San Fran/LA Vacation Help

Apr 23rd, 2005, 08:10 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Apr 2005
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San Fran/LA Vacation Help

my husband and i will be in California in July and are trying to plan it out so we can get everythig in. here's what we have so far but nothing is booked yet:

we were told by a travel agent to stay at fisherman's Wharf. i thought by the reviews online that The Argonaut Hotel would be the nicest. am i wrong? the other to choose from are the Sheraton, Hyatt, or the Raddison. i also read online that we should stay in Union Square. which is better?

this is what we plan to do, plus any suggestions we hear from others:
we are flying into vegas for 2 days before getting to san fran on a Tuesday morning. things we hope to accomplish in the three days we're threre are: Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, The Golden Gait Bridge, Union Square (is that just shopping?), maybe Beach Blanket Bab. show, Trolly Tour, ect. is there anything i am missing other than restaurants obviously? What is Chinatown like? please tell me the pros and cons about all that i just listed.

what is north beach? i keep reading it's the Italian area? why? we are both Italian. my husband owns an Italian restaurant in NJ so he loves his Italian food. how close is this area to Fisherman's Wharf or Union Square? how do you get there?

also, please tell me about getting around San Fran. how do the trollys work or the Powell Hyde Line? which is better and where do you get passes?

we also were thinking about renting a convertable one day and driving to Napa. do you suggest doing this, or should we do it on a guided tour? i think the drive would be great, but i am afraid we won't get as much out of it is we aren't with a guide. id there a particular tour you suggest? or, do you think that if we drive ourselves we will be ok as far as getting all there is to offer? once we get there, if we drive ourselves, are there tours we can join>

After the three days in San Fran we will be flying to LA for 3 days 2 nights. i am having a difficult time figuring out where to stay. i want to be close to most of the things we will be doing so it is more convenient. here is what we want to do: universal studios, celebrity homes tour, walk of fame, roedo drive.

What is transportaion like in LA. for instance, how would we get to universal? there are two types of tickets at universal too (regular and front of the line). are the front of the line worth the extra money?

i am concerned that there are so many celebrity home tours, how do i know which is best? i love taking pictures and movies so i want to be able to have a good view. would you reccomend the double decker than b/c the windows open? is there a particular tour you suggest?

what can we do at night?

is rodeo drive and the walk of fame close to each other?

again, where to stay that is convenient for all this in LA? not tooo expensive like the four seasons. nothing over $300 a night.

thanks for you help!
PS, any other suggestions if i am missing something are welcomed.
ali52979 is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 10:12 AM
Join Date: Apr 2003
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I love San Francisco and you will have a great time! I prefer staying in the Nob Hill area of SF because it's got much nicer hotels and you are very close to all the action. I'm not a big fan of Fishermans Wharf area hotels. Union Square area hotels can be very congested. We especially did not like the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero, but we loved the InterContinental Mark Hopkins on Nob Hill (cheaper rate than the Hyatt!). We also stayed at the Ritz Carlton on Nob Hill for our honeymoon, but that's very overpriced and we thought the rooms at the Mark Hopkins were just as nice. You can purchase tickets for the trolleys in Union Square (and other locations, check the MUNI website I listed below), but be warned! During summer months the lines for trolleys can be JAM packed. Go early in the morning and catch a ride on the trolley down to Fisherman's wharf. The view is awesome and definitely a must do in SF! Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge is worth seeing, but do it earlier in the day so you have time to explore all the different neighborhoods in SF such as North Beach which does have some great coffee shops, but I didn't find it to have that much to do but fun to just explore and walk around. Don't miss Chinatown! It's one of the best chinatowns in the country and definitely worth walking through. Lombard St "crooked street" is fun too! My suggestion to you is to research a good travel guide before you go, narrow down what you would like to see, and buy a great "walking and transportation" map of SF, then buy MUNI Passports ( which will let you ride the buses and the cable cars unlimited for 3 or 7 days. You can accomplish alot in 3 days if you have a good map and a good pair of walking shoes! Those hills will give you the workout of a lifetime! If you like good food, read ZAGAT San Francisco and make sure you book your reservations FAR in advance for dinner, especially in summer months!
Definitely rent a car (the convertible sounds great!) and drive to NAPA. It's a nice drive and you will have more freedom to stop where and when you want to. This could take a full day if you want to visit some of the wineries (the main attractions), so you might want to save it for another trip when you have more time. For LA, we stayed in Beverly Hills at the Hilton (where they have the Emmy's each year) and I found the hotel to be very nice and centrally located. The rates were "reasonable", and they have a parking garage which is cheaper than valet parking. The hotel was very close to Rodeo Drive, and an easy drive to Hollywood, Universal Studios, Santa Monica/Venice Beach You will definitely need to have a car in LA. The traffic is horrendous, but I live near a big city so you know when to avoid rush hours, etc. Universal Studios it worth a visit, and they have the best BACKLOT Studio Tour of all the Universal Studios including Orlando. I never took a tour of movie stars homes, but I kind of wished we did for something "touristy" to do.
Have a great trip!
GailLK is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 10:21 AM
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>>>we were told by a travel agent to stay at fisherman's Wharf<<<

