There are a lot of places you can visit in Canada and America if you have 1 week to play with – or, heck, even 3 days.
And I think that San Francisco comes up as a primary choice a lot because of the multitude of things that are there to do.
As destinations go, San Francisco has sports, arts, culture, food, a multitude of cultural happenings. It has an incredible history – part of how the West was won, the Gold rush, the Earthquake, a rebuilding and architectural renaissance and an approach to city planning that should be the envy of any great city on planet Earth.
We picked it for a week for a variety of reasons. One of them is proximity. From Victoria, it is as little as a 2 hour flight away via American Airlines. We also had the option for some great accommodations at the Fairmont on Nob Hill.
The Fairmont survived the great Earthquake, has hosted every U.S. President since President Taft – how cool is that? The U.N. was chartered in 1945 at the Fairmont in San Francisco. Damaged by fire after the great earthquake, the Fairmont became one of many symbols of the city’s resilience. Opera singer Enrico Caruso, who was hold up at the Fairmont, calmed crowds of panicked folks by singing to them.
So. There is a ton of history in San Francisco – yes, lots of ghosts, but plenty of great energy and a myriad of diverse neighborhoods, all entirely trek worthy on foot or in combination with the transit system.
Music and art: We discovered that there was a wide variety of art and music things happening while we were there. Plan ahead for any number of shows or concerts – It was a coincidence that there were some important gallery events happening – so we lucked out.
OK – so here are the parts of the planning process that we felt were important.
Flights – Thankfully, Victoria and Vancouver have some great direct options for flights to San Francisco. We picked West Jet because we have had good experiences with them. They are reliable as heck and fun. And by flying West Jet we get around having to deal with Vancouver International Airport – for us, it gets a tad too hectic. When we go to Hawaii every year, we always fly out of Seattle because it is the superior airport (in our opinion).
Hotels – There are more sleeping options in San Francisco than you can possibly imagine. Narrowing options include Fodor’s, Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, Trip Adviser online and the like. Pick your location and price point and go. One of many San Francisco guide books will clue you in on possible centers of activity; Union Square, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Fisherman’s Wharf, etc. They are all close to cable cars or transit – as are a dozen other neighborhoods. You need to get an advance sense of how the city is laid out and what you want to do with your time. Read and plan.
Clothing – Do not be fooled by the California part of the equation. San Francisco is parked next to an ocean. As a result, it is often foggy and often cool (not not really cold) – a tour bus driver pointed out: “For every mile you drive inland from San Francisco Bay, the temperature goes up X degrees (I do not know the exact number…)
So it can be a pleasant 18 degrees in San Francisco and 27 to 29 degrees in Sonoma or Napa wine country. San Francisco is actually slightly warmer, on average, in September and October. The bottom line here is: layer!
You can start the day with fog and a cool breeze and by mid-morning, you are peeling down to a T-shirt and shorts only to put it all back on by 4 in the afternoon.
Coupons and passes – doing things in San Francisco can be a bit pricey when you start tackling the tourist things – that everyone does; street cars, cable cars, harbor tours, galleries and entertainment. I suggested the City Pass in the previous chapter – it is terrific value. Buy it. If you want to see Alcatraz (we didn’t, lots do…) you have to book that trip in advance. Failure to book in advance will result in disappointment. Get the 3-hour Grayline tour in advance as well. They pick you up at your hotel and drop you off pretty much anywhere.
Next chapter – Arriving!