I hope you enjoy today’s guest post from Chris Clauson, someone who knows how to live life. Happy holidays and safe travels!– Scott, a.k.a. The Analytical Traveler
Living relatively close to one of the world’s greatest cities is both a blessing and a curse. San Francisco is truly a gem to visit, but getting in and out of the City can be a burden, particularly during the holidays. However, my wife and I value sharing the holiday spirit of the City with our daughter on an annual basis – visiting the iconic holiday locations, enjoying fine food and experiencing great hotels – and we’ve recently taken to a new method of transport to get there.
Transportation: SF Bay Ferry
When I say method of transport, it’s really only ‘the last mile’, so to speak. Living 90 min from the City (traffic free – can be 2-4 hours realistically), the strategy is to drive to the Bay Area, then take other transportation into the City. For years this centered on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains. BART has many options in terms of boarding locations, and allows you to ‘pop up’ in multiple spots in the heart of the City. Cost = ~$20/person, RT, plus parking (varies).
Most recently, however, we’ve switched to taking the SF Bay Ferry, departing out of Vallejo, into the City. (There are many places to catch the ferry.) Not only does this allow one to avoid the worst traffic the Bay Area has to offer, including having to cross the Bay Bridge, but the experience of cruising through the Bay is great, and an experience in itself. The ride is ~1 hour, and drops us at the Ferry Building Marketplace, where many food and shopping options exist.
Cost = ~$28/person RT (half price for kids), plus parking (~$7/24 hours)
Keep in mind hotel parking is $60+ per day in the city
Omni Hotel – Great Point Redemption
Due to the effort it takes getting in and out of the City we always stay at least one night to make the trip more enjoyable. As a travel hacker, I went through my always evolving process in an effort to maximize point redemption value. I have a nice stockpile with both Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards, not to mention loyalty points with the hotels themselves, so virtually any major hotel group was in play. My first step was checking each hotel group to see how many points it would take to redeem a free night. I checked Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood. Hilton, Marriott and Starwood required 35-40k points for a free night, with a redemption value equating to ~.8 cents/point – not good! My next step was to check the travel portals of both Amex and Chase. Of the two, Chase had a MUCH better valuation, with Amex more-or-less equal to the hotel redemption values.
There were many choices available through Chase, including luxury and boutique hotels, which really opened up my options. Not only were there more options, but the redemptions were great. As a Sapphire Reserve cardholder all points are worth 1.5 cents/point when redeemed through Chase, so right there I was guaranteed that my redemption value would be nearly doubled compared to booking through the hotels directly! In addition, Chase offered ‘sale’ prices at many locations. As a result, I was able to book a free night using points at the Omni Hotel in San Francisco for 14k points!!
What to Do
The Hotel is conveniently located in the Financial District, close to the Embarcadero, Union Square, Chinatown and North Beach – all of these easily within walking distance. After checking in we walked to the Union Square area and immediately put our name in at Neiman Marcus for a late lunch. Following lunch we toured Union Square, then the gingerbread house in the Westin St. Francis. We then walked up (and I do mean UP!!) Powell St. to California and took in the beautiful holiday decor at the Fairmont. We finished the day with a top rate meal at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana.
Following a relaxing morning in our room, enjoying views of SF Bay, and checked out around midday. After leaving our packs at the bell desk we headed for North Beach for lunch and a hike up to Coit Tower. With no particular restaurant targeted for lunch we noticed a line forming at a restaurant we had not previously been, and decided to line up. It was clear that Tony’s Pizza Napoletana was a popular spot for locals! By the time we made it to the hostess stand there was a 45 min wait, which gave us time to walk up to Coit Tower, thereby earning our pizza! The lunch did not disappoint, and we have yet another favorite spot in SF! We were even lucky enough to be seated at a counter
All told, another fabulous trip to the City, with new memories made with my family. Please leave any questions, comments, or tips in the comments below.
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