(I'm repeating this from my Things to Do tips as it's sort of a transportation thing too)
Oh boy, are we ever booking one of these next time! GoCars are THE way to explore the city without climbing on a boring bus with a herd of other tourists. These little two-seaters are rented by the hour and come with helmets and GPS pre-programmed tours. No kidding - it's a talking midget car that tells you exactly where to go and interesting factoids about what you're looking at along the way. You can even get your narration in Italian, Spanish, French or German.
These are also great as, unlike group tours, you can stop whenever you want to, for as long as you want to, and zip around for hours - as long as you can pay the bill. You don't even have to follow the GPS program. And they're cheaper than a dinner in stuffy old fancy-schmancy restaurant!
Too many details to cover here but I never saw anyone vrooming about in one of these things who didn't have a huge, goofy smile on their face. Really - it looks like THE most fun thing to do in SF.
3 locations for pickup and dropoff, and DO reserve in advance (online or by phone) - people are crazy to get their hands on these little buggers. In case of crappy weather, you can cancel up to 24 hours before your reservation time for a full refund. Oh, and you have to be at least 18 and have a valid driver's license. Duh.
MUNI and BART
The MUNI and BART are the main bus systems here.
MUNI will get you around the city and costs $2 and that gives you a pass from 3-6 hours, depending on what transfer (ticket that can be used multiple times) the driver gives you. Keep your transfer and show it every time you ride. You can attach your bike to the front of the bus, but no animals or bikes are allowed on (unless it's an assisting animal).
If you are using underground MUNI, you can either buy quarters from the change machine or "tokens" which are only valid for MUNI. These booths are located on the walls and in front of the MUNI turnstile.
The BART will take you to further destinations. When you enter into a BART station, you have to buy a ticket which can be purchased at an automatic machine on either side wall of the station. There is an attendant right in front of the entrance to help you with any questions you may have about transportation.
getting to the golden gate bridge from caltrain
if you want to go to the golden gate bridge, it looks here like you have to take muni from caltrain
first, take muni or bart to powell station (you could save yourself from paying bart if you took muni the entire way which is $2). you can take the f market, the 6,7 or 71 buses to powell station (4th street). then, you have to connect to the 30, which intersects with the 28 at chestnus and laguna. the 28 will take you to the golden gate.
if it's the park you're looking to see as well, (which you should) i would take one bus, the 71 haight, all the way to stanyan and begin your tour there. you can catch it on market at any point below civic center basically.
see my tips and tips of others. there are a lot of gems. :)
Critical Mass: Riding a Bicycle in San Francisco
Wikipedia presents in detail the interesting though disputed origins of and subsequent 1997 crackdown by San Francisco police against some 7,000 helmeted and protesting Critical Mass bicyclists who had shouted down then Mayor Willie Brown at Justin Hermann Plaza. Each Friday, it had seemed, to those commuting in luxury cars away from towering office buildings within the west coast's wealthiest financial district, an eternity before dinner and theater. But, the low wage messenger, enviromentally conscious commuter, and the occasional recreational cyclist had long been abused by the uneven pavement, open sewer grates, and dangerous intersections, within a sea of arrogant, mindless drivers rushing to go to or return from work. Thus, Critical Mass, a method of protest used in many other cities, congregated thousands of protesting cyclists, controling intersections and blocking lanes by their numbers. Police officers frequently fumbled in their attempts to issue citations to nimble and fleeing cyclist protestors. The city eventually lost this public relations campaign though when news crews televised riot gear clad police officer clashed brutally with the thin styrofoam helmets of non-violent cyclists. Today, seeing the value of pollution free bicycles during an era of global warming, the city recognizes and celebrates this period of cyclist civil rights protest by placing new emphasis on the eco-friendly practice of bicycling to work. Although the city has a long way to go in terms of bicycle friendly infrastructure, MUNI claims on it's website that it is dedicated to making San Francisco one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the USA. There are now many dedicated bicycle lanes, some through traffic tunnels, and planned routes throughout the city are in progress. Moreover, the city and county have retrained officers to issue citations to motorists breaking the law by harassing a cyclist or violate traffic lanes devoted to cyclists. Much of this is promoted in a more friendly way by the powerful San Francisco Bicyclist Coalition, which regularly works with the government, and businesses on behalf of the bicycle messengers, commuters, and recreationists. The increasingly popular Tour of California, always has a stage that begins and ends in the city of San Francisco.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
I must confess that one of things I was looking forward to the most before visiting San Francisco was seeing and riding on the city's iconic cable cars. And they lived up to expectations! The cable cars date back to 1873, when they began to replace horse-drawn streetcars, and they still look today as they did back then.
