San Francisco tips
May 28, 2009 12:16 AM   Subscribe

I have a few questions about my trip to San Francisco this weekend.

Me and the SO are going to SF this weekend (Friday morning till Monday night). We're pretty much going to be doing touristy stuff (Presidio, Alcatraz, Aquarium, incredible amounts of eating, ect.) and I had a few questions for saving cash. We will not have a car:

1) Are any of the "city pass" type cards a particularly good deal for a touristy vacation? The Seattle cards are usually wildly overpriced for what you could actually do in a weekend.

2) Does the bus system sell day or tourist passes for a flat rate?

3) I'd love to see the redwoods, Marin, and Sausalito but the tours all seem very expensive and overly long. Is there a way to get to any of those destinations using public transit?

Thank you
posted by lattiboy to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Muni is 1.50 flat rate for a ticket, ticket is good for 2 hours from the time of purchase. BART goes by stop, I recommend just buying muni passes and bart tickets as needed. You can take Golden Gate Transit up to Marin and Sausalito, the 80 route takes a while because it stops everywhere. is your friend for public transit in the bay area for muni specific information
posted by iamabot at 12:26 AM on May 28, 2009

Best answer: Muni also has day passes for 1, 3, and 7 day periods (plus monthly passes, but that's another story). Also check out the new CultureBus which is a special shuttle from downtown to the museums in Golden Gate Park. Skip the utterly lame (IMHO, though I hear they've improved it somewhat) Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 and go to the amazing new Academy of Sciences in the park instead (the aquarium is downstairs).

Since you mentioned incredible amounts of eating, be sure to stop by the Ferry Building, especially the Farmers Market. Slanted Door (inside the Ferry Building) is a fantastic restaurant, or you can go to Out The Door (see below).

A lot of the good food in the Union Square area is hidden in the basement of the San Francisco Center mall. This includes Out The Door, a branch of Slanted Door, and other yummy eats.

As for #3, if you're into this sort of thing, Sausalito and the Marin Headlands are a great bike ride away across the Golden Gate Bridge. A number of local outfits rent bikes and can provide maps and directions.

Enjoy your visit!
posted by zachlipton at 12:40 AM on May 28, 2009

The Muni 76 goes through SF to the Marin Headlands, but it only runs on Sundays. This won't take you to the redwoods, but it's a nice beach, and a good trailhead.

You may also be interested in the Muir Woods shuttle or the West Marin Stage.
posted by sergent at 1:13 AM on May 28, 2009

FYI, you can rent bikes and toss them onto the bike racks on front of the bus, get close to where you want to be and get off the bus and on that bike and enjoy the ride, do the same thing going back. Let the bus do the heavy lifting, you do the enjoyable riding...
posted by dancestoblue at 1:25 AM on May 28, 2009

There's a ferry between the city and Sausalito.

I was there on Sunday. It was boring.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:46 AM on May 28, 2009

As for #3, if you're into this sort of thing, Sausalito and the Marin Headlands are a great bike ride away across the Golden Gate Bridge. A number of local outfits rent bikes and can provide maps and directions.

Second, third, or fourth this, especially if you like biking, or if you just don't want to spend a bunch of time walking across the bridge and then back. Be aware that cyclists are supposed to stick to a particular side of the bridge depending on the time of day and that some of the turns can be a bit harrowing if you're not used to cycling. After you get over the bridge, Sausalito is an easy ride down the hill. It's not super-exciting, but it is rather quaint. It might be nicer to ride into the Marin Headlands a bit (which is incredibly beautiful) and visit the lighthouse, then ride into sausalito and take the ferry back (check the schedule first to avoid waiting up to an hour -- service is infrequent on weekends), which would put you at the Ferry building. If you shoot for around lunchtime-ish, there's about a trillion awesome places in the Ferry building to have a gourmet lunch. That'll put you in a decent position to ride to Fisherman's wharf (one location to rent bikes, although it'll mean a bit of a ride to the bridge in the first place), where you should check out the Musee Mechanique.

If you're a fan of walking and are staying in a central-ish location, I'm not sure it's worth it to buy a bus pass. Just walk everywhere and buy bus/BART tickets as/if needed. Do get a good map or have gps on your phone.

Lastly, think about if Alcatraz is something you absolutely must have to do. It's expensive and I've never found it very interesting. You might also consider Angel island, which is half the price and from what I understand has more hiking (although I think the ferry service is much less frequent).
posted by ragaskar at 6:48 AM on May 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Re: the ferry to Sausalito, I would agree that there is not a whole lot to do over there.

But if you wave a sunny day nothing beats (well, almost nothing) sitting on the top deck of the ferry to Sausalito. Incredible views of the bay and the GGB. Salt air. A cold brew. The ferries are not related to Muni so are not included on the pass, but it is $20 of so for a round trip and back.
posted by quarterframer at 7:02 AM on May 28, 2009

I was just in SF over Memorial Day weekend.

1) The 3-day Muni passport may well be worth the cost (18 bucks). We stayed in Union square and used the cable cars to get down to the Fisherman's wharf area several time. At 5 bucks a ride, we came out way ahead. Regular buses are less expensive, but also less fun.

