Help me plan out a day in San Francisco and Yosemite National Park!
October 2, 2009 10:53 AM   Subscribe

What can I do in San Francisco that's worth it on my trip? Also can I have an enjoyable time in Yosemite National Park with only a day?

So this is my first time on the West Coast. I'm from New Jersey and I'm in Oakland for 2 weeks on business. 09/27-10/09. This weekend the sky's the limit as to what I can do.

I was planning on exploring San Francisco tomorrow, Saturday, and taking the Alcatraz Tour and seeing some sights there. I hopefully will do Yosemite on Sunday. I realize it's a 3 hour drive but I'd get up super early and head on out there and take a tour.

I will only have a day, so no I cannot spend 2 days or anything overnight there. I realize this is pretty limited but I don't know when I'll ever be back here and I'd like to at least see it. I've looked on the site and seen the "Grand Tour" which sounds nice, except it's a full day tour. (Not sure what time it ends if it starts at 8:45am)

There is also the Glacial Point tour, given at 3 points during the day which may be easier to swing although I'd see less. I've never been to a National Park before and I'm on my own, so guided tours sound like a good thing! Can you recommend a good plan of action??
posted by PetiePal to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure you can get a good Yosemite experience in just a day. I'm guessing that 3 hour estimate is to the front gate of the park; Yosemite Valley is at least an hour further and getting to Glacier Point also involves some driving (though I'm not sure how much in relation to the park entrance.) The view from Glacier Point is incredible, but you really need to go into the valley to get the full effect.

Unless you want a lot of background, you don't really need a tour to see a national park. They will give you a map at the entrance showing all of the cool sites, so you can go at your own pace. Just remember that everything is more spread out than you expect it to be, so you have to prioritize what you want to see.
posted by InfidelZombie at 11:10 AM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yosemite is worth a three hour drive for sure.
Even just driving there and sitting in the meadow is worth it.
posted by madajb at 11:11 AM on October 2, 2009

You'll get a ton of suggestions for San Francisco if you give us some idea what you're interested in, city-wise.
posted by Quietgal at 11:18 AM on October 2, 2009

When I went to SF this summer, the weekend Alcatraz tours were sold out a week before the tour. Check online and reserve before you make plans for that.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 11:19 AM on October 2, 2009

You could definitely do a quick visit to Yosemite in a day. You can go straight to the valley - tour buses run frequently to all the sites easily accessible from there.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:33 AM on October 2, 2009

Last time I was in SF, a native told me the Japanese Tea Garden was the place see.
posted by misha at 11:41 AM on October 2, 2009

Your itinerary sounds very similar to our honeymoon. We were in Yosemite exactly at this time last year. We only got a day, because a big snowstorm blew in and threatened to close the roads. Before that, we were able to see the "waterfalls." I use scare quotes because there was no water - they go dry in fall. Nevertheless, it was great fun, and you can see our pictures here, including plenty of San Francisco (recommended: Japanese Tea Garden, Chinatown, drive across Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito).
posted by desjardins at 11:49 AM on October 2, 2009

I only had one day for Yosemite as well when I took a trip to San Francisco. I cannot claim that I got the full Yosemite experience, but I really wanted to see the giant sequoia and that made the trip completely worthwhile for me.

We didn't take a tour. We just drove up there really early in the morning, grabbed a map and wandered around.

It is really beautiful - you shouldn't miss it.
posted by Julnyes at 11:50 AM on October 2, 2009

Oh pictures .. our Yosemite trip pictures start here

I think we covered a lot of ground in one day, without feeling rushed at all. we went in July so all the falls were still running, but on the downside - there were a lot of mosquitoes. Hopefully you won't have that problem.
posted by Julnyes at 11:53 AM on October 2, 2009

There's going to be a huge electronic-music-themed parade/dance party in downtown SF Saturday morning. Even if you're not super into that kind of thing, it's amazing for people-watching.
posted by spatula at 11:56 AM on October 2, 2009

