Trip Report | San Francisco, Noob Style.
I’m always grateful to get to go on vacations, no matter the destination or amount of time. I have been fortunate enough to travel to a few places and see a few things (some good, some not so good), and I always have a great time because I’m with close friends or family AND I get to re-charge the batteries. Winning. Plus, each time I learn something new about traveling and my own preferences, which is why I share it here on the Noob. Hopefully you guys benefit from my trip sharing. This time, it’s destination: San Francisco. Believe it or not, I had never been. Here goes…
We decided to stop in San Fran for a a couple days before heading to the wine country to see what all the fuss was about. We had to fly there anyway, so it just made sense. But since it was our first time to visit and we were short on time, we were put in an awkward traveler position (meaning we felt obligated to do the touristy type of things). We couldn’t be in San Francisco and not visit the Golden Gate bridge, right?
We knew there were some classic must sees, but we also really wanted to experience more of the local scene. We had heard that Union Square was awesome and a go-to, so after a quick travel recoup, we went to check it out first thing. I have to say, it was cool, but overwhelming touristy. That’s fine, but we were just desiring a little something different. But in spite of the fanny packers and camera holders, there was a cool little park in the middle of Union Square that was a great place for a nice break and a beverage.
San Francisco is also a micro climate and because it’s by the bay, it gets pretty chilly. This could be more noticeable to us Texans who are used to the blistering heat, but I would definitely recommend a hoody or jacket even in the summer. According to a local, it gets cooler there in the summer. I don’t get it. We were amazed at all the urban park areas where people were sun bathing. In Austin, no one lays out without a pool or body of water at least 5 yards away. It reminded me of Europe and specifically Pisa, where people were spread out all over the lawns laying out. Pretty cool.
Our favorite thing that we did was actually one of the most touristy things to do. I was shocked that I enjoyed myself so much, but we had a great time renting bikes and riding through San Francisco over the Golden Gate bridge and down to Sausalito. Yes, it was a crowded bike ride, but the scenery was breathtaking and the weather was awesome exercise weather. It also felt good to be active after eating like a king for breakfast (I tend to do that on vaca).
Seeing the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz was very very cool. It’s always surreal seeing a historic landmark for the first time. I had seen the bridge so many times on TV or in other people’s picture, but when you are staring up at it, that’s a cool moment. I got lost thinking about what it took to build it and how many people came to see it, and in those moments I try to remind myself just how lucky I am to be able to travel and see different parts of the country and world. I’m happy to have been able to experience it with my wife, even if it was on cheap, hideous bikes that signaled loud and clear to everyone that we were tourists.
Overall, we had a good time in San Francisco although we didn’t spend a lot of time there. The public transportation is great for getting around, and there are some cool spots to hit up other than the touristy things we did. At least that’s what I keep being told. Next time we will have to venture out into other districts and experience more of the local scene.
We went with Southwest Airlines and I was pleased with the service and experience as usual. When you fly Southwest, you board generally by your group number and that is based on when you checked in. Each flight, Jordan was somehow got in group A and I was in group B. I have a good wife, and each flight she was able to secure us exit row seating. That’s all I need when I fly domestically- leg room. For me, it’s not worth the miles or cash to fly business domestically unless the flight is over 4 hours. I’m perfectly content with exit row seating or economy plus on other airlines.
The Southwest staff was friendly and the planes were in good condition and looked well maintained. The only poor thing about Southwest is that there were no direct flights, so we had to connect in LAX. Boo. That’s also where we ate some piss poor mexican food without queso and we felt it the rest of the day.
We did almost get divorced trying to catch our plane out of San Francisco. We (me) like to try and time things out perfectly, but failed this time. I also took a wrong turn when trying to return the car. That definitely didn’t help. We had one of those times where you’re freaking out waiting in security and then running through the airport trying to get to your gate. I was thinking the whole time, “we better make this flight or I will be hearing about this for a loooong time.” The front counter agent was calling our name for the last time as we were running up to gate. I tried to five high her on my way to boarding, but she wasn’t amused.
I was also able to catch up on my emails and work by paying $5 for internet on the plane. This was well worth it for me, because I live on my mac and it made the flight fly by. I ended up paying $1.50 per hr. for internet, and that’s value because I was way way behind on emails.
How Many Points?