If that was the only option he/she told you about, don't rely on him/her for anything else about SF.

>>>i thought by the reviews online that The Argonaut Hotel would be the nicest.<<<

If you are going to stay at the Wharf, that would be a good location. Far enough away from the tacky stuff that you won't have to pass by it to/from your travels each day.

>>>also read online that we should stay in Union Square. which is better?<<

Most locals & frequent visitors would prefer Union Sq or Cow Hollow. Here is a write up I did awhile back.

San Francisco Hotel Areas
It seems that about once every week, there is a discussion about “where to stay” while visiting San Francisco – especially for first timers. Most people ask about either the Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, or the Marina hotel areas. Here are some thoughts, with a little of my bias thrown in:

1. Union Square - This is downtown’s fashionable shopping/dining/hotel area. The “Grand” hotels are here, and a few blocks north on Nob Hill (very steep to walk there, however) The big department stores are close by, along with many smaller shops and “boutique” hotels. It is also next to the theater district. Perhaps our most “elegant” restaurants are in this area (Fleur de Lys, Farallon, Masa’s, Ritz Carlton, Postrio, etc). There are fewer “simple”, “Mom-n-Pop”, or ethnic restaurants than you will find in other parts of the City. The Cable Cars run by Union Square, so you can get to the Wharf area quickly. You can get off the Hyde St C.C. line at Union St for a walk downhill to Union St/Chestnut St (Cow Hollow/Marina). The major drawback is it’s proximity to the gritty Tenderloin, which is immediately west & south of Union Square. I don’t know if crime rates are higher, but you will feel a little more threatened than you will in the other two districts I’ll describe. There are many high-rise buildings, so there’s a little less sunlight than you will find elsewhere. Union Sq. is perhaps not as “family oriented” as the other two hotel areas. It gets more business travelers, and people who want a little more “luxury” in their hotel. Union Square is a bit “dead” on Sundays, and not as lively as the other places in the evening. I don’t enjoy strolling after dinner in this area as much as I do on Union St/Chestnut St. If you have a car, you will regret it. Parking is very expensive ($50 per night or so), and driving is difficult.

2. Fisherman’s Wharf. The Wharf is mostly inhabited by tourists. Plenty of souvenir shops selling T-shirts & other things to remind you of your visit to SF. Local entertainment includes a wax museum, Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not, and now a Hooters – things kids might enjoy (except for the Hooters). You won’t find many locals in this area (and if you did – they wouldn’t admit it). Most restaurants are tourist oriented, and most locals feel they are mediocre at best. Good proximity to the Cable Cars, which is a plus. Nice views out into the Bay. It’s also within walking distance of North Beach, which should be on everyone’s agenda for at least one Italian dinner and “people watching” evening. With the Cable Cars, it’s quick to get downtown, but you might have to wait in line for 30 mins or so at peak times. It’s about a 30 min walk to the Union St/Chestnut St areas (see 3rd option for description). The Wharf is a perfectly safe area (from crime, vagrants, etc). Hotels usually charge $25-$40 per day for parking. Lively (with tourists) every day. If you want to stay in a typical un-San Francisco environment, this is a good choice.

