On the front end of our Hawaiian adventure, Brooke and I used Korean Air’s generous routing rules to plan a FREE 2.5 day stopover in San Francisco. We planned to visit friends, check out some landmarks, and sip some high-quality wine in Sonoma Valley. Brooke even discovered a great loophole to get free wine!! We definitely enjoyed our time in in the Bay Area!
- Air Travel/Transportation – How we got there and how we got around.
- Accommodations – Where we stayed in the city.
- Adventures – Write-ups of the activities we enjoyed during our visit. (skip to Free Wine tips)
- Total Trip Cost Breakdown – How much we actually paid for the trip and which loopholes we used.
- Delta Airlines – $0 (Stopover on our 25,000-UR point RT trip to Hawaii, booked via Korean Air)
- Rental Car – $0 (Used 4,676 Citi ThankYou Points)
As I mentioned above, we took advantage of Korean Air’s stopover rule to add a city to our Hawaii trip for FREE! We landed in San Francisco at 11am on Saturday and picked up our rental car, a 2015 Volkswagen Jetta, from Thrifty Rental.
Renting a car is important if you want to explore areas outside of San Francisco, including Muir Woods and Sonoma Valley. We booked through the Citi Travel Portal, using our ThankYou Points at 1.25 cents/point. Thrifty also offers a free upgrade certificate for print, which is good through 12/31/15.
- Friends’ Apartment – $0 x 1 night (Thanks Russ and Rae!)
Our friends live in an awesome apartment in downtown San Francisco. They graciously offered a place to crash for our first night. Not only did they provide a bed, they were also excellent tour guides! Russ has lived in San Fran for the past few years, and he is very proud to show guests around his city. He took us up and down the hills, through various neighborhoods, to a brewery, to Union Square, and even to Grace Cathedral. We were struggling up the hills while Russ seemed to have no problem striding up the steep grade. Darn natives!
- Doubletree by Hilton Sonoma Wine Country – $0 x 1 night (Used 30,000 HHonors points)
We planned to end our second night near Russian River Brewing Company after a day touring Sonoma Valley. Our hotel needed to be nearby, so we chose the Doubletree just south of Russian River. The hotel was nice, but it was really just a place to sleep. We were out late and up early the next day to head to the airport.
The San Francisco streetcar is an absolute must! The old-school cars with drivers, who double as tour guides, give you a glimpse into the city’s history. I recommend waiting at one of the stops along the line, not at the end by the pier – the lines are usually much longer at the pier.
The car must leave seats for at least two passengers at each stop. Try to squeeze up to the front and stand along the rail for a fun ride. The $6 per person ride fee was well worth it. Take a look for yourself:
- Pier 39 Seals
Swing by Pier 39 for a carnival-like atmosphere, with funnel cakes, street performers, and some unexpected visitors – seals! On most days you can see a large group of seals hanging out in an area off the end of Pier 39. If you get lucky, one may wave to you.
- Alcatraz Night Tour
One of the highlights of our trip was the night tour of Alcatraz island and prison on Halloween! One of the creepiest places in America on the creepiest night… sign us up! We took a ferry from the pier to the island at sunset, which gave great views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge from the water. At the prison, they provide an audio tour about the history and inmates that served time on Alcatraz island. We also were delighted to learn that the hospital wing would be open that night. The operating room was straight out of a horror movie!
After our ferry returned from the prison, we walked back down the edge of the water to Ghirardelli Square. Here, we sampled chocolates and shared some scoops of delicious ice cream.
- Muir Woods
After a fantastic, home-cooked breakfast on Sunday morning (thanks again Rae!), we loaded up the car and headed north across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Muir Woods. We spent the cool morning hours strolling among the massive redwood trees, just looking up in silence at the natural beauty. When you visit Muir Woods, please remember to be respectful of the quiet areas… don’t be those people… Also, for a really cool picture, take a vertical panorama. I didn’t know this was even possible; thanks random guy who took our picture!
- Girl and the Fig
For lunch, we ventured into downtown Sonoma. On the square, we found a restaurant called The Girl and the Fig, which came highly recommended by a few friends. The food was delicious, and we even got to sit by the outdoor fireplace. I recommend the Croques Madame and a Pliny the Elder.
- Sonoma Valley Wineries (and tips for FREE wine!)
After lunch, we drove further into Sonoma Valley to visit three wineries. Brooke had meticulously selected two of these from a list of wineries who offer Visa Signature benefits. If you have a Visa signature card, you can present it at participating wineries in Sonoma and Napa valleys for free tastings or discounted bottles. To check for Visa Signature, simply find the Visa logo on your card, and you should see the word “Signature” under it. We each showed our Chase Sapphire Preferred card to get our freebies.
This is a lesser-known benefit, but it was quite nice! The list of wineries is available here, but some of the information is out-dated. Brooke called a few wineries to confirm that they still participate in the program. Of the wineries she called, she confirmed that the following five in Sonoma offer benefits.
We visited Gloria Ferrer first, and we each got two free samples to enjoy on the patio overlooking their vineyards. Brooke really liked the Va de Vi. We also ordered a sampling of some of their featured sparkling wines, which were quite tasty. Next, we drove to Muscardini Cellars, a winery specializing in red wines. We upgraded one of our tastings, so we could try all 11 wines that they offered for a total of $5! (usually $15 for 5) The guy who poured our samples REALLY knew his stuff, and the Rancho Salina was my favorite. If you ask nicely, they may also let you sample some Grappa, an interesting grape liquor.
Finally, we visited the beautiful Ledson Winery & Vineyards, a winery in a castle! The winery, tasting room, and vineyards were incredible, and the bartenders were a lot of fun. We ordered the standard tasting to share (still had more driving to do), and they even pulled a few additional reserve bottles for us to try! We definitely recommend a visit to this one.
- Russian River Brewing Company
After a day spent drinking wine, I was ready for a night of cold brews. Russian River Brewing Company is one of the premier American breweries, known for their hop-forward, west-coast IPA’s and their barrel-aged, perfectly-blended sours. We settled in with a HUGE flight of beer samples and a pizza to share as we watched our Kansas City Royals win the World Series!!
- Golden Gate Bridge
On our way back down from Sonoma Valley, we stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge lookout. It was a nice, clear day, so we got a great view of the bridge and hills of San Francisco in the background.
The following table breaks down our transportation and lodging costs. As you see, we spent no actual money on these items, which allowed us to use our money for good times and great food in the city!
In a city as expensive as San Francisco, we were thrilled to be able to fly, drive, sleep, and even drink wine for FREE! I hope some of these tips will help on your trip to the Bay Area.