Sunday, June 10, 2012

Thoughts on budget travel in San Francisco

“I can’t believe it’s a real place” (my friend, Jun).

Arrival: If you’re staying downtown you can take BART from the airport inbound to Powell or Montgomery Station. BART maps linked below – cheap and very easy, especially if you keep asking BART staff (whose helpfulness varies). It’s a 20 minute walk with luggage from Powell to the Grant Plaza Hotel and ~15 minutes to the Union Square area where many hotels are.
Noe at Market near David's house

Transportation: MUNI (bus and train) is easy to use. There are free maps in hotels and stands around the city, especially Union Square – some maps have bus #s noted; some do not. SF Municipal Transportation Agency maps are linked below: (maps have improved). To use MUNI buses or trains, figure out where you are and where you want to go, then find the bus #s that go to both places. There is also a map in many bus stops (but not at the vaguely marked/painted on curb stops) and people tend to be helpful. Be sure to get a transfer as these give you unlimited rides for 2-4 hours. Adult fare = $2 ($.75 for seniors - WooHoo!) – no change made, so carry some dollar bills and quarters.
F-line streetcar - restored and on the track. Note MUNI sign 

Cable Cars cost $6 one-way, no transfer, and there is often a significant wait to get on one. The F Line uses street cars from the 1930s-1950s from Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39 along Market Street.

There is a City Pass that gives you unlimited rides on everything but BART: + admission to assorted attractions. Be sure to click “price details” to see the less expensive 7 day pass that includes cable cars and MUNI without added attractions (neither pass includes Alcatraz).

Public transportation to:
Berkeley: MUNI (train or bus to BART station): (very helpful web page) OR take BART outbound toward Pittsburg/Bay Point and get off at Rockridge and walk a block to catch #49 bus Counter-clockwise for a nice ride through Berkeley and get off at Telegraph at UC Berkeley Sproul Plaza (where Free Speech Movement was born). 
Point Reyes Natl. Seashore: Golden Gate 70 or 80 bus to San Rafael Transit Center, change to West Marin Stage 68 (runs 4xday - check for seasonal changes). Also goes to Samuel Taylor State Park (Thanks to Yaguri, FAQ #246).
In front of the Star Grocery in Berkeley - happy days sitting on this bench 

Walking: “Nobody ever got to the end of a day in San Francisco and said, ‘I wish I’d walked more’” (Leslie). Even with easy public transportation, you’ll still walk your legs off, so take some ibuprofen, and do it again tomorrow. SF is one of the great walking cities of the world, except there is a lot of up and down.

Car: Expensive to rent at airport – save 30-40% renting elsewhere, BUT, parking is a real challenge and expensive. Many hotels charge guests for parking (>$20/day). We’ve never rented one and never felt the need. Pay attention to how wheels are turned with parked cars and do the same or get a ticket.

Weather: It's colder than you think and the weather changes from hour to hour and neighborhood to neighborhood. Take at least a fleece and long-sleeve shirt; maybe add a parka or windbreaker if you're walking across Golden Gate Bridge. A daypack for the fleece, water, etc. is a good idea. And an umbrella. 

Things to do in SF

New Moon Cafe in Chinatown
Chinatown: The totally tourist Chinatown is all along Grant Avenue until you get to Broadway (near North Beach). The Chinatown where Chinese people shop and eat is a block away, along Stockton to Broadway. Many markets, herbalists, tea shops, cheap dim sum places, cafes, etc. – a lively street scene, many old people. New Moon restaurant at 1247 Stockton for excellent duck and pork. New Chinatown is in Inner Richmond on Clement Street from about 4th or 5th Street to short of Presidio. Get there via the 2 bus from downtown (Sutter Street) or take 38 or 38L anywhere along Geary, get off at 6th and walk a couple of blocks to your right. Not as congested as Stockton, not as many old people, several markets, many cafes (Chinese, Thai, Burmese). Look for places that are crowded. Good Luck Dim Sum is very popular (3 pieces most things for $1.60!) – at 736 Clement. One of SF’s best used bookstores is in New Chinatown: Green Apple at 506 Clement ( I go to bookstores pretty much everywhere I go and this is one of the best anywhere.

Japantown is a quiet area with a quiet mall between Laguna and Fillmore (via 38 or 38L bus). There are 15-20 restaurants in the mall, some little food courts, gift shops, several $1.50 stores with Japanese merchandise, and clean restrooms.  
I love San Francisco

Ocean: I like to take the 38 or 38L to the end of the line at Point Lobos. Ask the driver if she/he is going to Point Lobos as some go a different way and I have no idea why or which one. When you get to the end of the line, walk back to the big intersection, cross street and you’ll find a well-marked paved walkway (take the lower branch) that takes you along bluffs overlooking the ocean. After a mile or so, you’ll find trails going down to small beaches as well as trails going up some higher bluffs over the ocean. See SF Bay Guardian for listing of beaches

Golden Gate Park: An amazing (huge) place with something for everyone. A number of buses go to or through the park (see map). Haight Street deadends into the park (at Stanyon). There is a good Whole Foods right there (salad bar, restrooms, etc.) and Amoeba Records is across the street at Stanyon and Haight. It’s a nice outing to walk along Haight and on into the park. At the entrance to the park there are street people hanging out, but once you walk past them and through the tunnel, the scene is very nice.

