Difference between revisions of "San Francisco"
Revision as of 23:03, 23 November 2005
San Francisco is a bustling cosmopolitan city in California, the centerpiece of the Bay Area, well-known for its diverse ethnic and political communities, hilly and picturesque terrain, and history of earthquakes.
It is located on the tip of a peninsula by San Francisco Bay and the Pacific coast and has a population of around 750,000. It is 7 miles by 7 miles in size. The best times to visit are September and October because they are mostly fog free. But just in case, dress in layers. Nothing makes locals laugh more than a tourist wearing shorts, sandals and a brand-new parka.
There are three airports in the San Francisco Bay Area:
Both Oakland and San Jose are served by discount airlines such as Southwest. All three airports may be reached by inexpensive public transit. San Francisco and Oakland are connected to downtown SF by the BART rapid-transit train. The savings over taxis can be significant. For instance a cab from SFO to the city can easily cost upwards of $40, a cab from Oakland upwards of $60. BART is closer to $5 in both cases.
The downside to BART is that it takes more time. It involves changing vehicles 1-2 times, with all of the attendant hassles. In SFO, unless you come in on International or United Domestic flights, you need to take a frequent airport shuttle train (AirTran) to the BART station itself, whereupon you may have to wait as long as 15 minutes for a train (that's the worst case)- and then once you get off in SF unless you've staying right on top of a BART station you'll need to take a cab or Muni to get to your hotel. In Oakland you need to take an AirBART bus to the BART - this costs $2 and takes a good 10-15 minutes, and they will only accept BART tickets as payment, so you must buy an AirBART ticket in the terminal before you go out to the bus. Once you get to the BART station you have to buy a BART ticket and then figure out which train to get on (not hard but not quite as easy as it should be). Then you'll probably need a cab once in SF. Warning - in going back to Oakland via BART, the exact change thing is even more important, because there aren't a lot of ways to get change in the Oakland BART station. There is a change machine - but do you really want to walk around with $18 in quarters in your pocket?
The San Jose airport is served by a free shuttle to both VTA Light Rail and Caltrain. Passengers arriving in San Jose can use Caltrain to reach San Francisco directly. Caltrain also links with the BART system at the Millbrae intermodal station. Rental cars and discount remote parking at SFO are reached by AirTrain, a free elevated people mover which also provides inter-terminal transfers. San Jose airport is currently undergoing major construction that can sometimes cause significant road traffic delays.
Amtrak serves the Bay Area with long-distance and intercity trains, but none of its trains actually enter San Francisco. Instead passengers must transfer at the Amtrak station at Emeryville in the East Bay to an Amtrak California bus that crosses the Bay Bridge to San Francisco's Amtrak stop at 101 The Embarcadero (near the Ferry Building). Alternatively, riders approaching the Bay Area from the south may transfer to Caltrain at San Jose's Diridon Station for a direct ride to Fourth and Townsend Streets in San Francisco. Amtrak can be contacted on +1-800-872-7245.
Amtrak routes serving the Bay Area are:
Caltrain operates a regional rail service from San Jose to its San Francisco terminal at Fourth and Townsend. The service also runs between San Jose and Gilroy during rush hour. Caltrain is very useful for travel between San Francisco and cities of the Peninsula, Silicon Valley or South Bay. On weekdays Caltrain provides two trains per hour for most of the day but run more during commute hours, including "Baby Bullet" limited services that cruise between San Francisco and San Jose in 57 minutes; on weekends and public holidays trains run hourly, except that after 10PM only one train runs, leaving at midnight. The 4th & Townsend terminal is served by Muni Metro (see 'Get around' below) giving connections to the rest of the city. Fares vary depending on how far you go. Tickets must be purchased before boarding the train from ticket vending machines at all stations or from ticket clerks at staffed stations. Tickets are checked on the trains and anyone found without a ticket is liable to a substantial fine. Caltrain can be contacted on +1-510-817-1717.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) provides a regional frequent rail service connecting much of the East Bay and Contra Costa County with San Francisco and the San Francisco Airport through the Transbay Tube. BART operates five routes, of which four reach San Francisco; there are three or four trains per hour on each route. In the East Bay and outer parts of San Francisco BART runs mostly on elevated track; in downtown San Francisco it runs in a subway under Market Street, and several underground stations provide easy access to downtown areas and simple transfers to Muni Metro, also running in a sub-Market subway. BART also meets Caltrain at Millbrae. Bicycles are allowed on BART except between the Embarcadero and Oakland City Center stations during commute hours. Fares vary depending on distance traveled. You should check the map at your departure station and buy a ticket for at least the correct amount. The minimum amount that a trip will cost is $1.25. You will need to insert your ticket into barriers when entering and exiting the system. If there is still value left on the ticket when you exit, the ticket will be returned to you and you can re-use it, increasing its value as necessary. BART can be contacted on +1-415-989-2278.
