You know the traffic in San Francisco is bad. In fact, during the week days it is so challenging that the advise is not to drive into town. Especially if you are not staying in the city itself. We had decided to stay south of south San Francisco, nearer to the airport. The reasons were varied but it had mostly to do with cost. We were not prepared to pay the high hotel rates downtown and AirBnB was not on our radar at that time.
Since you probably (well should) have read our journalog here, this handprint story is not about to repeat the entire journey. Rather, this essay is more focused on the observations we had about the places we visited and potential tips (hacks to some). And this is also more attuned to folks who have to drive into the city because one stays further afield. Like we did.
What are you waiting for? Read on!
Tips 1 – driving to see the Golden Gate bridge
Huh? Who says you should avoid to do so? Did you really intend to spend a half day getting there and back? If you have the time, great for you. If not, a short drive would really be best. One thing to note is that you only pay the bridge toll when you drive INTO San Francisco (just like NYC). And it is easy to pay later (within 48 hours). Just remember to bring a coat because it’s windy and if you have a hat consider securing it to you for the walk on the bridge.
The critical consideration is which vantage point you would like to be at.
Principally there are two: Vista point and Fort point.
One thing is for sure, the parking at both sides are limited and there are so many others like you vying for a spot. Thus coming early is necessary. Vista point has an additional challenge : lots of tour buses stop there including the city trolley buses. Quite a number of folks have said driving further up to Battery Spencer is the best for it affords not only an elevated view of the bridge, but because it is also a scenic drive by itself. We counted there are only 16 lots at Golden Gate Bridge vista point from which you need to walk to Battery Spencer.
Tip 2 – Best position on the tram and from where
For the best views, the Powell-Hyde line is the one to go for. And where best then to start from the terminal point at Hyde street, also where the turnaround takes place. Because it fits nicely as the conclusion of a nice walk along the pier. Alternatively you could have come from the direction of the golden gate bridge. Either way, this is way better than the Union street turnaround.
Our own experience was one of being late; close to 11pm in the morning. That resulted in a 45-minute wait with the queue. If you do buy a tram day pass, make sure you use it at least 3 times to get your money’s worth!
Important: when you get on the tram, do not jostle for a seat. That’s NOT the point of taking the tram. Instead, be nice with the conductor at the back of the tram. Let the other folks take up the seats and fill the interior. You stand at the back.
This is the best vantage point ON the tram as it ascends. Because it is rather steep a gradient of ascent, we strongly recommend that you hold on safely even as you may succumb to the temptation of snapping selfies. No insurance for falling off nor losing your phone. As we said in our journalog, you can watch the city come into full view and the optical illusion of Alcatraz being “abnormally” large in proportion to its size. Yes some might say stand on the side of the tram, but with your hand(s) holding onto the railing, how to take a photo?
Tip 3 – Where to park and then spend the day along the pier
You want to walk along Pier 39 right? Again for the drivers, there are options and they are ALL expensive. But it is certainly better than the hassle of getting into the city without your car and having to find a way out.
There are at least 4 garages in the vicinity of Pier 39 with one of them at the pier itself. So to be honest it should not be challenging to find a lot, unless you come in late again. And by late we mean past noon. Because if the traffic along the way does not faze you, circling around looking for garages with available lots will.
We recommend the North point shopping mall, the one with a Safeway. It is a little further to walk but because many folks come by to pick up groceries there is a reasonably healthy turnover of parking lots. In 1½ blocks you will be at the pier. And mentioning the pier, we have to say that one needs to expect even at 8am in the morning to see a crowd ooohing and aaahing at the sea lions…
Tip 4 – Lombard Street
Well over-rated. Probably so many people in the background of your photos you will be frustrated if you are the kind that likes an “unobstructed” picture. The best photos in our opinion is taken from the top of the crooked street. Especially with the open panorama of North beach.
Again to get there, take the Powell-Hyde line and NOT the Powell-Mason one. Because first of all, while it looks short at 0.3 miles (or approximately 500m), the walk from the Powell-Mason line is up near 45° gradient (granted not all the way). That makes it a work out of climbing approximately 90m or about 20+ floors. Some vertical marathon it would be!
And driving it?
It is on some folks’ bucket list. We recommend to give it a miss. For one thing the road is congested mainly because the trams run in both directions taking up a fair piece of the road. No prizes for guessing that the traffic’s choked with cars too in addition to people constantly spilling onto the street. Chaos. We drove through and did not make the effort to get in there. In case you do want to, be sure you are in the direction of traffic where you will turn right into Lombard.
Tip 5 – It’s windy on Twin peaks
First up. We saw some folks walk up. Don’t. The windy road that leads up to the peak can be a death trap if a car cannot spot you coming around the corner.
Second – it’s not worth it. Not in the sense that one walks all the way up for the views. While the views are nice, it is not justified to spend that amount of time and effort walking up. So for the drivers out there, this is fine for a short photo stop.
Third. It’s windy. Very. At least when we were there in June during the height of sunny days, the wind chill was still enough to send a shudder through your spine. At least for us. So bring a coat and save the hat for it will be blown away unless you secure it. Did we mention it early too? Seems like San Francisco is a very windy city!
Get downtown on a Sunday
Wouldn’t call this a tip but if there is a day you can choose to get into downtown, it’s got to be Sunday. Particularly in North beach. Because it is one of the best neighborhoods in the US! So says some literature…
You will have note in our journalog (here) that we had a wonderful time enjoying all the street parties and celebrations (there is always a reason for one). Obviously food figures a lot when it comes to such activities in addition to the music and dancing!
There you go! You will notice that the central theme of the tips we shared is really about starting early. There is no two ways about it. Even if you stay in an AirBnB apartment downtown. It just gets so crowded by late morning when the busloads of tourists turn up. That, in itself is the most important tip.
Technically we only had 36 hours in the city and that was definitely not enough if one digressed like we did. Strictly speaking Muir and Sausalito are outside of the city… in our opinion at least. In this journey we did not touch Chinatown nor did anything artsy. And that’s something to come back for.
“Tips” coming from our June 2016 journey