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Famously known for its Alcatraz history, Golden Gate Bridge, and cable car system, San Francisco, California is a vibrant city filled with eclectic neighborhoods. From the shops in Union Square, sea lions in Fisherman’s Wharf, and reminiscent hippy culture in Haight-Ashbury, the City by the Bay features a little something to spark everyone’s interest.
Union Square is a prime location to find San Francisco hotel deals, as the plaza is a world-renowned shopping district surrounded by countless accommodations. Grand luxury San Francisco hotels and charming boutique resorts provide a comfortable place to rest after shopping the top names in fashion at the downtown square. Expedia can assist travelers with finding cheap hotels in San Francisco around this area and other nearby locations.
The famous Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood features nautical-themed lodging and hotels in San Francisco with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. It’s in Fisherman’s Wharf where tourists can score hotels within walking distance of the shops, restaurants, and sea lions at Pier 39.
Booking a hotel San Francisco near the Haight-Ashbury may be the ideal spot for those nostalgic for the “Summer of Love” era. Affordable hotel packages close to Haight-Ashbury bring tourists to the stomping grounds of 1960 idols such as Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead.
Travelers taking flights into San Francisco have the option of landing at the San Francisco International Airport or the Oakland International Airport. The San Francisco Airport is just ten miles south of the city, while the Oakland International Airport is slightly further away in East Bay. Most often, visitors hop on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train system from San Francisco Airport, or they catch the AirBART shuttle buses from the Oakland Airport to BART stations. While taxis and shuttles are available at both locations, the BART system offers the cheapest transportation.
Amtrak features various train routes from both within and outside of the city limits as well. The California Zephyr, for example, provides a route from Chicago, while The Coast Starlight services areas in Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. The Amtrak also transfers to some BART stations for intercity transportation.
Travelers driving to San Francisco have a variety of different highway choices, but those traveling from the northwest or the southwest often take I-5 or more scenic Highway 101, both of which run from Oregon to Southern California. As for visitors traveling from the east, from areas such as Lake Tahoe and Sacramento, Highway 80 is a good option.
It’s possible to walk around the city, but be prepared for a workout. Much of the city landscape includes steep and sloping hills, so expect to feel the burn. You can hire a rental car at Expedia easily. Fortunately, San Francisco also features a number of public transportation options for when your feet have had enough.
The San Francisco Municipal Railways, often called the Muni, provide a light rail, buses, streetcars, and the iconic cable cars for convenient transportation throughout the city. For tickets, visitors can pay in cash upon boarding, or they can purchase all-day or multi-day passes.
The light rail route presents six metro lines, some of which also transfer to the BART lines. The buses meanwhile offer citywide service, however, bus delays are common, so schedule in some extra wiggle room if you’re on a deadline.
The historic streetcar provides service from Fisherman’s Wharf through to the Castro District. And as for the cable cars, these feature three different lines with stops at popular places such as Market Street, Powell Street, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Keep in mind, however, some consider these cable cars more of a tourist attraction than a quick means of quick transportation.
Things to Do
San Francisco encourages every visitor to stop and marvel at the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. Arguably one of the most recognized bridges in the world, the Golden Gate Bridge features a recognizable orange color making the bridge’s grandiose structure visible even on the foggiest of San Francisco days. The bridge provides six lanes for vehicles along with separate lanes for pedestrians and bicyclists, so they can stop and stand 746-feet above the San Francisco Bay. Considered one of the wonders of the modern world, the Golden Gate Bridge is a must-visit destination for every San Francisco visitor.
Regarded for its intriguing and slightly haunting history, Alcatraz Island is another alluring destination for any first-timer to San Francisco. The island off the coast of San Francisco is both home to the oldest lighthouse on the west coast, and perhaps more interestingly, the famous Alcatraz Federal Petitionary. The federal prison, which was open from 1934 through 1963, housed some of the nation’s most notorious criminals from Al Capone to Robert “The Birdman” Stroud. Today, this mysterious offshore location features guided tours to historic island.
Vacationers lucky enough to spend several days in San Francisco, and those who have booked their hotels in Fisherman’s Wharf will enjoy easy access to one of San Francisco’s hottest attraction. Laced with history dating back to the Gold Rush, Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to dine on the freshest seafood straight from the source; Indulge in the ever popular Dungeness crabs with a side of steaming clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. With a full belly, tour the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park to view some of the area’s finest historic vessels. And once your food has digested, hop on the amusement rides at Pier 39, and then head over to the West Marina to see the California sea lions in all their basking glory.
After witnessing the intriguing sights in Fisherman’s Wharf, find some peace and quiet at the Golden Gate Park. This massive 1,017-acre urban park features a variety of nature displays, including the Conservatory of Flowers, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and the Japanese Tea Garden. For further serenity, treat yourself to a stroll around Stow Lake and Spreckels Lake before heading back to your cozy boutique hotel.
