All of the Bay Area bridges are toll bridges: $5 to go southbound on the Golden Gate Bridge (www.goldengate.org), and $4 to go westbound on the Bay Bridge (www.oaklandbridge.com), San Mateo, Dumbarton and San Rafael bridges. If you're a regular commuter, you can buy commuter books to get a volume discount. Ask at the toll plaza.
All Bay Area toll bridges also use FasTrak for electronic toll collection. To apply for an account (minimum $25) and a transponder, go to www.bayareafastrak.org.
The search for a parking place is made even more complicated by the presence of variously colored curbs. These indicate when and to whom parking is admissible, so don't automatically give up if you see a space in a painted zone. It goes without saying (but we'll still say it) that it's always a bad idea to park too close to a fire hydrant, a driveway or a wheelchair ramp (within three feet), whether painted or not.
GREEN: Limited time parking - 10 minutes from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
YELLOW: Commercial loading and unloading; vehicles with commercial plates may park up to 30 minutes from 9am-6pm Monday-Saturday. Some yellow zones are restricted to trucks with commercial plates only. Violators will be towed. Usually accompanied by a sign; check for hours of enforcement.
BLUE: Parking for vehicles with special disabled person plates or placards only. Always enforced; violators will be fined $275. (Shame on you for even contemplating it!)
RED: No parking at any time. Vehicles in bus stops will be towed and subject to additional fine.
WHITE: Passenger loading zone (usually in front of churches, restaurants, hotels, etc.). Vehicles may not be left unattended for any length of time during enforcement hours; attended vehicles may stand for up to 5 minutes. Hours of enforcement may be painted on the curb or posted on a sign. If not, check to see if the business in front of the white zone appears to be in operation.
When parking downtown, be sure to check metered limits. Metered parking spaces limit parking to 30 minutes or 1 hour. These regulations are designed to encourage "turnover" so that spaces are available to the greatest number of downtown visitors. Overstaying the limit by "feeding" the meter can result in a fine, regardless of whether there is time showing on the meter or if the meter is out of order.
Downtown parking meters are not in effect on the following holidays:
New Year's Day
Fisherman's Wharf parking meters are not in effect on these holidays:
New Year's Day
UNION SQUARE GARAGE Rate Category Parking Rates Transient Parking 0 – 1 Hour $2.50 1 – 2 Hours $5.00 2 – 3 Hours $8.00 3 – 4 Hours $12.00 4 – 5 Hours $16.00 5 – 6 Hours $21.00 6 – 7 Hours $26.00 7 – 24 Hour Maximum $31.00 Lost Ticket $31.00 Motorcycle Flat Rate (24 hours) $4.00 High Volume (taxable) $15.00 High Volume (non-taxable) $12.00 Pre-Paid Bulk Rate (min. purchase $500) $20.00 Monthly Parking Regular $365.00 Carpool $180.00 Car Sharing $180.00 Assigned $500.00 Motorcycle $60.00 Miscellaneous Charges Late Monthly Payments $25.00 Lost Access Card $25.00 Damaged Access Card $25.00 Access Card Deposit $50.00 No Key Charge – at Valet Parking $25.00
Driving in San Francisco may be challenging, but it's nothing compared to parking. Some neighborhoods are worse than others, but none are good. Carry plenty of quarters and good karma.
Public transit and parking garages can save you some grief. The S.F. Metropolitan Transit Authority maintains a list of public garages and lots in S.F., with rates for city-owned garages.
Always curb your wheels when parking on a hill -- or face an equally steep ticket. When facing downhill, turn your wheels to the right. When facing uphill on a street with a curb, turn your wheels to the left. When facing uphill on a street with no curb, turn your wheels to the right.
The oddball organization of S.F. streets takes some getting used to, and there is no substitute for a good map. However, there are some basic points to remember:
Streets vs. Avenues -- the numbered STREETS are South of Market, on the east side of the city, and the numbered AVENUES are in the Richmond and Sunset districts on the west side of the city, running north to south.