These flights cost us 11,000 Rapid Rewards points each, or 22,000 total. I will take that. I had exhausted the Rapid Rewards points that I had earned from the sign-up bonus from my Southwest Visa and Jordan’s sign-up bonuses hadn’t hit yet, so I transferred 22,000 points out of my Ultimate Rewards account instantly. The points I have in my Ultimate Rewards account I earned from my Chase Sapphire and Ink Bold sign-up bonuses and daily spending. This was a good example of the flexibility of Ultimate Rewards points and I used them in a way that made sense for me.
The Stay – Intercontinental San Francisco
We stayed at the Intercontinental downtown for our stay and really enjoyed it there. The outside of the hotel is constructed on blue windows that are aesthetically pleasing and green for the environment. The hotel is LEED certified, which means it has passed numerous tests and checks to be compliant and seen as a leader environmentally through technology and operations. They are the 3rd largest building in the US to be LEED certified and the largest pre-existing building to achieve the honor. This is some impressive stuff and click here for more info.
The lobby was elegant and the common area was wide open and offered many different seating options. There was a bar that spilled over into the common area, which was perfect because you could get a drink from the bar and easily mosey on over to the oversized black leather sofa. This was a great stop to wind down or start the evening, whatever your choice.
Next to the bar was the Michelin star restaurant, Luce. It was posh and looked very inviting. We didn’t plan on eating in the restaurant because we wanted to get away from the hotel and explore the city. However, that first night we weren’t feeling the best, so we ordered room service from Luce. I must say, we had a feast and I liked it. The chocolate truffle cake that we had to end the meal was perfect. It was soft on the outside with a little crisp bottom layer that was killer. I have a terrible sweet tooth. This was a good choice and what I remember most from the meal. It was working well with the red wine I was drinking too.
When we checked in, I wasn’t expecting much respect or room upgrades even though I’m a Platinum member with Priority Club. Priority Club is the hotel program that the Intercontinental is in, but they have a different top level of status called “Royal Ambassador” which you have to pay for. I just received an email this week from PC trying to get me to buy Royal Ambassador status for $200. Too steep since I don’t stay at Intercontinentals that often. I have also heard of people buying Royal Ambassador perks on Ebay, but I haven’t checked into it. Anyway, I checked in and during the booking, I was making small talk with the person checking us in (always do that) and I asked if there were any upgrades available. To my surprise, she said, ” I see that you are a Platinum member with us and I want to thank you for being such a loyal customer.” I said, “You’re welcome. I love Priority Club hotels.” She then said she was looking into an upgrade for me. Sweeet. She ended up upgrading us to the next room level, which was sufficient for me.
There are only 22 rooms on each floor, so it’s really a pretty intimate atmosphere. Our room ended up being on the corner (yay for extra space). It was quite large for a non suite and the floor to ceiling windows were on two sides of the room, so the view from the room was pretty great. We could overlook the city and see the bay on the other side. I know if we had been a few floors higher, it would have been even better. The design was professional modern (I don’t really know what I’m talking about). The desk, headboard, and dresser were slick, and there was a 42″ lcd flat screen, ipod docking station, keurig coffee maker, and climate controls that worked (pet peeve). The shower and bathroom were pretty standard.
There was an indoor heated pool (I’m guessing it never gets too hot for an outdoor pool) and hot tub that were kind of awkwardly placed. The gym looked great, but we never made it down for a work out. We were a little wiped after riding bikes for 15 miles and walking across town. There was also a cool outdoor patio area on the 6th floor next to the Club (PC Platinum couldn’t get me in there) that looked like a great place to kill time and overlook the city.
What it Cost
I spent 40,ooo Priority Club points a night on the Intercontinental. It’s not as it seems. PC points can be very easy to come by, and I received 80,000 for signing up for the credit card a year ago. It’s not the best value in the world (thanks PC for changing your reward chart), but I did get two free nights in San Francisco at a killer hotel that would’ve cost me $600. I would never pay that, but that’s the value I received (not including the upgraded room). Not my best redemption of points value wise, but the wife was happy.
Overall, we had a great stay at the Intercontinental in downtown San Francisco. It was nicely designed and the staff was accommodating. The location was stellar as it was only 2 blocks away from Market Street and public transportation. It was 4 blocks away from Union Square and 2.5 miles away from Fishermans Wharf.
I’m grateful to have been able to get away and stay 2 nights in San Francisco. I’m never sure if anyone cares about all these details, but this was my experience. I will be writing about my 3 day trip to Napa and my stay at the Avia Hyatt soon, so stay tuned!
— Noob Master