharf (FW).
Ghirardelli SQUARE. (10% off ice-cream with Muni pass). The Ghiradelli Hot Fudge Sunday is a must try! Tip: You can buy the same world famous Ghirardelli Square at a fraction of the price at Walgreen. Don’t worry, Walgreen is everywhere in San Francisco.
2. China Town.
Great Eastern Restaurant – President Obama visited here! Dimsum was only average, nothing impressive. Approximate cost $35USD for 2 people.
3. Union Square.
A Restaurant near H&M. Unsure the name, but is a very popular walk-in restaurant for cheap asian food, range $10-15 USD per dish.
4. Japan Town.
Must try crepe at Belly Good Café & Crepes. YUM
Top activities to do in San Francisco
Activities are grouped by area: Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge & Park, China Town, Japan Town, Union Square. Click here for Map.
1. Alcatraz aka “The Prison” or “The Rock” (3hrs).
Alcatraz Cruises, located at Pier 33, is the only official ferry provider to and from the island—Do not buy it from anywhere else. Recommend: You will need to book your ticket at least 4 weeks (day tour) or 6 weeks (evening tour) in advance of your visit as they can sell out quickly. I heard same-day standby Alcatraz tickets are being sold every morning, but you might have to come there by 6 am. Read More...
The Alcatraz island is 2.4km offshore from San Francisco. It was a lighthouse, a military fortification, a military prison (1868), a federal prison (1933-1963), Native activism (1969 for 19 months), and in 1986, became a National Historic Landmark in San Francisco. Today, Alcatraz is well known by visitor as “The Prison” for notorious bank robbers and murderers such as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, and Birdman. For more Alcatraz history at www.alcatrazhistory.com
Tip: Dress in layers as it can get cold on the island, and wear comfortable walking shoes. Since your visit to Alcatraz island will last a few hours, bring bottled water and snack with you to eat. You can eat in the dock area where you get off the ferry, but not anywhere else on the island. The ferry also sells food and beverages, and water bottled is also for sell in the bookstore. There is no place to store your stuff on the island so don’t pack too heavy.
Pier 33 is about 10 minute walk from Pier 39. You are recommended to arrive 30 minutes before your boarding time to redeem your Alcatraz tickets and to hear important messages. You will see a long line of people but you don’t have to stand in line for the entire 30 minutes as there are plenty of seats on the boat—is a huge boat people! Sit and eat your breakfast or enjoy a cup of coffee while you are waiting.
The ferry will depart from Pier 33, travel about 15 minutes to get to Alcatraz Island. Upon arrival, a Ranger will provide a brief welcome, and then you will have the opportunity to watch a short video to give you an overview of what you will see. After that, is a self-guided experience which you can explore the Alcatraz island, visit the museum, bookshop and the prison at your own pleasure. During the 35 minutes cell house audio tour (available in English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Dutch, German), you will hear stories from former inmates and prison guards as you walk through the prison. Ferries depart and return every half hour throughout the day. Restroom is located on the dock. You may stay as long as you like. Prepare to stay for at least 2.5 hours.
For day tour, best time is the early bird because there are less people on the island. If you prefer a more guided experience, the evening tours circles the island with live narration about Alcatraz’s history. You won’t get to explore the island as you might during the day as some areas are not open due to safety concerns. But I heard the sunsets view from the Alcatraz island is breathtaking and is a little creepier at night.
Click here for more info.
2. Segway Tour
(3 hrs). The joy of learning how to ride a Segway while touring San Francisco. Rider must weigh between 100-260lbs. You will have 45 minutes of training prior to the 2 hours narrated tour, with lots of stops for photos. Click here for more info.
3. Hop on-off Bus (90min). [GoPass].
Enjoy a guided tour of San Francisco’s most famous sites, with unlimited hop on and off. Tip: I recommend doing this first, then you’ll have an idea of all the things you want to do in certain area later.