You won't see much of San Francisco - well, except Golden Gate Park, which is pretty iconic - but you will have a San Francisco experience if you go the any or all of the FREE Hardly Strictly Bluegrass concert this weekend. Don't like bluegrass? That's okay! It's hardly strictly! Also, free!
posted by rtha at 11:58 AM on October 2, 2009

Have you booked the Alcatraz trip yet? I recommend doing that online if you can, to make sure you time the departing ferries properly. It might get busy on weekends. Allow at least 2-3 hours to do the tour, and definitely get the audio headset tour that features former inmates and wardens narrating.
posted by vickyverky at 12:30 PM on October 2, 2009

Yeah, I went last November and even that late in the year the weekend Alcatraz trips were definitely not walk-up, to our shock and dismay. We ended up riding bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, which was really fun too.
posted by smackfu at 12:33 PM on October 2, 2009

Personally I'd skip the Alcatraz trip and instead go walk around Chinatown, Columbus, North Beach areas. You get a good view of the city from Alcatraz but it will chew up quite a lot of time and (again, personal preference) it's just an old jail. You'll get a much better feel for SF if you walk around and take a cable car ride than you will by boating over to pelican island.
posted by anadem at 12:41 PM on October 2, 2009

Holy shit, Hardly Strictly is this weekend. You HAVE to go to this. I caught this concert when I was in SF a few years ago and it totally opened up my world.

Every single one of the acts playing the main stage is an absolute legend of bluegrass. These are the people who created and defined the genre 50 years ago; those of them who are still alive, are there. And even if you go and find that pure bluegrass that's not your thing, there are FIVE other stages where you can see less legendary yet still awesome acts, many of which stray right into alt-country/rock territory and are the kind of bands that come up again and again in "recommend me some awesome music" AskMe's.

And it's free! They could charge $200 for a weekend ticket and this thing would sell out in a second, but some wealthy businessman just throws the big party every year and foots the bill. There aren't even advertisements. Damn, I miss San Francisco.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:43 PM on October 2, 2009

If you like science go to the California Academy of Sciences. It recently opened and I was there last week on a trip to SF. It's in Golden Gate Park, near the Tea Garden and the DeYoung Museum.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 12:46 PM on October 2, 2009

Response by poster: I did INDEED book my Alcatraz tour. I plan to be to the pier around 1:15ish to get my ticket picked up and on the ferry.

So far I am planning on starting in Union Square in the morning, catching a cable car to say I did it. I will check out that Japanese Tea Garden as well. After Alcatrax I may do the mechanical arcade to see that as well. I'd like to make it to the Golden Gate Bridge too and walk across if I can.

I just want to see some really cool sites, get some good pictures and eat some good good. I would be content to do that with my "day" in SF. I was already in one night just to go to Yoshi's, which I went to the SF once, and I've been to the Oakland one here twice already! The only thing to really keep in mind is I'll be using public transport for SF taking the BART in, so I don't want to be there too late and get stranded or anything lol.

As for Yosemite from what I've checked it's like 3h 15m drive from here in Oakland to the park. I may leave super early and do that 2-3 hour bus tour. Do they let you off the bus at stops to look etc or is it just riding the whole time?

I read and heard about the BlueGrass festival. I will try to take that in as well.
posted by PetiePal at 12:52 PM on October 2, 2009

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a great festival (I'm planning on spending a fair amount of my weekend there), but I would probably recommend against it as a general 'see San Francisco' experience, unless you're all in about hanging out at a music festival. There will be lots of people, so for instance it's not the best time to get a great feel for Golden Gate Park.

Somehow that sounds disparaging; it's a great experience, but it's a commitment, is how I would describe it.
posted by Brak at 1:09 PM on October 2, 2009

You could visit the wave organ or the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral.
posted by goml at 1:22 PM on October 2, 2009

Yeah after thinking about it over lunch I can imagine you having to prioritize seeing the city for the first time over going to the festival. I will be OK with that as long as you promise that you will try to go see Gillian Welch at 5:25pm on the Banjo Stage on Saturday.

