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Driving around San Francisco
San Francisco is a hilly city with streets so steep you occasionally can see just the hood of your car and the sky...no sign of the road! To make it worse, many of the uphill streets have stop signs at very steep places, making very difficult if you drive a standard transmission like me...I think I smelled burning clutch more than once. Good news is the city is fashioned on a strict grid pattern with very few exceptions, making it easy to find your way.
Another difficulty to keep in mind are the cable cars and Muni trains that run at street level and have stations in the middle of the street, often in the middle of two lanes of traffic in the same direction, means you have to choose to drive on one side of the station or the other.
- Road Trip
Parking is Expensive and Limited
Be prepared to work to find a parking place along Fisherman's Wharf. There are parking lots but be ready to pay for that parking using a machine. Use the machine before you get in your car otherwise you'll have to move the car to an available space by the machine, park again and get out...it's very inconvenient. Trying to park on the street is impossible. I haven't used any kind of public transportation to get to the Wharf so I can't recommend any.
Gridlines, steep and crooked streets
It is easier to drive in downtown San Francisco because of the grid lines. But most of the streets are one-way and the many street uses names and not sequential numbers. So you need a street map to navigate.
It can be scary if you are not use to manual stick or know how which auto mode as the road goes up and down like roller coaster and you have to stop at a steep angle at a traffic light or feel the road is going down a valley.
But do not miss Lombard Street, "the crooked road" at Russian Hill. We all took turns going down this short crooked stretch. There are houses with garages and many tourists, so be careful.
Driving into SF from Silicon Valley
If you are in a business trip to one of the many companies in the Silicon Valley of Santa Clara, San Jose, Milpitas, etc, you would probably drive into San Francisco during the weekends or at nights during the weekdays.
There are several routes.
1) Highway 101 is the fastest, goes along the west side of the San Francisco Bay and will pass by the SFO Airport.
2) More hinterland Freeway 208, between the bay and Pacific Ocean, rolling hills and vistas along the way.
3) Scenic, winding and longer Highway 1 along the Pacific Ocean.
4) Freeway 880 along the east side of the bay and crossing Bay Bridge into San Francisco. Can stopover at Treasurer island for a panoramic view of San Francisco.
If you are travelling for some time here, suggest trying all above routes to see more of the Bay Area.
Beware of slope
The steep slopes of the city need to be cautious driving the car or parking it.
In a sloping street, the cars must be parked perpendicularly to the slope or with the wheels blocked against the sidewalk.
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel
driving to and around San Fransisco iss a serious business, just look around at the cars - most have at least one smashed door or fender - doesn't matter if it's a Lexus or a Buick. I 've crossed two bridges -Bay and Golden Gate - both are toll on the way into San Fransisco, but free on your way out.
- Road Trip
Do not rent a car!
As I was traveling with my mom who can't walk too much, we decided to rent a car. Besides we needed to drive to San Jose for a weekend so it was a good option.
After coming back from San Jose we still had the car but found it the worst idea! I helped my mom with the car by moving her from side to side of the city but parking costs a small fortune. Parking lots charge from 35 to 44 dollars for a night! depending on their location. Parkmeters can cost a fortune as well.
So if you plan on staying in San Francisco you better move by public transportation which is good but expensive as well (11 dollars per day).
- Family Travel
Free Parking at Fisherman Wharf
It can be a hassel to find parking in the tourist area in SF. But you can get 2 hours free parking at the Pier 39 Parking Lot. Just print out the Pier 39 Fun Pack Coupon from this follow site, and bring it to California Welcome Center. Then just present the coupon when you leaving the garage, then you get your 2 hours free!!!
p.s. you dont need to present the coupon if you are AAA membership member. present your card at California Welcome Center to receive the Fun Pack!
look at the pics on the left for the location of the parking lot and california welcome center
(coupon book includes free drink when you bought a crepe)
p.s. if you request the offical tourist pack from san francisco conventional and visitor bureau, they usually enclosed the fun pack in the package
- Budget Travel
Getting There is Half the Fun?
Our flight from New Brunswick, Canada to SF was delayed by a day due to a freezing rain storm in Toronto. The airport ran out of de-icing fluid for the aircraft wings so they had to cancel all flights. At least that gave me a chance for one final snow blow of the driveway the next morning before we headed out on our Air Canada flight at 5 PM. The 2-hour trip to Toronto and the subsequent 5-hour flight to San Francisco went without any further hitches! Once there, I had a one week rental car booking with Hertz. This turned out to be a good deal as far as I was concerned - we ended up with a new Toyota Camrey with unlimited mileage (we put 520 miles on it) for US $242 and I put US $42 in gas in it. The one-week rental reduced the price by 33%.
- Family Travel
San Francisco is at the very tip of a peninsula. To get there by car, if you're not coming from the south, you will to need to cross one of two bridges. From the West, you'll cross the San Francisco Bay Bridge. This span suffered a major break in the 1989 earthquake. For several weeks, while it was undergoing repairs, it was abundantly clear how important this bridge was! Today there is a new span being constructed alongside the Bay Bridge.