North Beach isn’t a beach, but there is a lot of hip history here: Washington Square, Café Trieste, City Lights Books, Vesuvio (… also many Italian restaurants, markets, bakeries, coffee shops, etc.,_San_Francisco
Singer in front of the Castro Theater

The Castro is a friendly, vibrant neighborhood with lots of markets, bars, clothing stores (in one of which, the owner doesn’t wear any clothes), cafes, coffee shops (Spikes on 19th Street, ¼ block off Castro is recommended). Nice little Tibetan store across the street from Spikes. The 24 bus goes along Castro Street and the F Line (restored streetcars) goes to the corner of Castro and Market. It’s interesting to sit for awhile at the blocked off area at Castro and Market. The naked guys bring a towel to sit on and if you decide to take your clothes off, be sure to sit on a shirt or something. San Francisco!

Noe Valley: is an upscale (but not hyper-rich) neighborhood over the hill from Castro. Take 24 bus to 24th Street – hanging baskets, cafes, shops (check out Qoio at 4068 24th St. – the garden is wonderful). Baby strollers and golden retrievers everywhere. Take 48 bus from stops along 24th to Mission.

The Mission is predominantly Hispanic. Center of area is the 24th Street BART Station. Go any which way. Lots to see in this sometimes gritty neighborhood – cafes, markets, people. Different Mission areas are described in SFGate.
Beach, Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. Get there on 38 bus

Pier 39 is like an upscale Galveston waterfront. Sooner or later everybody goes and if the line is short, why not take the cable car ($6 one-way). Can also get there on F Line streetcars for $2 including transfer good for several hours.

The Tenderloin (a few blocks from Union Square) remains a rough place, but it’s where Shalimar is, home of the best chicken tikka masala anywhere imo (532 Jones St. (between O’Farrell & Geary – via 38 or 38L). Some hotels supposedly in Union Square are actually in the Tenderloin. Avoid the deep Tenderloin at night, though.

Union Square: Lots of upscale shopping, Cooks will love the Williams-Sonoma flagship store (the only place I've been - several times - my exciting life). 38 and 38L stop here.

Farmer’s markets:  See for listing – soooo much nicer than what’s in Dallas, groan. Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market (Embarcadero) is big, inside and out, artisanal, and more (Tu, Th, Sat). Get there via F streetcar running along Market Street.

Food: Some of the best food in the world is in SF. We usually buy stuff in grocery stores, take out places, street vendors, and the like, so can’t recommend anywhere for a fabulous meal (it’s all fabulous to us). If you want to know what artisan baking is about, check out Tartine, Semifreddi’s, or Acme (the latter two are found in several grocery stores as well as their own shops). I always bring home a loaf of Semifreddi’s rustic sourdough. Bleeding Safeway has better bread than all but a handful of bakeries in Dallas.

Coffee shops: There are many good coffee shops in SF – many locally-owned. Blue Bottle (several locations) is reputed to be the best and it is excellent.
On Noe Street - basic San Francisco

Houses, buildings, and gardens: Unbelievable. Everywhere you look there are incredible buildings and houses. The detail! Older neighborhoods have beautiful (often small) gardens. Get off the bus, walk around. What a place. Berkeley has even more incredible gardens.

Homelessness: The Bay area has a huge homeless population, especially in the Tenderloin. Many are mentally ill and a few are intrusive. Generally speaking, interactions are polite.

Other things to do: There is so much happening in the Bay area that it’s sometimes difficult to find local events (too much information!). Add the month or even the date to Google searches and keep looking. You’ll be rewarded with things like a Himalayan festival, a pagan parade, a huge marathon where many people are in costume and some wear nothing at all, an Asian festival, leather parties, psytrance street events, great farmers markets (not like Dallas, for sure), and on and on. The below resources will help in your search.

SF Bay Guardian See Guides - you’re not in Kansas anymore! Also check Best of the Bay.
SFGate See Travel section with neighborhood guides, etc. ( Also, there is an excellent Bay Area Best hikes, wildlife, etc. at
Fun and Cheap SF:
BART (under/above ground train from one end of SF to another):
MUNI (bus and related trains): :
All sorts of transpo (including ferries) to all sorts of places:
Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum USA branch Some of my favorites:
38 and 39 – Miss Ariel’s thoughts of travel to SF
157 – Hostels
170 – General info, comprehensive
176 – Napa and Sonoma
182 – Drive Seattle to San Diego, a tour de force by Williesnout
203 – LA to SF by public transpo
208 – SFB best outdoors

Residents would rather you say the city or San Francisco, not San Fran or Frisco.


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