Vacations for newbies: San Francisco edition
March 24, 2015 11:44 AM   Subscribe

San Francisco in October for two on a modest budget: transportation and (cooking friendly) accommodations

Mrs. CarrionComfort and I are traveling to San Francisco in October for a few days and are looking to stay somewhere affordable and comfortable to have some vacation fun.

Where can we stay cheaply in San Francisco (BART accessible) that will provide at minimum a microwave and fridge? We don't need to cook gourmet, but we don't want to eat out every meal. We would also prefer someplace relatively quiet where we can go to bed early. Is the Fisherman's Wharf Hostel any good? Are there other things out there under $130/night? We know about AirBNB but have no experience using it...

Also looking for suggestions on where and when to buy cheap plane tickets with minimal layovers. We can fly out of either Bradley or Logan airports.

Open to suggestions of cheap and introvert-friendly must-sees, particularly parks and museums.
posted by carrioncomfort to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Virgin America has a nonstop from Logan to SFO; right now it looks like it's running about $370/person.

Speaking as a native, not a tourist, I would stay as far away from Fisherman's Wharf as possible. I've had good luck with AirBnB in other cities and it would be my first choice for SF; hotels in the city are clustered in areas I personally don't find particularly interesting or fun. Depending on what you want to do, you might even consider staying in Oakland or Berkeley.
posted by asterix at 12:04 PM on March 24, 2015

Sorta depends on what you mean by BART accessible. Fisherman's Wharf, for example, is not that close to BART. If you're committed to a) being in SF, b) staying near BART and c) keeping prices under $130/night, I would suggest looking on AirBNB in the Mission, near the 16th St and 24th St Mission stops. I see a couple places now in that price range that are private rooms with kitchen access.

You can also consider staying near the downtown Oakland BART stops, e.g. 12th or 19th St. Oakland, which would be about 15 minutes to downtown SF and would widen your options.
posted by crazy with stars at 12:04 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Omg stay in Berkeley! I love staying in Berkeley when I go to SF.

There is the cutest little hotel in Berkeley that is steps awaY from the BART. It had been a great deal on Kayak and I'm completely blanking on the name. It was kitty corner to Walgreens and just great. Ugh, can't believe I can't remember the name but I'm certain the good ppl of Metafilter in Berkeley will know! (Black and white decor, has a restaurant...we could see the BART from our window. Near a Buddhist temple....) I think it was Hotel ______.
posted by discopolo at 12:20 PM on March 24, 2015

discopolo's hotel is the Shattuck Plaza.
posted by asterix at 12:22 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

The San Remo hotel has rooms under $130/night. It is one block from a cable car stop. It doesn't offer microwave or fridge, but it is a short walk from a Trader Joe's grocery store. If "not eating out" can mean no-cook meals, for example, a grocery store yogurt and banana for breakfast, or a hearty grocery store salad for dinner, it might work for you to just let Trader Joe be your refrigerator.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:24 PM on March 24, 2015

Best answer: For getting around SF itself get a one, three or seven-day Day Pass. It's good on all city buses, historic streetcars, Muni Metro (the city subway system) and also on the cable cars which otherwise are pretty expensive. Here's an overview of the Muni system. And you can use NextBus or similar phone apps to know when the next bus/train etc is arriving. Note that you can't use the Day Pass on BART, that's a different system.
posted by mono blanco at 12:37 PM on March 24, 2015

Best answer: I'd definitely recommend Airbnb over staying in a hotel, not just because you can have a kitchen, but also because I think it's a better experience overall (and has the potential to be quieter as well, if you get the right spot...I don't think of hostels as particularly quiet). North Berkeley is a nice place to relax- here's one place that's in a beautiful, walkable neighborhood, not too far from BART. This place is also in a beautiful Berkeley neighborhood, a little longer walk from BART. SF proper may be more convenient, depending on what you decide to do, but it's not a long train ride from the East Bay.
posted by three_red_balloons at 12:49 PM on March 24, 2015

If you're willing to stay in Oakland, MeMail me. I stayed in an AirBnB owned by someone who has since become a close personal friend. I found it convenient to get wherever I wanted via public transportation.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:02 PM on March 24, 2015

Actually, I found the link. Here's where I stayed.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:06 PM on March 24, 2015

Best answer: You may want to consider flying into Oakland. Might be cheaper.

Also I stayed in the downtown Hilton for about $130 a night. (They claim it's in the financial district, and I guess it is, but it was really more in Chinatown than anything.) Can't remember if it had a microwave, but I do think I recall a mini fridge. I'd be surprised if there wasn't a microwave on the premises to use. I booked via Priceline and I didn't get to choose the hotel, but did show me the zone it was located in and the amenities before I booked, and it was cheap. If I hadn't done that, I was going to stay in Emeryville at a Hilton Garden Inn for $110 a night. Those I am pretty sure have microwaves and fridges. I am not sure about transportation, but Emeryville is just across the Bay Bridge so I'd be surprised if there wasn't a bus or shuttle to take you into SF.

If you are looking for a nice, solo spot to yourself, when you add up Airbnb's fees and taxes, I'm not sure it's much cheaper than a real hotel. Some places will be, but same places won't -- just as with hotels, there are good deals and bad deals. You can stay in or around SF for less than $130.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:01 PM on March 24, 2015

How close to BART to do you need to be and do you want to be near just because of getting to and from the airport? This might affect the answers you get a suggestions on where to stay. I'd check airbnb in Noe Valley. It's not that far from Mission BART stops and is quieter. Also you'll have more options for places to stay if you avoid dates during conventions like Oracleworld.
posted by oneear at 2:29 PM on March 24, 2015

One thing to consider is that SF has a pretty extensive transit system (Muni) with buses and light-rail trains, so you can get to BART pretty easily from almost anywhere. All the light-rail trains converge in the 5 stations under Market Street, and 4 of those are also BART stations.

Google Maps is great about telling you how to get places using public transit. Also if you have a smartphone definitely use apps that have live predictions (BART runs on time but Muni doesn't). If you have an iPhone I recommend Routesy. The train stations and most bus stops also show live predictions.

SF is a pretty expensive city in general but there is a cool website called Fun Cheap SF that lists free and inexpensive events.
posted by radioamy at 2:37 PM on March 24, 2015

You must go to Tartine. We went to San Francisco, once upon a time, and I will never, ever forgive myself for not going to Tartine (sobs quietly).
posted by kitcat at 2:41 PM on March 24, 2015

Oh also all the ride-hailing companies are trying to outdo each other right now by playing price wars. Works out nicely for the consumer.
- Sidecar is $12 anywhere in the city, $6 for shared rides.
- Lyft has $5 shared rides (Lyft Line) in the "Happy District" and rides from "hot spots" for $3.

Anyone who has a Lyft or Sidecar account can also give you free ride credits when you sign up. MeMail me if you would like my code.
posted by radioamy at 2:42 PM on March 24, 2015

Best answer: If you're coming to visit San Francisco, a lot of what you'll be doing will not be close to BART. Staying in Berkeley or Oakland is likely trading an hour each way to save money. If you only have a few days, I'd stay in the city, if at all possible.

Be aware that the Mission district is *not* quiet at night. It can also be a little sketchy the further east you get from Mission. The 16th and Mission BART station is sketchy (though it's fine a block in pretty much any direction). Frankly, if you're only going to be in town for a few days and you want to see a lot, you'd better off with a car for at least some things (SACRILEGE) like the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach and Twin Peaks. You might consider using Zipcar instead of a normal rental because overnight parking is expensive. (Edit - a hop on hop off bus could serve this purpose too. Never done it, but it might be an OK option if the routes are good.)

I don't know that I can give you *really* introverty things to do because there are so many people, but here are my suggestions. Most of these don’t require you to talk to anyone, if that helps:
• Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge (weather for this is usually good in October)
• Twin Peaks
• Ocean Beach for sunset if it’s not foggy.
• Pick from the California Academy of Sciences/de Young Art Museum/Conservatory of Flowers. They’re all roughly in the same spot in Golden Gate Park.
• Ferry Building
• Alcatraz
* Exploratorium
• San Francisco City Guides tours (Free!) I’ve enjoyed all of these I’ve done, and the Chinatown Tour is a good bet for exploring and learning a bit about the neighborhood.
• Top of the Mark for drinks. SUPER touristy, but great views.
• Coit Tower
• Stay away from Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf. There’s really nothing there. Trust me on this. There’s not much a Ghirardelli Square either, except ice cream, which is maybe its own reward.
• Union Square is another thing people do. It doesn’t do much for me, but I’m not a shopper.
• Get a burrito in the Mission District and go to Mission Dolores Park on a weekend afternoon.
posted by cnc at 4:37 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

For cheap flights, keep an eye out on The Flight Deal. Today they posted a SF - Boston fare for $287 including taxes. It is only good for flights through May, but they find a deal every couple of weeks or so. The fare usually lasts within one or two days of the initial post.

The citymapper app can help navigate public transit.

One of my favorite walks is to start at the Ferry Building early on a Saturday morning for the farmer's market before the big crowds get there. Grab breakfast and the fixings for a picnic, take the ferry to Angel Island from pier 41 for a picnic with views of San Francisco skyline.
posted by kogester at 4:59 PM on March 24, 2015

Best answer: Both the Exploratorium and the Cal Academy have night events that are geared to adults and cheaper than daytime admission.

If you end up near Pier 39 / Fisherman's Wharf anyway you could visit the Musee Mechanique - free except for quarters you spend and you can check out the sea lions.

I can send suggestions for cheap eats later.
posted by oneear at 5:14 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh yes Musee Mechanique is really fun and basically free! If you're into history there is a submarine tour right next to it that's really informative.
posted by radioamy at 1:37 PM on March 26, 2015 gives you free or nearly free activities every day.
posted by blob at 5:56 PM on March 30, 2015

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