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Planning a trip to San Francisco and around...

Hello all,

Returned from France and Amsterdam in June and already wanting to get back on the road.
I'm 53 and have never neen to California. I am having the inklings that I'd like to visit San Francisco, rent a car and travel up the coast. Maybe go to Napa. Probably next summer.
Any advice, tips, tricks, etc?

Thanks a bunch!!

Posted by
3901 posts

We did San Fran and environs back in 2013...we went late Sept into mid Oct. The weather was perfect and I will say when we were chatting with a cashier in a store in SF, she told us we came at the perfect time, as summer is usually cool/wet/foggy. So you want to look into the weather situation before deciding which time of year to go, unless you like cool and damp. (And we headed down the coast to San Diego, not north, so I can’t speak for what Napa would be like in summer, but I’m sure someone will chime in).

Posted by
6764 posts

The below CA tourism website has excellent resources for planning road trips in CA. You can request info in hard copy too if you prefer. There are also numerous books in any local library because CA is such an incredibly popular destination. I would start by doing some reading/ research first and come back here to pose more specific queries. Stringing together an itinerary depends on how much time you have in total, and that's an unknown from your posting. Be aware that Napa will likely be quite hot in summer, and that it's one of many wine regions in that area (see regional map within the visitor's guide link).
https://www.visitcalifornia.com
https://www.visitnapavalley.com/plan/maps-guides/visitors-guide/

Posted by
533 posts

Hotels in San Francisco are very expensive, especially in the high season, but at least some places offer substantial discounts in the low season. Checking some random dates at a place I've stayed before (Casa Loma Hotel), a standard "European style" room with a queen bed and shared bathroom goes for around $179 in August or September but just $69 in November or December. (December in San Francisco actually isn't that much colder than August, although it is a lot rainier.) So before you get too attached to a particular time of year, have a look at the available accommodations and make sure there's something to your liking that fits your budget.

Posted by
660 posts

I live just 45 minutes south of San Francisco and visit the city and the surroundings, quite often, including Napa and Sonoma. Summer is a beautiful time to visit (lot’s going on), but the weather can be cool in San Francisco and then very warm elsewhere. Just his past week, our microclimate temperatures ranged from the low 60s in the coast to 110 inland. As for pricing, it fluctuates depending upon time of year. Summer can be more pricey than other times of the year (except when there is a major convention). Napa is always more expensive at harvest time in late August through October and BottleRock weekend (Memorial Day).

When you are ready to plan your trip, PM me and I will give you some recommendations.

Sandy

Posted by
3181 posts

Fall is a great time to visit the Bay Area. I would avoid the temptation to stay outside of SF in order to save on accommodations. You don’t want to waste time and money getting in every day to see what you came to see.
The Napa Valley is typically very hot in the summer, temps in the upper 90’s are not uncommon. The town of Napa is not the best part. It really gets nice from St. Helena north. There are loads of all sorts of accommodations, and getting around with a car is easy (except for weekend traffic jams).
Just on the question of weather, it is generally true that Sept. and Oct. are better than summer in SF; but it is always a good idea to check the forecast a day before departure, so as to have appropriate clothing. It’s never a bad idea to have a warm cardigan and/or hoodie for chilly nights in SF. Hi

Posted by
31 posts

Thank you all for your advice. Duly noted!

I'm thinking I'll stay a few days in SF and then travel the PCH. I'll be researching that.
As for time of year- people keep saying July and August are not good, but May and September are better?
I'm most likely will be staying in Airbnb.

Thanks!

Posted by
3176 posts

I loved July and August in San Fran. While much of the bay area was over 100º, SF temps were in the low 70s! Loved it!

Posted by
660 posts

May and September are good weather times, but September is harvest time in Napa/Sonoma (crowded and expensive) and DreamForce is at the end of September in SF (hotel rooms are booked for the conference and expensive). Last year, they even had to rent a cruise ship to house folks. May is a good time in both Napa and SF, if you avoid Memorial Day weekend.

Sandy

Posted by
19 posts

Another recommendation for September - I've lived in the Bay Area my entire life (in SF, Alameda/Oakland, and now San Rafael). September is my favorite month, weather-wise. If you're thinking of the wine country, I'd like to give a shout out to Sonoma County - Healdsburg has a pretty little downtown area and the tasting rooms charge less in Sonoma than in Napa, but the wine is just as good IMO. The main square in Sonoma is also filled with good eats, easily accessible wineries and closer to SF. For great views, go to the Marin headlands and look back out over the bridge toward the city, or to Fort Baker for a different angle https://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/fort-baker.htm
I agree with the recommendation to stay in SF during the time you want to explore SF - it's just a waste of time to commute in and if you are driving, it's expensive as well.
I have two touristy recommendations I have to make simply because I've done them both with out of town guests and ended up having a really good time myself: one is the Alcatraz tour - the grounds and views are pretty (although windy and cold almost all of the time - so be aware), I know touring a closed prison is kind of weird, but it was interesting and you go at your own pace. Another touristy thing I'd recommend is there's a Segway tour of Golden Gate park that is also a lot of fun - they took us to a few spots that I'd never been to in the park before, and I used to live 2 blocks away from it and thought I knew all the little interesting places.

