San Francisco Booking Strategies

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Fall is summer. First-time visitors to San Francisco may be surprised that typical California weather patterns aren't the norm here. The bad news: You'll probably need a sweater in July—at night for sure, and perhaps even during the day, when temperatures often hover in the mid-60s. But the good news is that it's rarely frigid, even between November and February. The warmest, clearest month is actually September. But no matter what the season, go for it. Chances are that the weather will be decent—or at least tolerably atmospheric, thanks to fog.

Neighborhoods: Union Square and beyond. There are many hotels clustered around the city's downtown, Union Square. Naturally, this area has tons of restaurants, entertainment venues, and big-name stores. No matter what your interests, Union Square's central location, bountiful transportation options, and sheer variety of hotels—from bare-bones to five-star—appeal to most visitors. The second-most-popular area for vacationers to stay the night is Fisherman's Wharf, along the waterfront. Even though the only locals who hang out at Fisherman's Wharf are the seals loafing on piers, most visitors find themselves here, poking around in souvenir shops and boarding boats for tours of Alcatraz. As a general rule, the farther out from downtown your hotel is, the better the price. Note: Don't stay across the bay in Oakland or Berkeley if you plan to spend most of your time in San Francisco itself—the average savings of about 25 percent a night won't be worth the trade-off in wasted time going back and forth.

Boutiques, B&Bs, and more. San Francisco has an incredibly diverse range of lodging options. Don't limit your room search to traditional hotels. Perhaps you'd prefer a grand old Victorian home that's been converted into a funky B&B, or a small posh boutique hotel that—when there's a good promotion going—is much cheaper than you'd expect. In addition to the usual hotel booking engines, check out Bed and Breakfast San Francisco, an operation that has been booking travelers in rooms, apartments, cottages, and B&Bs in San Francisco and its surroundings for more than three decades. Another tip: Quikbook works with many independent hotels in San Francisco (and other cities) and often has discounted rates you won't find on other websites.

Don't drive yourself crazy. With an excellent system of taxis, buses, cable cars, and BART commuter trains throughout the Bay Area, driving isn't necessary. It certainly isn't pleasant: Navigating the city's shockingly steep roads can be tricky. (We're not kidding.) Worse, parking is expensive: It's $50 or more a night for valet service at many hotels. If you do bring a car downtown, park it yourself at a public garage, where rates will be about $30 per 24-hour period. Planning a day trip to wine country? You can rent for less than 24-hours by using a service like Zipcar, which had 42 convenient locations around the city when we published this article. (The catch with these services, though, is that you usually have to pay an annual membership fee of between $50 and $75, plus a yearly fee of about $25. On the plus side, their hourly rates start at $8 and include gas and insurance.)

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