There are three cable car lines, and the cars run from around 6am until 12.30am each day. It is not the most convenient method of transport as it covers a rather limited area, and sometimes the cars are so full that you can't get on. If you want to board at one of the 'turnarounds' - the end/start of the line where the cable car is literally turned around - you may be in for a long wait. Some of the queues we saw at either end of the Powell-Mason route would have meant a wait of over an hour had we joined the throng.
We had more luck jumping on mid-route, and in the numerous time we rode the cards we got to sit both in and outside, and also got to hang off the side when the car was almost full. Good fun : )
Tickets can be bought at ticket machines at the turnarounds, or from the conductor onboard. There are also travel card options available (see separate tip).Related to:
- Family Travel
- Arts and Culture
A more reliable way to get around town (than the cable cars) is by using the Muni Metro Streetcars, which run both above and below ground. There are several Muni routes which give a decent coverage of the main parts of the city.
The most scenic above ground route is the F-Market line, which runs all the way down Market Street, then past Embarcadero and on towards Fishermans Wharf. The best thing about this route is that it uses antique streetcars which I loved. The streetcars come from all over the world (as per the signs on them) and they have all been beautifully restored.
Tickets can be bought onboard for the above ground streetcars, but have to be bought in advance if using the underground cars. There are also travel card options available (see separate tip).Related to:
- Budget Travel
Getting from the airport to downtown
San Francisco International Airport is located 14 miles from the downtown area, and there are a few transport options available to get you into town.
If you have a car, Highway 101 runs from the airport directly downtown. Taxis depart from set bays on the Arrivals level of all terminals, and may cost up to $50 with tip.
There are shuttle vans and buses that either drop you at your hotel, or at major central hotels.
We chose to catch the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) which is a train that goes direct from the airport to downtown. The fare was around $5 one way. The train takes about 30 minutes. The BART station is connected to the International Terminal, and you can purchase tickets from the machines at the station. We found the BART a fuss-free way to get into town, especially as our hotel was only a couple of minutes walk from one of the stations on route.
Getting to San Francisco
We flew to San Francisco with British Airways from Heathrow. We flew British Airways as we had free flights with them to use up (earned via our AMEX card). The flight took around 10.5 hours. We flew during the day on the way there, and over-night on the way back. I quite enjoy flights of that length as there is time to watch a couple of movies, take some naps, and generally relax and zone out.
Upon arrival we found San Francisco International Airport easy to navigate, and didn't have to wait too long for our luggage. We ended up spending a bit of time at the airport during our time in the USA, as we flew to/from Las Vegas from there too.
There is handy internet access available on the ground floor (near the arrivals area), and they also have phone and camera charging facilities there too. Food options airside are fairly limited, though we did have an ok pizza whilst waiting to fly home.
