Help with San Francisco travel
May 1, 2017 10:20 AM   Subscribe

We'll be in San Francisco later this month and there are three things we'd like your help with: getting to the Union Square Grand Hyatt from OAK, checking out the Golden Gate Bridge, and getting photos of the skyline around dusk. (I've tried to sift through the Google noise.)

We'll be arriving at Oakland Airport around noon on a Wednesday. What's the "best" or "easiest" way to get from the airport to the Grand Hyatt in Union Square? We won't be renting a car. Lyft? BART to somewhere?

What's a good way to check out the Golden Gate Bridge? We'd like to find a spot or two to get photos. Where's the best spot to do this? We'd also probably like to go across and come back. Should we walk or bike across? Where's the easiest place to rent a bike?

We'd like to, around dusk, see wide views of the city with landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Transamerica Building, Coit Tower (what else?). Where could we go such that we arrive when the sun is out for daytime photos, spend an hour or two around dusk, and then get nighttime photos after the sun has set and city lights are up? I think the Coit tower closes at 5 PM. Would Twin Peaks be suitable?
posted by jroybal to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to see some gorgeous views of the city around dusk, take one of the Oakland/Alameda bound ferries from the San Francisco ferry building.. The 6:55 or 7:25 will give you something to look at. The 8:25 is pretty gorgeous as well. The only pain is getting back to the city, but you could probably just go round trip. Total time from the Ferry Building to Jack London Square and back is about an hour and change.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:27 AM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

For the airport question: BART runs a shuttle train from OAK to Coliseum BART station. From there take any Daly City-bound train to Montgomery (the second stop after crossing the bay) or Powell (the third stop) and walk a few blocks. Maybe someone with more recent knowledge can weigh in on if the walking route from one of these stations is likely to be hilly enough to make that a pain in the butt.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:28 AM on May 1, 2017

It's a little hilly but not bad--that'd be my choice (because driving around Union Square is a complete nightmare) unless you had HUGE suitcases or mobility restrictions.

Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson, or Bernal Hill are three beautiful climbs that give you views of the city. The easiest one to access is Mount Davidson--take the 38 to the 43, then walk up the extremely forgiving "hike" to the summit and look out. It's an extremely, almost comically non-touristy area around it, though, so you wouldn't have much to do for the two hours while you're waiting except get burgers at Tower Burger (very good local spot). Alternately, you can take the same bus to get to the hike up Twin Peaks, which is a little tougher, and then walk down to the Castro while you're waiting for the sun to set and do your climb again. Here's a detailed description of a Twin Peaks hike--it's a little complicated without a car, though. My choice would probably be Bernal Hill because it's in a ridiculously beautiful neighborhood and you can sort of choose how hard you want the climb to be, there are lookout spots all the way up. It has the least traditionally touristy view but you can definitely see plenty of the city from there.
posted by peppercorn at 10:40 AM on May 1, 2017

There are a couple more accessible spots in the city to get a skyline view, but you can't see the Golden Gate Bridge very well.

Potrero Hill has a great view - you just walk out into the street at the right intersections and you get a great view. If you want to spend time there, the library on 20th street has huge windows with a nice view and the dive bar Bloom's Saloon on 19th street has a patio with an okay view that is sometimes open.

Techo de Lolinda in the Mission has a great view and you can sit on the roof deck and drink cocktails and eat tacos while watching the sun go down. Only downside is that it's the only place in the neighborhood with a bouncer and a rope keeping you out if they're crowded, but the wait is usually 10-15 min on a weekend afternoon.
posted by asphericalcow at 10:47 AM on May 1, 2017

The above recommendation to take an evening eastbound ferry to Oakland/Alameda or Larkspur ferry terminal in Marin county in order to get a great skyline view is an excellent one.

However, you should also know that access to the Hamon Observation Tower at the De Young Museum is free, and it's a spectacular view. If you're going to make the trip, why not just visit the museum while you're there? It's a great museum.
posted by cleverevans at 11:00 AM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Agree with cleverevans, the De Young tower is so cool. The Summer of Love exhibit there right now is really amazing.
posted by radioamy at 11:07 AM on May 1, 2017

If you are leaving more than 2 weeks from now, you should order Clipper cards to be delivered through the mail. These are reusable chip cards that work on Bart, SF Muni, AC Transit, and pretty much all forms of public transportation in the Bay Area.

