San Francisco here I come!
June 16, 2011 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Traveling by myself. How do I get from Santa Clara to San Francisco and back?

Please help me figure out my little San Fran excursion. So I am wrapping up a conference today and will be staying in the area until Sunday morning. I would like to go to San Francisco either tonight or tomorrow morning and do some touristy type things BUT I am struggling with how to get there and back since my flight back home is out of San Jose.

While in San Francisco, I was thinking I'd stay at a hotel in Union Square and cab it to wherever I want to go. I figure I'd have time for maybe 3-4 majorish attractions. I want to walk around take some pics, see the ocean, eat some good food, nothing too crazy.

First of all though, how do I get there and back? Also any recommendations for food are greatly appreciated!

posted by SoulOnIce to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (18 answers total)
Best answer: You get from there to here on Caltrain. Do read the weekend schedules carefully.
posted by rtha at 10:33 AM on June 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, Caltrain. It may be awkward getting from where you are to the Caltrain station. Google Maps has very good public transit directions in the area and has up-to-date schedules for all the local transit agencies. Just stick in your hotel & union square and get directions on google maps.
posted by GuyZero at 10:44 AM on June 16, 2011 has a trip planner which can help you get from point A to point B in the bay area. Caltrain is likely the way to go.

You might also find that a shuttle like Supershuttle might get you to the airport quicker on Sunday.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:47 AM on June 16, 2011

Best answer: The first Caltrain of Sunday morning leaves from 4th Street about a mile from Union Square at 8:15am which gets you into Santa Clara Station at 9:44am.

The 10:02am VTA #10 bus then leaves from Santa Clara Caltrain station to get to the SJC terminals by 10:15.

What time is your flight?
posted by Talez at 11:24 AM on June 16, 2011

To get to SJC via CalTrain, take it to the Santa Clara station and hop on the free VTA #10 Airport Flyer bus to the airport. Leave plenty of time, it's not super fast.
posted by zsazsa at 11:25 AM on June 16, 2011

Response by poster: My flight is 1pm-ish.

Is it crazy-thinking for me to rent a car for a couple of days? What do I need to know about driving in SF?

My hotel in Santa Clara is near Great America, is Caltrain close?
posted by SoulOnIce at 11:38 AM on June 16, 2011

Is it crazy-thinking for me to rent a car for a couple of days?

It's not crazy and great for getting around the peninsula. That's if you're intending to visit other places like going down to Santa Cruz.

What do I need to know about driving in SF?

Don't if you can avoid it. It's annoying, it's terrible and parking is expensive and a bitch to find.

My hotel in Santa Clara is near Great America, is Caltrain close?

The nearest Caltrain station is Lawrence and Kifer which is about 3 miles from Great America. If you want to get into SFO without paying $100 for a taxi your best bet if you're up near Tasman and Great America is to take VTA light rail out to Mountain View and hop onto Caltrain from there.
posted by Talez at 11:47 AM on June 16, 2011

rtha's Caltrain suggestion is your best bet.

Is it crazy-thinking for me to rent a car for a couple of days? What do I need to know about driving in SF?

It's expensive, slow and annoying. Expect to pay $20 (at least) for parking. During rush hours (3 pm to 7pm) caltrain will beat traffic between SF and Santa Clara.

My hotel in Santa Clara is near Great America, is Caltrain close?
posted by SoulOnIce at 11:38 AM on June 16 [+]

That's near Intel - I used to work there. There's a light rail nearby that will take you to caltrain and/or the airport. It's been like a decade but I vaguely recall that to go to the airport from there you take the light rail north a few stops. To get to SF you go to the Caltrain station not far from Intel (there are free shuttle busses that run regularly from Intel and Hp and places like that) and head north.

Do you have an iphone or an Android? Check out the incredible Google maps function which will give you real time routing on all urban transit in the bay area.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 11:50 AM on June 16, 2011

Caltrain isn't close to your hotel. Light rail is, and you could take light rail from your hotel to Mountain View Caltrain. Light rail is SLOW, so without looking, I'd guess it would be 30 minutes or so to Mountain View Caltrain. San Francisco is easy enough to either walk around or use transit once you get there, but a car offers a little more flexibility.

It's not necessarily crazy to think about renting a car, depending on what you want to do, but it's going to end up being expensive. You'll have no problem parking in the Union Square area, though you should expect to pay $25 - $50 per day (with the $50 being whether you decide to park at your hotel or a nearby garage.) If you want to hang out in the Mission, Castro, North Beach, Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf, transit and walking is easy enough. If you want to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge or go to Muir Woods, transit will take a little longer.

