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Cheap, fast and easy
As my corny title page implies, we did indeed leave (and arrive) by BART. This light rail system is by far your quickest and most economical way between downtown and San Francisco International. Depending on what terminal you arrive at, the station is just a few minutes walk or a short ride on AirTrain, the airport's free shuttle system. Here is a map with SFO BART station location:
Traveling from the airport, buy your ticket with cash or credit card from an automated machine at the station for (at time of this writing) $8.10 pp, one way, to stations in downtown area. Once you have your ticket, insert it in a turnstyle to access the platform and retrieve your ticket when it pops it out again - you'll need this again to exit the station at your desired location! Find the platform for the Pittsburg/Baypoint inbound line or one labeled "To San Francisco" - it should be clearly marked or ask one of the helpful people at a station kiosk. The platforms serve multiple lines so listen for audio announcements for when your specific train will be arriving. There should be others waiting for the same train so again, ask if you're not sure you have the right one.
Trains run every 15-20 minutes and it'll take about 30-35 minutes to reach one of several stations in the downtown area. When arriving at your station, exit through the turnstyles by inserting your ticket (it'll keep it this time) and take elevator, stairs or escalator to street level. If going to SFO airport from downtown, reverse the above process using Pittsburg/Baypoint/SFO outbound line. You can also access the Oakland airport via BART.
Station lists, timetables, fare finder to all BART locations in the bay area and other info can be found on BART website (below).
Still confused? Here's a nice article describing more detail on using BART (note: fares are outdated):
One little negative: trains do not run 24/7 so if you have a very early or very late flight, you'll need to use a different form of transportation.
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Glen Park Station destinations
In a series of BART station reviews, I provide examples of destinations and activites that can be take from those stations, as well as the connecting MUNI transport services. For those with limited time in the city, Glen Park could be a good stop. Glen Park is one of the first stops off BART on the south side of the city, with only Balboa Park being closer to the SFO city limits. The station interior is mostly unfinished concrete but the skylight roof creates a pleasant urban ambiance. Leaving Glen Park Station itself on foot is no great shakes because the neighborhood is quite near the 280 freeway, but just outside one can quickly find the #23 Monterey MUNI Bus which will wind it's way over the residential ridges south of Mt. Davidson to 19th and West Portal where there's a relatively quiet little business district with a row of great restaurants, good bookstores, and pleasant coffeeshops. Here, the average tourist visiting the city is rarely found (see my tip on West Portal). The upscale St. Francis Wood neighborhood is also here (see my tip on St. Francis Wood). The single family homes hugging the hillsides in this part of town are mostly early 20th century Mission Revival type homes with tile trim and rounded doorway lintels. Continuing from West Portal District, take Sloat Avenue west to Stern Grove (see Stern Grove tip), San Francisco State University, the San Francisco Zoo, and eventually Ocean Beach. This western side is the foggiest corner of the city. While these aren't considered "must see" places in SF, for those who have been to the city exploring this corner of the city will still rival the interest value of most American cities. Incidentally, at 19th and West Portal, one will find a line of the MUNI Rail system, which can be taken through the Twin Peaks Tunnel to the Castro District, creating a reasonable loop of sorts for those without a rental car.
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BART - (somewhat) useful to tourists
BART is a godsend to us in the Bay Area. But it is important to realize that BART is primarily designed for commuters - it is a great way to get TO San Francisco, but of only limited use in getting AROUND it. As you'll see by looking at your map, BART doesn't serve anywhere north of Market Street - where virtually all of SF's tourist attractions are.
The only way to get to the Golden Gate Bridge is by bus. Fisherman's Wharf and North Beach are accessable by Cable Car, but the bus is faster, cheaper and less confusing. Chinatown and Union Square can be reached with a short walk from a BART station.
As as alternative (or, more likely, supplement) to BART, check out MUNI's metro system, which is a much better way to get around the city. You can reach the Haight/Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, the Castro, and the beach using the metro. Unfortunately, the Mission Street area is not directly served by MUNI light rail, but it is by BART.
Bay Area Rapid Transit.
The BART is one of those many world wide subway systems that does not run all night. This is always the one thing that upsets me most when I travel. But it is a decent system that they do try to expand. I don't know the latest but I can tell you that there were/are plans to complete the loop. You can travel all the way out to Danville or down to the Milpitas area. Both airports are now connected. And most lines will get you into and out of the city.
