Getting to San Francisco
I was living 8 hours away when I decided to go to San Francisco. I had planned on driving, but after finding out San Francisco has some of the best public transportation and some of the worst parking, I decided flying would be best.
I ended up flying into Oakland, just across the bay from San Francisco. To get from the airport (OAK or SAF) into town, you have to take a BART bus (as long as it’s before midnight). At OAK, the bus station is located across from Terminal 1 baggage claim. You buy a re-loadable ticket at a kiosk; it costs about $10 to get to downtown San Francisco from OAK. Take the bus to Coliseum Station in Oakland, then board the San Francisco/Daly-City train into town.
It can seem a little confusing so the good people at BART have broken everything down. There is a great website that explains everything, complete with a how-to video. http://www.bart.gov/guide/airport
Okay, you’re almost there. I got off at the fourth BART stop, Civic Center/UN Plaza to buy a MUNI passport. MUNI is what you’re going to be taking all around town. Visitors can buy a 1, 3, or 7 day passport for one flat fee and you can ride the MUNI buses, cable cars, and street cars as much as you want within your passport period. A single ride costs $7; a 7 day passport costs $40. Highly recommended you buy a passport.
Once at the Civic Center/UN Plaza, find a human who works there. They are probably behind some bullet-proof glass. This is where you buy your MUNI passport. If the Civic Center/UN Plaza is too far out of your way, go to this map: https://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/transit/fares-passes/where-to-buy, and select what type of ticket you are trying to buy. Notice the four BART stops on Market St.
Getting Around Town
San Francisco is busy. There are people and cars and buses everywhere so it can get a little confusing. At the Civic Center/UN Plaza station there are several bus stops on all four corners of Van Ness and Market St. Finding the right one might take a minute. Don’t worry though; you never have to wait long for a bus in downtown San Francisco. What bus to take simply depends on where you want to go. Here’s a map of the routes: https://www.sfmta.com/maps/muni-system-map
TIP: print out a map of San Francisco or make a customized Google Map (google.com/mymaps). Mark down everything you want to see or visit and then figure out what routes you need to take to get there.
Here is my map of activities:
I used the MUNI bus routes 49, 28, 7, L, and E almost exclusively.
After finally finding the right street car, I rode it until the end. I was going to be staying at the HI San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf hostel, right on the water. I stayed in a girls’ dorm with two bunk beds.
TIP: Ask for the bottom bunk. You’ll have under the bed to store stuff. I got stuck with the top bunk and it kind of sucked having to climb down just for a book or something.
The hostel was extremely difficult to find. I incorrectly assumed there would be signs leading to it but there were not. I wandered all around foot paths asking anyone young-looking if they knew where the hostel was but no one could tell me. I ended up walking up to the back of the hostel and making my way through it towards the front.
The hostel is actually located inside Fort Mason, a park area with lots of history. Footpaths crisscross over each other and there is no clear path towards the hostel. I highly recommend looking at a map of Fort Mason so you don’t get lost and wander around like me.
TIP: Ask for a tour. I had no idea where the laundry or kitchen was for the first couple of days. The hostel is pretty large. There is a restaurant, a kitchen, several bathrooms, a reading area, and an extensive outdoor area.
San Francisco is the type of city where if it wasn’t so expensive, I would totally live there. There was so much culture and each district was distinct. You want amazing Mexican food? Go to the Mission District. You want a crowd of people? Go to The Castro. You want to be touristy? Go near the water.
There was so much to do and I didn’t have time to do everything I wanted. I didn’t see the Painted Ladies, those beautiful houses seen in the Full House intro. I didn’t get to the Musee Mecanique, a penny arcade museum, or Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, something I know I’m going to visit the next time I go to San Francisco.
And I saw so much stuff that didn’t fit into a category. I road a historic street car and got yelled at twice for hanging off it to take video. I saw the stalls of Chinatown through a bus window. I met a cat. I ate at an all-vegan Chinese restaurant that played videos of Chinese animal rights activists with poorly done subtitles.
I highly recommend San Francisco.