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San Francisco

Author: Ben Szweda (More Trip Reviews by 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.

garden court restaurant palace hotel san franciscoI 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.

san francisco AT&T parkThe 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.

san francisco sea lions fisherman's wharfIf 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.

lombard street san franciscoOver 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.

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