Author: Ben Szweda
Date of Trip: August 2013
When TripAdvisor ranked San Francisco as the second most popular destination in the United States I decided I had to see all the different neighborhoods, and of course the Golden Gate Bridge, for myself.
In August I took a weeklong trip to San Francisco. United Airlines offers non-stop service from my hometown of Cleveland to SFO. In fewer than 5 hours my friend and I were on the other side of the country. From SFO, a cheap and convenient way into the city is via the BART train. From the airport take the yellow Pittsburgh/Bay Point line. Its stops are very conveniently located and within walking distance of many popular hotels.
I chose to stay at the Palace Hotel, a Starwood property that is part of their Luxury Collection. This hotel is located just across from the Montgomery St BART station at Market St. While the escalators at the BART station may only be working in one direction, there is not far to walk to the hotel once exiting the station.
The Palace Hotel is located in a quieter area between The Embarcadero Financial District (to the northeast) and the Union Square Shopping District (to the southwest); both areas just a short walk away.
Another reason I chose this hotel is for its location on the F Streetcar Line. There is an F Line Stop right by the hotel on Market St. Riding the F Line will take you to both the districts mentioned above. Plus, if continuing on the F Line past The Embarcadero, you can quickly get to Fisherman’s Wharf, the main tourist area.
The hotel itself was simply beautiful. Tours of the property are offered three times weekly and cover the history and architecture of the building. We were quickly checked into our 360 square foot Deluxe Room. Room highlights included the 14-foot high ceilings, the very comfortable beds, and the multiple lighting options in the bathroom.
After settling in we headed down to the hotel pub, the Pied Piper Bar & Grill. I had a $100 hotel credit from booking my room via the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts Program; the two of us easily used this on dinner.
The one plan we had for the evening was to attend a baseball game at the 6th best stadium in America (according to Travel & Leisure). AT&T Park is situated right on the Bay. The highest seats in the park offer great views of the surrounding area and surprisingly still good views of the game. Even if you have low seats, be sure to take a hike up the long ramp and enjoy the many photo opportunities available all around the upper level.
The next morning we enjoyed a breakfast buffet in the Garden Court restaurant at our hotel. The $32 full buffet was free thanks to the Fine Hotels and Resorts Program. Service was top notch, the atmosphere grand, and the food plentiful and delicious.
Afterwards we hopped in a cab for a short ride to Anchor Brewing Company. The free tours fill up very quickly, so calling to book six months in advance is recommended. We received a tour of the plant, and heard a short talk from our tour guide about the history of the brand and building. Afterwards, there were free samples for everyone – and lots of them!
From here we headed back towards our hotel to pick up the F Line. We travelled towards Fisherman’s Wharf, hopping off for a brief moment at the Ferry Building to explore the shops inside and enjoy the view from the ferry docks.
If you just buy a one-way ticket for the F Line ($2 cash only) you have 90 minutes to complete your ride so there is plenty of time to hop on and off if anything looks interesting as you make your way by all the piers. For example, Pier 30’s sea lion’s are not to be missed.
While not good on the BART if you are planning to frequently ride the F Line, other MUNI vehicles, and the cable cars (usually $6), you can purchase a Visitor Passport (1-day for $15; 3-days for $23; 7-days for $29). If you are touring San Francisco with a CityPASS booklet, you already have access to a 9-day Visitor Passport.
Once at Fisherman’s Wharf, just take time to walk around. If you are up for a longer walk, head down Aquatic Park Pier. From here, on a clear day, you can enjoy good views of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the city framed in the old Ghirardelli Chocolate sign.
Our main method for seeing San Francisco was going to be from the upper deck of a double decker sightseeing bus operated by Super Sightseeing Tours ($44 per two-day ticket). We walked to the first bus stop located not too far away at the corner of North Point and Taylor Streets.
Over the course of two days we had various tour guides on the bus. Some were more talkative, more knowledgeable, and better presenters than others, but we learned a lot from each of them.
More important, was the location of the bus stops. The bus hit all the major tourist locations throughout the entire city. My favorites were the stops by Lombard Street and the Golden Gate Bridge.
The top of Lombard Street, the second most crooked street in town, offers amazing views of Coit Tower, Alcatraz, and the Powell-Hyde Cable Car. The Golden Gate Bridge…well it’s just something worth seeing. The Super Sightseeing Tour bus drives over it on its loop if it’s before 3pm (it’s too full of traffic in the afternoons). The drive over is really neat, but windy. Let me say that again…windy! I have never been so cold as I was sitting on the open top of that bus going 60 miles per hour over the bridge.
Our next day in town began with a trip to Alcatraz from Pier 33. I was really impressed with the entire Alcatraz experience and strongly recommend it to everyone. Plan to spend more time there than you think you will. I was assuming we’d be done after 2 hours, but we were there from 8:45am (the early bird departure) to around 2pm.
While San Francisco may be expensive for locals who have to pay rent, it’s really a budget friendly city for tourists. There are so many free things to do in town; if you manage to exhaust that list there are many reasonably priced things as well. The Alcatraz experience (cruise to the island + admission to the island with audio guide) costs a mere $30!
I have been on sightseeing cruises alone that cost more than $30! The Alcatraz cruise totally could have because the boat ride over was perfect! You got great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the San Francisco skyline. Upon arrival on the island follow the signs to the free audio guide pick-up. Also, be sure to stay after your tour for one of the free lectures of the day. When we visited the lecture of the day was on Al Capone by an author who had spent considerable time researching his life.
On our final day in town we snuck in two really great attractions. City Hall offers free tours on the architecture and history of the building and the time in which it was built. We had an absolutely amazing tour guide. The F Line, in the opposite direction of Fisherman’s Wharf, takes you right to the area where City Hall, the library, and several museums are located.
The second attraction was Coit Tower. Do note that they only accept cash for tickets ($7). The view from the top, on a clear day, is worth it however. You have a 360-degree views of the surrounding area, clear down to the piers and out to Alcatraz.
San Francisco is a wonderful city to visit. No matter what your interests are you are sure to find a museum, restaurant, or neighbourhood to entertain you.