Market Street cuts a large diagonal swath through downtown, and once you get on it, you may find it hard to get off. It's also tough to cross if you don't know where to do it. From the south, 3rd, 6th, and 9th streets, Van Ness Avenue and Gough cross; and from the north, Hyde, Polk, Battery, Montgomery, Ellis, Van Ness Avenue and Laguna cross.
Standard vs. Automatic Transmission
In this town, hill-starts are more than just a challenge; they're downright dangerous, with stop signs at the tops of all the steepest hills. If you're renting a car and are unsure whether you can stop on a steep (as much as a 31.5% grade!) hill without rolling back down, you'll want to get an automatic. If you're stuck with a stick shift, try putting on the emergency brake and easing off it as you move forward. Practice makes perfect, but avoiding the steepest hills is probably safest.
The Steepest Streets in the City
1. Filbert between Leavenworth and Hyde (31.5% grade)
2. 22nd between Church and Vicksburg (31.5% grade)
3. Jones between Union and Filbert (29% grade)
4. Duboce between Buena Vista and Alpine (27.9% grade)
5. Jones between Green and Union (26% grade)
6. Webster between Vallejo and Broadway 26% grade)
7. Duboce between Alpine and Divisadero (25% grade)
8. Jones between Pine and California (24.8 grade)
9. Fillmore between Vallejo and Broadway (24% grade)
(Source: "San Francisco Almanac")
San Francisco has cable cars and we're particular about having them recognized as such. If you call it a trolley, someone (likely a gripman) will correct you. Also with the "Don't call it Frisco" crowd. Frisco is starting to become a little cool, especially among young people and hip hop crowds. Most of us still cringe, but the stigma is eroding. My dad was stationed near here in 1950 and calls me the frisco kid, which I find endearing.
San Francisco's public transportation is wonderful, and pretty easy to use. Almost all of the major bus stops have a full map of the city with the bus routes and times, and the buses run very frequently.
There are a handful of streetcars that run down Market Street from the Castro to the Fisherman's wharf. They are great for short jaunts, but they don't run as frequently as the buses, and they are just plain slow.
Muni, the subway, is just as good, just as frequent, and the stations are all located in the areas you'll want to go.
Rides are $1 for the buses, streetcars, or Muni, and you get a 90 minute transfer ticket. I find it very useful to stop by the local Safeway and buy a weekly pass for $9. The pass is good on Muni and all the buses, and it knocks $1 off the $2 cost for cable cars.
However, it has been my experience, 100% of the time so far, that the cable car conductors don't charge you that extra $1. Maybe they assume you're not an annoying tourist if you have a pass? I don't know, and I don't really question it.
•Go around anything in your way. Buses, stopped cars, anything. If you sit and wait for it, it might never move and the drivers behind you will all get irate.
•If you're making a left turn from a single lane road, pull up into the intersection so that everyone else can go around you.
•Don't pull into the crosswalk at the red light! Those pedestrians are more than willing to punch your car in protest.
•Not all of the lights have a delay between one intersection turning red and the other green, so don't assume you have time to run that light before the traffic comes through.
•Yes, the pedestrians have signals for when they can't walk. No, they don't care.
•There are bicycles. Everywhere. Poof! There's another, out of nowhere! Watch for them.
•The speed limit is 25 in most areas, but you probably won't have a chance to go that fast anyway.
While you're on the ferry, most of the regular commuters read newspapers or novels, or listen to their walkmen. It makes it easy to stand at the rail and take pictures without having to worry about someone clamoring behind you for their turn in front.
Yes, you could also take the ferry to Alcatraz, but going to Tiburon makes you feel a little less like a tourist, a little more like one of the natives. But however hard I tried to blend in, I couldn't help but gawk and gape at the skyline at the ferry pulled out of the dock. I just help it - I'm from Kansas, after all!