Summer is a very popular season for travel and vacation.
But many of us simply are not able to take off more than a few days at a time.
This leaves us with the short-but-sweet weekend vacation!
Weekend vacations can be difficult to plan, as you are trying to get the most out of a short window of time.
I recently faced such a dilemma when planning a weekend vacation for myself and my girlfriend.
Where do we go? What will we do? How will we save money? Will we have time!?!?
Originally, we were planning on travelling to Nashville. Airline tickets only got more expensive as we got closer to the weekend we were going to be travelling on (it happened to be Memorial Day Weekend), so we began looking for alternative destinations. Through our searching, we discovered that round trip airfare to San Francisco was actually cheaper than to Nashville! Hotel prices were very comparable but San Francisco did seem to offer more in the way of excursions outside of the city in the form of national park and wine country tours. So we decided to put the Nashville trip off and go to San Francisco instead!
We left from Newark, NJ early Thursday morning and arrived to San Francisco in the early afternoon (due to the 3 hour time difference). We would return on Sunday. This left us with Thursday afternoon and evening, all day Friday, and all day Saturday. Not too long, but also not too short a time to spend in a new place.
On Thursday, we landed around 1-2pm and took a Lyft to our hotel (Lyft is extremely popular in San Francisco, apparently). We decided to spend the 3 night stay at The Chancellor Hotel. This hotel was, during the early 20th century, the tallest building in the city. Much of the hotel was maintained in a way to be reminiscent of that old classical style and had a very endearing effect. The room wasn’t too large, but had a decently sized bathroom and a large, very comfortable bed. It was everything we needed as we were not planning on spending too much time at the hotel. It was also a short car ride away from Fisherman’s Wharf.
After we settled in, we went out to explore Fisherman’s Wharf. We got there via the historical rail car system. Because this means of transportation is so popular among tourists, I would recommend hopping on at the beginning of the tracks if you are interested because the cars do fill very quickly. It was quite an experience being pulled up and down the steep hills of the city by the pulley system used for the rail cars!
After we reached Fisherman’s Wharf, we needed to get a bite to eat.
So where did we decide to go for our first meal in San Fran? In-N-Out Burger, of course! We absolutely had to visit this iconic west coast burger chain at some point, and it is a good thing we did it on Thursday; while we were on Fisherman’s Wharf again on Saturday evening we saw a long line stretched down the street for people who wanted to get an In-N-Out burger.
Afterwards, we spent some time walking along the piers and boardwalk area. We saw the seal lions of Pier 39, and took a 30 min boat ride around the harbor. We then went over to see the Palace of Fine Arts, which was absolutely gorgeous!
By the end of the night we were pretty worn out and, after a stop to the Tonga Room for a drink and artificial indoor hurricane, went back to the hotel for some rest.
The next day was a long one as we had an early wake up in order to be picked up for our Yosemite National Park tour. We booked through Evergreen Escapes using Viator.com. Our tour guides were Melissa and Brandon, who were great fun and very knowledgeable about all the areas we drove through. As it turned out, my girlfriend and I were the only two who had booked this trip as it was brand new. Because of this, we were able to have a much more personalized trip. We stopped at a farmer’s market for some breakfast snacks consisting of locally grown produce (the aromas and tastes were fantastic!). We then briefly stopped a little outside of the park for our catered lunch, hand selected by Melissa. Once we were in the park, we pulled over at a stop and Melissa and Brandon prepared a table for our lunch. We were glad to stretch our legs after the 3.5 hour drive and the fresh air of the park gave us quite an appetite. The lunch itself was light, but filling, with fresh turkey wraps and refreshing salad. All of the food was organic and locally sourced, a fact which was evident from the taste.
Nothing I write here will do Yosemite enough justice. The park was absolutely beautiful! The views were breathtaking, and the air was clear and fresh. We stopped to see several of the famous waterfalls in the part of the park we were in. Apparently, this area of California had decent enough snowfall that the waterfalls were still quite powerful. This, of course, being a great sign for the summer as California has had more than its fair share of droughts and wildfires. The gushing water spewing from the falls and flowing in the rivers and streams was clear and very tempting. At another stop, I actually walked in up to my ankles in the crystal clear water. Despite the warm temperatures, the water was absolutely freezing! It still felt great to splash on my face and my neck, though. Embracing the nature of the park, even in such a small way as this, felt great.
