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-   -   Eight days in San Francisco, Yosemite NP, Napa Valley and Carmel/Big Sur (https://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/eight-days-in-san-francisco-yosemite-np-napa-valley-and-carmel-big-sur-791820/)

ncsuchemist2002 Jun 23rd, 2009 05:29 PM

Eight days in San Francisco, Yosemite NP, Napa Valley and Carmel/Big Sur
 
My wife and I just completed an eight day trip to Northern California to celebrate our 4th anniversary. We had a wonderful time and were blown away by the natural beauty, particularly in Yosemite and the California Coast. We started our trip in San Franciso, and then moved on to Napa, Yosemite and finished on the coast at Carmel.

I'll give an overview of each day and hopefully many of you will find some of the information helpful.

Enjoy.

basch0902 Jun 23rd, 2009 06:24 PM

Cant wait to hear. We are planning a similar trip in Sept and are still finalizing our plans. Looking forward to your overviews.

ncsuchemist2002 Jun 23rd, 2009 06:27 PM

Day 1-Sat, Jun 13

We flew out of Madison, WI and arrived in San Francisco around 11:30 pm. We then took a CRAZY TAXI to the Hotel Monaco where we would stay for the next three nights. We were exhausted and went to bed early to prepare for our first full day in the city.

The hotel and room were really nice and colorful although the room was a little smaller than we anticipated. The interior design of the hallways leading to the rooms and the dining room were very artsy and seemed appropiate for San Francisco. I found out later that the theme to the hotel was world travel, which helps explain why the ceilings in the lobby were painted with hot air ballons and why all the rooms have a copy of "1000 places to see before you die".

I had asked for a goldfish but for some reason we never got one. Overall, we thought the hotel was a great value.

ncsuchemist2002 Jun 23rd, 2009 07:27 PM

Day 1-Sat, Jun 13 cont.

We woke up and got breakfast at the Grand Cafe in the hotel. We both got the vanilla crepes which were outstanding. We were a little irritated that we got charged $8.00 for two small orange juices bc we thought that it came with our breakfast which was part of our room price. It turns out that we only were allowed coffee and water....? When a hotel advertises free breakfast with a room price one would think a glass of orange juice would be included but whatever. Still steaming over a week later about that one.

San Francisco was such a beautiful city. I was totally unprepared for the spectacular views of the bay as we descended the hill on the Powell-Hyde cable car. You could catch a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge off to the left in the background as the cable car crested the hill. This was probably the best San Francisco moment we had. We did have to wait in line for two hours at the turn-around to ride but it was well worth the wait.

We actually rode the cable car around lunch time. We had started the day hitting some of the shops in Union Square and taking a walk through Chinatown. Both of these were just "OK" but nothing to get excited about. Most of the stores in the Union Square area were chain stores that you can find in your neighborhood mall. Chinatown was a huge disappointment. I was hoping to see some really bizarre food items in the markets on display but all we saw was one souvenir shop after another.

After the cable car ride we were late for our Alcatraz tour but got lucky and got a standby ticket. On our way there we walked through the Wharf which was INSANE due to all of the people and souvenir shops. My wife and I decided that the Fisherman's Wharf was not somewhere we wanted to spend our time and did not return. We also saw about 100 naked bicylists at a stoplight which made for a great Kodak moment.

The tour of Alcatraz was good but I think my wife enjoyed it more than I did. I was a little disappointed that there wasn't much information about Al Capone but it turns out they don't actually know what cell he was in since he was moved around a lot. The audio tour was nice but nothing spectacular. I tend to enjoy things that have more of a "wow factor". Regardless, it's definitely a must see.

MORE TO COME FROM DAY ONE TOMORROW.

yk Jun 23rd, 2009 07:45 PM

<i>We did have to wait in line for two hours at the turn-around to ride but it was well worth the wait.</i>

2 hours?! Wow, I admire your patience.

elnap29 Jun 23rd, 2009 09:02 PM

Enjoying your report. On your next trip, wander on Stockton St. in Chinatown instead of Grant Ave. for a more "authentic" view.

MWM1 Jun 24th, 2009 09:02 AM

POST MORE - I am taking this exact same trip in July!!

