Getting started in San Francisco

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Traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by: Sarah Hoenicke

Hello from Sarah Hoenicke, your San Francisco correspondent (that word makes me feel so fancy).  A little about me: I’ve lived in San Francisco for a little over two non-consecutive years.  Because of my various jobs around the city, I know certain areas very well, and others not so much.  I’ll be getting to know those not-so-much areas for you (and me) and, hopefully, helping you avoid some of the problems I had when I first came here.  Getting comfortable with being lost is really important.  Learning to drive aggressively was really hard for me (as was parallel parking and getting my first parking ticket [$67 because I hadn’t turned my wheels in toward the sidewalk!]).  During the school year, I commute to Mills College twice a week, where I’m studying creative writing and journalism.  That was another thing I had to get used to.  Four hours (round-trip) on a bus was really rough at first. 

Now: meet San Francisco.
Four things that almost everyone needs to know when they first start exploring a place are:

  1. How to get around
  2. Where to find affordable food (that fits your dietary guidelines/restrictions)
  3. What areas to avoid at night (and which are safe)
  4. Who to trust for information

For this first post, I’ll be detailing the best options concerning the first item on the list: transportation.  (The other three will be handled in forthcoming posts.)

Transportation:

A muni bus on Church and Market streets.  Photo by: Sarah Hoenicke
A muni bus on Church and Market streets. Photo by: Sarah Hoenicke

Muni:  San Francisco’s public transit system (muni) is far-reaching.  I’ve never needed to go somewhere within the city’s limits that was impossible to get to by way of bus/street car/train.  Muni currently charges $17.00 for a day pass, which is quite expensive, considering the charge of individual passes.  You can get an individual adult pass for $2.25, and that comes with a transfer (a ticket you can use to get to your next destination) that is good for two hours from the time of purchase.  Be that as it is, unless you’re planning to visit several locations in one day, not getting the day pass is the more affordable option.  Whether you’re coming into the city by bus or BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), muni is usually only a short walk away.

For Mills College students, if you’re taking advantage of your AC Transit bus pass and taking the bus to the Temporary Transbay Terminal, Embarcadero Station (muni) is only two blocks away.  If you have a smart phone, I recommend downloading Google Maps, as their public transit information has largely been accurate when I’ve used it.  (The app also provides excellent walking directions).  Note: you have to buy your day pass at a muni station.  The buses, trains, and street cars take only single cash fares.

BART:  bart.gov is a fairly user-friendly website and their trains take passengers all over the bay.  BART can be a quicker way to get around the city, but it costs more and doesn’t reach into the city nearly as much as muni does.  It’s also more expensive.  Unless you’re in a rush, or going from major station to major station, use muni.

Taxis:  Considering the availability and ease of use of public transit, taxis are a luxury.  They’re expensive (I’ve paid $10 for a taxi ride to a place that I could have walked to, had I not been in heals, or taken the bus to for $2.25) and often not available unless you’re downtown on a weekday.  Only use them as a last resort, unless money is not an issue for you, then of course they’re the most convenient.  A couple of the most popular companies are these:  Yellow Cab and DeSoto Cab.

Lyft/Uber:  I have the least amount of experience with Lyft and Uber, of all of these options.  Both services are typically less expensive than taking a yellow cab, but they’re still more expensive than public transit.  Use of these services also requires a smart phone.

Lastly, I want to say something about my favorite mode of transportation, and one that I’ve come to rely on throughout my travels in many different cities: my feet.

If you’re able to do so, walk San Francisco as much as you can.  Many places you’ll want to go while you’re here are only separated by a few blocks.  Take your feet, keep your head up and your eyes open, and see the city the slow way.  You’ll get lost less frequently since walking requires that you learn the street names and landmarks, and you’ll discover things that you never would have, had you been engrossed in your Instagram account (or in the seventh Harry Potter book, as I was, once upon a time, lost in Cole Valley…) on the bus.

Good luck!  Please leave any questions or suggestions in the comments!

-SH


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