Historic Streetcars -- Part Two, The Ride
Starting where the old rail portal once emerged at Market Street, you travel along and see the Castro District, the Civic Center area, the retail area near Powel Street, and the Financial District. At the end of Market Street, you'll slip through Don Chee Way to The Embarcadero.
Along The Embarcadero you pass the Ferry Building (which withstood the 1906 earthquake and fire), Harry Bridges Plaza, the Herb Caen Promenade, the historic waterfront, before eventually moving on to Fisherman's Wharf.
The fare is only $1.50. You can even use a transfer from a prior MUNI ride. Collect a transfer from the driver. On only is it your proof of payment, it is good for your return trip (or other MUNI ride) within about a two hour time frame. Feel free to collect a coupon from a vending machine at BART for a $0.25 discount on the fair. Be sure to have exact change as none will be provided from the driver. Dollar bills are accepted.
The Market Street Railway, a non-profit organization of rail enthusiasts, is the driving force behind the restoration efforts and return to service of these historic streetcars. Although not original to their original design, the streetcars in services have been modified to be accessible to people with disabilities as part of the restoration process.
Historic Streetcars -- Part One, History and Basics
Nearly as fun as a cable car, but a lot less hassle, the historic streetcars of the F-Line will take you where you will likely want to go. The F-Line is you best transportation link between downtown (or Market Street or BART) and Fisherman's Wharf. The old streetcars have the authentic look and feel of the past. In fact, some of the cars have been operational in San Francisco since the 1940's.
They cruise the entire stretch of Market Street, travel The Embarcadero, and turn back at Fisherman's Wharf. Along Market Street you can see the commercial heart of the City.
The workhorses of the historic streetcars are the streamlined PCCs. They are named after the Electric Railway Presidents’ Conference Committee, a group of rail company executives that assembled in the early 1930s hoping to modernize the look and technology of streetcars. Their goal was to compete more effectively with the growing threat from private automobiles. The resulting PCCs were extremely successful. Over 4,500 were built and they operated in 33 North American cities and also served in Europe. PCCs were the primary streetcar used in San Francisco before the fleet was modernized in the 1970s.
The PCC cars currently in the F-line fleet come from either San Francisco or Philadelphia. They are painted to represent some of the cities that originally ran the PCC car.
Some Peter Witts cars from Milan are also used and till carry the Milan markings. These cars date back to the late 1920s.
Hold on and enjoy the ride!
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.
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).
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.
(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.
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.
The Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel on the Top of Nob Hill has high hourly and daily rates for parking. Study this list of prices. But, then again, anyone who can afford to stay the night at this hotel probably wouldn't think twice about paying the rates.
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.
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.
CalTrain operates a train service up and down the San Francisco Peninsula between the City and San Mateo. They are a good way to avoid the rush hour traffic if you happen to be going to or from one of the stops. In San Francisco, you can depart at 4th and Townend Streets where MUNI service is available.
You are also a short walk from the AT&T Park (formerly known as Pac Bell Park, formerly known as a bunch a warehouses on Berry Street), the Metreon, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Moscone Center.
There are three remaining cable car routes traveling through San Francisco. Two run along Powell Street, but the least busy of these is the California Street route. It's conveniently located near the Hyatt Embarcadero, where we lodged for the week.
While we had noticed long lines at the other pick up stops, the California route was easily accessed with no waiting. The cost for the ride was $5.00 per person, or $11 per person for the day.
The street ascends the hills slowly (9 miles per hour), so if you chose to dangle from the side of the cable car, posing for that authentic photo of San Francisco, you can easily do so (picture 2).
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).
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!)
Very useful electric buses, some antique. I think they're also called trolleys. F Line does two main routes. One runs along the Waterfront from CalTrain Station at 4th and King, to the Embarcadero and Fisherman's Wharf, then turns around.
F Line also runs from Embarcadero South-West to Castro Street and that really covers a lot of ground. You get on from a waiting sidewalk in the middle of the street, at appointed stops.
Oh, first thing to say in a Transportation Tip: Get the official MUNI MAP! It's also a good street map. A useful spot to get it is at the ticket booth at Powell and Market St. in Union Square, but lots of other places have them, including bookstores and online.
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