Centralparkgirl Jun 24th, 2009 05:02 PM

Ditto what yk said!

ncsuchemist2002 Jun 24th, 2009 05:34 PM

Day 1- 13 Jun cont....

So after Alcatraz we took a hike up to the top of Telegraph Hill across the street to Coit Tower. There were some truly spectacular views from top of the hill but the tower was closed to the public due to some private party.

Afterwards we attempted to take the F streetcar back to the wharf because we wanted to go to Girhadelli but I totally underestimated how long it would take to come full circle.

I would highly recommend NOT buying a MUNI pass and just take a taxi or walk wherever you want to go. It's really difficult to figure out which bus line you need to take and we almost always had to walk a few extra blocks after the ride to get to our final destination. It's just easier (and much quicker!) to just take a cab. It's worth the 50 bucks you'll probably spend over the course of a few days. A three day MUNI pass will cost you $30. Even with the $5 per person fee for the cable car is not enough to offset the convenience of a taxi.

We finally made it back to Ghiradelli and it was EXTREMELY crowded. We got some ice cream and then took a walk out to the nearby pier for some nightime views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Personally, I would just say stay away from the Fisherman's Wharf. You won't miss anything.

We went back to the Hotel Monaco for some burgers and martinis to finish off the night.

btw....The wait for the cable car was well worth it for the first ride, but I wouldn't do it again :)

yk Jun 24th, 2009 05:56 PM

<i> A three day MUNI pass will cost you $30.</i>

Hmm... According to MUNI website, the 3-day Passport is $18. (and a 7-day Passport is $24)
http://www.sfmta.com/cms/mfares/passports.htm

I didn't find the bus lines that difficult to figure out. We were in SF just last month, and several of the FREE tourist guides have maps with basic bus lines. We had no trouble figuring out which bus or metro we needed. I also disagree with you about having to WALK after you get off the bus. The buses we took dropped us off exactly where we needed to be (with the exception of N-Judah line to GG Park where we had to walk 3 blocks).

ncsuchemist2002 Jun 24th, 2009 06:29 PM

Day 2- Sun, 14 Jun

We woke up and took a bus to the Golden Gate Park. We had to walk a pretty good distance after getting off the bus just to get in the park. We walked through the rose garden towards the Japanese Tea Garden. We then walked up the road to the Conservatory of Flowers. Both of these were just "O.K." for us. I think it's a great park for locals to hang out in on the weekends but not that great for visitors unless you have several days. My wife and I both thought the tea garden was underwhelming.

We left the park and attempted to catch a bus to the Palace of Fine Arts but it completely passed us by. This was the point that I decided to take a taxi for the rest of my time there.

We went to the palace and it was incredible! What a fantastic place to have a picnic lunch. It's much larger than it looks in photographs. It was a nice sunny day and we enjoyed sitting on the bank by the pond enjoying the scenery and people watching.

The best part of our trip to the city comes next....a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. We crossed the street from the palace and began a long but spectacular walk along the waterfront toward the bridge. It's a much LONGER walk than it looks to the bridge, but it was beautiful and we must have taken a hundred photos. We actually walked just halfway across the bridge.:) Words and pictures cannot decribe or convey the sense of scale and beauty of this bridge. It's a huge and stunning piece of architecture.

After the bridge we took a taxi to Pacific Hights to tour a few homes and hit some shops on Union Street. We took a taxi there to expedite the process. We ate at a really neat pizza place called Extreme Pizza. This is when I began to realize that we tried to cram too much in for one day. We wanted to spend some time browsing through some of the art galleries on Union Street but we had to move on to tour the Haas Lilienthal House. It would have been nice to have a whole afternoon to spend in this neighborhood but it was already after 2pm and we had dinner reservations for the evening.

I would recommend just picking one neighborhood or sight for the morning and one in the afternoon so you don't feel rushed. In this case we tried to do three. I wish we had just done the bridge walk and then spend the remainder of the day touring Pacific Heights.

The Haas Lilienthal house was o.k. but we enjoyed walking the nearby streets at looking at some of the newer and more brightly painted Victorians more. A very beautiful area of the city.

We concluded our afternoon with a walk down Lombard Street. It was a murderous walk down Lombard street and up the hill to reach the crooked street. It was hot an we were out of water but my wife was determined to go there. I hate to say it but it was nothing spectacular, but it made the wife happy!