Arts & Entertainment
With peace sign throwing fans and guitar soloing musicians, the Fillmore music venues was the place to be in San Francisco during the 1960s, and even today the tradition continues. Some of the world’s best musicians have graced the Fillmore stage, from The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd to Led Zeppelin and Elton John. Otis Redding crooned and Aretha Franklin serenaded at this famous historic venue, making it a top stop for music enthusiasts who love a good spot where the legends once played. As for those interested in slightly more classical music, the War Memorial Opera House is home to the San Francisco Opera, which is the second-largest opera in the U.S, while Davies Symphony Hall houses the San Francisco Symphony.
Visitors who want to give their ears a rest and are in search of some eye candy, San Francisco is home to various impressive art exhibits. The California Palace of Legion of Honor, a smaller replica of the Palais de la Legion d’Honneur in Paris, houses some of the finest European art. The cast of August Rodin’s “The Thinker,” sits on display in the Court of Honor, while other famous works include those by Monet, Rubens, and Degas. For more modern and contemporary artwork, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art hosts 20th century American exhibits. This impressive museum features more than 26,000 paintings, sculptures, photography, and various other art forms.
The Ohlone native population long inhabited the San Francisco area before the first Europeans ventured into the territory in 1775. Upon settling, the Spanish established a Spanish Mission, the Mission San Francisco de Asis, along with a military fort, the Presidio of San Francisco. In the following years, Mexico took over the area from Spain after the Mexican War of Independence and later the United States gained the territory after the Mexican-American War in 1848. It was during this year, in which the discovery of gold forever changed the future of San Francisco.
The California Gold Rush took place in the area, luring in thousands of treasure hunters in search of gold and later silver, dramatically increasing the area’s population. As a result of this newly acquire wealth and boom in population growth, the city grew as a result with the construction of businesses, Victorian homes, and luxury hotels. San Francisco soon morphed into a hub for free thinkers, poets, writers, musicians, and hippies in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1967, The Summer Love welcomed thousands of hippies dabbling in music and drugs to conjugate in Haight-Ashbury, while John Phillips crooned, “San Francisco, Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair” on the radio. By the 1990s, San Francisco began to lead the country into the “Cyberculture” era to present day, in which the city is currently celebrated for forward thinking in the fields of technology and green energy.
Just like the team’s namesake -the gold prospectors who flocked to San Francisco during the 1849 Gold Rush- the San Francisco 49ers have always had their eyes on the prize. California’s oldest professional sports team has won a total of five Super Bowl Championship titles, tying with the Dallas Cowboys for the NFL team with the second-most Super Bowl wins. The 49ers also hold a crosstown rivalry with the Oakland Raiders, who represent the neighboring city to San Francisco. Although these two teams technically have their own unique city, they are both considered Bay Area teams.
When it comes to baseball, other MLB teams have some big, while some may say giant, shoes to fill to keep up with the San Francisco team. The Giants hail as one of the oldest teams in American baseball history, and they have won the most games out of any other team. They’ve played in the World Series a total of 19 times, and have taken home the title seven times. Just like the 49ers and Raiders, the Giants have a long-running rivalry with the neighboring Oakland Athletics. This rivalry is unique though, as it dates back to when the Giants played for New York and the A’s played for Philadelphia in the World Series during 1905, 1911, and 1913. For a truly remarkable San Francisco experience, book a five star hotel and watch the Giants take on the A’s at AT&T Park in SoMa.
Intimate jazz lounges, elitist night clubs, hipster bars, and rumbling dance floors represent the San Francisco nightlife scene on any given evening. Whether you’re looking to cozy up in the corner of a trendy art lounge, rock out in the same spot as some of the most famous pop stars of the 1960s, or snag a front-row view at a fashion show at the hottest lounge, there’s a place for every chameleon and every mood in this eclectic City by the Bay. Each San Francisco district serves up a unique scene with its own unique flavor, with areas such as SoMa, the Marina District, the Castro, and North Beach leading the way.
While music and live shows certainly reign after hours in San Francisco, comedy has its rightful place in the city as well. Some of the nation’s top comedians, including Ellen Degeneres, Robin Williams, and Chris Rock, got their big breaks on the comedy club stages in San Francisco. Get your daily dose of laughs at one the various comedy ventures for a chance to see the newest up and coming comedic talent. Many of these laugh factories and nightlife hotspots are conveniently located near 3 star hotels and 4 star hotels for easy visitor access.
Though fortune cookies may seem like a gimmicky treat, after much debate, and even a mock trail, a federal judge ruled Makoto Hagiwara, the designer of the Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden, invented this famous after-dinner dessert. Fortune cookies aren’t the only famous goody with its roots in San Francisco, but rather the Hangtown Fry is a hallmark of Everybody’s Favorite City as well. Although the Hangtown Fry creation myths may vary, this decadent oyster egg dish is a San Francisco favorite.
