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Getting Around San Francisco

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After monitoring the San Francisco board for a few weeks I've come to the conclusion that I am going to have to rent a car to get to all the places recommended. I'm staying near Union Square and need the name of some local car rental agencies. I'd rather spend my money on food than on a Hertz or Avis car.

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  1. If the logistics work out you might consider an unlimited access mass transit pass for around ten bucks a day. You'll end up saving a bundle on parking, too.

    1. yeah, public transit should be fine. Remember, SF is only 7 miles by 7 miles square. You'll want to work in clusters: take one day to visit places in one part of the city, then another part of the city on the next day, etc. But a car is expensive and it is often much more of a hassle. Of course if you're planning on going outside the city, especially up to the wine country, a car makes sense. In that case it probably makes sense to only rent the car for the time you will be going outside of SF.

      What places do you have in mind? I may be able to provide more specific recommendations.

      Here's a very useful website to help you navigate public transit.

      Link: http://transit.511.org/

      1. I agree with the others, public transit is the way to save some dough and avoid parking hassles.

        There are a variety of pass options, depending how long you are going to be in town. If you are planning to hit some museums, the City Pass is a great deal, offering free admission to all the major museums, a Bay Cruise, and unlimited rides for seven days on all public transit vehicles including Cable Cars for $42.

        Muni fare information: http://www.sfmuni.com/cms/mms/fares/f...

        City Pass web site: http://citypass.com/city/sanfrancisco...

        Link: http://eatingchinese.org/

        1. I agree with everyone else. Especially on Sundays when parking is free but you can't find any spaces to park. I used to visit S.F. with a group of friends about once a month specifically to visit interesting neighborhoods to experience wonderful food. We exclusively relied on public transit. Not wanting DH to miss out on my adventures I decided to show DH Noe Valley on a weekend. We drove but could not find a parking spot to save our lives. Public transportation prevents a lot of headaches.

          1. If you rent a car for your form of transportation, you'll find yourself compromising your choices based on where you can find a place to park. And, that would be severely limiting for a visitor who doesn't know all the secret parking spots or best times to find a space. Has anyone mentioned that many parking garages charge $4 for each 20 minutes or that hotels charge $20 to $50/night to park your car?

            Or you could adopt parking as destiny for your food choices, one of our favorite local sports. Sometimes I'll find myself driving through a neighborhood known for interesting chow, spot a plum parking space, and will just pull in. Then I'll ask myself what's good to eat in a four-block walking radius. You see, I figure that the revelation of an open parking space in the City is a sign that I'm supposed to eat nearby. If I wanted to try one of those restaurants on another night, I'd never be able to park nearby, so it's best to seize the moment and not let the parking opportunity go to waste.

            But I don't think this is how you would want to spend your vacation.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              I like your sense of adventure! Here's a parking mantra/prayer ditty I use:

              "Parking Goddess full of grace, help us find a parking space."

              Repeat as necessary.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Good attitude!

                As one who lives outside of the City and has to find parking in Noe Valley every day, I know what you mean. I can't tell you how often people come into my shop and say, "I found parking right in front!". My response is usually, "You may as well have lunch and stay a while, 'cause you may not be back in the neighborhood any time soon."

                I can only imagine the kind of business I might be able to do if there were any parking.

                My advice: Take public transit! From anywhere downtown, the rest of the city can be accessed in less than forty-five minutes. That can certainly not be said for driving one's self around town, and you get to sightsee without fender benders.


              2. I checked a SF phone book; A-One Rent a Car. Their ad claims they are close to Union Square.

                Why do you want a local car rental agency vs. a national car rental agency ?

                If it were me I would use taxis. It has been a while since I have taken a SF cab, but just south of SF, I pay $2.50 per mile plus tip.

                1. My children and I were in San Francisco last August. I had purchased a small pop up map of the city from Brookstone, and it showed every mode of public transportation in the city. Even the teenagers were getting around on their own buy the third day.

