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Need Help in Planning: When Should We Rent a Car

by Carol
(Canada)

We will be in SF for 9 days but we do not want to rent a car for the whole duration of our trip.

We would definitely need a car to go to Napa Valley, Gilroy Premium Outlets and also visit some relatives who live in Walnut Creek.

What is the most logistical way to plan this so we will be able to forgo the rental of a car at some point as we are planning to stay in a hotel by Union Square.

We will arrive SF at around 10:00 am on a Saturday and would like to know if we should rent a car at the airport and drive to either Napa Valley or Gilroy that same day or rent a car towards the end of our trip to visit these places. Should we also opt for a hotel somewhere close to Napa Valley and Gilroy or should we just stay put at our hotel in Union Square.

Our family of 4 consists of 4 adults.

Thanks,

Carol

Jill's Response

Hi Carol! This is a great (and challenging!) question. I have a few suggestions for you that I hope will help you set up your plan.

I would do two one day car rentals to save a little time, money & hassle.

I'd start with a car rental from the SFO airport and head down to Gilroy on your first day. The SFO airport is about 20 miles south of the city, so you are already part of the way there.

With a 10am arrival time, this will put you in Gilroy at around noon. You can grab some lunch and then shop all day!

When you are done, drop your car off at the airport. From there, you can take a cab into the city. This will cost about $45 to $50+ tip.

I would then rent another car in the city on either Tuesday or Wednesday and head up to Napa for the day. This is a great time to go, since it isn't as crowded and you will get a more personalized experience.

You can pick the car up in the morning in the city (many rental places are just a few blocks off Union Square), head to Napa for the day (the wineries are typically open from about 10am to 5pm) and then drop off your car that evening.

Make sure you ask the car rental place in the city what their latest drop off time is for the day. Some of them close early, so you want to make sure you don't miss your drop off time which means you would have to keep the car overnight and pay for an extra day.
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An alternative to renting a car and driving is to take a wine tasting tour (here are some recommendations). This leaves the driving to someone else, so all four people in your group can enjoy some wine and no one has to worry about driving an hour back to the city.
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For your trip to Walnut Creek, I recommend that you take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) instead of driving.

The traffic between Walnut Creek and the city is pretty bad. You also have to drive over the Bay Bridge, which means you may have to wait in traffic at the toll booth. It can be a frustrating experience, which is why BART is such a great alternative.

There is one stop that is just a couple of blocks from downtown Walnut Creek.

You will take the Pittsburg/Bay Point Train (see a map here) and get off at the Walnut Creek station.

This option allows you to stay in your Union Square hotel for your entire stay.

I hope this helps you with your planning. If you have additional question, you can respond in the comments section to this posting.

Have an amazing time in San Francisco!

Jill

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