3. Marina. There are many motels along Lombard St, which are (in general) cheaper and much more simple than the ones you will find in the other two districts. The main advantage to this area, in my opinion, is that it has more typical SF “flavor” than the other spots. Lombard St is one block from Chestnut St, and two blocks from Union St. Both these streets are loaded with boutiques, restaurants, and buildings with unique architecture (Victorians on Union, Art Deco on Chestnut). When we first moved to San Francisco almost 30 years ago, I remember a poster that said “If you left your heart in San Francisco, you will probably find it on Union St”. This is a residential area and you will find many locals doing their daily “stuff.” On a Sunday morning (especially if it’s sunny) you will see many folks going to the exercise studio, having breakfast at one of the many outdoor café’s, and standing on the street with their “lattes” and chatting with friends. There are no “elegant” restaurants in this area, but many of the type that locals enjoy (Isa, Betelnut, Pane e Vino, PlumpJack, Balboa Caf&eacute. This is a good area for strolling during the day, before dinner, and after dinner – it is quite lively, especially on weekends. It’s about a 30 min walk to the Wharf, where you can catch a Cable Car (or walk up Union St to catch the CC). East of the Union St shopping area, (just past Van Ness) is Polk St, where there are more nice shops & restaurants. Also on Polk St is La Folie, which is one of my favorite restaurants (if someone else is buying) and also one of the highest “rated” in the City. This is a perfectly safe area. One of it’s best advantages, is that you can park a car free at many of the Motels. Also, it is an easy area to drive in (although there are steep hills just south), and it’s a quick trip across the Golden Gate bridge to my favorite view in all the Bay Area (GGNRA, just north and to the west of the Bridge).

>>>the three days we're threre are: Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, The Golden Gait Bridge, Union Square (is that just shopping?), maybe Beach Blanket Bab. show, Trolly Tour, ect. is there anything i am missing other than restaurants obviously?<<

Yes - the reasons me & many other long time residents think this is the best place in the US to live.

On you last hour you are here, walk by the Wharf to get it out of your system - don't plan to spend a lot of time there. Instead visit:

Chinatown, Downtown (Union Sq), The Embarcadero (Pier 39 to SBC park), Ferry building, Alcatraz, BBB, Financial district on a week day, Barbary Coast (Jackson & Pacific between Columbus & Battery), North Beach, Golden Gate Park, Fort Point at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge (enjoy the view of the Bay from here instead of from the Wharf), Union St/Fillmore st/Chestnut St shopping district and the Fillmore St shopping district from Jackson to Bush (instead of the Wharf), Haight/Ashbury, Noe Valley, Hayes st between Gough & Fillmore, view from Twin Peaks, view starting from the Palace of the Legion of Honor and along El Camino del Mar & continuing along Linclon Blvd in the Presidio (my favorite view drive), view of "Postcard Row" (in Alamo Square from near Pierce & Hayes.

Take a free SF City Guides walk ( of: Haight/Ashbury, Palace Hotel, Chinatown, City scapes & public places, Victorian SF, Bawdy & Naughty, Gold Rush City, Nob Hill, North Beach, Pacific Heights Mansions, Landmark Victorians of Alamo Sq, Telegraph Hill Hike.

I know I'm repeating myself, but do all of the above before touring Fisherman's Wharf & Pier 39

>>What is Chinatown like?<<

The main "drag" along Grant is kinda tacky, but 1 block west on Stockton is much more authentic. Take a City Guides walk of this area. You probably nave not seen anything like this before.

>>what is north beach? i keep reading it's the Italian area? why?<<

Yep - but within the last 30 years, it is getting more merged into Chinatown, however.

>>we are both Italian. my husband owns an Italian restaurant in NJ so he loves his Italian food.<<<

North Beach is probably the most active area in the City in the evening - rivaled by Chestnut St on Sat night. LOTS of Italian restaurants in all categories.

>>how close is this area to Fisherman's Wharf or Union Square? how do you get there?<<

Very close to both - walk there.

>>we also were thinking about renting a convertable one day and driving to Napa. do you suggest doing this, or should we do it on a guided tour?<<<

I don't know why you would need a guide - unless you plan to drink a lot & don't want to drive afterwards.

However, for only 3 days, I would spend them all in SF

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 10:25 AM
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From the tone of your post I'm guessing you've not done any research on these areas. I'll comment on the LA area portion of your trip, and let Bay Area experts talk about The City. Except to say that your travel agent is wrong about staying in Fisherman's Wharf. Eeeeeeewwwwwwww.

The LA metro area is huge. HUGE. Forget about trying to rely on public transportation for your comparatively short trip. You MUST rent a car. Or, you will need to rely on tour vans the entire time.

I urge you to read the section on Los Angeles on this website, so you have an idea of what's all here. Your points of interest represent 0.00001% of what the southern California area has to offer. What about the beach areas? Orange County? Museums and galleries? Melrose Ave?

Universal Studios is a theme park now-- the movie studio aspect is almost lost in the rides. The Warner Brothers Tour is a thousand times more informative and special.