4. Cruises. [GoPass].
Escape from the Rock (90min), Golden Gate (1hr), Bridge 2 Bridge (90min). Note: If you are planning to do 2 cruises back to back using GoPass, plan according to the time. Cruises run only between 10am to 4 pm.
Check out the following in Fisherman’s Wharf, is free with the GoPass so why not?
- Aquarium of the Bay (10-7). Water tunnels–you can literally take a photo walking under water—Amazing Pic!
- Madame Tussauds Wax Museum (hours varies). Dress nice, as you snap photos with Hollywood stars. We got tonnes of amazing photos.
- Ripleys Believe It or Not (10-10). If you are into weird thing and love Halloween, you might enjoy this place. We were in there for like 20 minutes, and believe it or not…I didn’t really like it.
Tip: Public washroom is available inside each tourist attractions, at pier 39, and inside cruise boat.
Fisherman's Wharf: Free Activities
1. Walk around Pier 39 to check out sea lions- although we did not see any when we went.
2. Shopping at Ross (near Best Western Hotel, also at Union Square). Is only free if you do not plan to buy anything–which is hard to do because this store sells brand names items for more than 50% off! I went here and ended up with a new carry-on luggage for $50 USD and bought shirts and pants for less than $20 USD.
3. Lombard Street
The Crookedest street in the world.
Built in 1922, this one-way crooked street is located between Hyde (top) and Leavenworth (bottom) Streets. The eight sharp turns design was intended because the 27% incline was too steep for most vehicles. Note: You can walk 10min from pier 39 or take the Powell-Hyde/Mason cable car. Stand on Leavenworth for best photo. Real world house (949 lombard) and Vertigo (900 lombard).
4. Market Street/Ferry Building.
Where we saw tonnes of vendor booths selling hand-made arts and crafts. The local vendors are here daily from 8 to 5pm. It is a 25 mins walk to here from FW or a 10min F-bus ride.
5. Coit tower.
It is one of the popular tourist attractions so if you do go, you can view murals. There is a fee if you want to view San Francisco from the top of the tower–but I heard you don’t need to go up to get a nice view of San Fran. We saw it from the piers at FW and that was good enough for us. No energy to climb such hill lol.
Fisherman's Wharf: Half-Full Day Tour
1. Angel Island (4hrs). [GoPass]. GoPass includes Ferry and Park admission but no activities on the island. If you like hiking, the island has many hiking trails. If you don’t like walking, you could rent the bike using your GoPass to take on the ferry and explore the island that way.
2. Muir Woods & Sausalito (4 hrs). Explore redwood trees at Muir Woods, Shopping and browsing in Sausalito. You could do this as part of a tour (~$88USD) or rent a car and drive there yourself, I heard parking is very difficult so beware.
3. GrayLine Wine Country Tour and Tastings: Napa/Sonoma [9-5]. [GoPass]. Cost more than the price of GoPass alone! California’s most famous wine regions. Second most visited attraction in California behind Disneyland.
I went on this tour not because of the wine, but more so for the experience just so I could say “oh I went there!” As a bonus, I had an amazing time, it was one of the highlights of my trip. Our driver was excellent—provided great stories about San Francisco (a mini version of hop on hop off tour without the hopping) and about the Napa/Sonoma region and wineries (~1hr drive). We learned how to taste wine properly at the winery. Visited 3 prominent vineyards and sampled dozen of wines. Stopped in Youthville for 1.5 hours for lunch and had a nice stroll around the place and bought some amazing baked goods. I highly recommend this tour-Great way to see the countryside!
Tip: You need to book your ticket 2 weeks in advance to guarantee your seat. The GrayLine ticket agent will tell you that they are sold out but if you go to the ticket office (2627 Taylor Street, 10 minute walk from cruise ship terminal) on the day of the tour, you will get on the bus. We decided to go on the tour last minute, was told to get there at 8 a.m to wait for no shows-We didn’t even get to eat breakfast! We learned while waiting that you don’t have to get there that early– because we saw another couple showed up at 845 am and were still able to get on as there were plenty of empty seats on the bus! I’m guessing they usually have extra spots for last minute paying customers? If booked early, bus can pick you up at your hotel, bus will also drop you off at your hotel if FW is not your final destination.
