When you come to San Francisco, you will undoubtedly head to Fisherman’s Wharf on San Francisco Bay, the magnificent Harbor that is “The Bay” and even though you may never have been to San Francisco, you will no doubt know of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the infamous prison located there, and of San Francisco’s famous cable cars. You might also know about the San Francisco Giants too if you’re a sports fan.
People love San Francisco – not just for the beauty of the location but for its atmosphere too.
Welcome to San Francisco!
There is a lot to see in San Francisco – and if you have time read the History of San Francisco that we have on this website.
GETTING HERE –
San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – is the gateway to San Francisco, and there is also a second airport Oakland (OAK) and both are around 14 miles from the City center and both are connected to the City by the BART train system, about a 30 minute trip. There are also Hire cars, taxis and shuttle buses too. The best BART stations to head for in the City Center are Powell Street, 3 blocks from Union Square or Embarcadero which is the closest to the Bay and wharf area. Check to see how close your hotel is to a BART Station or the MUNI.
There are hotels to stay at throughout the City, with most of the big name hotels in the Union Square and Embarcadero areas. San Francisco is also quite hilly, and you will probably do a of walking too, so finding a hotel which is easy walking distance to the places you want to see is a good idea.
In the City itself, buses, streetcars and the cable cars are run by the MUNI, not BART. If staying in the City get a return BART ticket from the city back to the airport, and purchase a MUNI Passport (1, 3 or 7 day pass) OR a CityPass which also gives you a discount to some of the City’s main attractions. You can purchase a MUNI passport or CityPass from the Visitor Information desk at the airport.
Both airports are easy to get around and well organised and at SFO there is an Airtrain connecting the International Airport to the 3 Domestic Terminals.
Getting your bearings –
I always think that getting a printed Tourist map of a city is a good idea, or downloading one, as it gives you a snapshot of both the city and some of the highlights.
The central feature of San Francisco is the Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge spanning across the entrance to the Bay, with two long peninsulas pointing to each other, the City of San Francisco on the southern peninsula side and Marin County on the other. Just inside the entrance the Bay splits into two Bay wings – one to the north and one to the south which leads southwards past San Francisco all the way to Silicon Valley including Palo Alto and San Jose. On the North wing you will find Marin County and also the City of San Rafael and also Sausalito. On the southern wing of the Bay you will see San Francisco’s second big suspension bridge, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which crosses the south wing of the Bay to Oakland and Berkeley, the bridge mostly called “Bay Bridge”. There are on fact 5 bridges crossing the Bay at different points but certainly the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate are the most famous.
The Bays are also big, varying in width from around 3 and 12 miles across, and around 50 to 60 miles long, depending on how much marsh or wetlands are included in these distances. The water in the Bay is mostly cold throughout the year, but there are plenty of private boat charters, yachts and of course Ferries and Cruises, fishing boats, Cruise liners and freighters using the Bay too. There are also some small beaches, on both the Bay and Pacific Ocean side but the water being cold means in most cases using a wetsuit if you wanted to swim.
Ferries and Cruises –
There are Ferry services for commuters and visitors that run to different points of the Bay – to Oakland, Alameda, Sausalito, Vallejo, Tiburon, Larkspur, Angel Island and Alcatraz and Cruises that will also take you to see different parts of the Bay. It is a great waterway, and definitely one way or another it is worth making one or more trips on the Bay when you are here. It can get cold on the water too, so bring some warm clothes too as the weather can change very quickly.