Getting to San Francisco
Most visitors will arrive at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), 13 miles south of San Francisco. Travelers have a number of ground transportation options, including public transportation, rental cars, hotels and shuttles. The regional rail service, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), is the most efficient way to reach San Francisco. The SFO BART station is located in the International Terminal. Domestic arrivals can take the Air Train to the airport’s BART station.
The closest Amtrak station to San Francisco is in Emeryville near Oakland. From Emeryville, travelers can take an Amtrak Thruway shuttle to San Francisco, with convenient stops including Civic Center, San Francisco Caltrain Station, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building. Caltrain is a commuter line operating between San Francisco and Gilroy in Santa Clara County. Among major Caltrain stations are San Jose, Santa Clara, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Redwood City and San Mateo. The San Francisco Caltrain Station is located about four blocks from AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.
The City and County of San Francisco is served by California State Route 1, U.S. 101 and Interstate Highways 80 and 280. Motorists must pay particular attention when driving on the streets throughout San Francisco and obey all state and local driving rules. Motorists must be alert at all intersections due to the number of pedestrians and other vehicles. Advanced planning will help avoid confusion in finding places to park.
By Cruise Ship/Ferry
Several cruise ships arrive annually at piers in San Francisco. Currently, cruise ships arrive at Pier 35 South, near Fisherman’s Wharf. In the fall, the new cruise terminal at Pier 27 is expected to serve the majority of arrivals the remainder of the year. Pier 27 is located along the Embarcadero about one mile south of Fisherman’s Wharf. The San Francisco Muni F streetcar provides public transportation service to Fisherman’s Wharf and Market Street. Visitors can take a ferry service from a number of Bay Area locations, including Oakland, Alameda, Vallejo, Sausalito and Larkspur.
Getting Around San Francisco
The most efficient way to get around San Francisco is with pubic transportation. However, San Francisco Muni buses can be frequently overcrowded, particularly in popular locations like Union Square, Chinatown, AT&T Park and Fisherman’s Wharf. Muni also has a light rail system serving Market Street and many destinations west of Van Ness Avenue, such as Ocean Beach, San Francisco Zoo, Golden Gate Park, the Castro District and Mission District. The Third Street Line T continues past Market Street to AT&T Park and the Caltrain station.
Where to Stay
The average rate for overnight accommodations recently reached an all-time-high average of $200 a night. But there is a wide spectrum of lodging options, from top-rated hostels to five-star luxury hotels.
- Amsterdam Hostel
- Hosteling International – Fisherman’s Wharf
- Pacific Tradewinds
- San Francisco International Hostel
- USA Hostels
- Fairmont San Francisco
- Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco
- Mandarin Oriental
- Ritz Carlton Club
- St. Regis
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Things to Do
First-time visitors will want to see the spectacular Golden Gate Bridge. In order to avoid the enormous crowds at Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, a better spot to marvel at the orange-colored suspension bridge is along Crissy Field in the northernmost tip of the city. The crowds will still be there and finding parking can sometimes be difficult, but many locals consider this former airfield the best spot for breathtaking views of the world’s most famous bridge. It’s also a local favorite for all sorts of outdoor activities, like picnics, bird watching, walking, running and cycling. Food and refreshments can be found at the Warming Hut, Beach Hut Café or the Off the Grid food truck.
Also worth a visit at Crissy Field is the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center, Fort Point for an up-close and personal view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Not far from Crissy Field is the Walt Disney Family Museum, honoring the life and works of Walt Disney. People interested in military history should also visit the Presidio Visitor Center and the San Francisco National Cemetery, the first national cemetery on the West Coast. Science fiction fans may wish to visit the famous Yoda statue on the Lucasfilm campus. Lastly, a few minutes away from the Lucasfilm campus is the Palace of Fine Arts. Built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, the Palace of Fine arts is one of San Francisco’s most famous structures and a major attraction.
The day can be capped off with a nice meal most anywhere in the city, an evening stroll along the Embarcadero, near Market Street or Union Square, or any of the best nightclubs or theaters.
First-time visitors typically have a list of attractions to visit, but one often overlooked spot lies between Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. This area is known as Land’s End, a popular spot for hiking and enjoying sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Of particular interest are the Legion of Honor, Sutro Baths ruins, USS San Francisco Memorial and one of San Francisco’s most famous restaurants – the Cliff House.
Located in Lincoln Park, the Legion of Honor is world renowned for its collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art, including Monet’s “Water Lilies.” There’s also a substantial collection of sculptures from Auguste Rodin, including “The Gates of Hell,” “The Kiss” and a full-size casting of his most famous work, “The Thinker,” gracing the entrance to the museum. Other prominent works of art include Picasso’s “The Orator” and Monet’s “The Grand Canal, Venice.” Outside of the Legion of Honor is a statue of Spanish military hero El Cid and George Segal’s Holocaust Memorial.
The USS San Francisco Memorial pays tribute to one of the most decorated ships of World War II and its crewmen. The historic battleship was one of just a few vessels that didn’t suffer damage during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The USS San Francisco went on to contribute in the war effort in the Pacific in several critical battles, such as the Battle of Guadalcanal, Pacific Raids of 1943 and Iwo Jima.
Built in the late 19th century, the Sutro Baths were once a glamorous swim facility with six salt-water pools and one fresh-water pool. The facility also featured more than 500 dressing rooms, natural history exhibits and an amphitheater that had an overall capacity of 10,000 people. Named after the 24th mayor of San Francisco, Adolph Sutro, the Baths went into decline during the Great Depression and a 1966 fire destroyed much of the remaining structure. Today, little is left of the Sutro Baths, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, but it remains a popular spot for visitors.
The historic Cliff House was first built in 1863 and was a popular restaurant for U.S. Presidents and prominent San Franciscans. The original structure was destroyed by a fire in the 1960s. Today the Cliff House remains a popular choice for dining, serving upscale lunch and dinners, in addition to lounge food, with commanding views of the Pacific Ocean. Outside of the Cliff House is the Camera Obscura, the last remaining structure from the historic Playland seaside amusement park that closed in 1972. For a small fee, visitors can visit the Camera Obscura, a device using sunlight, lenses, mirror and a parabolic screen to produce 360-degree images of Ocean Beach and the famous Seal Rock.
Separating Sutro Baths and the Cliff House is Lands End Lookout visitor center, with a spacious parking lot, gift shop, food concession and restrooms. San Francisco Muni’s route 38 provides service to Land’s End Lookout and Route 18 serves the Palace of Legion of Honor.
At the end of the day, visitors are free to choose any of the dining and entertainment recommendations or are free to explore on their own.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.