Then you can add value to your Clipper cards at the Oakland airport Bart station, and continue to use them through your trip for all forms of public transportation, rather than dealing with the disposable cards that you'd get for one Bart trip. Or you could just use a disposable Bart card for getting from the airport to SF, and then after you're in SF find a Clipper card vendor.

This is especially true if any of your party are eligible for a youth, senior citizen, or disabled discount. Without the discount version, they will be paying full price. (also see Locations to Apply for a Youth or Senior Clipper Card if you don't have time to order in advance.)
posted by larrybob at 11:29 AM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you have a smartphone just use Google Maps to tell you how to use the transit system. I've found it to be astonishingly accurate and easy. I normally just put $20 on a Clipper card, and that's enough to at least get me to and from the airport.
posted by gregr at 11:56 AM on May 1, 2017

Lyft works well in the city.

Treasure Island has some beautiful views of the city skyline. There's not much else to do around there, though.

Blazing Saddles rents bikes. A ride across Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, then back to the Ferry Terminal via ferry is a nice trip, and very popular with tourists. I'd recommend bikes over walking, if that works for you - it's a fair bit of walking to get anywhere. Note that SF side of the bridge is on top of a decently steep hill.

Fort Mason gets some nice views of the bridge itself.

Seconding (thirding?) the Clipper card recommendation, so you don't have to worry about BART vs MUNI vs whatever other transit system you might end up on.
posted by bring a tuba to a knife fight at 12:16 PM on May 1, 2017

The OAK airport connector is fine (I took it myself a few weeks ago) especially if you're by yourself and care about your carbon footprint, or traveling during rush hour (which is basically 6-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. weekdays), when BART would be faster. But it's $10.20 per person each way, and it's kind of slow, and the walk up Powell Street with luggage is definitely a bit of a slog. It's 115m / 376 ft. to the top of Nob Hill, though the slope increases after you pass Union Square. The problem is that there's no usable public transit along Powell due to the World Famous Cable Cars which have a huge wait to get on during most of the day grumble grumble get off my lawn. Anyway, the Lyft would be about $40, less if you are willing to share the car with another person on Lyft Line, so to me that's worth it unless you enjoy walking and don't mind doing it on hills with luggage.

My other comment is that the Golden Gate bridge is not that interesting at night. A big part is the color contrast with the green and blue of the surroundings, which isn't visible. Whereas the Bay Bridge has super cool Bay Lights installed and is way more photogenic at night. And of course you can't really see San Francisco from inside San Francisco, so the best views are, arguably, from Alameda, at the far west end where the navy base used to be. The top of Dolores Park, Coit Tower, Fort Mason, these all are fine places to see parts of the city but if you really want to see the whole panorama you'll have to go at least as far as as Twin Peaks.
posted by wnissen at 1:07 PM on May 1, 2017

Just a quick note - depending on what "later in the month" is, BART is doing some closures/bus bridges around the OAK airport stop in some upcoming weekends. They'll post closure info on It will slow you down significantly if you're trying to get there or back on one of the closure days.
posted by brainmouse at 1:35 PM on May 1, 2017

My choice would probably be Bernal Hill because it's in a ridiculously beautiful neighborhood and you can sort of choose how hard you want the climb to be, there are lookout spots all the way up. It has the least traditionally touristy view but you can definitely see plenty of the city from there.

If you're going to hike up Bernal Hill, do it from the south side. I used to live at the base of the north side...

(Then continue north on Folsom or Alabama and stop for a burrito at Taqueria Vallarta. Or one of the many other burrito establishments in the Mission. I do not intend to start a "which taqueria is best" fight.)
posted by madcaptenor at 2:08 PM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I live in Bernal and have hiked up Bernal Hill plenty. It's nice up there and there are nice little cafes and restaurants along Cortland Street a few blocks south of it. Agree with coming up from the south side versus the north side. Agree with great views of the city. Not great views for cool photos of the bridge, though.
posted by olinerd at 2:23 PM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I went with my company on a "Bridge 2 Bridge" bay cruise, and it was super cool. I've lived here most of my life, and I'd never been *under* The Golden Gate Bridge!
posted by radioamy at 3:47 PM on May 1, 2017

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