Both Caltrain and BART have free programs with schedule information that can be run on a Palm OS device. They are available from their respective websites as a free download.
Greyhound has frequent intercity service from San Francisco. The station is inside the Transbay Transit Terminal, First and Mission streets.
Several regional bus systems serve San Francisco from the immediate suburbs:
In many ways a boat is the ideal way to approach San Francisco. The city's spectacular site is best appreciated from the water, and from the deck of a boat the bay and its bridges and islands can be viewed as a whole. Cruise ships and private yachts are regular visitors to San Francisco, but the passenger ferries that regularly link other Bay Area cities to San Francisco are probably more practical for most visitors.
Ferries run to San Francisco from Larkspur, Sausalito and Tiburon in Marin County, from Vallejo in Solano County and from Alameda and Oakland in the East Bay. In San Francisco the ferries dock at one or both of Fishermans Wharf and the Ferry Building. For more information:
Be aware that, when driving a car into San Francisco, this place is a major, pre-World War II American city--a dense population, congested vehicular traffic, and a transportation culture dramatically different from most of America. Activities in San Francisco commonly take place on foot or by public transit, so driving will not be easy, and parking will be scarce and expensive. For day trips into the city, consider a park-and-ride at a Peninsula Caltrain station or at an East Bay BART station.
The two main arteries that connect San Francisco with Portland and other cities in the Pacific Northwest, and with Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California to the south, are US 101 and Interstate 5. 101 meanders through the coastal hills of Central and Northern California, while 5 is a bullet-straight line through the San Joaquin Valley. Of the two, I-5 is the faster route, passing through Central Valley farmland and growing suburbs serving the Bay Area, while 101 is more scenic and enjoyable, with "wine countries" and occasional brushes with the seaside.
101 passes directly through San Francisco via city streets and the Golden Gate Bridge, while I-5 traffic connects to the Bay Area
All connections from I-5 except the Gilroy route pass over the beautiful San Francisco Bay Bridge.
Walking can be an enticing option to get from one neighborhood to another, so long as you are aware of where you are and keep your street smarts -- Sf is a town of friendly neighborhoods but it is also "big city" - be aware of your surroundings. Streets which often go straight up and down hills may make driving difficult, but make for breathtaking views (as well as good exercise) for the pedestrian. There are many stairway walks scattered throughout the city, at blocks that are too steep for a roadway. You can find maps that include hiking trails, bikeways, and the grade pitch of all streets marked in varying colors by how steep each segment is, that can help you orient to city walks suitable to your ability and temperament.
Highlight walks might include:
By public transit
San Francisco's Municipal Railway or Muni runs a network of local transport that covers most areas of touristic interest well. Components of the Muni are:
90 minutes of travel on the Muni system except the Cable Cars costs $1.50 (since September 1st '05); be sure to get and keep a transfer ticket when you pay for your first ride; you may be asked to show your transfer ticket (or pass) by fare inspectors at any time. Cable Cars are $5.00 per one-way, single-vehicle ride, no transfers issued or accepted. Before 7 AM and after 5 PM Seniors are $1.00. San Franciscans who actually use the cable cars for commuting to work can buy MUNI passes at a reduced cost.
An all day Muni Passport good on all Muni vehicles, including Cable Cars costs $9.00. Other passports and passes are available for longer periods. The passports come in the form of scratch cards; be sure to scratch off the appropriate dates before using. Muni also sells an excellent map of the San Francisco transport system, including services provided by other operators. Passports and maps can be bought from the information booths at San Francisco airport, the Cable Car ticket booth at Market and Powell, the Convention & Visitors Bureau also at Market and Powell and many other locations.
Muni can be contacted by calling +1-415-673-6864. http://www.sfmuni.com/
BART has eight stations in San Francisco, making it a nice way to get between well-trafficked parts of the city, especially downtown and the Mission. BART gets you also across the Bay to Berkeley or Oakland and to the airport. For more information on BART, see the 'Get in' section above.
CalTrain has four stops within San Francisco. Other than the 4th and Kings terminal, these are at 22nd St., Paul Ave., and Tunnel Ave, none of which are particularly attractive for visitors. For more information on CalTrain, see the 'Get in' section above.
Bicycles can be convenient in San Francisco, if you have strong legs. San Francisco is fairly small -- about 7 miles square -- and it's fairly quick to get from one end to the other. But much of the terrain is hilly and hard to pedal up. Do not be misled by maps depicting the city's strict, regular street grid, as even the straightest of San Francisco's streets might include steep hills or even staircases instead of a roadway.
Downtown, SoMa, and the Sunset and Richmond districts are relatively flat. There are a number of bike paths and bike routes on city streets; the San Francisco Bike Coalition keeps a lot of information about them.