4. Montery and Carmel (9-5). Enjoy the breathtaking views of the Pacific Coast, shop and have lunch in Monterey, visit the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium (CityPass) or explore the town, drive along the famous 17-Mile drive, visit shops, galleries, boutiques and beaches at Carmel. Tip: You could go on a bus tour (~$100 USD) or rent a car and drive at your own pace. If you decide to drive, I recommend doing this activity after you are done exploring San Fran. Either drive the morning of and come back on the same day or stay overnight in Montery/Carmel and drop the car off at a location near the airport. Remember to check for any extra fee and plan your time accordingly.
Golden Gate Bridge & Park
Golden Gate Bridge
-is 30-45 minutes by bus from Golden Gate Park.
Bike from FW to Golden Gate Bridge(1hr), cross the Bridge to Sausalito (20min). [GoPass]. Tips: Bike rental location is at FW. The bike rentals usually give a map and several optional tours. There are also free city tours. Weather is usually windy on the bridge so bring a jacket. Read More...
It is about an 8 mile bike ride from Fisherman’s Wharf to Sausalito, road is usually flat with occasional hills depend on your route. Begin at Fisherman’s Wharf and bike to the Golden gate bridge (1hr), cross the bridge on the sidewalk and enjoy the stunning views of the city and bay. Then a 10 minute downhill ride into the town of Sausalito. Your chance to check out the village-enjoy lunch and see floating homes. You can ride your bike or catch a ferry back to San Francisco (ask bike company if there’s a voucher for the ferry). Note: Biking is physically exhausting. Do NOT do this activity if you are not able to ride up and down multiple hills.
*If biking is not for you, you can take public bus or hop-on-off bus to the Golden Gate bridge and walk across the bridge (1-2 hrs).
We had planned to do this initially, but since hop-on-off bus took us over the bridge, again with the cruise and wine tour bus–we saw the bridge so many times so we were kind of sick of the bridge at this point…lol.
Golden Gate Park
Approximately 45min bus ride from Fisherman’s Wharf. The next four sites are in walking distance of each other. If short on time, skip #2,3,4.
1. California Sciences (3hrs) (930-5). [GoPass]. One of the largest museums of natural history in the world, housing over 26 million specimens. I really enjoyed my first-hand experience of the 1906 Earthquake. I also spent the next two hours exploring the aquarium, planetarium, rainforest exhibits and many more. It was a popular tourist destination so it was good to check out at least once. There’s a big café in the museum to buy food. Tip: If you are taking Hop-on-off bus to get here, tell the tour guide your destination. You might be waiting about 30 minutes if you want to take the Hop-on-off bus again, Fisherman’s Wharf is the last stop. If not, use your muni pass to take the public bus to Market Street, and then take the F-line to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Check out the following tourist attractions if you have time and bought GoPass. I would not pay out of pocket for it…only because I am not a museum/nature type.
2. De Young Museum (930-515). [GoPass]. Arts museum-from famous people. It just right across from California of Sciences on the way back to the bus stop. We got our bag checked by security, got our water bottle thrown out, got our hands stamped—only to leave 5 minutes later. This was not our thing.
3. Conservatory of Flowers (10-4). [GoPass]. The name says it all-flowers! We wanted to go here to take some nice pictures with the flowers but it wasn’t on the way so we had to skip it in order to make it back in time for the cruises.
4. Japanese Tea garden. Free admission if entered by 10am on Mon, Wed, Friday. We were planning to go on the free city tour here but we weren’t able to wake up in time
China Town/ Union Square/Japan Town
1. China Town. San Francisco has the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. Drawing more visitors than the Golden Gate Bridge. Don’t forget to walk through the gate (Grant/Bush) for goodluck!
Cheap souvenirs shopping and cheap food…Need I say more?
Tip: Free public washroom on level 2 in the library across from Hilton Hotel.
