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First visit in the San Francisco area, help needed

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Quebec, Canada
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First visit in the San Francisco area, help needed


I'll be in Irvine/L.A. for business on the week of May 19. My wife is coming with me and we'll take a week of vacation after (week of May 24). As it'll be the 3rd time I'll be in the Orange County, I thought of driving along the coast all the way to the San Francisco area, where I've never been yet.

I planned on taking my time and driving from LA to SF on Road 1 in 2 days. Where would you suggest to sleep after the 1st day? Anything not to be missed along the way?

Then, for the San Francisco area, where should I stay? Should I stick around San Francisco, or also look for Oakland and maybe San Jose for rentals or hotels? What should we visit if we're 5 or 6 days in the area?

We're in our mid-40s. My wife likes shopping, we enjoy beaches, we like to drive and visit nice places.

Another question: we'll be flying out of Burlington, VT and I found that landing in Burbank is cheaper than at LAX. Same thing for the return flight, it looks cheaper to fly out of San Jose than San Francisco. I'll rent a car when landing in LA and will return it at a different place (SF, or SJ). Will the rental cars be cheaper or more expensive from the smaller airports like Burbank and San Jose than from LAX or SFO? Is there a rental car that doesn't charge the huge fees for returning the car at a different place? In other words, will the rental car waste away the savings I'd made landing at smaller airports?

Thanks a lot.

San Francisco
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1. Re: First visit in the San Francisco area, help needed

This is the SF forum so questions about Burbank vs. LAX are better placed in the LA forum.

If you move up a level to the California forum you'll find a lot of information in the Top Questions (right side of screen, non mobile version of TAP on Highway 1 itineraries. I would say that making that drive in 2 full days is the MINIMUM. Three would be preferable. Pismo Beach or Cambria are a good stopping point for the first night. A second night's stop in Monterey/Carmel is advisable. But check the CA and Big Sur forums for details.

Don't stay outside SF if your objective is to visit SF. And God -- do not try to commute from San Jose -- that's 40+ miles away! What is your budget for lodging (per night in USD please)?

Generally speaking 3 full days in SF is a good amount of time. People do less, of course, but it doesn't make for an optimum stay. And then we have people who are here every year or wish they were. But I would use one of those extra days in the journey between LA and SF and then spend 4 days in SF.

However, do not expect beach weather here. San Franciscans all look like they drank from the fountain of youth because we never are exposed to the sun!! That's only a slight exaggeration but summer's here are not hot and while we have a lot of coastline, it's not "lie out on the sand" sort of weather and the water temps never are above 60F.

San Francisco, Ca
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2. Re: First visit in the San Francisco area, help needed

Since you won't need a car in San Francisco proper, you could fly from Southern California to SF, enjoy 3 nights in the city, then rent your car and drive Hwy. 1 down to Monterey for the first night then Cambria (via Big Sur) for the second, then into LA or Burbank or wherever.

Copenhagen, Denmark
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3. Re: First visit in the San Francisco area, help needed

Sounds like an awesome tour, San Francisco is simply an epic city. We drove from San Diego to SF and booked a cheap rental car. When visiting California it's definitely recommended that you do not stay in one town and drive around, its the mecca of road trips! I've experienced that www.rentalspotter.com has pretty low drop-off charges (the fee you pay when delivering the car at a different rental location than which you rented it from). So if I was you taking a trip with my wife, I would not worry about that and simply rent a car from the most convenient airport (price / location) wise and go for a rental car to drop of at the most convenient location… :-)

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4. Re: First visit in the San Francisco area, help needed

As someone else said, I would stay in san francisco if that is where you'll spend your time, not oakland or San Jose. We stayed close to Union Square last year which was a good location for shopping, public transporation & walking distance to some of the other neighborhoods and a cable car away to Pier 39 ( touristy but we had fun).

Muir woods is a very nice day trip if you like nature type things, we also enjoyed visiting the Sutra baths, I did take a day tour by "Dylans tours", it was very nice, small group, took us to many of

the highlights of the city that you only need to see once, and took note of places we wanted to return too, so it was a good introduction to the city.

You mentioned a rental car, I don't believe a car in SF is really needed, I'd turn it in and save the money and take a hire car to SFO, unless your planning trips out of the city. As long as you are staying close to public

transportation and don't mind taking it, they have 3 & 7 day passes for purchase.

For your drive up the coast, a must see in my book is Mcway falls in Julia Pheifer state park.

Also from JPSP to Monteray are many turnouts to stop and take in the view - it is lovely.

Quebec, Canada
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5. Re: First visit in the San Francisco area, help needed

Thanks a lot for the replies!

Eden Prairie...
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6. Re: First visit in the San Francisco area, help needed

We lived in the Bay Area for six years when we were first married. One of the most romantic things we did (on a limited budget) was a stay at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel.....


Highlight is a hot tub on the edge of the cliff with huge waves crashing down below. We rented it for an hour at night (brought our own champagne). Wow! I don't think we've ever been to such a romantic place since - and we've been married for 25 years now! If a hostel isn't your style (less than luxurious beds/rooms and communal bathroom and kitchen), I'd encourage you to find something similar at a B&B in Big Sur, Carmel, or Monterey (will be pricier, though). But, if you are adventurous and interested in the opportunity to meet other travelers, we've found CA coastline hostels to be clean, low-cost accommodations. We've even returned to hostels on the coast with our children. Sure, we've enjoyed the Ritz and the like over the years, but none of them are located literally on an ocean cliff with a lighthouse on the property! Very unique spot.

We enjoy nature and found the walk to see the Elephant Seals at Ano Nuevo State Park very interesting. I think you will be able to see them beached during May, but double check.

Also, a very wonderful spot is Point Lobos State Reserve... seemonterey.com/things-to-do/… . Great spot for a hike and/or picnic lunch. I've traveled the world and this is one of the most beautiful spots I've ever been to.

Enjoy planning out your trip on Hwy 1! There is so much to see and do in this amazing area that you can't go wrong whatever you choose.

When you get to San Francisco, make sure to go over the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito (for the view of SF) and the Golden Gate Recreation Area which has a romantic spot that feels like you are almost on the bridge. Type in "Battery Spencer, Marin County" into maps.google.com for a map to get there. On the SF side, go to the Presidio Area - Lincoln Drive - for several romantic places to stop, hike a bit, and get great photos.

So many great memories here of life before kids! Have fun!

Oh, and don't bother with Oakland or the East Bay (except, perhaps for Berkeley, if that's your style). Not much tourist stuff to go out of your way for in San Jose (we lived here for six years), but Palo Alto (Stanford and surrounding area) is nice as is the little town of Los Gatos. Go north to Napa/Sonoma for romantic wine valleys if you have time. Better yet, plan a separate vacation in Wine Country!

Edited: 24 February 2014, 15:02
7. Re: First visit in the San Francisco area, help needed

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