NCL Sun, SF - Mexican Riviera Cruise
We cruised roundtrip to Baja Mexico from San Francisco on the NCL Sun in October/November of 2008. This was a rather long 11 night trip with stops in Mazatlan, Acapulco, Zihuatanejo/Xtapa, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas. The ship was in very good conditon and appeared to have been refitted fairly recently. This is a comfortable if not very exciting ship. Subdued decor, rather bland main dining rooms, even the pool deck was very 'plain brown wrapper' for a cruise ship. It has no pizzazz, no eye popping common areas, no 'Wow' factor to be found anywhere, not even in the Atrium. I would call this the blue collar cruise ship for the working class man but that seems a rather harsh way of defining it. The ship was basically very nice, very clean and comfortable, just uninspiring. At 79,000 tons though, it is a bit on the small side for it's 2,000 passenger capacity. Patty felt many of the common areas were on the small side and that the 11 restaurants on board were a bit too many, the Specialty restaurants were all too large for the amount of patronage they drew. It seemed NCL could have made better use of some of that space.
We paid about $635 total/each for this 11 night cruise, a great bargain.
Embarkation: We arrived to board shortly after noon. Lines were long but moved swiftly and we were on board within 30 minutes, a hassle free embarkation.
Cabin: We had booked a guaranted inside cabin on a lower deck but were upgraded to a much larger cabin on the Viking deck, deck 8. It was much, much nicer and significantly larger than anticipated and was the largest inside cabin we have ever had on any cruise ship. It was very clean and well kept during our entire cruise. The bath was also larger than anticipated.
Dining: NCL only had freestyle or unassigned dining on this cruise. The main dining rooms, Seven Seas and Four Seasons, at the very aft of the ship and midship on the 5th deck were nice but rather uninspiring in looks. The food, presentation and service was very good to excellent. The only real compaint we had in the Dining room was the OJ at breakfast, always Tang-like. One nice aspect of dining in the Norwegian Cruise Lines' main dining rooms is the free esspressos, lattes and caps offered. Unfortunately they are not very good and often take a long time to show up, even though they come from super automatic machines. Still, it's better than paying $2 -3 for the same disappointment on a Princess ship.
We ate at the Pacific Heights restaurant twice. It is a free 'Cooking Lite' restaurant on the 11th deck opened only in the evenings. A reservation is required. Everything was excellent there and it is nice to see such an effort at healthy dining on a cruise ship. Incidently, there was always at least one each 'Cooking Lite' appetizer, entree, and desert on the Seven Seas and Four Seasons' menus each meal.
The buffet style food on the Lido deck appeared ok with the exception of the pizza, it certainly was not appetizing to look at. . We ate in the buffet very little. We ended up referring to it as "Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast goes to Sea" due to the overwhelmingly large platters of greasy foods that many fellow passengers were downing, seemingly non-stop at times. There particularly seemed to be an obssession for bacon in the mornings. If you find such blatant overindulgence disturbing, you should perhaps eat in the main dining rooms as we did. There was a wide assortment of foods including many vegetarian Indian dishes. We did stop by there late in the evening a few times just to sample the curries.The daily curries we sampled were excellent, deserts were ok to very good, none were excellent, almost all seemed on the liter side, perhaps less sugars and butter, not overly decadent.
For the first time ever we paid to dine at one of the "Specialty restaurants", as the cruise lines like to refer to them. Dining at the il Adagio cost $10/ea. Portions were very large, quite good but everything was overloaded with much too much cheese for our tastes. Service was excellant but not noticeably better than in the main dining rooms. We really couldnt see the point in paying extra to dine there.
Entertainment: All of the evening shows were very good to excellent, especially Cirque Pan.
Spa/Gym: The gym was very good, we used it daily. Patty actually rated it excellent due to the various excercise classes offered daily for free, including Aerobics and Step classes. Most cruise ships charge $10-15/ec for these classes. We used the saunas and steam rooms and both of us enjoyed them.
Ports: Please see our sections on Mazatlan, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, and Zihuatanejo
Disembarkation: We carried our own luggage off and had no problems, We were off the ship within 5 minutes of leaving our cabin.
Overall, we had a great time, glitch-free and, surprisingly, one of our best cruises ever. We thought this cruise was a fantastic bargain. We would cruise on NCL again.Related to:
- Budget Travel
bikes on bart
bart is the train system here. it goes underground and above ground. often, if you are going a long distance, it's the quickest way to get to your destination. the cost varies, depending on your route. you can bring your bike on bart, and the seats are much more comfortable than muni seats.
