Help us plan our roadtrip to San Francisco!
May 30, 2013 11:18 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I are planning on taking a roadtrip from home in San Diego to San Francisco at the end of June in time for Pride weekend and I feel like my numbers might be off. Calling all fellow AskMeFites with travel/roadtrippin/fun grown-up experience/better math skills.

I am able to use a family member's employee discount to book a Marriott room for $60/night (we plan on staying Thurs-Sat), and, if I did my numbers correctly, roundtrip for gas should be around $160. I did some research on Hertz and found that renting even the cheapest vehicle would run my total at about $235 (we are both <25). Altogether this would put us at almost $600, and this doesn't include food/snacks in between. How much is a reasonable amount to be saving for this trip, so that we can be thrifty while still enjoying ourselves? What other things should I be considering?

Bonus points: She is originally from out of state and hasn't really seen California. Being a native, I wanted to show her around this lovely state. This may affect the route(s) that we take for some possible sightseeing along the way and thus affect gas price.
posted by HiphopAnonymous to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
EDIT: I forgot to add that neither of our cars are fit for this trip, which is why we'd need a rental. I drive a manual and I lack the nerves of steel to take up the hills of San Francisco. Her car is in fairly poor shape.
posted by HiphopAnonymous at 11:24 AM on May 30, 2013

Much of the timing and gas budget depends on your route. Highway 1 is incredible, but will add a lot of time to the trip. I'd absolutely drive a portion of it though. Maybe from Monterey Bay up?
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:27 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't forget taxes and fees for both the car and the hotel. Make sure you are getting a rental with unlimited mileage otherwise you will be charged per mile as well.
posted by magnetsphere at 11:32 AM on May 30, 2013

Have you already booked the hotel? A lot of people come here for Pride and I imagine the hotels get booked up pretty quickly.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:33 AM on May 30, 2013

I recently took a similar trip - only one way, though, from LA to SF - I believe we spent about $100 on gas, but we drove Hwy 1 the whole way and detoured into Solvang and San Luis Obispo for a day. Driving through Big Sur is amazing and unless you or your girlfriend have trouble with motion sickness, I would make sure you do at least that part of the trip on the PCH.
posted by hungrybruno at 11:42 AM on May 30, 2013

Did you use Expedia or Travelocity to compare rental car rates? In my experience, Hertz is usually more expensive than its competitors.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:51 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've got GREAT rates for rentals from Hotwire.

Husbunny and I did this on our Honeymoon and we had a BLAST!

I wouldn't count on Hwy 1 being open though, it really depends on weather.

We hit Solvang and the Mission there, SLO/Madonna Inn, Hearst Castle, Santa Cruz, San Jose then up into San Francisco.

Don't be too bummed if you have to up 101, it's still pretty neat and full of GRAPES!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:05 PM on May 30, 2013

Yay for SF Pride pilgrimage! You mentioned leaving Saturday; you know the main parade is Sunday, right? The Dyke March is on Saturday, if I were of the ladies persuasion I'd definitely want to do that too.

Have you considered flying? Kayak shows round trips of about $200 on Virgin and United. Of course no time or fun for sightseeing on the way, but it's an 8 hour drive and if you're doing that in one day, you're not going to see much anyway. (And that's I-5; really you'd want 101, which takes longer).
posted by Nelson at 12:08 PM on May 30, 2013

A few things to consider as I've had the "enjoyment" of helping many people plan budget trips to SF:
Is the hotel you're looking at actually in the city proper?
Does the hotel charge for parking? (most in the city do, it can be up to $40 a day, seriously)
If it's not in the city, are you planning on taking transit in? Or will you be paying for street/lot parking?
posted by primalux at 12:12 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you do end up going through Big Sur, be sure to gas up BEFORE you get to the coast (i.e., Cambria/Cayucos/SLO heading north, or Monterey heading south). There are gas stations along the way, but prices are about double. I've never seen a tourist in a rented minivan so angry.
posted by one_bean at 12:22 PM on May 30, 2013

Just got back from an LA --> SF road trip. We took Rt. 1 for most of the trip, but did detour into the countryside for a bit between Santa Maria and Pismo Beach (via the 101). It's worth spreading the drive out over two days if at all possible, so that you have time to stop whenever something looks cool.

We stayed in Morro Bay in between cities, at the Bay View Inn, which was fantastically close to the bay and the harbor and reasonably priced ($150 for an ocean view room, booked on their website). There are boat tours and some great little seafood places at the Embarcadero, and a little sea lion community right in the middle of the bay. Also a few very adorable otters.

Our oneway car rental was about $300 for 5 days. We spent about $100 on fuel for the whole trip. It helps that the speed limit on the PCH is pretty low, forcing you to drive more efficiently.

Other highlights of the drive:
-17 Mile Drive at Pebble Beach: Great photo ops, beautiful beaches. Costs $10 to drive through.
-Elephant Seal Vista: Near San Simeon - SO cool. Maybe my favorite thing we did on the trip.
-Santa Monica Farmer's Market.

In San Francisco, we stayed at the Kensington Park Hotel, which was lovey and well-appointed, very helpful staff. Parking was $40 a night... we had a LivingSocial deal for the room price.
posted by honeybee413 at 12:25 PM on May 30, 2013

Seconding flying. Once you get to San Francisco, the car is dead weight. You'll want public transportation or cabs. And spending an entire day in the car when it's a short trip meant to be about San Francisco just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

When you're renting a car, financially pretty much evens it all out.