We spent another few hours touring the park and gazing up at the tall trees, and cliff faces. Yosemite was created by glacial movement and the after effects of such a powerful force were the amazing rocky mountains we were seeing.
Eventually, it was time to leave. Melissa and Brandon took us right back to our hotel and gave us a few recommendations on where to eat dinner. The overall tour experience was wonderful, and it honestly felt like we were hanging out with some new friends as opposed to paid tour guides. I highly recommend using them for tours!
We changed at the hotel and Lyfted down to Fisherman’s Wharf again, where we had dinner at the Fog Harbor Fish House on Pier 39. We were warned that the restaurant was a bit touristy due to its location, and we weren’t sure what table we would get or how long we would have to wait. We were pleasantly surprised when we were seated right away, and at a window, nonetheless! Both the food and service were very good, so I would recommend this as a great place to eat.
We had yet another early wake up (we did not get much rest on this trip… too much to see!), in order to be picked up for another tour. This tour was also booked through Viator, but the tour company was Gray Line. This was a much larger and impersonal tour as we were one of many on a bus that would take us through Sonoma and Napa wine country. We stopped at 3 different vineyards, the first being our favorite. This was the Andretti Winery in Napa. One of their white wines was so crisp and tasty that we decided to buy a bottle to take home. The other two vineyards were nice, but did not have the charm that the Andretti Winery did.
One of the highlights of the wine tour was when we stopped for lunch in this lovely little town, Yountville. This town is home to what is called the best French restaurant in California (possibly the country, depending on what tour guide or list you are reading) called the French Laundry. When the bus stopped we were able to go off on our own for about an hour and a half to look around and find someplace to eat. My girlfriend and I decided to try out Hurley’s Restaurant, which had a bit of a Mediterranean flair. The meal we had there might have been the best meal we ate during the entire trip. We sat outside on the patio where, despite the heat of the day, felt cool due to the shade. Everything tasted fresh and the portions were just the right size. For anyone passing through or nearby Yountville, definitely stop by for a good bite to eat!
After lunch we went to the final winery and then back to Fisherman’s Wharf to be dropped off.
We still had a few hours before we had to go home and pack for the return trip home, so we decided to check out the San Francisco Dungeon which is an underground, walk through, theatrical experience. It was a little corny, but you did learn a bit about the city’s more unsavory characters from history.
Afterwards, we spent more time on the piers, enjoying the amazing weather and setting sun (I’m a romantic, what can I say?). We even saw a very talented, acrobatic street performer work the crowd.
We continued on until we got to Ghirardelli square where we waited in line for what our tour guide called the best sundae in town. This turned out to be a mistake on our part as the sundaes were overhyped and we weren’t hungry enough to finish them.
We still needed something solid for dinner, so we went to Foreign Cinema, which was recommended to us by Melissa and Brandon the day before. This restaurant was located in what appeared to be a gentrified part of San Francisco. It seemed to be a pretty popular spot, especially for what appeared to be a younger, more affluent crowd. We were seated outside where they were projecting an old film from the days before technicolor. The atmosphere was interesting, however there was a chill in the air. The cuisine was a California-Mediterranean fusion style and the menu was on the pricey side. We enjoyed the food, but did not find it as good as we were expecting considering the buzz surrounding the restaurant. Nonetheless, it is an interesting establishment to visit, so if you have the time go check it out.
After the restaurant we returned to our hotel for our last night on our trip.
I must admit, I was not too sure what we would do with three days in San Francisco. I do think the tours we took really made the trip. The city is very beautiful, but you do not need more than one day to see the main sights. Because of this, I highly recommend checking out the multitude of tours offered through sites like Viator.
One of my favorite things about the trip was the weather. We left New Jersey on the muggiest and hottest weekend of the year up to that point, and were elated at the weather greeting us in San Francisco. The highs in the city were upper 60s and the lows could go down to low 50s. Once you venture outside of the city, though, the temperature changes. The Yosemite tour was not much of a difference due to the elvation, but the wine tour took us to an area that was in the 80s. It is actually pretty incredible how different the climate can be in various parts of the Bay Area. The climate, overall, reminded me a lot of that of Greece. Even the ecology was very similar to that found in the Mediterranean region.
Possibly because of the familiarity to Greece (a country with which I have a strong connection to), or because of the comfortable temperatures, good food, or friendly people, I do actually miss San Francisco a bit.
I suppose that is how you know you visited someplace special!
So, for those wondering where to go on your next weekend vacation, try visiting San Francisco!
Have a safe trip! 🙂