From the North, you will cross the world famous Golden Gate Bridge. The Golden Gate is perhaps the single most recognizable landmark in California.
To Car or not to Car
One of the most frequently asked questions by potential visitors to San Francisco is "shall I rent a car?"
A car can be a major headache in the City; or it can be a complete boon. For anyone not used to driving in a city, navigating the streets of SF can be a major challenge. Double parked trucks alone can drive a person to drink. Parking can be horrendously expensive and hard to find. Or it can be free and plentiful, depending on where you go.
For a thorough visit to SF, a car can be very helpful. The 49 mile drive is an excellent way to see what the City has to offer, and you must have a car to navigate the route. If you want the pleasure of driving over the Golden Gate Bridge (and paying $5.00 to come back) you must have a car. For the unbeatable views on the Marin Headlands, you must drive to get there (or be one heck of a cyclist).
Visitors who decide to bring a car into the city, will want to choose accommodations outside of the Financial District, Union Square area, Fisherman's Wharf area. There are hotels along Lombard St. that provide free parking to their guests. Otherwise, should you choose to stay in a hotel downtown, prepare to pay hefty parking fees.
parking secrets: Chinatown and Financial District
If you park in Chinatown or the Financial District, you probably have to park in a garage. This is sometimes costly. It is not unheard of to pay more than $20 a day for parking. Occasionally there are a few open parking spaces on the street east of Chinatown and North of the Financial District. Try driving around the Sansome or Montgomery Streets north of Embarcadero Center (the John Portman designed buildings that are concrete, tall, thin, and each building looks like wafers bound together but not completely lined up. There are 4 of these tall buildings. You can see them on my San Francisco home page to the left of the Transamerica Pyramid).
San Francisco's AAA office is a great resource for your SF trip. They have oodles of free maps and books, of course, and are very helpful, particularly with scenic drives and day trips to places like Monterey. They can even help you with accomodations - I don't remember if they actually do the booking for you, but they have a bona fide travel office, so I think they would. They also have excellent maps for locating campgrounds.
You have to be a member, which costs $49.00/year. I get at least my membership dues back just in free maps!
AAA is at 150 Hayes Street - At Hayes and Van Ness. It's a block south of City Hall and a block and a half north of the major intersection of Market and Van Ness. It's a big GREEN building - you can't miss it! They have a limited amount of free parking if you approach from the east on Hayes.
As is the case with most megalopolises (megalopoli?), what is referred to as "rush hour" lasts much longer. In addition, since Oakland and San Jose are both major employment hubs, there is no real "reverse commute" - traffic tends to be bad in all directions at once. Still, the conventional commute (to the city in the AM and from the city in the PM) is the heaviest.
The afternoon rush hour starts at about 3 PM and gets progressively heavier. It starts to die down about 6 or 6:30. Friday is, of course, the worst - it starts earlier and lasts longer. If you're going to pick a day to avoid driving, make it Friday.
Weekend evenings going into the City from the Bay Bridge can be very heavy at times.
For some reason, the morning commute is much more typical than the evening. Going against the grain in the AM is usually pretty smooth sailing - though in the afternoon, it isn't. Go figure.
I'm not suggesting that you skip seeing what you came to see just to avoid the traffic. Just remember that the Bay Area is the 4th largest urban area in the USA - with nearly 7 million people - most of whom go to and get off work at about the same time!
Highway Driving in S.F.
S.F. can be a hard city to negotiate by car, especially if you're not used to big city driving. Unlike most cities, San Francisco has a major shortage of turnpikes and throughfares... you can thank the 1989 earthquake for that. Most of the old double-decker freeways were torn down and really nothing has been built to replace them. Even if you're just passing through, driving through SF requires using city streets.
Here's a few freeway driving tips...
1) Hwy 101 & 280 are the two major north/south roads going to and from downtown. 280 is ALWAYS faster than 101. Hwy 101 is especially bad right where it goes onto the Bay Bridge (Hospital Curve); this area is congested at all hours of the day. Definitely try to avoid the city streets around 2nd and Mission during the afternoon rush hour - it is usually gridlock.
The fastest way through the city from north to south is to take Hwy 1 along 19th Ave. This bypasses the more densely populated areas of the city.
2) Hwy 380 connects hwy 280 with the airport, allowing you to bypass 101. Most of the time, this is the quickest and easiest option.
3) Hwy 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) is very beautiful, but is usually only 2 lanes, is very twisty, and can be very slow. However, the drive down the coast from SF to Monterey is breathtaking, and, if you have a car, you should definitely do it. The drive north through Marin County is equally gorgeous, but even more twisty.
4) Going around SF can be done by driving through the East Bay, but often these roads will be jammed up as well - especially during rush hour. If you REALLY want to avoid the traffic of the Bay Area, you'll have to go all the way over to Interstate 5.
5) Watch out for "Fastrak Only" lanes at the bridge tollbooths.
Listen to KCBS 740 AM or KGO 810 AM for traffic reports - usually every 10 minutes.
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