The Golden Gate Bridge. Fisherman’s Wharf. Ghirardelli Square. Chinatown. Cable cars.
San Francisco has it all… well, except warm, sunny days!
Years ago, our son studied San Francisco for school and begged and begged and begged to go. We finally made it, and the city did not disappoint! Though it was July, the temperature never reached more than 60 degrees. Brrrrr…. Prepared with light jackets and small umbrellas, we set out on a three day adventure.
Save on your San Francisco vacation
San Francisco offers a CityPASS that includes admission to 5 “must see” attractions and 7 days of unlimited muni and cable car travel. Attractions include:
- California Academy of Sciences
- Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
- Aquarium of the Bay
- And a choice of: the Exploratorium or the De Young Museum of Legion and Honor
We chose to skip the CityPASS and the GO San Francisco card, since much of what we wanted to see was free! We did get muni passes, which made city travel much easier. And the people of San Francisco generously offered directions when we weren’t sure which route to take.
Based on our experience, I recommend the following for an economical — yet FUN! — weekend in San Francisco.
Where to stay in San Francisco
Hotels in San Francisco city limits are quite pricey, more than $200/night plus parking fees. We opted to stay outside the city near the airport to save money. A 20 minute drive into San Francisco saved us more than $80/night and we had a suite. SWEET!
- Embassy Suites San Francisco Airport. Offering two rooms, hot breakfast daily and free parking, this hotel offers great service at an affordable price.
- Parc55 Wyndham. Located in the financial district right next to Union Square, this might be one of the more affordable hotels in San Francisco, and it offers three restaurants on site, a 24 hour fitness club, and easy access to the Convention Center and muni travel. Check for specials and compare prices before booking to get the greatest savings.
- Hotel del Sol. Offering 57 family friendly rooms, this 1950’s style motor inn is geared for kids. Located in the Marina District near the famous Lombard Street, its convenient location and free parking might be perfect for a weekend getaway. Book early.
- Best Western Plus Tuscan Inn at Fisherman’s Wharf. The great location of this simple hotel makes up for the lack of amenities. With the Wharf, Alcatraz, Ghirardelli Square and loads of dining and shopping options nearby, this is the perfect place to call “home” while exploring the city. Check for package specials before booking.
Things to do in San Francisco
- Take a walk on the Golden Gate. Words cannot describe the enormity of this 8,980 foot span. Add traffic noise, wind, and cold and a walking trip across the bridge is an adventure! Wear a jacket and earmuffs. Seriously! You can also drive across the bridge or rent bikes for a ride across to make the trip quicker. Despite the cold, I really enjoyed the walk. We stopped often to admire the views and the architecture of this famous landmark.
- Presidio Park. More specifically, Star Wars fans should visit the Yoda Fountain at Lucasfilms HQ. Of course, the rest of the park is beautiful too, offering views of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
- Fisherman’s Wharf. Come to eat and stay to play! Be sure to visit the sea lions, stroll along the boardwalk and tour the ships on display along the Hyde Street Pier. Top off the day with a hot fudge sundae from nearby Ghirardelli Square!
- Alcatraz. Especially for families with teens and above, a tour of Alcatraz offers a fascinating destination. Learn a little history while vacationing. For more tips on visiting Alcatraz, read this informative guide.
- Ride a cable car! Catch the cable car at Powell and Market Streets to watch the cable cars rotate on a turn table. You’ll wait in line to catch the cable car here, but it’s totally worth it. Either the Powell-Mason line or the Powell-Hyde line will take you all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. This was a highlight of our weekend in this historic city.
Where to eat in San Francisco
- Boudin Bakery. Sourdough bread and clam chowder, perfect San Francisco food, is offered at Boudin Bakery. This Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant offers sit down service at Bistro Boudin and quick lunches at Bakers Hall. Watch the bakery work while you dine or eat outdoors and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the wharf.
- Ghirardelli Square. Ice cream sundaes topped with Ghirardelli chocolate hot fudge. Need I say more?
- Get a quick bite. Not my usual recommendation, but we grabbed a quick bite at one of the restaurants at the Union Square mall. When the family can’t agree on what to eat, like us on this particular day, this centrally located mall offers a great solution!
San Francisco offers so many dining options, the trouble really is narrowing it down. We ate at a “greasy diner” near Presidio Park and enjoyed amazing burgers. We grabbed street food. We never made it to Chinatown, though we wanted to. Enjoy!
|Our daughter doesn’t like the smell of fish!|
Where to shop in San Francisco
- Fisherman’s Wharf. Offering unique boutiques, including a shop dedicated to “lefties,” you’re bound to find the perfect souvenir at Fisherman’s Wharf.
- Chinatown. A feast for the eyes and an experience for the nose, Chinatown offers traditional Chinese food at a number of “stores,” spices, and iconic Chinese souvenirs (chopsticks, silk, kites, and more). Wander through the streets of Chinatown to enjoy the experience. The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company is tucked away in Ross Alley. While fortune cookies did not actually originate in China, Americans always link the two. Buy a bag of fresh made cookies to enjoy as you stroll through the area.
- Westfield San Francisco Centre. This upscale mall caters to out-of-town guests, offering a complementary savings book featuring thousands of dollars in coupons. Visit the Westfield Concierge on level 1 to receive your passport to savings.
- Fillmore Street. Looking for something unique? Try Fillmore Street, which offers book stores, flower shops and upscale clothes. Stroll along the street to window shop and enjoy the slower pace.