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a VirtualTourist member asked on Jun 22, 2016

San Francisco

all tips welcome!

Hello! We will be in San Francisco first week of January 2017.
Where is best cool area to stay?
Is it better rent a car?
What is there to do in winter?
I love to dance tango...does anybody know of any milonga there?
Do go to Los Angeles do you think best by car or bus or train? Why?
All tips welcome!
Thank you!



18 Answers


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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member from Vancouver

You absolutely do not need a car in San Francisco. Public transit is very good and will take you to just about anywhere you wish to travel to. Hotel parking is very expensive, as is street parking, and parking in a public lot. You can buy multi day pass for transit. Click the link below for information.
As far as traveling to Los Angeles, it depends on how many in your family. Renting a car might be less expensive as it will be one price. The problem with driving is that the driver of the car is going to be concentrating on just that, driving and so sightseeing along the way will be minimal for he/she. The upside is that you can travel away from the freeway, Hwy 101, or the Pacific Coast Hwy (PCH) 1. The fastest way is I5, but not much to see on that route. The train is a great way to go and will be pretty much in daylight hours. You can pre book and save money by doing so. You will find a link to Amtrak below. You can do it by bus, Bolt Bus, fares are pretty inexpensive and there is a link to their web site as well. As far as the dancing is concerned I will leave to someone else.

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answered on 6/22/16 by
Mary Smith from Leicester

As above.

You most certainly do not need a car in SF and having one will be a major hassle rather than any help.

Stay as centrally as you can...imo somewhere near Union Square is best for convenience...and use public transport to get around.

As well as the BART, Metro/subway, buses, a tram line and the famous cable cars there are also hop-on hop-off tourist buses which offer several routes covering all the places you are likely to want to see. I walked a lot but also used the cable-cars and...unusually for me, but I was tired...the hop-on buses to explore the city.

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city-sightseeing.us/index.ht...

If you decide to take the train to LA do make sure you book your tickets online well in advance. Amtrak fares rise as departure date nears and as demand increases and it really does pay to book online several months ahead if you can.

the




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member

Thank you very much yvr and leics.
Great tips.
Do you guys think train is the best option to get to SF from Vegas?




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member from Sacramento

YVR has provided some great information. January's in San Francisco are quite mild though it is one of the wettest months of the year. Your activities should not be at all limited by the weather.

As for areas to stay in I would recommend Union Square. January is a relatively slow month for hotels in San Francisco so if you look around you will likely find some good deals. One of my favorite places to stay is the Chancellor Hotel located on Powell Street between Post and Sutter Streets
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There is absolutely no need for a car in San Francisco. The City has excellent bus, tram and metro service. The costs of parking are prohibitive as well. Assuming that you arrive at San Francisco International Airport you have two good options ro reach downtown. if you have relatively little luggage and there are two or you or less I would take BART. It will get you downtown quickly and efficiently. Trains leave every 15-20 minutes to downtown. If there are more than two of you and you have lots of luggage I would take Uber. Uber is extremely reliable and I have never had an issue getting to downtown with them. Depending on the location expect to pay around $ 35- $40.

As for getting to Los Angeles it definitely depends on your level of comfort you need and what you are used to. AMTRAX is a great way to see the cost of California as YVR has pointed out. However fares will be nearly as expensive as flying. My personal favorite is taking MegaBus. I have never had a bad trip with them and the cost of a one way ticket if purchased in advance can be as low as an astounding $ 3.50 per person! Bookings are usually a maximum of three months in advance. Buses arrive at Union Station in LA.

Here is a link;

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If you like to tango here is a useful guide to find out what tango options are open each day of the week in San Francisco as well as LA.

[original link]

I hope this helps!




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member from Stockton

Train is probably the worse option for LV to SF. There is no real direct route. Driving is also horrible long and boring. I would try to fly. Take a look at Allegiant Airlines they have a hub in LV and fly to smaller airports.

