Marla and I have thus far used the San Francisco public transportation on two trips. In December 2011 after a road trip down Oregon coastal Hwy 101 and down California Hwy 1 from Portland to San Francisco we decided to drop off the rental car at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). We never missed not having a car; actually we celebrated the opportunity to just hoof it about SF and catch the busses, trolleys, street cars and subway. For us it has become the only way to truly see, hear, smell and experience the essence of the city. Believe me traffic is hectic and parking is costly and hard to find.
Our latest trip in July 2012 was no different. We flew into SFO using Southwest Airline. At this time Southwest still allows a carry on and one personal item per traveler without extra charge. 🙂 The flight from Little Rock to SFO stopped over at Las Vegas for 2.5 hours. So our trip was 7 hours long. After arriving at SFO our first aim was to take the tram to the BART station in the Airport, but outside the terminals. BART connects SFO to the city and to the Oakland Airport. The BART trains depart regularly about every 7 to 15 minutes. We downloaded the iPhone app for BART and were easily able to decide our needed stop to arrive within about 50 feet of our hotel lobby entrance. There is also an Android app. Here are the links to BART apps. BART machines take credit, debit, or cash. When purchasing a ticket you will need to look at the destination guide on each machine. The guide tells you the cost of your ticket for each destination. Note that when entering and exiting the BART train you must swipe your ticket. Our destination was the Civic Center station located at Market and 8th street. The cost was $8.25 per person. When using the BART ticket machine you will see that BART calculates tickets initially as $8.00. Hence, you must add or subtract in $ .05 increments so you calculate the exact amount of the ticket. For example we entered a purchase of 2 tickets to the Civic Center. The machine calculated $16.00 and to this we added .50 cents. We received two tickets for $8.25 each. From SFO to the Civic Center is about a 28 minute ride. If you prefer to arrive at the lower end of Union Square select the Powell and Market St. station. This station is next to all the shopping and the underground shopping district and food court. Note that if you are leaving on a red-eye flight that BART does not start running until about 4 a.m. Therefore, be aware that at that time of the morning you will need to take a taxi which from the down town area will run you about $50.00 plus tip. 😦
BART cars do have a distinctive odor. Many people ride the transit, but we have had good experiences. Hopefully you will too. BART and MUNI are separate transit systems and tickets are not interchangeable. Once arriving at the station you will find connections to MUNI, which is the municipal transit system that includes the subway (Not BART), the trolleys, street cars, and city busses. After coming up to ground level you may be tempted to jump a trolley, street cable car or bus; don’t do it unless you wish to pay $6.00 for each person. There are MUNI ticket centers in several locations or you may buy tickets online before arriving at SF. Visitors may buy MUNI Passes for 1 day, 3 days, or for 7 days. There is all so a monthly option if you are fortunate enough to stay that long. With the pass (for each person) you may jump any MUNI vehicle as many times as you wish and ride all you want for the one price of the pass. We purchased the 7 day pass for each of us. The price was $27.00 per person. With the MUNI App (there are several of them) you can see real-time arrivals for each stop, each line number and the closest stop you wish to make to travel to any place or attraction served. We went everywhere we wanted. The longest we waited at a stop was 7 minutes. But with the app we waited only a couple of minutes. I use the Routesy free app, but as with the BART apps there are several both for iPhone and android.
When riding MUNI note that while a lot of tourists use MUNI busses, most riders are locals. We found locals very helpful in giving us insight and tips on quick connections to different parts of the city. However San Francisco is not a geographically large city. It is only about 7 miles across. With a GPS app like Google and the MUNI app you should be fine. When you decide to take off walking just drop a pin at the place you start from and if you get turned around you can find your way back. Also several land marks are often visible about the city; such as, Coit Tower or the downtown skyline. The California, and the Powell-Market (Hyde) and Powell-Market (Mason, Bay & Taylor) Cable Cars should all be ridden when you come to SF. These will be packed though. Tourists all do these lines and be ready, unlike the street car operators and bus drivers, the cable car attendants and operators on the Cable Cars may sound demanding. I suppose this is because people are always stepping off the car into traffic. Be careful! The California Street cable car is often less crowded that either Powell-Market (Hyde) or Powell-Market (Mason, Bay & Taylor). However only the Powell street lines travel from Market Street to the piers. There are two separate destinations for the Powell street cable cars. While both go to Fisherman’s Wharf the divide north of downtown and arrive at different points on the wharf. Just be aware that if you are seeking pier 39 the Hyde cable car is better, for the Aquatic Park and Ghiradelli Square the Mason car is better. Here is a map. Cable cars stop running around mid-night so be sure you hop the last cable car back from the pier. However, there are street cars and busses if you miss the last cable car. 🙂
Rideing the California cable car from Van Ness to the Financial District can be lots of fun at night; especially around the Christmas/New Year holidays. You get excellent photo ops of the buildings at night and of course you go right through Union Square and see all the lights and activities.
Have fun! Check back for more later as we travel to Mission Delores. M & M The Searching Travelers