While the City by the Way may boast ever-enticing romantic San Francisco hotels, Nob Nill, and Hyde Street Pier, the restaurants in this city remain one of the top reasons why vacationers visit San Francisco. As a matter of fact, San Francisco features more restaurants per capita than any other U.S. city, which means there’s a seemingly endless plethora of choices from vegan dishes to sushi platters. Dine at Fisherman’s Wharf for the freshest seafood straight from the sea and graze on authentic dim sum in the largest Chinatown outside of Asia.
Every shopaholic will want to make a reservation at a San Francisco hotel in Union Square for convenient access to some of the best shopping in the city. Union Square is a shopper’s mecca, featuring a mother lode of shoe, jewelry, and clothing shops, along with designer boutiques and department stores. Fashion forward trendsetters may also want to venture to the Westfield San Francisco Centre, just a few blocks from Union Square and romantic hotels, for additional high-end retailers and brand names.
For some shoppers, the hunt for unique finds is half the fun and San Francisco provides plenty of offbeat boutiques and specialty shops to aid in the search for that purchase you can’t live without. US News recognized Fillmore Street as one of the best shopping streets in the nation in 2011, while Upper Haight is known for its vintage glamour and funky finds. Vacationers can’t forget Mission Street though, where shoppers can browse the eccentric fashion and unparalleled flair. Spend an afternoon street hopping in search of ‘Cisco souvenirs, and then retreat to your spa hotel to spoil those aching feet to an unbeatable massage.
If it’s one tip locals would impart to vacationers, many would advise them to leave their set of wheels at home or back at the airport hotels when venturing into the city. San Francisco is a traffic congested parking nightmare with meter maids galore. The city is a booby trap filled with confusing one-way streets, seemingly 90 degree-angled hills, and expensive parking fees. Not to mention, strict laws pertaining to turning your wheels to the curb when parking on hills. Save yourself the trouble of fighting for parking spots and wasting time sitting in traffic, and instead, familiarize yourself with the Muni, BART, and walking shoes. There are plenty of transportation options available, so you won’t miss out on exploring the city by the bay, if you’re not behind the wheel.
Pet Friendly Travel Basics
In San Francisco, there’s something to appeal to everyone, including your four-legged fur ball! This Northern California city spot invites vacationers to bring their furry friends along to explore Ocean Beach, the Golden Gate Park, and the Castro Street Fair. Your pup can run free off leash at the Bernal Hill dog Park at Bernal Heights, Mount Davidson Park, and Fort Funston, too. If man’s best friend is tagging along, book one of the many pet friendly hotels in San Francisco for a tail wagging good time!
Personalities & Culture
When it comes to culture and customs in San Francisco, there are a few tips San Franciscans urge vacationers to consider before traveling to the city. For one, though the city has a huge bank of nicknames, don’t refer to it as “San Fran,” and avoid even thinking about calling it “Frisco.” Locals take pride in their city, and a misnomer doesn’t go over well. Another word to the wise is to place your recyclables in the recycling bin. San Francisco is an environmentally friendly city, which takes recycling seriously. Respect the culture and sort your waste!
Though San Franciscans may be sticklers about certain aspects, do realize this is an extremely open city where any walk of life is welcomed with open arms. This Northern California destination is filled with crossdressers, hippies, vagrants, business professionals, and everything between, so travelers will want to remain open minded to the colorful people they may encounter outside their city-centered and beach hotels. San Francisco bound travelers may also want to know the area is an especially gay friendly city, sometimes called the “Gay Mecca,” which embraces the LGBT community, so an accepting attitude is strongly recommended.
Weather & Climate
The best weather advice for visiting San Francisco is to dress in layers and expect fog regardless of what time of the year you visit. There’s a reason why locals call it Fog City, as the combination of the ocean and land-sea temperatures can make the visibility close to zero in San Francisco on some days. The San Francisco fog generally keeps mornings chilly until it burns off throughout the day, but temperatures tend to drop again when the mist rolls back in during the evenings.
This city may be part of California, but don’t go and pack all your tank tops and bikinis for a trip to this Northern area. Even in the height of the summer, wind and damp fog join the cooler temperatures, which usually only reach the high 60s. Often times, visitors enjoy vacationing in San Francisco during the months of September and November, as sometimes temperatures can reach the low 70 degrees Fahrenheit this late in the year. As for the winter, temperatures often hover around the mid-50 degree Fahrenheit range, but again, that fog and wind can make it feel even cooler. Though it may be chilly during these winter months, you can land some of the cheapest San Francisco hotels deals at this time.
Unpredictable weather and thick fog are simply tell-tale symbols of San Francisco, so don’t let a breezy cold front or a dense layer of fog ruin your city adventures. When it comes to this colorful city, expect the unexpected for an unforgettable sojourn in the Paris of the West.
Need some more ideas for your next trip here? Our Expedia Viewfinder bloggers have recommendations for your next visit. See some of their latest blog posts below about what to eat, where to drink, what to see, and what to do.