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jent103 Mar 7th, 2013 01:25 PM

San Francisco area - what would you do?
I'm just starting to research a possible trip to San Francisco and the general area, likely in May (I know it's a little bit late, but I need to get out of town!). I've never been to California at all except for San Diego last year. I'd be going with a female friend, both in our early 30s, so a girls' getaway kind of trip (we're not that into spas, though)!

Since I've never been to the area, I'm having a hard time putting together even a vague realistic itinerary. Based on what I've heard, I'd be interested in...
- San Francisco itself, of course
- Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur for scenery
- Napa/Sonoma, although I don't drink an awful lot and my friend barely drinks at all, so I'm not sure if this would be the best trip for this
- Yosemite - I know this is further away, and getting reservations anywhere in/near the park could be tough, but if even a long day trip is feasible I'd love to see sequoias, waterfalls, rock formations, and/or do an easy/moderate hike

We would probably have about a week. We like to eat, but not generally fine dining - I'm just as happy with an amazing taco or great cafe as I would be with a fancy restaurant (another reason I'm not sure about Napa). Last year I drove through Palm Springs (en route to Joshua Tree) under the impression it was a happening fancy shopping/resort area, only to realize the town itself is... underwhelming, especially to a 30-year-old! Or maybe it's a terrible idea to try to go out to Yosemite, I don't know. So I'm looking to avoid that sort of situation. Any general thoughts you have would be great!

suze Mar 7th, 2013 02:17 PM

I'm no expert on Yosemite/Big Sur/Carmel but I *love* spending time in downtown San Francisco (I'm from Seattle). Just get a centrally located hotel and walk everywhere. That could easily be 3-4 days worth of activities for me, just kicking around the city.

You don't have to drink to enjoy Napa. It's very beautiful just to see. Rent a car and take a drive. There's a number of cute/sweet places to eat in the town of St. Helena that are not overly pricey or fancy.

I think your list is WAY too long for a one week trip.

jent103 Mar 7th, 2013 02:27 PM

Thanks, Suze. I know we can't do that all in one week - just a list of possibilities, so we could knock off the most obvious don't-dos first (if there are any)! St. Helena is a great tip!

When you say "centrally located," where exactly do you mean? I've read Stu's posts about areas of town, and would probably lean toward the Embarcadero or Marina areas just going on that, but I don't know if those are the best areas for walking around. We are good walkers - we walked everywhere we went in Rome a couple of years ago.

Dukey1 Mar 7th, 2013 02:35 PM

3-4 days MINIMUM for San Francisco itself. I would perhaps pick one other place and spend a couple of days there

suze Mar 7th, 2013 02:42 PM

Sure, just look at a city map. I usually stay near Union Square but just because I happen to know a fairly reasonably priced hotel I like there. But the Embarcadero would be a great choice too. Some people think it's "too touristy" but I like Fisherman's Wharf area too. Anywhere along those main cable car lines is fine for sightseeing on foot.

Also BART (the public transportation system) is your friend. Like if you want to go out to Berkley or Oakland neighborhoods, or even out as far as Walnut Creek is a pretty area to see.

For me I could easily spend the week in SF proper with a day trip out to Napa and another day out the BART line due east and be a happy camper.

suze Mar 7th, 2013 02:44 PM

Oops didn't finish, but a week at Yosemite, or a week along the California coast would also be great trips too.. just different. Montery/Carmel is very beautiful.

(California is state of my birth and I pretty much love it all -lol!)

jent103 Mar 7th, 2013 03:05 PM

Thanks, Dukey - that's about how long I was thinking for the city itself, so no worries there!

suze, I swear that "Downtown" was not on the Google Map when I looked earlier. :) Thanks! It's always been so funny to me that I've been to Canada and several countries in Europe, multiple times, but even though I'm from the US, I really haven't seen much of the US west of the Mississippi. So it's tempting to try to cram in a lot - but I know that'd be a bad idea! SF + one other place is probably what I'd like to end up with.

I'm waiting to hear from my friend on which options she'd like. We've traveled a lot together, and I tend to do most of the planning because it makes me happy (and it makes her happy to just show up!).

suze Mar 7th, 2013 03:25 PM

You are probably correct that "downtown" isn't the proper term for the central San Francisco core. Perhaps my mistake?

I think of where Powell meets Market and teh streetcars turn around as a pretty central spot of the city for reference:

And use Union Square, Finnacial District, Chinatown, as other markers.

sf7307 Mar 7th, 2013 03:35 PM

You really have time for 2 locations (it would be a whirlwind to try to squeeze in more). Personally, I'd suggest 4-5 nights in San Francisco, including a day-trip drive to the Sonoma area if you're so inclined (I love the drive through the Dry Creek/Occidental area), and 2-3 nights in the Monterey-Carmel area, with a drive down the spectacular coast. Napa and Sonoma are both nice with very pretty hills/views, but nothing like the coast (which is "world class"), and I wouldn't allocate too much time there if you're not into wine tasting.