                  1. I visit SF every year and sometimes rent a car because I hate the MUNI. However, by the end of the week I am sick of looking for parking and usually get at least one parking ticket. Taking MUNI may be a pain but you can get everywhere you need to go, especially from the Union Square area. If you are staying in that area it will be impossible to park. When I do rent, it is usually from one of the major car rental cos--the locals aren't any cheaper and are less reliable.

                    1. Taxis are your solution. Don't even bother with a car unless you are driving out of the city. Do you know that there is an annual race in SF where drivers try to drive from parking lots to parking lots trying to find parking spaces? In the day time take Muni, in the evening take a taxi.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Peter

                        If you add up the cost of renting a car and paying for parking (and gas, at $2.75/gallon), and put it towards a transit pass and an occasional taxi ride (after dinner, for example), you'll come out ahead.

                        Even if you want to check out Berkeley and Oakland, it's easier to take public transit.

                        I agree with Nick that they only reason to rent a car is to visit the wine country, and then only pick it up when you're ready to leave the city.

                        When we talk about San Francisco neighborhoods, it isn't always apparent that they neighborhoods are compact and cheek by jowl (you can easily walk throught the financial district, Chinatown and North Beach in half an hour). Not only is San Francisco only 7x7, but most of the restaurants are in the north-east quadrant of that 7x7.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Another point to consider when visiting wine country: there are plenty of decent tour packages available where someone else does the driving and you can see three or four wineries in a day, thus freeing everyone in your party to be Designated Drinkers.

                          My wife and I (and her parents) took a week-long vacation in San Francisco last summer for my wife's birthday. We rented a car, and used it exactly three times:

                          -- From the airport to the hotel

                          -- Out for a day trip to Muir Woods

                          -- Back to the airport.

                          In retrospect, we would've come out WAY ahead without the rental car. Public transportation, especially with the weekly passes available, was cheap and plentiful and went everywhere we wanted to go.

                          It was also big fun hanging on to a clanking cable-car heading back for the hotel at night, full of good food and wine.

                          - er

                          Link: http://enrevanche.blogspot.com

                          1. re: enrevanche

                            If I were going to do a tour of the wine country, I'd research it carefully. The bus tours only visit some of the biggest, "lowest common denominator" wineries, and you're stuck on a bus all day with people who might not be very simpatico and who might by the end of the day be drunk and unpleasant. The smaller tours are more expensive but undoubtedly worth the extra cost.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Ruth, an excellent point. We got tips from a local about choosing one of the reputable tour companies that you mentioned, found a company that did small group tours, and wound up visiting three charming "mom-and-pop" wineries along with one of the better Giant Operations, and had a blast.

                              - er

                              Link: http://enrevanche.blogspot.com

                            2. re: enrevanche

                              Many (if not all) of the hotels where I stay, offer shuttle service.

                              A hotel close to my work will pick up at the airport, drop off at work, pick up at work, drop off at the hotel if staying over that night, or drop off at the airport when leaving town. Just costs $2 (tip) per leg of trip, and be a registered guest.

                        2. Lucky you, you chose a good place to stay. Great chunks of the city's chowishness are within easy walking distance of Union Square. Chinatown, North Beach, SOMA, Russian Hill; once you're in North Beach, gee, Fisherman's Wharf is right down the hill; then it's really not so far to the Marina and Chestnut Street. It's an easy bus ride to Clement Street or the Haight or the Castro. Even in the 70s, when MUNI sucked a lot worse than it does now, I found this mode of travel practical and painless. Enjoy your visit!

                          1. eimac,

                            You're getting fine advice, but not an answer to your question.

                            There's a Budget Rental at the corner of O'Farrell and Mason St -- directly across from the Hilton. You can probably get a good rate there.

                            For what it's worth from a non-local, I vacationed in San Francisco last year at this time for several days. We rented a car, found it much easier than transit (albeit much more expensive), and had no trouble finding parking anywhere in the city. Color me lucky I guess.

                            Have a great time.

                            1. To help you get good visuals on a map go to the googlemaps link below, type in " Powell & Geary SF". Zoom in on the map & then click "local search". In the text box just type in "rental car" and you'll see the possible companies closest to your location.