Not sure what is closest to SF, but they do fly to Stockton (55 min flights vs 8 hour drive) and there is a train from Stockton to SF. They also fly LV to Monterey, which there is a shuttle bus from Monterey to SF.




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member

I would rent a car and drive Highway 1 from SF to LA, with at least two overnight stops since it will get dark early, like 5pm and you don't want to drive that road in the dark. Neither the train nor the bus take Highway 1 but travel inland so if you take them you will not see Big Sur, etc.
Do however check road conditions before leaving SF, here is the link to the website with toll free phone number for Caltrans:
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Rain or mudslide/rockslide can close the road so have a Plan B just in case.
We did have a car in San Francisco but only used it one day to visit a winery in Sonoma.
There are also good winery areas in both Paso Robles inland from Cambria, and the Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara. Have fun.




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member from Sacramento

As far as the best experience to LA from SF I would definitely advocate for a car if cost is no object. Within the last year at least two car companies have significantly dropped their prices for leaving a car at a different location in California.

If you search:
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for example you will find that prices for a week in January for a premium car are only $ 220 higher a week than if you returned the car to the SFO airport. The cost could be as low as $ 420 a week plus taxes and insurance.

Once again it all appears what your objective is. The California coastline is beautiful and driving it would offer you the most flexibility to see the places that you really want to see.




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member

Very nice to read this info. We kind of had the fantasy it would be a cute road with many nice towns to stop by along the way. Definitely plane, then!!
Thank you!




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member from Hesperia

I will concentrate on the road trip from SF to LA, and I can add LA to SD, if you are so inclined. Many things to do in SF of course. As for accommodations, I like the St Francis on Union Square, but it is a fairly pricey property. I do however recommend staying on or a round the Square, as it is very central and close to attractions and public transport. Here are four good boutique hotels there. I know them as well and they all are good.

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We have some good SF people here so will only say that you should take time out for the Napa/Sonoma wine country, and the best way to prepare for that is to review the pages of my friend "travelgourmet" (see response above). Click on the name above the photo, and follow the links on his travelmap.

You need to spend two nights in Monterey/Carmel and one more night, where depends on if you intend to do a Hearst Castle tour. If so, I recommend staying in Cambria/San Simeon, to take the 8:00am tour. If not, then you can stay in Solvang or San Luis Obispo, or any on the places in the area, including Morro Bay. Or even stay at the famous Madonna Inn. Really interesting story how it came about. The public mens room there is something to behold. The rooms each have their own style, Cave room, Pirate room, Renaisance room etc....

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Here are a couple of things to do on the way between Monterey and San Francisco.

Winchester Mystery House. Another very interesting backstory, involving the daughter of the famous manufacturer of the Winchester rifle. She basically went nuts and had a construction crew work day and night adding to the house, - for 38 years. Stairs leading to nowhere doors into empty space, why? She was haunted by the spirits of all the people killed by the Winchester rifle.....and she meant to confuse them. Check it out here...

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Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz...? Really weird phenomena to do with the time/space continuum. Nothing like it anywhere else, - and yes, it is not a hoax. It is real. Take a look....see the video:

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There is so much to see and do on the San Francisco to L.A. route. I have fronted tours on this route and know it pretty well. Also a nice stop before Monterey is in the Santa Cruz beach/boardwalk community, one of the original 60s counterculture communities, and it shows. You can still see the aging hippies, running the candle shops and such, - it is a good thing.....d:o)

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If you leave San Francisco early, you can take your time to get to Monterey. I recommend two nights there due to the abundance of things to see and do. Go through Cannery Row in Monterey, include absolutely the Aquarium. Perhaps a stop at Clint Eastwood's restaurant, The Hogs Breath Inn, in Carmel. (He actually sold it some years ago, but it still trades on his name...). It is on San Carlos and 5th. Dinner I would suggest at The Old Fisherman's grotto, originated by the legendary Sabu (the original Mowgli in The Jungle Book, and now run by his son). Perhaps a lunch in Carmel, or even at the Pebble Beach Golf Course, where you can pick up a gourmet lunch at the Market at Pebble Beach, next to the Lodge at Pebble Beach. Not sure if they have upgraded the brochure for the "17 Mile Drive", heading south, but if you look at the website it you can determine if you want to include it.

