Flight – Frontier Airlines
Aside from a genuine desire to visit San Francisco, affordable flights from Omaha on Frontier sealed the deal. I am a tried and true Southwest flier, but it’s hard to beat $140 for three direct, round-trip flights. Keep in mind, when flying Frontier you have to pay for the extras. After one small carryon – and they will measure – passengers are responsible for paying at least $35 each way for every additional bag. You will also have to pay for any in-flight drinks or snacks. Unless you can master minimalist packing and BYOB, bags and snacks are going to increase your total flight price to that of a stress-free Southwest ticket. Just sayin’.
Hotel – Holiday Inn Express, Mill Valley
Lodging in San Francisco – pretty much all of coastal California, really – can be pricey for the midrange budget traveler. While chain hotels like Holiday Inn aren’t as exciting as specialty or boutique hotels, they are failsafe options that fulfill basic hospitality requirements: Comfortable, clean, and convenient. Staff at the Mill Valley Holiday Inn Express was friendly and responsive, and our room was both clean and comfortable with modern appliances. We did have some issues with noisy upstairs tenants and glitchy room keys.
Our double-queen room rented just under $200 during the week, which is roughly $75-150 less than comparable options in the city. Another thing to note is most, if not all, Holiday Inn Express hotels offer complimentary breakfast, which can save the average family $30 to $60 a day, especially if you fill your reusable water bottles and take fruit to go for a mid-morning snack.
Mill Valley is located on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, where travelers will find stunning views of San Francisco and easy access to northern attractions like Muir Woods. Each day we woke to serene fog, ambitious morning joggers, and water wading birds.
Mill Valley neighbors the bayfront town of Sausalito. Jaw dropping homes are peppered along the waterfront along with shops, restaurants and a beautiful marina full of sailboats, fisherman, and kayakers. Here, you’ll likely catch glimpses of playful sea life. From the Sausalito Point, visitors can board a ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf for $15 each way.
Even though I had never traveled to San Francisco, it’s widely known that you should NOT pack shorts and sandals. It’s never really cold or hot and never really sunny or cloudy. Thankfully, I’ve visited climates like this before (London & Portland). Packing for moody weather means wearing layers you can add or remove throughout the day.
I was surprised to have so many misses with San Francisco’s food scene. For a city so well known for its culinary experiences, we were feeling pretty unsatisfied until we finally caught a break with dinner on our second day.
- Piazza Pellegrini in Little Italy
- Salito’s Crab House in Sausalito
- Gott’s peanut butter dipped ice cream at the Ferry Building
Shopping + Entertainment
I truly can’t comment on entertainment in San Francisco aside from one very memorable acrobat at Fisherman’s Wharf. While we did check out various districts and landmarks, we didn’t visit any museums or participate in any tours. I was surprised by the lack of live music available. Given the city’s history, I thought we would see performers all over town, especially at Fisherman’s Wharf or Haight-Ashbury. For whatever reason, there wasn’t much of anything happening in San Francisco’s music scene that week.
Check it out
- Haight-Ashbury is a great stop for history fans and specialty shopping
- The Ferry Building is perfect for handcrafted goods and foodie souvenirs
- Pier 39 – Fisherman’s Wharf is a touristy time-killer but Pier 39 is awesome
From Muir Woods to Carmel by the Sea, San Francisco is an awesome central location for experiencing some of the most beautiful parks, beaches, and hikes available in the United States.
- Day trip – 17 Mile Drive, Carmel by the Sea
- Hike – Point Reyes (Alameda Falls)
- Attraction – Muir Woods
I appreciate San Francisco’s creativity and history, and found both its landscape and architecture fascinating. It was evident that people from all over the world are attracted to this city, given that 90% of the people we encountered didn’t speak much English. I was surprisingly let down by the food and entertainment scene, but seeing as how this city is home to more than 50 Michelin Star restaurants, this is clearly just a case of bad luck.
None of these first impressions matter in the grand scheme of things. Lackluster food and entertainment experiences aren’t enough to keep me from revisiting a city. The great qualm that truly depressed my experience was the intensity of homelessness in San Francisco and the amount of open drug use I witnessed. FYI – I’m not talking about weed because recreational cannabis use is legal in California. I won’t comment anymore on this topic because it’s both heavy-hearted and highly political, and I don’t know enough about the city’s efforts to have an opinion. Still, worth mentioning.
San Francisco is an eclectic destination with something for everyone, though I wouldn’t recommend it for young kids. I found the city to be a great central location with a variety of shopping and dining options. The areas I enjoyed the most were further away from the Mission and Financial Districts, and outside the city. In the city, my favorite stops were Lands End, Golden Gate Park and Twin Peaks.
I’ll be breaking down my experiences and sharing more photos and video in coming posts.