Also: wander around the grounds on Alcatraz a little bit if you think you have time. The island is really pretty, there are lots of places you can walk to that aren't on the audio tour.

Now if you're getting around on buses you have to plan this out a little better. Golden Gate Bridge is kind of far from most of the city and there is not much around there but parkland. It would be a drag to arrive there at 5 pm and have nowhere to eat dinner.

What I think you should do, is go to the Golden Gate Bridge really early, like 9am, so you can take your time and walk halfway across it (absolutely a great idea), and then wander around the shore to the west of the bridge a little bit. Just walk under the tunnel and all the chaos melts away. This will be your only chance to see the Pacific shoreline so you should do it! Try to get over here by the old WW2 gun emplacements. On the map, follow Merchant Rd to Cranston Rd and you'll see where the tunnel is.

After that you get to Fisherman's Wharf somehow - maybe a bus, maybe a cab?, have lunch, and go have fun at Alcatraz. When you get back, you take the cable car back downtown from Fisherman's Wharf (much smaller lines on that end!), and/or go explore North Beach or Chinatown or other neighborhoods, and/or grab a cab to get you to the Gillian Welch concert, and/or go have a nice dinner and go shopping, or whatever you feel like doing.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:49 PM on October 2, 2009

Union square, alcatraz, cable car, and the tea garden? Isn't the tea garden in GG park? Sounds like a pretty tight schedule... Last time we were at the park it took us an hour just to find parking. I'm afraid that if you try this schedule you're going to spend all your time frustrated that you are running behind schedule or waiting on public transit.

I think anadem has the right advice. Just wander around the washington square park area. Take your time, have an espresso or a glass of wine and just enjoy that awesome neighborhood.
posted by muscat at 1:55 PM on October 2, 2009

For a day at Yosemite I'd leave SF as early as possible in the morning. Go into the valley, park as close to the Ahwahnee as possible and do the Mist Trail. Eat at the Ahwahnee if you like, it's a great room, then on the way out you can stop at the places by the side of the road where everybody else is stopping and take your pictures. If you have some extra time, take a left on the way out of the valley floor and go up to Tunnel View, then head back. You could probably do all of that in about 12-15 hours, including driving. If you have still more time, go out Tioga Rd. and stop at Olmstead Point (about 30min out of the way on your way out of the park) to see the valley from the back side.

For SF proper, Marina Green and/or Crissy Field, Twin Peaks, Coit Tower (park by Levi Plaza and take the Filbert Steps to avoid parking nightmares and to get some exercise). Eat at Pier 23 or anywhere in the Mission (16th & Valencia is a basic starting point).

Golden Gate Park will be somewhat of a nightmare if you're not there for the festival. I'd take the bus to the Upper Haight and walk into the park from there, check out the Children's Playground and Merry-go-round, people-watch, and maybe get a bus out to Ocean Beach.

That's a basic touristy-tour, anyway.
posted by rhizome at 2:01 PM on October 2, 2009

Response by poster: I may forgo the festival just to see the bridge etc. I would likely take taxis or public transport around. Good recommendation on Washington Square, that will be close to a lot of what I'll be seeing anyways. If I decide to do 2 days of SF instead of Yosemite (3 hours and 15 mins average each way is going to be really rough and a time eater) maybe I'll do the tea garden day 2
posted by PetiePal at 2:06 PM on October 2, 2009

If I had one day in Yosemite I'd drive up toward Glacier Point & do the very short Sentinel Dome & Taft Point hikes (about a mile each, with spectacular views of the valley) and then end the day looking out over Glacier Point. It really gives you the sense of majesty to view everything from above rather than the valley floor.
posted by judith at 5:51 PM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

So? How was it?
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:57 PM on October 5, 2009

« Older Choosing one rock-hard avocado over another   |   Spanish Trails Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.