Taxis in San Francisco are, for a large city, surprisingly inefficient and expensive. Except for taxi stations at or near downtown business hotels, or cruising just a few major arteries, taxis can be hard to find and hail -- and calling for a cab can mean a 30-45 minute wait, if the cab shows up at all. Now, if you're anywhere near Union Square and are holding shopping bags, just by standing on the curb and hailing passing cabs will usually get you one quite quickly.
Having a car can make it easy to get to parts of the city poorly served by Muni or other public transportation, as well as other parts of the Bay Area. However, perpetually-clogged traffic and a confusing system of one-way streets can make driving in downtown extremely frustrating. In addition, a significant percent of the city's revenue is made through parking tickets; parking laws are convoluted, enforcement is arbitrary, and devilishly stacked against the driver. San Francisco does not have a through limited-access freeway like its larger neighbor to the South. Cross-town traffic uses the main CA-1 along 19th Avenue and US-101 along Lombard and Van Ness. Most of the city's internal freeways were damaged by the 1989 earthquake and consequently torn down, so driving in San Francisco is a surface-street affair.
Finding your way around
Cross streets: As San Francisco streets are numbered (100 per block) from the beginning of the street, It is best when asking directions to ask for a cross street or neighborhood name. For instance, if you are at the intersection of Haight Street and Clayton Street, and you ask the driver of the 33 Stanyan bus "Does this bus go to Market Street?" it will get you a yes, but the bus won't get you downtown, it will get you south from that intersection to Market and 18th in the Castro district.
Numbered streets and avenues: San Francisco has both numbered streets, in the Mission, the Castro, Noe Valley, and SoMa, and numbered avenues in the Sunset and the Richmond. Mixing numbered streets and avenues when asking directions may leave you miles from your destination. This can be confusing, as San Franciscans will not say "Street" or "Avenue" unless it is required to avoid ambiguity. Thus, "I live on Fifth Avenue" but "I live near Fifth and Geary." Street signs generally don't have "Street" or "Avenue" either; they just say "GEARY" or "MASONIC".
Golden Gate Bridge
Highway 101 N (from Park-Presidio or Lombard Street entrance), , +1 415-921-5858 ([email protected]). Open 24 hours, occasionally closed Sunday morning for events. $5 (toll driving south into San Francisco; free on foot or bike)
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in the United States, and has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The bridge spans the Golden Gate, a strait between San Francisco and Marin County to the north, and is one of the major road routes into and out of the city.
Vehicular traffic in both directions share a single deck; yellow pylons are used to allot lanes to one direction or the other depending on traffic conditions. Observation areas and parking lots are provided on both the north and south sides of the bridge; the best way to enjoy the bridge is to park and walk across, not least because you don't have to pay a toll. Note that winds are high and it can be cold and foggy; dress appropriately. Bikes can also be difficult to navigate in the high winds and narrow pathway.
The masterwork of architect Joseph B. Strauss, whose statue graces the southern observation deck, the bridge took seven years to build, and was completed on May 27, 1937. Not actually golden in color -- a common misconception -- the bridge is painted a deep red-orange. Erroneous legend has it that the bridge is continuously painted, with crews starting at one end and, on getting to the other end, turning around and starting over again. In fact, the bridge is only painted once every few years, with some touchup done continuously.
At Steiner and Hayes, it has the famous Painted Ladies row of Victorian houses on its east side, but many other pretty Victorians throughout its surroundings. The Hayes street Muni bus #21 goes along its south side. If you enjoy walking and don't mind modest grades you can get there by walking west from Hayes Valley or north from the Lower Haight.
Fisherman's Wharf is both a tourist trap and a place to see amazing street entertainers, eat excellent seafood, watch sea lions, and go to the Marine Museums and exhibits. Working Fishinboats still come into the small harbor at Jones and Jefferson, the endpoint of the Muni Historic F-streetcar. There are also small day and party boats available. The fresh breeze from the bay can provide a bracing setting.
The Civic Center has impressive buildings and the Asian Museum, but the main reason for going there are its music and theater venues. Hayes Valley, with shops selling wares from all countries and many restaurants adjoins the Civic Center at the south west.
The Yerba Buena Gardens, above the Moscone Center, at Mission and Third streets provide a nice urban oasis. There is a carousel, a museum, and play places for kids, movie houses, various exhibit spaces, and the Museum of Modern Art across the street. A big garage at Mission between Fifth and Fourth streets makes it quite accessible for drivers. The Moscone Center itself houses major exhibits and conventions. Half of all Muni lines come with a few blocks of the area.