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Here is my personal page on Carmel/Pebble Beach/Monterey, with all the additional websites you need.

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I would try to stay in Carmel, as it is a B&B type community, and atmospheric as well. Here is Doris Days's place, the Cypress Inn, and many others....

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Then drive south through Big Sur, - it is a long and windy road with breathtaking views.(read up on it). Perhaps a stop at the old bohemian mecca, the Nepenthe, a favorite of Elizabeth Taylor, and have lunch. Then on down to Hearst Castle. Drive past the road leading to the castle, and stay overnight in one of the hotels down the road. The very first hotel on the left side of the road, (name escapes me), quite often would have Hearst family members do a informal talk with slides from the glory days of the family. Always a big highlight with my tour members. The tours at the castle start at 8:00 am, (they have a virtual tour on their website now). You cannot drive up there but take their bus up the hill.

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Then continue south where you pass Morro Bay and Morro Rock, - and join highway 101, and then consider making a left at Highway 246 for about 5 miles to the Scandinavian village of Solvang. It is worth a quick stop.

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Go back to 101, and continue through Santa Barbara. If you want to see some of this town, drive up State Street, and take your time.

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As I said, if you decide not to take in the Hearst Castle tour, then you can pick a place to stay, as I said above.

Continue down through City of Ventura. Consider taking Harbor Blvd offramp for about a mile and you will see the Ventura Harbor sign. Turn right and go all the way around to the farthest parking lot and walk in to the harbor for a late lunch. Worth a stop.

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When you leave, turn right on Harbor Blvd and run it all the way to Channel Islands Blvd, and go right to the Oxnard Blvd. Pacific Coast Highway intersection. Turn right on Highway 1, and take that road along the beach all the way through Malibu. Here is a site that lets you in on who lives in Malibu these days:

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Take note of Zuma Beach, the surfer's mecca, immortalized in the film Point Break with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swazsy. Pacific Coast Hightway (Highway 1) will run into interstate 10 at Santa Monica Pier. This is kinda the short version but feel free to E-Mail me if you want further instructions.

Dont' worry about driving in L.A., - yes a lot of people are threatened by it having heard about our endless traffic. L.A. is the only major city in the U.S., that is built around the automobile and is therefore very much spread out, - an absolute opposite of San Francisco, which is very compact, and there you definately don't need a car. So don't pick up a car until ready to leave SF.

Good idea to stay in Hollywood, although parking is a little tight, as there are many things to see and do there that can be enjoyed on foot. There are plenty of hotels on or around Hollywood Blvd, but do not cosider any less than 3 or even 4 star hotel there. Here is my favorite old hotel, the legendary Hollywood Roosevelt, the home of the original Oscars. Great club there called the Cinegrill. Also a great place for celebrity sightings, especially at the pool.

Or do what I think is a great idea. Stay at the Magic Castle Hotel, which will get you into the iconic Magic Castle, a legendary private club, that just has to be seen, if at all possible. Check it out.

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Take a look at my Los Angeles/Hollywood/Beverly Hills page, chock full of information on the areas with plenty of websites to absorb as well:

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A fixed cab fare to Downtown/Airport or vice versa is $43.00. Should be similar to Hollywood. Ask the driver(s) first for a price. Or you can take a shuttle. Here are a couple of shuttle websites:

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There is more of course, but this ought to get you both started......

Hope this is of some service. Don't hesitate to ask specifics.......d:o)

Let me know if you need the stuff on the LA/SD route. We also have great folks in San Diego to give you ideas there, but I could wax poetic there as well.....Have a blast planning......d:o)




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member from Hesperia

Hmm, yeah, a week in Vegas is too too much, but not being there on NYE would be a shame since you are there already..