Distant BART Bay Area Destinations
BART has construction plans to extend lines out east as far as Antioch, Brentwood, and Livermore, and south to San Jose via the Fremont line. These extensions will make BART an even better service than it is now. As others have stressed many times, BART is a good deal in terms of American transportation economics. From the end of the Blue Line at the Pleasanton Station, the average automobile will take at least an hour, assuming no traffic jam, and pay a $5- Bay Bridge toll. A Round Trip, per person, BART ticket to the Embarcadero Station in San Francisco is currently (Feb 2012) only $10.80, payable with either cash or credit/debit card. For not a lot more, one can ride all the way to the airport---beating all the airport shuttle prices. The price of parking alone in the city or at the airport will easily persuade visitors that BART is a good deal. The long-term airport parking at the BART parking stations are a particularly good value over private concession parking near the airport. When returning to the East Bay destinations though, be sure to check which train you are on. You may need to transfer at one of the Oakland stations, and in some cases, back track. But, don't worry, you don't have to pay extra if you make a mistake as long as you don't leave the station. The busiest transfer stations are the Balboa Park, Powell Street, MacArthur, and Bay Fair, so choosing another transfer station can be a good idea to avoid passenger congestion. As others have written, be careful of the parking lots at night, but all lots have video surveillance and BART police patrol, and in general, BART is very safe. See my combined transport for recommended routes in the city itself.
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Using the BART
BART is fantastic, really easy to use and effecient. Tickets are sold from automatic despensers with easy to read price destinations. Locals are very freindly and willing to help visitors find their way. Getting into San Francisco from the Oakland airport was very easy and quick. Avoid BART at night, it can be a little scary. Read my danger tip.
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The BART is one of the easiest and best ways of getting into SF from the airport and to the surrounding areas.
The BART system runs on a mileage based forumla. Your starting and ending points will determine your fair. There are vending machines throughout the stations that take cash, coins and some machines take credit and debit cards.
The fare tickets are cards with stored values in them and at the end of your trip, will be deducted upon your exit.
Usually I am picked up at the airport by my friends, but if I am traveling with a companion on a short mileage run, the B.A.R.T. was always our form on getting into downtown San Francisco fast, easy and very cheaply.
Just be mindful that the BART stops service about 12:00am and doesn't resume until about 6:00 a.m. Recently we were forced to pay an exhuborent fare on a taxi to our hotel because our flight was delayed and we arrived to late for the BART.
For more information, schedules, times and prices, visit their website.
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BART is a decent enough service for getting around a lot of parts of the Bay Area. It serves part of SF, part of East Bay, about halfway down the Peninsula. It doesn't go to San Jose (yet) and it will never go to Marin County. It certainly beats driving into the city and having to park your car in some place where you might not come back with a driver side window, like, say, the Mission District.
BART has seen better days and is in need of an upgrade. The interior is getting a bit shabby, the trains don't always run on time, and the rails screech a lot. However, it generally works (when workers are not on strike), and it is much cheaper than taking a cab or parking.
Build in some extra time for waiting for Bart, waiting for it to leave the station, and the time it takes to get from point A to point B. Overall, well worth it. Combined with other mass transit systems, like Caltrain, Muni and Golden Gate Transit, you can pretty much get around to a lot of places in the Bay Area without a car.
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Easiest way to travel from SFO to SF
Since there was a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station just down the street from our hotel, we used it to travel from the San Francisco airport to downtown San Francisco. It was very easy to find the BART station at the airport by following the signs, and the trip to the Powell St. station (near Union Square) took about 30 minutes. Trains run roughly every 20 minutes between 6:00 am and 1:00 am. Tickets cost $8.10 each way, which is by far the cheapest option for traveling to downtown SF from the airport.
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B.A.R.T-The only way to get to and from SFO
Why pay 40USD or 50USD to get to San Francisco by taxi when it will cost you much less by taking B.A.R.T or the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. You'll get there in less than half an hour and don't worry because the trains are spacious enough for your luggage. Trains do run frequently so there is no issue there. B.A.R.T travels all over the Bay area and can get you to wherever you are going.
Take the air train from whichever terminal you arrive in to the B.A.R.T station. You'll have to buy your ticket from a machine (there are no clerks you can buy your ticket from). There are price listings with the station names that show you what to pay above the machine. I paid 8.10USD per person from SFO to the Powell St. station. A return ticket cost me 16.20USD per person
You must stamp your tickets both when entering and leaving the B.A.R.T station.
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Getting to SF from airports
There are 2 major airports people use to fly in San Francisco: SF International Airport and Oakland International Airport.
Both have BART trains stations nearby.
From/To SF International Airport
ROUT SF International Airport -> San Francisco.
BART SFO/SF Roundtrip Ticket costs $10.70. This will allow you to travel from SFO to any of the downtown SF stations (Civic Center, Powell, Montgomery or Embarcadero) and back to SFO.
