18 Hours in San Francisco and Duck Tour!

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All I had were 18 hours in San Francisco.  That included time for eating, sleeping, getting to and from the airport, and sight-seeing.  Clearly, not enough time.  However, that was all I had, so I really wanted to make the most of it.  Here is what I did, in case you find yourself in a similar situation.  If you want to see my review of the Grand Hyatt San Francisco, check out this post.

Getting to and from the airport to downtown:

After landing I used the infamous Super Shuttle to get to my hotel.  It was only $14 one-way (including using a code for $3 off), but it was a packed van.  Dropping off the first girl took a good 20 minutes out of the way for everyone else.  I was seriously kicking myself for being a cheap-o and saving a few bucks by taking Super Shuttle when I had such limited time.  Luckily, I was the second drop-off, so while the ride took a little over 45 minutes, it could have been much worse.

On the way back to the airport the next morning I took a cab, and since it was so early in the morning, it was only about a 15-20 minute ride.  It came to about $42 plus tip.  I think some pretty good car service companies are only about $15 more, so that could be an option as well.  If I was with my family I would have done either cab or car service both ways as the economics of Super Shuttle really only make sense for me if I am the only traveler.  There is also a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train that is $8.10 to get from the airport to downtown.  Children under 4 are free.  Trains depart every 15 minutes and it is only a 30 minute ride downtown.  That would have probably been smarter than the Super Shuttle, though I would still do a cab or car service if I were returning with my kiddo.

Duck Tour:

I’m sure you have seen the Duck Tours in various cities – they are those funny look vehicles that look like boats, but drive on land.  Yes, they really do go in the water.  The Ducks this company uses are based on the classic WWII DUKW, but are actually newly built Ducks.  In case you were curious, according to Wikipedia, the “D” indicated a vehicle designed in 1942, “U” meant “utility”, “K” indicated front-wheel drive, “W” indicated two powered rear axles.  That was my piece of knowledge learned for the day.

Anyway, the it seemed like a good way to see a few sights and have some fun, even if it did look a bit cheesy.  I used a company called “Ride the Ducks”.  It offers two tours – one out of Fisherman’s Wharf that operates year-round, and one out of Union Square.  The Union Square departure just started back up for the year the day before I went in early April.  You can buy tickets online or at a walk-up stand.  The stand I went to in Union Square only accepted cash, so if you want to earn points on your credit cards, buy online ahead of time. Adults cost $34, seniors $32, children 4-17 $25, and children 3 and under are free.  There are some additional discounts for going on a tour before noon.

Taken from their website:

On land, your duck tour passes by many San Francisco sightseeing landmarks, including:

  • Union Square
  • Chinatown
  • Ghirardelli Square
  • North Beach
  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • SOMA
  • South Beach
  • The Ferry Building
  • The Transamerica Pyramid
  • And more…

After your thrilling splash down into the bay, sightseeing from the water includes:

  • City Skyline
  • Bay Bridge
  • AT&T Ballpark
  • McCovey Cove

And here’s the part of their website I really got excited about…. “Don’t forget, when you are on the water you can drive the duck if you want!”  Um, yes please!

On my tour that left at 3PM from Union Square, there were a grand total of three people on the boat.  Two women from Dublin, and me.  The Captain was doing his best to keep us engaged with the kinda corny duck jokes and stuff, but it did feel a little funny with just three people.  We saw another duck that had left from Fisherman’s Wharf, and it was at least 2/3 full.  Anyway, given the low occupancy on the boat, I didn’t have any competition when it came to driving the duck in the bay.  It was really fun and I got to drive for about 6-8 minutes near AT&T Ballpark.

I don’t think I was very good at keeping us steady with the wind and waves, but I did my best.  No one puked.  We did briefly see all of the places listed on the website on our 90 minute tour.  There is no way I could have seen that much in 90 minutes without the tour, so I am glad I did it.

Dinner in Union Square:

After the Duck Tour, I got back to the hotel around 5PM.  I did a little bit of work online and then visited the Club Lounge at the Grand Hyatt for some complimentary appetizers.  I had heard good things about sushi in San Francisco, so I had reservations at 7PM at Akiko’s Restaurant.  While it certainly wasn’t rated as the best sushi in the city, it seemed to get some of the highest ratings for a sushi restaurant in the Union Square part of town.  I wanted to be able to walk to and from dinner, so this seemed like a good fit.  I remembered the name of the restaurant, so I looked up the address on my iPhone and headed out.

I got to the restaurant, and it looked a little quainter than I imagined, but some of my favorite sushi joints in New York were very quaint, so I went in anyway.  I think I immediately knew I was at the wrong place as I didn’t even bother to tell them I had a reservation as I sat down.  I liked the atmosphere and was kind of exhausted, so I stayed.  After I ordered, I did a little investigation on my phone and realized that indeed there were two sushi restaurants with virtually the same name in Union Square (Akiko’s Restaurant and Akiko’s Sushi Bar), and I had gone to the wrong one.  I cancelled my reservation at the other one online, and drank my saki while I watched a ballet class practice across the street.  The food at Akiko’s Sushi Bar was okay, but it really wasn’t any better or worse than sushi that I get in my hometown.  I’ll have to do better with my dining choices next time I am in San Francisco.  Hopefully I will have more time to venture to restaurants out of the downtown area as well, though I did love the “big city feel” of downtown.