I am of the notion that three nights should be on the SFO to LAX portion. Two nights in Carmel/Monterey, and one more down around Hearst Castle if you want to see the castle, but if not then you could stay anywhere on the route, like Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, or in Solvang for instance. (You have the links). How you use your other days should kind of be worked around those three days, - and NYE in Vegas of course.




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member from Hesperia

San Francisco should not be less than 3 days. To me, the two greatest American cities are the two most unique and not duplicated anywhere else, are San Francisco, and New Orleans. So don't rush through SFO. There is so much to do there.

Correctikon: I had said that you should look at the pages of my friend "travelgourmet" to se if you might be inclined toi do a winery tour, in the best wine producing region in the world (my opinion), that being the the two valleys, Napa and Sonoma. Here is Larry's pages to explore.

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You also may want to consider in the Carmel/Monterey portion, to stay at Clint Eastwood's present home in the Carmel Valley known as the Mission Ranch Hotel.

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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member from Hesperia

In San Francisco, (don't let locals hear you calling it Frisco. The locals refer to it as The City....), one of my favorite spots is the iconic bookstore where all the "Beat Generation" people hung out. It's the City Lights bookstore. Check its history here....

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Try the original "Irish Coffee" at the place that originated the drink, the Buena Vista

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......and how about the iconic Beach Blanket Babylon Review. The precursor of this place was called Pinoccios but it closed down. This one is every bit as outrageous at that one was. Always a highlight of my tours.......d:o)

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....or check out the rock n roll history of the Haight Asbury district....you can almost hear the Grateful Dead rehearsing in their apartment, or the wailing of Janis Joplin inbetween the swigs of Southern Comfort........this was the scene of the famous Summer of Love

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Howyadoin so far?..........d:o)




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member from Sacramento

As an area resident of SF I think there are better choices than the Westin St. Francis. The hotel is old, dated and in need of some serious renovation. The Hilton is primarily a business hotel and also is in need of an update. The JW Marriot or Grand Hyatt are similarly priced if you like the big chain hotels. The Chancellor is my pick because of price and location. Look at the Trip Advisor reviews which I think are pretty accurate in the case of the Union Square Hotels.




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member from Minneapolis

The usual stellar (!) stuff from Our Best above. Yay.

....or check out the rock n roll history of the Haight Asbury district.

Breakfast in The Haight is tradtion when we're in S.F. Have it at the Pork Store: this puppy kept me going until dinner on a 16-mile hike through the city and up the coast some years back. I just checked and it's still getting "Oh yeah!" reviews:

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I'm a big fan of the murals in the Mission; color on steroids:

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And a climb up the Filbert St/ down Greenwich St. stairs through one of S.F's surviving 1906 earthquake neighborhoods:

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We haven't gotten to do this yet but it's on the list; looks like a hoot:

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Just to add to your growing pile of fun stuff... :O)




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answered on 6/22/16 by
a VT member from Cerritos

Generally it's better to rent a car in California and drive especially along the vast, scenic coastline, like on HWY 1, Pacific Coast Highway. It can be fairly cheap to rent one (Like through the company , National or Avis).

However, you can get around well with the great transit systems , BART in San Francisco and Metro in Los Angeles. I would recommend you try the light rails or express within the city so that you can appreciate the scenery without concentrating on driving and worrying over traffic

Some cool areas to stay (if you mean "cool" as hip and trendy)
San Francisco's neighborhoods of Mission, SOMA and Castro districts

I recommend you visit Atufft's page for lots of fun and helpful SF advice:
[original VT link]

Los Angeles , city and greater L.A. spots:
Westside LA (West LA, Brentwood, Westwood)
Silverlake
Santa Monica- [original VT link]
Newport Beach- [original VT link]

Have a look at my travel pages for all kinds of L.A. advice.

Have fun. You are coming to California during a wonderful time.

.....

One unique feature about southern California is that in winter you have a very good chance to experience the mountains (ski, snowboard, make a snowman) and go to the beach (to swim, sunbathe) within 24 hours. If you enjoy the cold/mountains, go to the Big Bear resort and then head to a fun beachtown like Santa Monica or Laguna Beach.