BART tickets allow value to be added at station machines for additional travel, so you can use the $10.70 ticket throughout the system to add fare value if necessary. There is no time restriction.
From/To Oakland International Airport
ROUT Airport -> 15 minutes on a shuttle AirBART ($3) -> Airport BART Station($3.55) -> San Francisco.
BART Travel Pack costs $13.10 and includes two $3 BART Tickets for use on the AirBART shuttle ( to get you to the Oakland
Coliseum BART Station), and one $7.10 BART Ticket to ride BART to downtown San Francisco and back to the Oakland Coliseum BART Station. Fare is $3.55 each way.
BART tickets allow value to be added at station machines for additional travel. Put the ticket in any dispensing machine and add currency or coin to match the fare of your destination, as displayed on the chart posted on machines, and a new
ticket will be issued - if you add value to obtain the exact fare amount the ticket will not be returned at faregate exit and you will have to purchase a new ticket from a machine or vendor for additional travel. Save one of the $3 tickets initially received for use on the AirBart Bus as you will need this to return to Oakland International Airport.
There is no time restriction for this pass.
BART -- Rapid Transit
BART or Bay Area Rapid Transit serves most of the San Francisco Bay Area. In the East Bay it branches off and extends to Richmond, Pittsburg, Pleasanton, and Fremont. It serves both the San Francisco and Oakland International Airports. Although for Oakland, a shuttle is provided to transport you between the airport and the trains. On the Peninsula, it terminates at Millbrae just beyond the airport. It does not serve Marin to the north.
If you plan to head into the City from the East Bay during commute hours, BART is a good choice if your destination is near a station or served my a MUNI line. The alternative drive over the Bay Bridge is a snarl!
Discounted or free transfers to local bus systems are available inside the stations. In San Francisco, a voucher for $0.25 off a MUNI fare is available at dispensing machines. The BART website offers schedules plus a trip planner.
One word of caution, try to be extra aware of your surroundings outside the 16th and 24th Street Stations as these locations have higher amounts of street crimes than most parts of the City. This is especially true in the late evenings or into the night.
Be aware that BART stops running around Midnight. So if you have taken a train into the City and closed down the bars, you might find yourself stranded after last call.
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from the airport to downtown
San Francisco in 20km north of the SFO airport. Here’s your options:
1)take a taxi and pay a fortune
2)rent a car, get mad with the traffic and pay a fortune for a parking
3)use the shuttle bus
4)Take the BART train, which is the best option. The station is near the international terminal or take the free AirTrain first which connect all the terminals till you reach BART and take the 30’ ride to SF downtown.
BART(Bay Area Rapid Transit) is actually the subway of San Francisco but it won’t help you much inside the city. There are four different lines and most of the stations are located at the east side of the Bay. We used the yellow line from the airport to reach San Francisco downtown (an easy 30’ ride) and that’s what most of the travelers do. There are 4 train per hour (.09, .24, .39, .54), the first train departs from SFO at 4.09am and the last one 11.54pm. The first train from Powel Station to the Airport is at 6.34am and the last one 12.33am.
I didn’t see anyone selling tickets in a booth at the airport so we used the vending machine. Getting our ticket was kind of confusing but the staff at the station explained everything. Ticket fee depends of the mileage, you just select your starting and ending points, you put the money (check first the BART Fare Chart next to the screen, the fee for the central stations in SF is about $8.20 one way) and the ticket which is a card will come out. Validate your ticket and keep it till you exit the final station.
The train seemed a bit old and noisy but who really cares. From Powel station or any other central station (depending the address of your hotel) you can take the Muni buses or a cablecar.
- Budget Travel
Transbay heavy rail service is provided by Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART. BART operates several heavy rail lines, all but one of which converge on San Francisco and run underground through the city toward the airport to which an extension is being built. BART serves San Francisco and the East Bay (Oakland, Berkeley, and their surrounding regions) exclusively, and is generally regarded as cleaner, faster, and more efficient than MUNI. Use of BART is only recommended if travelling across the bay, otherwise MUNI is sufficient. Cost varies depending on the length of the trip taken.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)
BART links San Francisco to most of the Bay Area. With the new Airport Station now finally open, getting to The City from the ariport just got alot easier and cheaper!
When riding BART, you must do the following: Calculate your fare from the chart on the wall or by visiting the BART web site. Purchase your tickets (one per person) from one of the ticket vending machines along the wall. At the gate, feed your ticket as directed and walk through. Take the stairs, and wait for your train. Upon exiting, feed your ticket in the slot and exit. Easy!
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