How to get from the airports (OAK and SFO) to San
Not recommended if you have a lot of luggage.
From SFO $5.35 per person
From OAK $3.55 + $3 for shuttle from airport to BART station. The shuttle stops just outside the terminals (look for the signs) and runs every 10 minutes
For Union Square area hotels, get off at Powell Street and either walk or catch a taxi by the Parc 55 Hotel.
For Fisherman's Wharf, get off at the Embarcadero and get a taxi in front of the Hyatt Regency hotel. The fare from there to Fisherman's Wharf should be about $10
About $15-25 per person depending on whether you're coming in from OAK or SFO.
If you have more than 2 people, it's a better deal to take a taxi
From SFO $40-$45
From OAK $55-$60
SF Tunnels: Stockton Tunnel and Parking Garage
There are many vehicular, train, and even pedestrian tunnels in San Francisco, a number of which are described by Kevin Wallace's 1949 article, a link to which is provided below. Among these tunnels most likely to be found by tourists would certainly include the Stockton Street Tunnel, between Sutter and California Streets. The tunnel undercuts Bush and Pine Streets on Nob Hill, connecting Union Square area with easier access to North Beach and parts of Chinatown. The tunnel, completed in 1913, is 911 feet long, 50 feet wide, and arches to a height of 19 feet. Originally, the California Cable Car Company ran a line through the tunnel, but today the tunnel is a two way street with dedicated bicycle lanes and pedestrian sidewalks on each side. At each end are pedestrian stairwells which allow access to Bush and Pine streets, and on the Stockton Street side leading into the tunnel is a major bus stop. Behind the bus stop is a 9 floor parking structure that is highly recommended for being a good value place to leave the car. That is, rather than park in the more expensive garage below Union Square, consider leaving your car at the Stockton & Bush garage, and then walking two blocks.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Road Trip
Golden Gate Transit
Golden Gate Transit runs bus and ferry service between San Francisco and the North Bay. Both Sonoma and Marin Counties to the north are serviced by a network of bus routes. The bus routes are primarily designed to provide commuters form the North Bay an alternative to driving over the Golden Gate Bridge, but they might prove useful to visitors. The ferries offer an excellent opportunity to get out on the Bay and visit places like Sausalito. Check on-line for their schedule and routes. Golden Gate Transit is highly subsidized by the Golden Gate Bridge's tolls.Related to:
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel
We booked our cruise to Alcatraz online since we were informed that these tours fill up very quickly.
Our guidebook recommended purchasing tickets ahead, but the earliest they can be reserved is 30 days before your trip.
There were several tour options; we chose a tour that took us to the cellhouse and grounds. (Cost $21.75 per adult and $13.75 for a child)
We selected an early morning tour which departed at 9:30 am, but there was an early bird tour at 9am and further departures throughout the day. As warned, the cruises sold out early so we were very glad that we had prepaid tickets.
We boarded at Pier 33 and were instructed to appear between 9 am-9:20 am, but when we arrived a long line had already formed. As we inched forward at departure time, a photographer snapped our picture.
Please note: there is NO parking at Pier 33.Related to:
- Family Travel
- Historical Travel
Those cable cars are charming and I rode on them a few times for the fun of it. But I wouldn't plan my visit around their lines, walking is faster and more efficient to get exactly where you're going.
There are stops, start and finish points, and maybe they even pick people up wherever people flag them down... I never quite understood the rules... when I tried to hop on after others, I was sent down the street to START point. Waited a while for a cable car and then the controller wouldn't let me in cuz the car was full. Turned around, walked back up the street and when another cable car came ringing by, the controller saw my disappointed look and pulled me on! So try every which way, you'll get a fun ride.
I didn't see anything along the way. Taking pictures of others, and vice-versa, was a balancing act. And you have to hang on for dear life.
Cable car routes:
California Street Line
Powell-Hyde Line (it's the one where you really need to hang on! A thrill!)
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