Oh, and although you could stay in Hollywood and be central to those things you want to see, I would suggest looking somewhere nicer-- Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Santa Monica. Better dining options as well.
rjw_lgb_ca is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 10:31 AM
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A correction to GailLK's post: The Beverly Hills Hilton is where the GOLDEN GLOBES are held. The Emmys are held at the Shrine Auditorium, near USC.
rjw_lgb_ca is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 10:34 AM
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Another point: Rodeo Drive and the Hollywood Walk of Fame are roughly five miles apart from each other. Not a huge distance, but in traffic there's a 15-20 minute drive ahead of you.
rjw_lgb_ca is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 11:16 AM
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I realize from your post that you are new to this site, however, it does appear that you have not done very much research on SF or LA. So to get you started, if you click on StuDudley's name you will have access to a lot of very good advice about SF, that is you will see a list of his prior posts.
SAB is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 11:43 AM
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Oh yeah! RE: The Stars' Homes tours. The houses in Beverly Hills can be spectacular. But the residential neighborhoods are getting taken over by nouveaux riches faux-Tuscan wedding cake mansions thrown up by new arrivals to BH without any discernable taste. A lot of those stars' homes are tragically being torn down to make way for these atrocities, so that a lot of what you'll get on the tours is "Where that dusty-pink big thing is-- that's where Jimmy Stewart's house used to be." Other houses have been badly remodeled into anonimity. And the most spectacular places are walled-in so that you'll only see the roofs.

If you're counting on seeing the celebrities-- this isn't like San Diego's Wild Animal Park. You'll have a better hit ratio strolling on Rodeo Drive, although I did see Diane Keaton parking in front of her house on Roxbury once. Oh, and once in Hollywood Hills I saw Ryan Philippe and Reese Witherspoon taking a walk when she was pregnant with their first kid.
rjw_lgb_ca is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 03:12 PM
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Thanks rjw_lgb_ca for the correction about the Golden Globes (glad someone is paying attention). Those award shows are kind of all the same..ZzZzZzZzZzZz......
GailLK is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 03:30 PM
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We stayed at the Argonaut hotel back at Christmas and really liked it. The location was good for us because we were able to walk to the pier for our Alcatraz tour and the cable cable turn around was right next to the hotel. We did see a few homeless people around the wharf area. One night when we were walking back to our hotel I passed by a man who was relieving himself on a mail-drop. While he was still "in the act" he asked me for money....

While in LA we stayed at the Beverly hilton which some others have mentioned. We really liked the hotel and location, but definitely needed a car to get around.
pianogirl is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 07:32 PM
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Wow Ali! You've hit the jackpot! Stu Dudley and RJW are frequent posters with excellent information about their respective areas! I just wanted to chime in and say that you've gotten great car needed in SF, spend all three days in the city and do have a car in LA. Enjoy our wonderful state.
moneygirl is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 09:01 PM
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With just two nights in L.A. and with what you've listed as your destinations, I don't think you need a car, but it would probably be cheaper (even with hotel parking fee) than taking a shuttle from LAX. is the hotel for you, it's right at the Walk of Fame, and the Hollywood Visitor's Center is right there...they can arrange your guided bus tours or just give you maps for your driving tours. Just outside the hotel is the subway that's a 4 minute ride up to Universal.

For nightlife you can go back up to Universal..lots of clubs and restaurants at Citywalk up there, you might also get lucky and find that there's a good show at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, or take the subway down to the Ahmanson Theatre/Music Center.
tracys2cents is offline  
Apr 23rd, 2005, 09:05 PM
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Also I would add that if you end up staying in Hollywood, fly from San Francisco into BURBANK instead of Los Angeles Airport (LAX). It's much easier to drive or cab from Burbank Airport to Hollywood than from LAX.

(Not sure if you'd be able to fly back home FROM Burbank however, depends if they have decent service to your city.)
tracys2cents is offline  
Apr 25th, 2005, 07:30 AM
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tracy's recommendations are pretty good, actually, given your limited time in the LA area. Flying in (and possibly out) of Burbank is indeed convenient if you're staying in Hollywood, although flight selection drops off considerably. But the airport itself is much more manageable.

Gail: The awards shows are beginning to melt into each other, aren't they? I'm awaiting the next enslaught of awards-- or maybe they'll finally combine them into the People's Blockbuster Golden Emmy Academy Independent Choice Spirit Awards show-- probably at the Kodak. I can't wait.
rjw_lgb_ca is offline  
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