Dukey1 Mar 7th, 2013 03:39 PM

Re the Embarcadero...I often stay there because there's a BART/MUNI stop in front of my usual hotel and it is easy to get elsewhere.

Remember as was said earlier, BART (and definitely the MUNI) are your friends. You can walk lots of places but after a while walking uphill can get kinda....OLD <G>.

StuDudley Mar 7th, 2013 03:57 PM

I agree with sf7307 - San Francisco and Carmel/Big Sur.

We were in Big Sur and also Carmel for 3 nights this past weekend. We've been visiting this area for almost every year since '70. We never get tired of it. I do get tired of the wine country, however, and I would recommend that you not go there since you aren't a wine lover or a foodie. You'll find interesting villages similar to St Helena & Healdsburg in the Carmel area and in the various neighborhoods of San Francisco (Noe Valley, Haight, Hayes Valley, Union St, Chestnut St, Valencia St in the Mission, Polk St, etc).

I would find a hotel close to the Ferry Bldg along the Embarcadero.

Here are some ideas of things to do & see in the SF Bay Area

Stu Dudley

Grassshopper Mar 7th, 2013 04:05 PM

You could stay in San Francisco and have a fun day trip to the wine country. I prefer Sonoma County, specifically the wineries around Healdsburg. Check out for an interactive map of wineries and restaurants. From Healdsburg, head to the coast through Guerneville and Rio Nido to Bodega Bay and back to San Francisco through Sebastapol. Make a stop at Armstrong Redwoods in Guerneville for one of the most amazing examples of old grove Redwoods. Stop for a snack in Bodega Bay.

Do you like to ride bikes? Rent bikes from Blazing Saddles and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito or Tiburon and take the ferry back.

A nice overnight trip would be to Carmel/Monterey/Pacific Grove. Do that at the end of the trip and return your car at the airport on your way out.

isabel Mar 7th, 2013 06:17 PM

I was there for a week last March and did most of what you were hoping for - not Yosemite though. I spent three days/nights doing the stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. One night Santa Cruz, one Monterey, one just south of Hearst Castle. That was a good amount of time to see the coast. Then I drove the inland highway route back up north and across the Golden Gate Bridge and spent the next night just north of Salsilito. Then one night in Calistoga which is north of Napa. Then four in San Francisco. So total 3 days coast, 2 Napa, 3 SF. So just over a week and while I didn't feel terribly rushed I'd say that's about a minimum to get a 'taste' of that part of California. If you like more in depth then you'd need to eliminate one place.

Here's my trip report (which I now see I never finished the SF part, but I did describe the coast and Napa valley part). And also link to the photos

jent103 Mar 7th, 2013 08:25 PM

Y'all are amazing! Thank you!

suze, I was serious, actually - when I looked at Google Maps earlier this afternoon, I didn't see anything about "Downtown," but when I looked after your post there it was clear as day. Maybe it's finicky about zooming? Who knows! Your markers and that link are really helpful - thank you for that!

Dukey, thanks - the Embarcadero area is sounding good! sf7307 and Stu, that plan is sounding pretty good to me as well, and I really appreciate the input. I hate to miss Yosemite, but it probably deserves its own trip. And Stu, thank you for the link to your post - I've seen it pop up every now and then over the years, but hadn't found it yet when I needed it!

Grassshopper, a friend of mine was just telling me about renting bikes tonight. I'll definitely have to check that out! And thanks for the tip on the redwoods. That's one of the things I'd love to see.

Isabel, thanks so much for your trip report - I have it bookmarked to read!

Dave_Ohio Mar 7th, 2013 08:36 PM

I usually find myself in San Francisco at least once a year. Stu may disagree, but for me, the trip is never complete without stopping at the Buena Vista Cafe for an Irish coffee or two and a large dose of people-watching.

jent103 Mar 7th, 2013 09:01 PM

Isabel, I just flipped through some of your PCH photos - I wish I didn't have to get some sleep, because I'd love to keep going tonight! They're gorgeous.

Thanks for the tip, Dave!

sf7307 Mar 7th, 2013 09:13 PM

I work on the Embarcadero and I think you'll love it. It's vibrant but not frantic, great place for walking, loads of restaurants, easy access to other parts of the city.

easytraveler Mar 7th, 2013 10:24 PM

isabel's is a good plan, if you don't mind changing hotels almost every night. Personally I don't, but some people do.

Also would suggest that you substitute Napa for grasshopper's suggestion of Sonoma County, especially when you're not much into sampling wine.

If you're going to be in Big Sur, you could probably skip Armstrong.

StuDudley Mar 8th, 2013 06:26 AM

>>. Stu may disagree, but for me, the trip is never complete without stopping at the Buena Vista Cafe for an Irish coffee <<

We love going to the Buena Vista!!! I just don't like most everything else that's around it - except Gary Danko.

Stu Dudley

sassy_cat Mar 8th, 2013 06:36 AM

We've been to San Francisco a couple of times and one of the highlights of our second visit was the boat trip to Alcatraz. I found the former prison a real eyeopener (tiny cells!) and very atmospheric.
Even the boat ride was cool, great views of the city and the bridge.

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