Posted by
6160 posts

My suggestion is to not stay in the Fisherman's Wharf area; prefer the Union Square area. FW is mostly tourist oriented shops and restaurants. Still, thats where the tour for Alcatraz launches. Take the cable car at least once when you can. Its crowded during peak times so early or late is better; sit on the east side for best view. SF is really fairly walkable if you avoid the hills. You can walk from Union Square, through China Town, the North Beach area, and end up at the Wharf. Ferry across to Sausalito or Tiburon for the ride.

Posted by
2153 posts

Yosemite is not too far from San Francisco so I would suggest you look into spending 3-4 nights there. It’s stunningly beautiful. It’s super crowded in the summer, but September is very nice, at least it was when I was there. Closer to San Francisco is Muir Woods (on the way to Napa), where you can see giant redwoods.

Posted by
42 posts

If you want a quieter area - try Monterey,Carmel, Pebble Beach - wonderful area, quiet, upscale, and fabulous restaurants, hikes, tours, etc.

Posted by
102 posts

If you have any interest in going to Alcatraz, I recommend buying your tickets there as soon as you can. They sell very fast. Also, if you are a Disney fan, I highly recommend the Walt Disney Family Museum https://www.waltdisney.org/ at the Presidio. In addition to a wealth of information about all things Disney, their Exhibitions featuring various Disney artists are excellent. The current one is about the so-called 'Nine Old Men', master animators.

Cocktail bars? I got 'em if you want 'em.

Posted by
14445 posts

How much time do you have? There's no perfect time to go, because the weather is so different from one part of the Bay Area to another. Summer is probably the least preferable time because of the numbers of tourists, the likelihood of poor weather in the City and very hot temps outside it. Winter can be a good time, it doesn't get really cold anywhere . . . except of course Yosemite. Take into account that it's easily a half-day drive from the Bay Area. I think spring is the best time, when the hills are green and there are wildflowers. Spring comes fairly early in the Bay Area - more April than May, certainly not June.

Posted by
126 posts

I live in SoCal and have been to SF often, and the area north often as well. If you are going to Alcatraz and have a few days in the city, consider getting a transportation pass that includes an Alcatraz tour. We spent 4 nights in the city and had unlimited cable car, bus and trolley transportation, the Alcatraz tour, and entry to the De Young Museum, the California Science Center (both in Golden Gate Park) and the charming Legion of Honor Museum. Since our hotel was near a cable car line, we rode it often (it's not cheap for one ride) and we got all around the city with the pass. The only thing it didn't include was BART (subway system). If you drive north and want to visit the wine country, Sonoma County is much more laid back and affordable than Napa. The wineries are plentiful and less expensive for tastings and the people are less snooty. I get a Sonoma Passport each year on Groupon and it includes lots of free or 2 for 1 tastings. Just driving around the valley is fun. There is one for Napa also, but with many fewer options. The drive from Sonoma to Mendocino on the coast(or vice versa) is great. You can drive from Bodega Bay (just north of SF to Santa Rosa, see the Sonoma wine country up to Cloverdale, and head west to Mendocino on Hwy 128, a beautiful drive with hidden wineries en route. If you have time, drive Hwy 1 all the way to the Oregon Border and see the Redwoods. I recommend a stop at Prairie Creek State Park and a walk through it's rain forest canyon (not long) and a stop at Patrick's Point State park for a beautiful ocean view. The Redwoods are breathtaking at many stops or detours off Hwy 1.

Posted by
42 posts

If you have flex. in your time to visit. I highly recommend Sept/Oct - that is our summer here. June-August often foggy with the 100 degree weather in the valley causing fog here. I am in Seaside CA and my office in Carmel. Weather similar to SF in Monterey Bay - driving from SF up the coast is gorgeous. As you go up, you'll see more trees and large rocks for waves to crash on. We have that here in Monterey and a few hours south - once in So California, water is more flat (warmer) without crashing on the waves - I find the rocks more beautiful so going Monterey on up to Eureka would be very nice. Depending on your time - the Oregon Coast is also beautiful. Jette

Posted by
115 posts

My daughter lived in SF for 3 years so I was able to visit at different times of the year. I agree that the best weather is September/October and sometimes even early November. Summer is cool and foggy. Many things to see in SF - all the typical tourist areas plus alot of funky out the way things too. If you like I can give suggestions. I have been to both Napa and Sonoma in the fall. My preference is Sonoma as far as the landscape and vibe. I have visited during Wine Road event in which you drive from vineyard to vineyard for several tastings at each one accompanied by their select delicious menu item. A cookbook is available each year with all the recipes. So much fun to go to this if you like to people mingle, drink lots of good wine and sample delicious food. Tickets are required to attend this but well worth it!
Napa is great too. Solange spa is fantastic in lovely Calistoga and Napa (town) is interesting as well. I have heard it is very hot in this area in the summer.

Not sure what you are into so hard to recommend. Muir Woods, north of SF is a nice stop if you want to be amazed by the giant redwoods.