San Francisco - Getting In -

By plane

There are three airports in the San Francisco Bay Area:

  San Francisco (SFO, located about 10 miles south of the city),
  Oakland (OAK, in the East Bay), and
  San Jose (SJC, in the Silicon Valley, about 1 hour south of San Francisco).

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 (outside of busy rush hours) 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 (AirTrain) to the BART station itself--although light travelers can manage with a 10-15 minute walk through connecting passages--whereupon you may have to wait as long as 20 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 has been improved, and outside of rush hours road traffic delays are minor. There is a VTA Flyer shuttle from the Airport to the Caltrain and the VTA Metro stations, but public transportation within the South bay is not as developed as around San Francisco.

By train

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:

  The California Zephyr runs daily between Chicago and Emeryville with connections to/from the east coast.
  The Coast Starlight runs daily between Seattle, Portland, Emeryville, and Los Angeles. Travelers from San Diego should take the Pacific Surfliner to Los Angeles and connect with the Coast Starlight. To reach San Francisco, either transfer to Caltrain in San Jose or to the Amtrak bus in Emeryville.
  The Capitol Corridor runs 12 times daily (9 on weekends and holidays) between Sacramento and Emeryville. Some trains also serve San Jose but Caltrain (see below) is a better bet between San Jose and San Francisco. The most convenient transfer to San Francisco is actually to BART at Richmond's station, north of Emeryville, while the Oakland Coliseum station is another option.
  The San Joaquins runs 4 times daily between Bakersfield, Stockton and Emeryville.

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.

By bus

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:

  AC Transit, from Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, and other East Bay cities
  samTrans, from San Mateo County
  Golden Gate Transit, from Sonoma and Marin counties
  Vallejo Transit, from Vallejo

By boat

San Francisco and Alcatraz from a Sausalito ferry

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:

  Golden Gate Ferries, serving Larkspur and Sausalito, can be contacted on +1-415-923-2000.
  Blue and Gold Fleet, serving Sausalito and Tiburon, can be contacted on +1-415-705-5555.
  BayLink Ferry, serving Vallejo, can be contacted on +1-707-648-4349.
  Alameda Oakland Ferry, serving Alameda and Oakland, can be contacted on +1-415-705-5555.
  Harbor Bay Ferry, serving (a different location in) Alameda, can be contacted on +1-510-769-5500.

By car

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.

Even further along the slow/winding/scenic scale is the famous Highway 1 (California State Route 1). This twists and turns along the cliffs and beaches of the coast and is so amazing-looking that it is more or less a clich'in car commercials, having been featured so regularly. If you have lots of time, and desire spectacular scenery, this is the way to go.

101 and 1 pass directly through San Francisco via city streets and the Golden Gate Bridge, while I-5 traffic connects to the Bay Area

From the south by
  Route 152 (Pacheco Pass) through Gilroy to 101,
From the east by
  Interstate 580 (Altamont Pass) through Dublin and Oakland and
  Route 4 through Pittsburg and Antioch, and
From the northeast by
  Route 12 through Rio Vista and Fairfield,
  Interstate 80 from Sacramento through Davis, and
  Interstate 505 from Winters through Vacaville.

All connections from I-5 except the Gilroy route pass over the beautiful San Francisco Bay Bridge.

Adapted from WikiTravel under the Wiki License


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