2. Union Square (Night Life). Restaurants and shops.
Shops, shops, and more shops. San Francisco has the biggest Macy in the U.S.A besides New York.
3. Japan Town. This 6 square city blocks is home to Japanese and Korean restaurants, cheap supermarkets and souvenirs, and an indoor shopping mall—including Kinokuniya bookstore chain. This is not a main tourist attraction in San Francisco, I went here because I was curious and got lots of free time. The town wasn’t very big, the mall is the main attraction with lots of shops and great food. We spent a few hours roaming the town and that was good enough. Note: Approximate time commuting from Union Square is 40 minutes.
3 Tips for Activities
Tip 1: I highly recommend that you buy a Muni Pass for the duration of your stay—1, 3 or 7 consecutive days of unlimited rides. 5 to 6 days is enough time to explore San Francisco. A 7-days pass only costs $35 USD. A one-way cable car (aka the longest roller coaster ride in the world) alone costs $7 USD. Trust me, it is worth every penny. Recommend: If you plan to do a lot of activities, I don’t recommend buying the muni pass as part of the CityPass deal. You can save more money by buying it separately and then invest in a Go San Francisco Pass!
Muni Pass. We decided to buy the 7-days muni pass for unlimited rides on cable car, bus and muni metro (Bart train is not included) to save money on transit to the hotel.
As for buying the muni pass in San Francisco, this task was not as simple as the locals did not seem to know the existence of a muni pass! Luckily, we ran into a couple who was holding a 1-day pass and they told us they got it at Walgreen a block away. After 30 minutes of roaming, we finally got our muni passes. To get to Fisherman’s Wharf from Market Street, we had to walk toward the Ferry Building and waited for the F-Bus. It was a crowded bus stop, we got on the rear doors, not even an inch between me and the next passenger. Thank goodness it was only a 15 minutes ride.
Tip 2: Invest in either GoPass or CityPass– Depending on the duration of your stay, preference for transportations and interest. FYI: Costco.com also sell San Francisco passes.
Go San Fran Pass
When properly planned, a Go San Francisco Pass can actually save you a lot of money. A Go Pass is a multi-attraction pass that gets you into All 31 San Francisco attractions for free (including wine tours, hop on hop off, and even bike rentals). Passes valid as long as the attraction remains open (not between 9:00am – 5:30pm as stated). If your hotel is located at Fisherman’s Wharf, a 2-3 days pass is enough in my opinion. Visiting the first attraction activates your card (day 1) regardless of time. A 2 days pass costs $88 and 3 days costs $109 USD. Check Groupon for promo sale or buy directly online.
CityPass ($94 USD, $108 CAD currency for Costco members). A CityPass includes: (1)7 days Muni pass, (2) California Academy of Sciences, (3) Blue & Gold Fleet Cruise or *Alcatraz Island Day Tour, (4) de Young Museum or Exploratorium, (5) Aquarium of the Bay or Monterey Bay Aquarium.
- *To Buy with Alcatraz, you must call or book the ticket on Alcatraz’s website. Go to Alcatraz CruisesTicket (at Pier 33) to upgrade your Cruises ticket to San Fran CityPass. Do not tear out tickets from booklet or it will consider invalid. You have to get to Pier 33 to receive your booklet before you can use the munipass and passes for other attractions. You have 9 days to use your San Francisco booklet so explore the city at your own pace.
Tip 3: Check out Free Walking Guided Tours. They have scheduled tours throughout the year from 10 to 2 p.m. by volunteers who are very knowledgeable about the area. Even though is “free”, they will pass an envelope around at the end for donation to the city library. You could put in as much or as little as you wish. I really enjoyed it! I have seen things and learned a lot from each tour. As a bonus, the tour guide also give you a map of San Francisco or you can download and print it from their website for free.
We had a great time in San Francisco! Like Tony Bennett, I guess you could said that I too, also left My Heart in San Francisco. When we got to the airport, we gave our muni pass away (still 1 day left) to a lovely couple just arriving that day—Pay it forward!