The original China Town, centered around Grant street from Bush to Columbus is also part tourist trap, part an exhibit of local life. Good eating places remain, and the side streets especially have stores one wouldn't find in a mall. many local Chinese prefer to eat and shop in the new China Town, in the Inner Richmond neighborhood, on Clement Street between 2nd and 12th Avenues. The Muni #1 (California) and #2 (Clement, does not run at night) buses get people from one China Town to the other.
Lincoln Park defines the extreme Western edge of San Francisco. It provides great views of the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate Bridge from the Ocean side, and the Pacific Ocean itself. At the extreme western end the well known Cliff House provides both semi-casual and a more formal eating and drinking place. The #18 muni bus goes from the center of the park via the Cliff House to Golden Gate Park, while the very frequent #38 Geary buses terminate in between. Drivers will want to take the El-Camino-del-Mar through the small Seacliff area on the north west side to view some fancy mansions between Lincoln Park and the Presidio.
San Francisco is a sensual, epicurean city with a vast array of restaurants. If money is no object, you can have an unparalleled dining experience at Masa or Boulevard. But less budget-busting restaurants exist for every type of cuisine. Vegetarians and vegans will find SF a paradise. Sushi is a local obsession, and though you can find a sushi bar on almost every street corner, the Richmond district has more than its fair share of excellent sushi chefs. San Francisco also has the largest Chinatown in North America, with many exceptional restaurants serving dim sum and other Chinese delicacies; this localized Chinese cuisine has its feet in Hong Kong and America, and is different from what many visitors are accustomed to. Fisherman's Wharf serves fresh seafood, especially clam chowder and crabs cooked to order. North Beach is the place to go for Italian food, and the Mission for Mexican restaurants (and Latin American cuisine of all sorts).
You should also visit Ghirardelli Square to pick up some of their world-famous chocolate. Just a visit to the shop gets you a free piece!
Look also in the Districts section for more local recommendations.
For you travelers who like the grit and gritty of the city, go to zeitgeist. It is a great place to split a pitcher of beer with some friends, on a hot summer day. There is lots outside seating and the even better there is a shade tree to give you some relief from the sun, ohh wait were talking about San Francisco. The tatooed bar tenders are friendly enough and will have information about staying in one of the rooms above the bar, if you have drank too much or if you believe in love at first site. This place is cool, go there. They have great beers on tap. Everyone is friendly, even though the place looks like the home of Satan's Helper's. After the in-house food stops being served, you may see the Tamale lady. Feeling buzzed and looking for late night Grub? get a Tamale.
If you like football(Soccer) and all things English, you should stop into the lower haight's Mad Dog In the Fog. Located at Haight and Fillmore, the pub quiz and bar food are good. Swill some pints and stay in the dark. Good for a entire days worth of drinking. It's also central to other "dive" bars on Haight.
Decide if you want to be in walking distance of your destinations, or are up to driving and parking. If you have a specific destination in mind, look also in the Districts sections.
As with many other major cities in the world, San Francisco also has a share of problems. The distinct areas that one should be cautious in are around the southeast section of the city, such as Bayview-Hunters Point, and the SoMa (South of Market downtown) and the Tenderloin districts at night (north-east of the Civic Center).
San Francisco attracts a large homeless population due to the moderate weather and generally tolerant city government and populace. Plus, an incredibly high cost of living here also adds to the numbers of homeless people. Generally, if begged, just politely say that you do not have any change and they'll leave you alone. Many of the homeless are friendly and very articulate, and are happy to at least have you acknowledge their presence, but be aware that it's not just a coincidence that some of the homeless people have some serious mental health & substance abuse issues, so keep your guard up.
Smokers beware: as in the rest of California, smoking is illegal in bars, restaurants, and other public places. Bay Area people can be particularly vocal about your personal habits. Be aware of nonsmoking areas, and try to be courteous about smoking in other places. They will probably not bother you about standing and smoking outside a restaurant or bar. However, smoking is not dead in San Francisco —there are a small number of bars that take advantage of loopholes in the law, and cater to the short-of-breath. The Zeitgeist (a motorcycle-themed dive bar) on Valencia in the Mission District is one of the better known. The Eagle (a gay biker/leather-themed bar) and the Lone Star (a gay bear-themed bar) both feature large outdoor smoking patios.
For laid-back, involved-with-your-fellow-travelers kind of travel (cooking is shared, the sleeper busload camps ensemble), check out the Green Tortoise. GT runs buses up to Seattle and down to Baja California; to Black Rock City, Yosemite National Park, a National Parks loop including the Tetons, Yellowstone and more, and a coast-to-coast run to New York.
Bikes can be rented from around the northern waterfront (Pier 41/Fisherman's Wharf/Aquarium Park area) or near Golden Gate Park for trips to Marin County via the Golden Gate Bridge. Golden Gate Transit also serves the North Bay from San Francisco, and has bike racks on most buses.
Nearby destinations suitable for daytrips include: