TOURING NORTHERN CALIFORNIA IN A RENTAL CAR
California is one of the most popular states in the US for both domestic and international visitors. No matter what type of vacation you are looking for, you can map out a road trip you'll remember for a lifetime. For this road trip, we picked up our rental car at the San Francisco Airport (SFO) and explored San Francisco before heading north to Sonoma County for a few days of wine tasting. Our trip provided a fair mix of sightseeing and running around before a few days of relaxing at local wineries. In my opinion, vacationing in a new place is about finding a balanced mix of both!
PICKING-UP YOUR RENTAL CAR AT SFO AIRPORT
Once you land at the San Francisco International Airport, make your way to baggage claim to pick-up your luggage and keep an eye out for signs for the AirTrain Blue Line. The AirTrain operates 24 hours a day and brings travelers from all terminals to the rental car center and terminal parking garages. Once you get to the Rental Car Center have your voucher ready and find the sign for your supplier, we booked with Hertz.
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POPULAR RENTAL CAR PICK-UP OPTIONS IN SAN FRANCISCO
For your convenience, Auto Europe offers multiple car rental pick-ups and drop-off locations across California and specifically San Francisco. On certain dates, it may be cheaper to pick-up your rental car in downtown San Francisco compared to the airport but the difference in price wasn't enough when we factored in the cost of a taxi from the airport to where we were staying in North Beach. Use the search form at the top of the page to reserve the perfect rental car for your next trip.
• San Francisco Airport Car Rentals
• Downtown San Francisco Car Rentals
DAYS 1, 2, 3: EXPLORING SAN FRANCISCO
Our first day in San Francisco, we checked into our Airbnb in North Beach in the afternoon and prepared for our first night in the city. We had dinner reservations with a local friend at State Bird Provisions and the restaurant's reputation exceeded our expectations. The restaurant serves small plates dim-sum style with a menu that is always changing. Place an order or sit back and let your eyes wander as servers pass by with a variety of options for you to choose from. If you like tapas-style restaurants and trying a variety of one-of-a-kind dishes, State Bird Provisions is for you. Be sure to make a reservation before you visit to avoid a long wait for a table.
We started off our second day with breakfast at Sweet Maple. This was another popular breakfast spot located less than a half-mile from State Bird Provisions. If you are looking to avoid a wait, you may want to get there a few minutes before they open at 8:00 AM. This place gets a lot of praise from visitors and locals and again we were very impressed. French toast, omelets, a bacon flight, bottomless mimosas, no matter what you order you will be satisfied. After breakfast, we headed to Fisherman's Wharf for a tour of Alcatraz Island. I have never been a huge fan of tours but I enjoyed the Cellhouse Audio Tour that was included in our day tour tickets. The audio part of the tour was just under an hour and filled with stories and descriptions on former prisoners and what life was like on the island. We spent maybe another half hour walking around the island after the tour before we made our way back to the ferry. The ferry does get pretty busy but we had no issues finding a place to sit or getting through the line to get on and off the ferry. If you are planning to take the Alcatraz Audio Tour, you'll want to give yourself at least three hours for the trip, dock to dock. After we got back to the ferry dock, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Fisherman's Wharf. You'll find plenty of places to eat, we found a nice outdoor deck at Eagle Cafe at Pier 39. From the deck, we could see the Sea Lions located at the end of the pier. There is a viewing area where people can go to take photos.
Tip for Travelers: If you are fair-skinned or burn easily, be sure to bring/apply sunscreen before you get on the ferry. Even on an overcast day, we got a lot of suns. You also may want to bring a hat, my partner received a present from a seagull when we got to the island!
Our last day in San Francisco we parked the rental car at Ocean Beach and spent the morning relaxing at the beach before heading to Golden Gate Park. The Japanese Botanical Gardens is a great spot to visit in the park and snap a few photos. We came across one area in Golden Gate Park where you could go on a guided horseback tour of the park but we opted to stay on our feet as we made our way to Haight-Ashbury Street. We took a break at the Magnolia Brewing Company for a quick bite and a local beer. Their Kalifornia Kolsch is a brewery staple or maybe you'd prefer to try one of their west coast IPAs.
DAY 4: DRIVING TO SONOMA COUNTY
After grabbing breakfast on day 4, we packed the car up and headed north. After passing over the Golden Gate Bridge, we were about an hour and a half out (72 miles) from our next stop at Armstrong Redwoods State Park.
As we drove up to the Armstrong Redwoods State Park, we started to see cars parked all along the street. We decided to do the same and by parking along the street leading up to the park, we avoided the $10 parking fee. Once we got into the park there were a number of hiking trails for us to choose from. We had our hiking boots and Camelbaks but for most of the trails, you'll be fine with sneakers. We chose a shorter hike that was classified as "moderate", a 2.2-mile hike along the East Ridge Trail. We spent about 90 minutes hiking through the park and gazing up into the sky looking for the tops of the redwood trees. The park is very family-friendly with hikes as short as one mile with little to no elevation.
Tip for Travelers: We lost cell phone service as we approached the park. This wasn't an issue for us since we were able to get service back before we made any wrong turns without our GPS but just something you may want to be aware of. Dogs are also not allowed on any of the hiking trails in the park.
If you are a craft beer drinker, there's a good chance you've heard of the Russian River Brewing Company. Russian River has been brewing beer for over 20 years and one of the first breweries to focus on producing hoppy and Belgian-inspired beers. Their brewery was located about a half-hour east of Armstrong Park, which made for a convenient pit stop marking the midway point between Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve and our destination of Glen Ellen.
DAY 4 HELPFUL LINKS FOR TRAVELERS
DAYS 5, 6, 7: WINE TASTING IN SONOMA COUNTY
Again booking through Airbnb, we stayed in a cute little one-room cottage that was maybe a quarter mile off of Arnold Drive. This put us a short 5-minute walk from a couple of great restaurants and tasting rooms which were very convenient in the evening after spending our days driving to nearby vineyards. Our Airbnb hosts also left us multiple coupons for free tastings at some of the local wineries which were a nice surprise when we checked in.