San Francisco at night

Downtown San Francisco offers a stunning sight from the Embarcadero

San Francisco is a great destination and needn’t be expensive for budget conscious travelers. Here are some tips on the nitty gritty – where to stay, how to get around, where to eat. Keep in mind the city offers a lot that we haven’t identified or even sampled. San Francisco has many great hotels and even more excellent restaurants.

When to go: July through October visits offer warmer temperatures and less rain. The coolest and wettest months are December and January. However, it seldom gets really cold, even in winter. October may be the best month in terms of weather. As you might expect, the worst time to visit for weather is the best time to avoid crowds and find hotel bargains. As with any trip, pack clothing appropriate for the season.

Getting there: Driving in San Francisco is frustrating and expensive, at least for two seniors from Georgia. Steep hills, heavy traffic, one-way streets and expensive parking all point to flying or taking the train to the city, then going by public transportation or on foot. Bay Area Rapid Transit operates regular service from San Francisco International Airport to downtown. One-way from the airport costs $8.95, and BART offers senior discounts. Taxis typically run $50 while van shuttles are $17.

Getting around: San Francisco is a great city for those of us who enjoy walking, but distances can be challenging and hills daunting. Fortunately, an excellent system of buses, trolleys, cable cars and light rail can transport a visitor nearly anywhere. Single-trip tickets for all but cable cars are $2.25 ($1.25 for seniors and children). Cable cars are fun to ride but not particularly cheap at $7 per ride. Unlimited ride tickets including cable cars are $21 for one day, $32 for three days and $42 for a week. A CityPASS for a week of public transportation plus entrance to several museums and a cruise on San Francisco Bay costs $94 ($69 for children ages 5 through 11.) CityPASS can be purchased online at www.citypass.com. Purchase one from Alcatraz Island Tours or at www.citypass.com/san-francisco/alcatraz and an Alcatraz tour can substituted for a cruise of San Francisco Bay.

Touring the city: Several firms operate narrated bus tours with unlimited hop-on, hop-off service. For first-time visitors, these are an excellent way to get to know the city. Buses typically run every half hour. One- and two-day passes are available for about $45 to $55. Those interested in learning about the city's Chinatown area should consider a tour by Wok Wiz. Ours, led by Dorothy Quock, included a dim sum lunch.

Where to stay: Like most big cities, San Francisco has high-, medium- and low-quality offerings. We have stayed at numerous hotels but for the past three visits chose the Hilton Financial District because of location and its friendly staff. During December our rooms were about $140 per night. The same rooms generally cost an additional $200 or more during the busier season. Other upscale hotels likely offer off-season prices, as well.

Where to eat: San Francisco has many fine restaurants. Of the small sampling of those we’ve visited and enjoyed, we recommend Fang's, R & G Lounge, and House of Hunan for excellent Chinese food. At Bluestem Brasserie we made a meal of excellent appetizers, including one of the best mac-and-cheese dishes we have come across. The Grill at the St. Regis offers upscale dining with excellent steaks and fish. If you want a quick meal at a reasonable price, even a fast-food chain offers an excellent experience. California’s iconic In-N-Out Burger has a special location at Fisherman’s Wharf. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it was welcomed by businesspeople who’ve resisted the overtures of other chains to open in the area known for traditional, local establishments. In-N-Out serves what may be the best burger in the country, but be forewarned that it is often packed.

David and Kay Scott are authors of “Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges” (Globe Pequot). Visit them at www.valdosta.edu/~dlscott/Scott

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