Consider riding transit into the city (Light rail -> Caltrain -> N Judah -> Union Square) and then just renting a car Sunday to get back to San Jose. It would be less stressful and would take a lot less time. (It's probably going to take 2 1/2 hours to get to San Jose airport from Union Square SF via transit. It would take an hour or maybe a little more in a car and cost maybe $15 extra).
posted by cnc at 11:54 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

During rush hours (3 pm to 7pm) caltrain will beat traffic between SF and Santa Clara

Maybe on the 101. 280S is smooth as (70-75mph prevailing speed) up until Magdalena Ave and then pretty smooth again until you get to Saratoga Ave/Winchester Blvd for the 880/17 interchange.

The only time I've ever seen serious traffic on 280S all the way back to 85 is when all lanes of 680N were closed for two hours.
posted by Talez at 11:56 AM on June 16, 2011

renting a car Sunday to get back to San Jose

This is a smart idea. Especially since I-280S is such a beautiful piece of road to drive. It's an extra 10 miles but oh so worth it.
posted by Talez at 11:58 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah VTA (Light rail) from Great America to Mountain view is actually only about 15-20 mins and you just walk across the tracks to take Caltrain to SF.

The whole journey is about 2 hours total. (I used to make pretty much the same trip when I had just moved to the area)

The Caltrain terminates at 4th and King in SF (by AT&T park) so you'd have to take Muni to get to Union square and/or other areas of the city.

As others have mentioned, google maps does a great job of giving you a route with the correct schedules.
posted by TwoWordReview at 12:04 PM on June 16, 2011

It's pretty expensive to rent a car in SF city for a one way trip to SJC on that Sunday. $120 a day and upwards according to Hotwire. That's a pretty expensive one way trip.
posted by Talez at 12:35 PM on June 16, 2011

So I suspected you were out near Great America. One option for getting up to the city is to take a taxi to the nearest Caltrain station - either lawrence or sunnyvale - and then take the caltrain to the city. Then cab or walk to union square. Most intermodal trip planners don't suggest cabs unfortunately and cabs are a lot faster/more timely than buses or light rail.

As for getting back, my suggestion would be SuperShuttle or another shuttle service. Caltrain may not run at the right time and it doesn't go all that close to the SJ airport. You could geta taxi/limo but it is a loooong way from SJC to San Francisco. It's something like a $100 trip. (I have cab'ed it from Sunnyvale to SFO and that's plenty expensive as-is).

You could rent a car for the weekend. The driving is easier but the parking in SF will be annoying & expensive. Plus local rental places may or may not let you drop the car at SJC.
posted by GuyZero at 12:43 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

In your shoes I would definitely rent a car.

As others have said, 280 is a beautiful road and well worth the few extra minutes to get over to it from 101. The only thing to be careful of is the speed trap that goes for a few miles before and after the hwy 92 exchange.

Driving in the city isn't all that bad (the key to navigation is remembering that "San Francisco" is Spanish for "No Left Turn"). Driving up and down the hills is an experience, and you can always drive down Lombard street as one of your tourist attractions. In addition you can head across the Golden Gate bridge and have lunch in Sausalito.

Parking, as has been mentioned, will be expensive.

One place worth eating is Max's Opera Cafe, right across from city hall. If you're feeling adventuresome it's a pleasant walk down from Union Square to there. For a pleasant afternoon nosh try the Nordstrom's cafe right on the corner of square itself.

Pier 39 down on Fisherman's wharf has some good places for lunch. Nothing spectacular but very serviceable. In addition, there are usually 50 or 60 sea lions in residence.

The views from up near the Palace Of The Legion Of Honor are quite impressive.

Last but not least, if you are a geek of any stripe it is always worth a trip to the Exploratorium. It is best described as a place where art and science exhibits collide, and I've come across very few places like it anywhere else in the world. I do not, however, recommend the cafe.

posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:38 PM on June 16, 2011

Max's? Seriously? There are MUCH better places to eat around there. Hayes Valley (one neighborhood over, a 5 minute walk) is FULL of great restaurants. I like Arlequin the best for a casual meal. I work in the neighborhood. No one I work with EVER goes to Max's.

Yelp is grand for SF restaurants, and there have been plenty of great SF tourist AskMe questions.

Public transit is the way I'd go in your situation. Driving and parking in San Francisco is annoying and expensive.
posted by mollymayhem at 10:40 PM on June 16, 2011

OMG, and don't walk from Union Square to Max's. Unless you're on the hunt for crack and cheap hookers. You'll go straight through the Tenderloin, one of the more...troubled...neighborhoods in SF.
posted by mollymayhem at 10:42 PM on June 16, 2011

Max's? Seriously?

Yup. I recommend it as a place to eat for a lot of first time SF visitors and have never had complaints. Of course there are much better restaurants around, but that isn't the point.

through the Tenderloin....

Which is what makes it an interesting walk. I should have mentioned that is definitely a day time adventure though -- after dark in the Tenderloin is no place for a careful sheep to bleat.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:33 AM on June 26, 2011

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