                              I find it helps a lot to get a map plotted with all the possible choices visually. It's also kinda fun playing with googlemaps, you can type in things like "cafe" in the local search and it pulls up a slew of locations. If you're going to have internet access at your hotel it would be a helpful tool if you want to change plans. This site also offers “satellite” pictures, actual aerial photos of the City. You can also drag and drop to scoot to another area of the map.

                              Will you be taking BART(train) from the airport into the City? I hear it's quite convenient from SFO, it's not too bad from Oakland Airport either.

                              If you are going to rent a car, I suggest renting the smallest sized car you can get. There’s a reason why MiniCoopers are popular in this city.

                              Things to be aware of in San Francisco driving. (a short list)
                              1. When parking be sure to read the street signs because they have wonky “no parking” days & I don’t know how many times we’ve got ticketed because we stayed a little past midnight on some streets.
                              2. Towing is also horrendous in the City, it’s the hugest scam out there, what ever you do don’t get your car towed!
                              3. Parking on hill, curb your wheel.
                              4. Be aware of "no left turns between the hours or _____ & _____" signs.
                              5. Don't freak out when you get to street that says "no left" for blocks and blocks and blocks and blocks....
                              6. Be aware of "one way" streets.
                              7. If leaving & coming back to the City remember to have small bills for the toll on the bridges.
                              8. Ask to see if restaurants validate for local parking lots.

                              If you have a list of places you’re planning to visit, maybe fellow hounds can help you out and give you specific tips like where to park, what to order, what’s close by, etc.

                              For a lark, ride the glass elevators at the Westin St. Francis hotel by the square (they’re in the back of the building).

                              Link: http://maps.google.com/

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: gp

                                Another thought - I've been noticing folks toodling around town in these cute electric cars. More info below.

                                Link: http://www.buysanfranciscotours.com/t...

                                1. re: gp

                                  You've just listed 8 reasons to stick with the bus....

                                  1. re: Gary Soup

                                    Yeah......sigh......I know, I'm a public-transportation person myself. I wish all pblc-tran (BART in particular) was more extensive in the Bay Area, more efficient & cheaper. I would give up car.

                                    I thought maybe there's a specific reason that the op might want a car over pblc-tran. Maybe he/she has a equipment to haul around, maybe they will be visiting folks elsewhere in the greater Bay Area, maybe he/she will have small children in tow. I just wanted to actually answer the op's original question and give him/her some hints that he/she might not know.

                                  2. re: gp

                                    As a non-resident, I can attest that driving does not equal convenience necessarily in San Francisco. However, like any city, the later at night, the fewer buses, trams and trains. I certainly appreciate having a car when I visit, although I expect to walk at least three blocks from my parking place to my destination. And since I like to stay out late, I appreciate not having to wait for cabs or the bus after midnight.

                                    That said, another reason to have a car is that the rest of the bay area opens up to you. There are marvelous places to see and eat outside SFCity&County. I loved Silver Wing when it was down in Southern California and have liked it in Cupertino. The drives along Skyline in S. Mateo Co (or in Alameda CO for that matter), along the marin headlands, to Muir woods for first timers, or Point Reyes, or the Eugene O'neill NHS are all much easier with a car. Even a quick shot down the coast for a bite of artichoke soup and cherry pie at Duarte's tavern in Pescadero or a walk along the Santa Cruz boardwalk or even Big Basin State Park can be a restoring break from all that (what locals call) The City has to offer.

                                    And Berkeley and Oakland aren't that hard to find parking in.

                                    Remember that you are a tourist, and glory in it.

                                    Link: http://www.duartestavern.com/

                                    1. re: Jerome

                                      Agree with this post. however, a mix of pub transportation and car is the best in SF. One thing: I like driving into SF on Sunday nights because I can often find free parking after 4pm or so. Meters don't run on Sundays, or if they do, they stop running in early evening. I'm sure someone else has better parking tips, but that's my one.