Alternatively, take your manual, park it at SFO and avoid ever driving it on a steep hill.
posted by politikitty at 12:53 PM on May 30, 2013

I've driven San Diego to San Francisco in one day and it's exhausting. And that was on the 5, which is a straight shot and easy driving. Even 101 would have been much worse. If you do decide to do highway 1, do it on your way back. The views are better (since you're closer to the ocean) and you'll be much less tired and more able to focus on the road when needed.

But really, just fly. Between gas and renting a car, it'll be the same price for 2 people, you won't have to deal with parking in SF, and your vacation will essentially be 2 days longer.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 3:38 PM on May 30, 2013

I'm not entirely clear on how much time you're planning on spending actually on the road. I drove from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo a few summers ago and it was one of the most fun things I've ever done, but what I was expecting to be a short jaunt down the coast turned into a multi-day excursion because I kept stopping to see EVERYTHING (I drove down the 1 the entire way and did Monterrey, Carmel, Santa Cruz, a hike in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and Hearst Castle, and also stopped to take pictures at basically every possible lookout point along the road - the whole thing was just incredible). If I had to pick just one thing to see, I'd have to pick the elephant seals, though (I think they are just north of San Simeon?).
posted by naoko at 3:38 PM on May 30, 2013

1. The length of the drive time between San Francisco and San Diego is ENTIRELY DEPENDENT on how much traffic you hit going through LA. So plan your arrival and departure timing around missing LA traffic. As to gas mileage, impossible to say without knowing what car you're driving, but budget some wiggle room in case gas prices spike early summer (as they frequently do).

2. Don't take I-5. 101 is much nicer, and like 15 minutes longer, leaving aside issues of traffic in LA. Route 1 is a lovely scenic detour...I particularly recommend the section between San Louis Obispo and Monterey. That will add about 2 hours to your drive, but minimally affect gas costs.

3. Parking outside of the city and taking public transit around is absolutely an option. Lots around the SFO airport run around $20 a day. There may be commuter lots near the BART station that may be cheaper, but I don't know what they would be. Street parking near the BART stations will be difficult as a) much of it is metered and b) in most municipalities your car can be towed if it's parked for more than 72 hours in one spot. Enforcement varies greatly.

4. Street parking in the city is very dependent on neighborhood, and ranges between minor pain in outlying residential neighborhoods to completely impossible in city-center neighborhoods. As mentioned, parking will run you $40/day in central neighborhoods.

5. San Francisco is a great city for cheap food, including burrito joints, food trucks, and hole-in-the-wall Asian restaurants. However, it's still significantly more expensive than San Diego. I'd say that budgeting $15 for dinner and $10 for breakfast and lunch each is as low as you can go without feeling very limited. So that's $70/day for food for the two of you.

6. Drinks are also more expensive. If that's part of your plan, budget for that as well.

7. There are many, many free and cheap activities around the city, but most museums and tourist attractions will run you $7-20 admission each.

8. Public transit will be the best way to get around the city. MUNI rides are $2 - I'd budget $8/day each for public transit if you want to be seeing the city.
posted by psycheslamp at 5:11 PM on May 30, 2013

Awesome replies so far. I wrote my original message on the fly since I was on my way out so I didn't clarify: we intend to leave early Thursday morning to beat out traffic and so we can have the entire day to enjoy the scenery during the drive, leaving Sunday after the parade. I've done several SF road trips before (both the 5 and 101 routes) but like I said, she isn't from here and I wanted to show her how gorgeous her new home state is :).

Earlier today, she took her car to the shop. Depending on how that goes, we may take that and eliminate the rental issue.

I thought of booking at the Oakland Marriott City Center... Anyone familiar with that area? The site says it's within a short walk to BART, which we'd intend to use for most of our commuting around the city.
posted by HiphopAnonymous at 5:38 PM on May 30, 2013

Don't forget the train! It takes forever but I hear there are some scenic parts. Train + rental car might not be economical, though.

Highway 1 in Big Sur and north of Santa Cruz is definitely worth driving for the scenery. It is much slower though.

The Oakland Marriott can be nice, but the last time I was there a few months ago one of the elevators was not working which was quite painful. You might want to call and check on that. Me and my girlfriend showed up at the last minute once and got a great rate on a corner room with a view, but your mileage may vary.

I found that the Marriott Courtyard across the street was very nice and had good rates.

Both hotels are not too far from BART and are actually pretty convenient to a lot of great Oakland spots like The Trappist pub (legendary Belgian beer, not to be missed), Cock-A-Doodle (excellent Cuban breakfast place), and a bunch of stuff in Jack London Square, including Haven Restaurant and Beer Revolution. If you're into stuff like eating and drinking.
posted by overleaf at 7:39 PM on May 30, 2013

Oakland Marriott City Center is indeed near BART, however, BART doesn't run all night or that late here. On Friday/Saturday night you'd have to at the station in SF by midnight or so. There are allnighter buses but they're less frequent and more sketchy.

Also, I'd like to second Nelson's mention of the Dyke March; for me and most of my queer female friends, Trans March (Friday night, Dolores Park) and Dyke March (Saturday afternoon/evening, also Dolores Park--people start hanging out as early as noon or 1pm and make a day of it) and the afterparties are pretty much what we think of as Pride. The parade on Sunday and (especially) the stuff near Civic Center is more commercial and there are more straight people.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:46 PM on May 30, 2013

If you decide on an inland route up the spine of the state, I recommend that you choose Highway 99 rather than Interstate 5.

I-5 goes up a corridor that is built for efficiency, not scenery. Hwy 99, on the other hand, has a lot more to look at - you'll get a good look the agricultural roots of the state. On a clear day you'll see the Sierra Nevada to the east and the coast range to the west. Don't miss the Sun Maid Raisin Factory in Kingsburg!
posted by DandyRandy at 12:29 PM on May 31, 2013

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