We concluded our stay in SF with dinner at Gary Danko. WOW! This was a fantastic restaurant. The service was great as was the food. They have a cheese tray/course that you have to try if you go. They also bring out little extras/treats throughout your time there which really adds to the overall dining experience.

We really enjoyed San Francisco. It definitely lived up to it s status as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Everybody we met were really nice and we didn't encounter any snootiness.

We have no regrets. We saw everything we wanted to see and the weather was wonderful. It would have been nice to have had a little more time on the second day but you can see all of the highlights of the city at a comfortable pace in just two days.

Next: Wine Country

Centralparkgirl Jun 24th, 2009 06:40 PM

I agree that SF is such a beautiful city. We loved Gary Danko too.

<< but you can see all of the highlights of the city at a comfortable pace in just two days. >>

I'm going in Sept and this will be my third visit this year. I've seen a lot, but I don't think I've seen all the highlights yet.

ncsuchemist2002 Jun 24th, 2009 06:42 PM

yk...you are right. I just confirmed with my wife that it was $36 for the both of us.

I'm glad you felt the bus lines to be easy to take.

We didn't....and we had several maps.

There were way too many connections to have to worry about just to get to one destination.There was just too much waiting, too much stopping and we had to stand on every bus.

We also got passed by on one occasion.

A taxi is well worth the money if you have an extra $50 bucks to spare for a two day trip.

Grassshopper Jun 24th, 2009 07:04 PM

You covered a lot of territory!

yk Jun 24th, 2009 07:10 PM

I guess it depends on where you're from and how often you use public transport at home.

I've spent most of my life in large cities with good public transport; and I use it in almost every European city I've visited. To me, getting on a full bus or walking a few blocks is just a normal day-to-day thing. Perhaps that's why I felt very comfortable using public transport in SF.

CPG: <i>I'm going in Sept and this will be my third visit this year. I've seen a lot, but I don't think I've seen all the highlights yet.</i>

ditto; I've been to SF 8 times in the last 15 years, and I still haven't seen it all either. Maybe I am S L O W

ncsuchemist2002 Jun 24th, 2009 07:43 PM

Maybe you are.

We spent our time and money seeing the BEST that Northern California has to offer...not just San Francisco. We didn't want to waste our time on mediocre sights.

Maybe some of you should give this a try. It worked out pretty well for us.

I'm kinda curious as to why someone who has been to SF eight times would even want to read my trip report but then again I don't understand why someone would want to visit the same city eight times unless they live nearby.

This trip report is an account of our experiences and is really geared towards helping others who may be planning a FIRST trip there. Not a ninth.

yk Jun 24th, 2009 08:04 PM

<i>I'm kinda curious as to why someone who has been to SF eight times would even want to read my trip report</i>

Because I almost always learn something new by reading someone else's trip report; perhaps a restaurant they enjoyed or a scenic spot they loved which I haven't been - something for me to keep in mind when I plan my next visit.

<i> but then again I don't understand why someone would want to visit the same city eight times unless they live nearby.</i>

To each his/her own. There is always something new and exciting going on in big cities, and I enjoy catching special art exhibitions at various musuems.

kiwi_rob Jun 24th, 2009 09:24 PM

We are doing a similar trip in September, ncsuchemist, but in roughly reverse order -- Carmel-Yosemite-Wine Country-San Francisco -- so I am particularly interested in your experiences and insights.
Looking forward to further instalments.
Rob.

abranz Jun 24th, 2009 10:00 PM

the little extras/treats at gary danko are called amuse bouche generally sent out by the chef to cleanse or titillate the palate between courses.

ncsuchemist2002 Jun 25th, 2009 04:16 PM

"the little extras/treats at gary danko are called amuse bouche generally sent out by the chef to cleanse or titillate the palate between courses."

I did not know that. Very interesting.

All....this is a trip report of the HIGHLIGHTS of SF and other areas of Northern CA. For example, highlights of SF include the cable cars, Alcatraz and the GGB. If your looking for more then you may want to migrate to another trip report.

We were able to see the highlights in two days. If you feel you need more time to explore the city in more depth then plan accordingly.


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