[All content and prices updated July 2013]

Why you should add San Francisco to your RTW/Indie trip

San Francisco is always ranked at or near the top of any list of people's favorite American cities to visit. People often remark that it is America's most-European city, and while that may be true, San Francisco has a vibe that is all its own. Being surrounded on three sides by water forces it to be compact and fairly dense, but many of the famous attractions are still a bit spread apart from one another.

  • It has one of the most extensive public transport systems in the country.
  • Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • The people, the culture, and the vibe are unlike any other city you'll ever visit.
  • Take day trips to the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma.
  • Revisit the 60s in Haight-Ashbury, birthplace of the hippie and flower power.
  • Grab a beer and a hot dog at the beautiful Pac Bell baseball park while taking in America's Pasttime.
  • Just walk the streets of a town that's been in more movies than you can count.
  • Visit Chinatown, especially during the Chinese New Year.
  • Take part in the multitude of parades and festivals on offer throughout the year.
  • Catch a cable car down to Fisherman's Wharf.
  • Bust into Alcatraz and find out why it was an escape-proof prison.
  • Wander around the campus of the University of California in Berkeley.

Why you should not add San Francisco to your RTW/Indie trip

  • One of the only reasons San Francisco should be left off a RTW itinerary is because of the high costs. But if you can add it to a RTW flight itinerary or only stay for a few days, it's worth it.

Indie travel tips for San Franciso

Accommodations are going to cost you quite a bit of cash, and if you want to taste some of the city's famous cuisine, you'll be paying for that, too. But there are plenty of ways to explore the city on your own, take in all the culture, and have a unique experience that won't have you taking cutting your trip short.
  • There are tons of street festivals throughout the year - from the Chinese New Year parade in February to the Cherry Blossom Festival in April to the Haight Ashbury Street Fair in June to the Street Food Festival in August - there's a parade and festival for every even in San Fran. What better way to interact with the locals than heading out to the variety of festivals on offer throughout the year?
  • In addition to the Street Food festival, you may want to check out Off the Grid, which puts on weekly events on Friday nights where a collection of as many as 30 or 40 food trucks are gathered in one spot. A great way to try different cuisine at a little cheaper than the restaurants.
  • Simply wandering around and exploring the different neighborhoods is a great way to get introduced to San Francisco and get away from the typical tourist destinations. Head to Chinatown (get to Stockton Street to get away from all the other tourists), Ocean Beach, Telegraph Hill, North Beach, and Haight Ashbury, among others.
  • There are plenty of parks and even a few beaches to chill out in. Check out the massive Golden Gate Park, watch the sun rise or set from the Twin Peaks, or head to Ocean Beach, China Beach, or Baker Beach if the sun decides to come out.

What to do

The city is very hilly and it's filled with classic architecture so views can be breathtaking in almost every direction. The downtown is centered around Market Street with handsome Union Square being the epicenter of the shopping experience. Touristy Fisherman's Wharf is a must-see and it's where you can take a short boat ride out to the small island that houses infamous Alcatraz Prison. The neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury still holds onto some of its hippie-movement roots and the area called North Beach is home to some interesting nightlife and many of the city's budget sleeping options along Lombard Street. The city's Chinatown is one of the largest and nicest in the country.

Transportation

When you are ready to book a flight to San Francisco you should be aware that there are three large airports in the area. San Francisco International (SFO) is south of the city and the most common for long-haul flights, but often deals into Oakland Intl. (OAK) across the bay and San Jose Intl. (SJC) about 50 miles south can be cheaper than flying into SFO itself.

San Francisco has a subway system (the BART), but it runs diagonally through the city on one line that is mainly meant to shuttle downtown workers from their suburban homes to their offices and back. So it's not terribly useful for tourists except for the recently completed section that connects SFO airport with the city center. Buses are plentiful, but the way the city is laid out sometimes makes for complicated trips. The famous Cable Car line can be useful for the small area it covers.

Accommodations

There are some very cool San Francisco hostels in all budget ranges. It's useful to stay in the northeast quarter of the city, as you'll be closest to most of the attractions, but there are options in many different neighborhoods.