My flight the next morning required a 6AM departure from the hotel, so I just had time to grab some breakfast in the lounge at the hotel and hop in a cab to the airport.  I am looking forward to returning to the Bay Area with my family, and enjoying many more of the attractions, restaurants, etc. that San Francisco has to offer!  This “teaser” trip has just left me wanting more.

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  1. is there any reason you didn’t take BART to/from the airport? it’s much cheaper, only a few dollars, and takes you right to union square

    • @Jing, as I mentioned in the post, I probably should have as it makes more sense. I just didn’t really do my SFO homework ahead of time enough to realize that was the better option.

  2. For sushi I highly recommend North Beach Sushi on Columbus. Went there for years when I lived in SF and still go every time I return. Always a great meal and very well priced.

  3. Oh no. Next time you’re in SF give us a heads up so we can fill your itinerary with lots of amazing stuff for you to do. Jing is right that BART to/from SFO is the best. A 1 day MUNI pass ($14) will give you far greater access to see the city than any Duck Tour could dream of doing. And you missed the Japanese Tea Gardens with their Cherry Blossoms in full bloom!!! You’ll need to go back for drinks on the 38th floor of the Marriott alone. I just came back from a 5 day trip to the city (where I played tour guide for the family for 2 days). I love it. It doesn’t hurt that I get to stay in a nice 1 bedroom condo on top of Russian Hill for free either. How I wish I lived there…

  4. @ Jeff. If you’re in that neighboorhood, try out Sushi Hunter. (Union/Powell…next to Washington Square). $28 for all you can eat and it’s pretty decent as well. Just avoid the rolls and stick with straight Nigiri/Sashimi 🙂

  5. @Jeff, thanks for the recommendation. I am all about trying new sushi restaurants!

    @Gabriel, I have no doubt that you and other readers could have put together a stellar schedule, and next time I go, you know who I am asking for recommendations! I didn’t know how much energy I would have to really do much with such limited time on this trip, so I kept it low-key. Next time though, it’s on! 😉

  6. @MP
    In addition…if you *ever* want to know the nitty gritty of the city (instead of just the main tourist spots), you can always visit the folks at Skyscraperpage.com who’ll be more than happy to let you know the in’s and outs of nearly every urban area on the planet. VERY resourceful crowd there.

  7. Let me add myself to the list of contacts. Love to show people around my city and I’m about 10 minutes from SFO.

  8. We did the Duck Tour in October last year, too, but I believe it was with a different company. It was offering the tours on Groupon, when we were planning a trip there. We enjoyed our time, and thought that it was worth doing at last once. Saw a lot of seals that day when we got into the water.

  9. We did the Duck tour in D.C. this past year with my niece and nephew – it was the highlight of the trip for them. Of course, we then had to deal with the duck whistle for the rest of the trip!

  10. Why on earth wouldn’t you want to take the kid on the BART?
    Cheaper, no messing with a car seat, no traffic. Your kid has just been strapped down for hours on an airplane. BART gives them (some) freedom.

  11. Gabriel, thanks!
    Bonnerbl, thanks to you as well!
    Jimmy, those Groupon deals are awesome when they work out for things like that. That is cool you got to see seals!
    Katherine, I did refuse to participate in the duck whistling, though I’m sure my kid would have loved it if she was there!
    Tim, I would have no problem taking my kid on the BART, but all the gear would be much easier just put into a car. Doing trains with luggage, car seats, strollers, etc, can be a royal pain if there is an easier alternative. Freedom is also a double-edged sword with a two-year-old. 😉

  12. I wouldn’t take the kid on BART with all the gear. Plus, most hotels are several blocks from the BART stops – walking with a kiddo and gear definitely won’t work. Some car services are actually cheaper than a taxi and some provide free child seats – those are worth investigating if you want to travel light!

  13. If on your next trip to SF you find time to venture out to wine country, I can offer tips on which wineries are kid friendly. I live in the North Bay near wine country and we have taken our kids with us wine tasting many times. Some wineries actually have things that can interest kids. And no, they don’t get any wine 🙂

  14. Super Shuttle was the way to go as a single traveler. Bart would have run you over $8, and dropped you off downtown, amid the homeless and the hustlers with your luggage. Then you get to find your way to the hotel on your own. By the time you did that, it would have taken longer than the Shuttle did, tired you out even more after your flight, and only saved you $6 for your trouble. Plus you might have had to wait an additional 20 minutes for the train to arrive, and maybe found it standing room only, depending on the time of day.

    Standing for a 30 minute ride, with your luggage, hoping not to get pickpocketed, while you try to find the right station to get off at. Just to save a few dollars. I only wish there was a $14 dollar Super Shuttle transfer from the airport to the front door of my hotel in London or Paris !

    Public transit on arrival in an unfamiliar city is SO over rated. Not to even mention that you were only there for part of a day. You did good….

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