2) The bike across the Golden Gate Bridge is very cool, and as people have said, biking through the Marin headlands would be a great way to see it - it's beautiful over there. It's around 20 bucks to rent a bike and under ten for the ferry ride back.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:43 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

One MUNI hint. . .I once innocently got on a train without paying the fare (this is easy at most above-ground stops) and got off under Market St., $1.50 in hand, still looking for how to pay it. I was VERY lucky that I was not accosted (this is the proper word, given their demeanor) by the MUNI cops, this time.

There are a number of these uniformed people and they will be stationed at exits, and often times board trains and (I presume) busses to check on riders and cite any unpaid ones. So, always pay the fare, and always have a valid proof of payment, in the form of a transfer or ticket.
posted by Danf at 7:49 AM on May 28, 2009

Yeah - if you need to pay the Muni fare on a train (because you don't already have a transfer ticket or a pass), just board at the very front door. The money-taker-machine is right next to the driver. He/she will give you a transfer slip which will be good on Muni buses and trains until the time indicated.
posted by jenmakes at 8:04 AM on May 28, 2009

I like getting the three-day MUNI passes for out-of-town guests, because they let you ride the cable cars (otherwise $5) and it's relaxing to know you can always get on a bus or underground without thinking about finding change.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:52 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

FYI: The weather lately has been living up to it's San Francisco stereotype. Bring clothes for 80 degrees and sunn and bring clothes for 50s degrees and fog!

Are you a ZipCar member? If so there are Zipcars all over San Francisco.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:58 AM on May 28, 2009

Lastly, think about if Alcatraz is something you absolutely must have to do. It's expensive and I've never found it very interesting.

The Alcatraz tour is totally worth it IF you opt for the audio tour. It's kind of boring if you don't (i.e., you'll stroll around going "Oh look, more steel bars"). Shell out the few extra bucks for the headsets and you'll be glad you went.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:27 AM on May 28, 2009

On my recent trip to S.F. (2 weeks ago) the audio tour of Alcatraz was free, everybody got headphones. I cannot imagine how strange and pointless the tour would be without it!
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 9:44 AM on May 28, 2009

Just a few things to add - the Alcatraz boat tends to sell out - might be best to make reservations in advance. Also, instead of the aquarium, consider the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park - it's got a world class aquarium in its own right and much more to boot.
posted by Capostrophe at 10:00 AM on May 28, 2009

One option for getting to Muir woods is taking the Sausalito ferry and then connecting with the Muir Woods Shuttle in Sausalito.

Muni does sell one day ($11.00) and three day ($18.00) passes. Unless you're riding the cable cars, it's probably cheaper to just pay the $1.50 fare and use your transfer.
posted by zombiedance at 10:48 AM on May 28, 2009

If you don't get the pass for MUNI, get $1 coins. Makes it so much easier to board the buses. Fare is $1.50, so either bring quarters too, or just pay $3 for the both of you. Be sure to get a "transfer", it's also your receipt. I've heard the "Culture Bus" is a ripoff. Maybe check out one of those hop-on-off double decker bus tours. If you have a web enabled phone, will be your friend.

For food, do hit up the Farmers Market at the Ferry Building, but then also look to the neighborhoods (Mission, Marina, Hayes Valley, Haight, Fillmore, Clement St) for some gems. Check out for ideas. What are you looking for?

Get to the Academy of Sciences (for the aquarium) early, it just recently reopened after some major renovation and the lines and crowds can be brutal. Planetarium shows sell out early too.

Have fun and bring warm clothes, it's summer in San Francisco!
posted by mhm at 12:25 PM on May 28, 2009

Alcatraz might take a big chunk of time out of your weekend schedule, and if the weather is nice you might have trouble getting on a boat at the time you want to go. (You can book in advance online if you want to go -- allow a couple of hours to potter around the island after the audio tour. I think the boats back go every 30 minutes, and you don't need to be on a scheduled one -- just line up at the dock.)

There are ferries that just sail around the bay for a bit if you want to look at the Marin Headlands/Golden Gate/Treasure Island from a different perspective for an hour or so. They leave from the same place in Fisherman's Wharf as the Alcatraz tours do.

If you're running around town a lot, getting a 3-day Muni pass is a good idea. If you're just taking a couple of trips away from downtown, you might be better off just getting the transfer for each visit to the Presidio, Fisherman's Wharf, etc. If you're staying downtown, you can walk to lots of stuff like Union Square, the Ferry Building, and North Beach.
posted by vickyverky at 12:26 PM on May 28, 2009

Best answer: Yes - I see tourists on the bus with the CityPass and I think, geez, I should get one of those. They cost $59 per adult, which if you consider that admission to the Academy of Sciences alone costs $25 each, nevermind all the other stuff, including Muni, the Exploratorium(!), MOMA, boat cruise, and the cable cars, is an amazing deal.

Have fun, but try not to spend much time at Fisherman's Wharf - though if you do, may I recommend the genuine SF attraction of the Musee Mecanique which used to be based at the Cliff House, but moved during their remodel. It may be cleaner now, but the cool old automata should be the same! In that area, the Hyde Street Pier is also neat.
posted by sumiami at 12:26 PM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the suggestion to book your Alcatraz tickets in advance - the two times I've tried to go by just showing up, it was sold out.
posted by sumiami at 12:56 PM on May 28, 2009

« Older "Based on a story by my pal Shecky"   |   Better way to say "datacentre"? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.