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answered on 6/23/16 by
a VT member from Stockton

We have stayed three times at the St Francis in the last 18 months and haven't found it dated or in need of much of anything. We always get a room overlooking Union Square so there is much to see and if the Christmas decorations are still up is an awesome view. There will also be an ice skating rink.

We are going again in two weeks, but staying at the Hilton Union Sq only because I am using points.

We will be using the "F" line historic trolley cars to get to the wharf and our tour of Alcatraz. So I can provide a little more in a view weeks.

Also, take a look at Wild SF Walking Tours. We did the China Town walking tour last year and loved it. Will probably do a couple of more in the future.

Within walking distance of Union Sq is a great place to eat. Le Colonial has great food and ask for the cucumber martini if it's not on the menu.

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answered on 6/23/16 by
a VT member

To answer your question, I would stay one night in Monterey or Carmel, 2 is better if you have the time since there is so much to see in the area. The Aquarium is first rate and needs 2-3 hours. Monterey will have slightly cheaper lodging, depends on your budget.
The second (or third) night I would stay in either Cambria (nice inns on Moonstone Drive) or Pismo Beach. Morro Bay is also a possible. Sorry but I do not care for Solvang, full of kitsch and sometimes has busloads of seniors on a trip.
As mentioned, neither the bus nor the train travel Highway 1 so if you want to see it a car is necessay. There is transit to Monterey but it is seasonal.
As far as wine tasting, what my late husband and I always did was share a glass, the wineries let you do this. Also we would only take a small sip or two and dump the rest into the dump bucket. Third tip, just because they are pouting samples of, say, 7 wines does NOT mean you have to try each one. If you like whites you can skip all or most of the reds and vice versa. Try to visit no more than 3 wineries with a lunch break in between.




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answered on 6/23/16 by
a VT member from Ringwood

I spent a week in San Francisco at the end of March and agree that a car would be a liability. I travelled widely in the suburbs using public transport and rarely saw a vacant parking spot in the street.

Mention was made of getting from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I took the train option and it was very good. Admittedly in the opposite direction. Booked in advance the Amtrak fares were reasonable and a seniors' fare was available.

My option was the "Thruway" route via Bakersfield. A bus takes you from one of many pre-booked locations in the greater Los Angeles area and you transfer to the train at Bakersfield. Transfer is simple because the bus stops close to the train platform. The train ride isn't spectacular but the carriages are comfortable and the stops are well announced. There were a couple of stops were people were allowed to stretch their legs on the platform for a few minutes.

Another bus takes you from Emeryville across the Bay Bridge to downtown San Francisco. But cross platform transfer to BART can be made at Richmond so that might be more convenient.

Luggage was not an issue.

The other "coastal" train route is longer but has the benefit of starting from Union Station in Los Angeles.

I used a "Clipper" card in San Francisco and found that most convenient. There are one, three or seven day tourist passes that can be purchased separately or loaded on a Clipper card.

The cable cars are used mostly by tourists and are always heavily loaded. An early morning ride (around 7am) is recommended to avoid the crowds as is a late night (around 11pm) ride back from Fishermen's Wharf. The lightly loaded cable car trundling along quiet streets with the noise reverberating off the buildings as you pass by was an unforgettable experience.

I rode public transport to different parts of San Francisco and got the impression tourists and visitors did not venture into many areas that I found fascinating especially if you stop by at a local café or coffee shop.

A wonderful experience, not widely known, is the weekend 76x Muni bus that crosses the Golden Gate Bridge. An excellent trip at the cost of an ordinary fare.

Visitors from overseas, especially, might find the constant presence in San Francisco of homeless and intellectually disadvantaged people somewhat confronting at first but it's something you quickly get used to. This time I saw an elderly man defecating at a bus stop near the cable car terminus around 5pm. That took me back a little, as an Australian, but as my daughter, who lives and works in San Francisco, told me "Dad; all part of the San Francisco experience".





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