San Francisco is a favored travel destination for many people. There is so much to experience in a relatively small area. The city is not as big as one might think, but there are many hills. Parking is not easy in the city, either. So how do travelers tackle this city without needing a vacation from the vacation?
The Bay Area is well planned with lots of public transportation options that even the locals find advantageous. As with large cities or metro areas with international airports (e.g. New York City, Houston, Miami, Chicago), there are shuttles that take vacationers directly to their hotel, such as Super Shuttle, a nationally known brand.
New travelers flying into San Francisco might not realize that there is a train at the airport that will take them into the heart of San Francisco and across the bay into Oakland for at least a third the cost of even an economical shuttle. The BART is the Bay Area Rapid Transit, and connects the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Oakland, Richmond, Pittsburgh (CA), Fremont, and Dublin/Pleasanton, and all areas in between. Fares vary depending on a traveler's destination. For instance, from the airport to the area of the Civic Center, a one-way ticket will cost between $5 and $6. In contrast, a Super Shuttle voucher one way is roughly $15 for the same distance.
Many travelers plan their day trips and all their excursions before they depart, which is highly advisable. There is a centrally located Visitor Information Center in downtown San Francisco at 900 Market St.―below street level (hotel concierges are familiar with it)―that offers a lot of local travel information. Pamphlets can be found for day trips throughout the Bay Area, and boat rides to Sausalito and Tiburon (great views and picturesque towns). There are many offerings for tours of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, the wine country. Many people are not aware of a fun item called the City Pass.
A lot of larger cities (e.g. New York, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto) offer the City Pass as an option to use the public transport system, to shop, and go to various tourist spots for superb discounts or, even better, for free! The San Francisco City Pass is a very economical ticket to have and is available for purchase online or at a little, almost unnoticeable booth above the Visitor Information Center (mentioned earlier). The pass provides free travel on the MUNI (the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency). The MUNI offers bus, subway, and streetcar transportation throughout San Francisco (only within San Francisco, not the expanded Bay Area; i.e., the BART is not part of the City Pass offerings). Free travel is also available on the San Francisco Cable Cars, which, as of 2009, cost $5 per trip. The price of a 7-day City Pass for San Francisco is around $60, which means a City Pass holder saves money at literally every corner of the city.
Not only does the City Pass provide free travel on the San Francisco public transport system for 7 consecutive days, but the pass also provides access to many tourist spots and excursions. The tourist spots are the California Academy of Sciences, Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Exploratorium & the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor (if visited on the same day). The excursion is the Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise Adventure, which is a one-hour boat ride around the San Francisco Bay and visits the Golden Gate Bridge.
The City Pass booklet carries discounts for certain places around the city. Stores such as Bloomingdale's and many of the shops at Pier 39 give discounts to booklet-carrying customers. Tours at the AT&T Park (home of the SF Giants), with the Blazing Saddles bicycle tour (no, this is not based on the 1974 Mel Brooks movie), and on a GoCars GPS-guided car tour are all discounted as well when travelers flash their pocket-sized booklet.
But the benefits don't stop there. Though the pass is valid for 7 days of travel on the MUNI and the Cable Cars, the discounts, excursions, and museums mentioned earlier are available for another 2 days. That means, for a 7 to 9 day trip to the San Francisco area, booklet holders can see the entire city via bus, streetcar, or cable car, and then use the pass for the last two days to visit the museums and aquarium and go on the boat trip.
San Francisco wants and appreciates its tourists. The planning of the city, its public transportation system, and the cultural aspects of the city make it a favorite place to visit. Be sure to use the public transportation system while traveling to San Francisco; it's environmentally-friendly, it's safe, it's easier than finding parking spaces, and best of all, someone else does the driving for others to enjoy the sites of the city!