golden gate bridge

This is the third and final post about my trip to California in September. I love changes in scenery when I’m traveling and this vacation had three unique segments. The first two parts were hiking and camping in Yosemite National Park and wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma. The last leg brought us to San Francisco, and the Full House mega-fan in me couldn’t have been more excited. After leaving Sonoma, we made a few stops along the way to San Francisco.

Muir Woods

Since we didn’t get to see the Giant Sequoias in Yosemite, I decided I had to see some big trees somewhere! Muir Woods National Monument is a forest operated by the National Parks Service. It protects over 500 acres, half of which are redwood trees.

Redwoods in Muir Woods
Pictures of the redwoods at Muir Woods do not do the real thing justice

Parking at Muir Woods can be a bit tight so I recommend going before noon. The entrance fee is $10 per person. While it can be a bit crowded and overrun with school groups, the forest is peaceful and worth a visit. The main trail is a boardwalk that loops through the forest. You can decide if you want to do the 30 minute, 1 hour, or 1.5 hour loop. While our stop was quick (still tired from Yosemite…), there are some great hiking spots in the surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park if you have more time. 

Sausalito and Marin Headlands

We then drove 10 miles to Sausalito, a beautiful bay-side town. We ate lunch at Salsalito Taco Shop and walked around a bit before heading back to the car to continue on to San Francisco.

Our Lyft driver in Healdsburg recommended the Marin Headlands for the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge. You definitely have to stop here to take pictures. Marin Headlands is another place that I’d like to explore more if I had time. Looking at the city from the cliffs made me so excited to get there. 

After driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, we finally made it to the land of Rice-a-Roni and Full House, San Francisco!

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands in Sausalito

I have to take a minute to complain about Avis. We avoided tolls our entire trip but knew we would have to pay to go over the Golden Gate Bridge. The customer service representative at the airport told us as long as we didn’t flip the cover on the transponder, we would not be charged the $4 per day fee to use it. He also said if we flipped it at the end of our trip, we would only be charged from that day until the end of our reservation. We had to use it since you can’t pay with cash on the Golden Gate Bridge. We returned the car later that day and ended up getting charged for the whole week. I called Avis and they kept reiterating that their policy is that regardless of when you flip it, you have to pay for the whole period. Definitely not what the Avis rep at the airport told us. Be careful with this rule. Driving through one toll would have cost me $30 because of these fees! I got my money back but Avis didn’t make it easy. 

San Francisco by Car

Since we still had the rental car for a few hours, we made a few stops before heading to the hotel. We drove down Lombard Street, stopped by the Painted Ladies, and checked out the Full House house.

I’ve got to say, I was so surprised by how hilly San Francisco is. I knew there were hills but didn’t realize they would be so steep! I got a headache driving up and down in our rental car. I’m used to walking in Boston where Beacon Hill seems like a feat.


We spent three nights at the King George Hotel in Union Square. I booked it using Chase Ultimate Rewards points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred sign-up bonus. I transferred the points to my Chase Sapphire Reserve account to make them more valuable. Our three-night stay worth $655 cost 43,700 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points.

I saved over 8,000 points on my hotel stay by transferring my Chase Sapphire Preferred points (17,484 points per night) to Chase Sapphire Reserve (14,570 points per night)
I saved over 8,000 points on my hotel stay by transferring my Chase Sapphire Preferred points (17,484 points per night) to Chase Sapphire Reserve (14,570 points per night)

The location is convenient since we like to walk everywhere. Unfortunately, the hotel didn’t have air conditioning. Also, the sheets had pills which kind of weirded me out. Overall, we had a good stay and you can’t beat the price (free!).

Our first night we walked around…a lot. We headed to AT&T Park and walked along the water, hit up happy hour at Bar Agricole in SoMa (why can’t Boston have happy hour??), and walked some more to get pizza at Flour + Water in the Mission District. 30,000 Fitbit steps later, we were back at the hotel.

A Touristy Day in San Francisco

The next morning we headed to Pier 33 to take the ferry to Alcatraz. We bought our tickets several weeks in advance because these tours fill up fast. Tickets cost $35.50 and include the ferry ride to and from the island and an audio tour of the cell house. Visiting Alcatraz was one of my favorite parts of my time in San Francisco. It was pretty crowded but the audio tour was actually really good! I loved learning about the families of the people that worked in the prison. The children would take the ferry to the city every day for school.

Alcatraz entrance
Welcome to Alcatraz…stay a while!

The views of the city and bay are worth the trip to Alcatraz. Your ticket will tell you what time you will be headed to the island but you are free to come back on any ferry. You can walk around the island or picnic by the water before heading back. There is no food for sale on the island so bring whatever you might need.

Ice cream sundae from Ghiradelli
Posting this picture is bringing on an extreme ice cream craving!

After Alcatraz, we had lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf. After lunch, I ate a $13 Ghirardelli sundae, and I’ve got to say it was worth it. We walked back to the hotel up a very steep hill to burn off some of the ice cream but I don’t think it even made a dent.

That night we ate at La Taqueria in the Mission District. I saw it on Food Network’s Top Five Restaurants so I knew I had to try their tacos. We got there after 8:00 pm and it was mobbed! Getting a table was competitive and a stranger sat with us without asking. Kinda weird but the food was so yummy.

Final Day in San Francisco

For our last day, we headed all the way across the city to Lands End. Our Uber driver tried to make us get out at a Veterans Hospital but we eventually made it. Lands End overlooks the Pacific Ocean and also offers (more) stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The best views of the bridge are at Mile Rock Beach. Lands End is also home to the ruins of the Sutro Baths, a saltwater pool complex that burned down in the 1960s.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Mile Rock Beach at Lands End

We walked around former hippie hotspot, Haight AshburyThis area is best known for the Summer of Love in 1967 where as many as 100,000 hippies descended on the neighborhood. There was still a bit of a hippie vibe and someone tried to sell me weed. What an authentic experience! We also checked out Golden Gate Park The park is so big we could have spent a whole day there.

That night we ate at Z & Y Restaurant in Chinatown. The wait was long but the food was delicious. We walked back to the hotel and called it a night since we had to catch an early morning flight back to Boston.

So Long, California!

Looking back on our trip, we certainly jammed a lot into a week. I have limited time off from work so I try to see as much as I can every time I travel. We spent a few nights in Yosemite, Napa and Sonoma, and San Francisco, driving over 700 miles in the process. Even with all the ground we covered, we’ve barely started on my California bucket list. This trip inspired me to visit more national parks since Yosemite was by far my favorite part. With my Southwest Companion Pass expiring next month, I’ll be focused on international travel until I can accrue enough points to get it again (hopefully for both 2018 and 2019!). And when I do, I think Grand Tetons and Yellowstone might my next stop!

Check out the rest of our California vacation:

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