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Old 26-10-08, 01:17 PM   #1
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Default Travelling to San Francisco

Maybe this will help others who want to go over to California.

BA, Virgin, KLM, American and others all do flights direct to SFO from Heathrow and elsewhere, costs vary but generally they are all within fairly close margins of each other's prices.

We went out through Terminal 5 this year, much better that T3 or T4!

Flying is relatively painless, although boredom sets in pretty quickly, it's a 10+ hour flight out and 9+ hour flight back. Leaving Heathrow in the UK morning, you get in to SFO after lunch. Leaving SFO in the evening, you have an overnight flight and land at Heathrow in the morning.

You will be given a green Visa Waiver landing card and White Customs Declaration card to fill in before landing. Extra copies are available in the Immigration Hall, but they MUST be filled in correctly, or you'll be sent to the back of the queue to get it done again.

Baggage reclaim is pretty standard, there is normally no Customs duty on anything, but we did have our bags X-rayed on arrival this trip, first time that has happened.

SF Muni (Transport Authority) do a 1, 3 and 7-day Passport ticket which is good for all buses, trams and cable cars, but does not cover the BART trains or the VTA (Valley Transport Authority) buses. A 3-day ticket is $18. Buses and trolley buses are flat rate $1.50 (tickets are reusable within a limited time span) Cable cars are $5 a pop, for any sector length. The tickets are on sale in the baggage reclaim area at the SF Muni information desk. Well worth it if you are going to be in town for more than a day, as car parking is not good in the city. Tickets are also available in the Market St information facility in the BART station by Powell St.

Hire cars are available from 4-5 companies. The hire car section is accessed by a driverless train that runs in a big loop round the airport terminals, car parking (called Garages) and the Car Rental section. The trains run continuously and are fully automatic.

You can take your baggage trolley on the train to the Car Rental section and leave it there; you are charged for a trolley when you pick it up in baggage reclaim and when you go back through Car rental, it is $4 and the machine takes both notes and coins.

If you are staying in SFO itself, then there are ground transportation services (Buses and Trains) available, but renting a car is much less painful and more convenient if you want to travel anywhere.

Motels and hotels are plentiful, we paid $955.00 for 10 days, 3 persons for a single room with two double beds. All purchases carry California sales tax of about 7.25% by memory. Prices in shops DON'T include the tax generally.

Credit cards are the norm, most places take most cards, PIN numbers are not used even if your card has the facility. Some card machines will ask if the card is Debit or Credit (Visa and Mastercard) all UK cards will be Credit. We didn't use any of our debit cards while in the USA.

The Super8 Motel in San Bruno is where we stay normally, it is less than 3 miles from the airport and is located on El Camino Real (Route 80) It is close to the main access freeways 280 and 101, has a bus stop nearby for the bendy bus that goes directly to SFO, and there is a BART station up the road.

The motel provides free coffee and continental breakfast, but that's it. A microwave and fridge is in the room and you can bring your own food in.

Food outlets are plentiful, most Americans eat out. Wendys, Dennys, Burger King, MacDonalds and more are pretty much scattered around most towns, you won't need to go hungry! Pizza and other meals at restuarants tend to be MUCH larger than we get in the UK, so a Medium Pizza was more than enough for 3 of us for example. Reckon on $15 per person for a meal, plus tips are the norm, about 12% of the bill. If you pay by credit card there will be a space for the tip which you have to write in and add the total before signing.

Shops are also plentiful, usually in Malls where there will be a J C Penney or Sears or both, plus more local shops. Supermarkets as we know them don't exist. All shops take plastic, including the fast food outlets.

We drove to Golden Gate Park each day we were in SFO, parked the car at the Ocean end by the windmill, walked around the corner into Fulton St where there is a stop for the No5 trolleybus. That goes straight into Market St in the centre of SFO. We did stop for breakfast first, we go to Louis' which is a little bit further on from where we park.

The trolleybuses are made in Czechoslovakia, the motor is made by Skoda, and is 275hp, so the buses really accelerate away from the stops and lights, in many cases faster than the local traffic! You can get off and re-board using the same ticket within a 90-minute time frame IIRC.

The buses stop along Market St which is the main shopping area, Market and 5th is the stop we used, and you can walk through the subway and BART station across to the other side for the Cable Car stop in Powell. (The Americans generally don't use the 'Street' or 'Road' suffix when referring to their roads in conversation) Passport travel tickets can also be bought at the information centre in this little complex, plus free maps and information booklets.

Cable Cars are something else!

The queues can be a pain, but the ride is pretty special. It is $5 a go, for any sector length, but if you have a Passport ticket then you can ride the cars all day at no extra charge. The Cable Car museum is well worth a visit, you need to ask the conductor to stop there as you cannot ring the bell like you can on the buses.

At the other end of the ride is Fishermans Wharf, either at the Hyde St end or at the Mason St end, depending on which cable car route you ride.

The Wharf has the usual shops and attractions, some good, some rubbish, most will be new to UK eyes. The camera and video shops are worth missing, the T-Shirt shops aren't bad out of season. Food shops are plentiful but no fast-food chains here. Fish food is good, with Crab cooked while you wait, street tables are the norm.

Boat rides round the bay, Alcatraz island trips and ferries to Alameda, Marin and Oakland all start here. There is a large Marine Heritage Museum at the Ocean end, and a very nice aquarium. Pier 39 also has the Jeremiah O'Brien and USS Pampanito to visit.

You'll need more than one visit, we have been there five or six times now and still haven't seen everything.

Cable Cars and buses get crowded in the afternoon, and in the rush hour there is standing room only. We left about 3pm and drove back before the worst of the rush.

Outside SFO, there is a huge area to see, and outside the scope of this post. We drove about 900 miles in 10 days and used about $180 of petrol.

We still haven't ridden the tram cars!


Last edited by listerdiesel; 26-10-08 at 01:30 PM.
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Old 03-12-08, 09:17 PM   #2
Doug Kempton
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We had a good holiday here too, we hired push bikes, biked over the golden gate bridge, to the next village/small town & caught the ferry back to SF & the bike hire shop, nice, easy ride, Granny, Grandad, Mum, Dad [me!] 15 year old son & 9 year old twin daughters. Easily done in an afternoon. We flew to SF, hired a car, drove to LA & flew back, having been round the meccano boat moored there,[Queen Mary] amongst other landmarks including Mr & Mrs Mouse & their friends, the kids loved that one!
Regards, Doug
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Old 06-11-10, 09:27 PM   #3
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Smile Alcatraz

Done this two years ago . Went over to do Highway1 , North to south . down to Mexico , back via Grand Cayon ,Death Valley ect . Just a real good tip the trip to see Alctraz prision is a must do . It gets booked up , so better to book before you leave . Check this out .
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Old 16-05-11, 09:36 AM   #4
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Default loved SF

SF is one of the places that I have visited that I really love -- the seagulls, the Pier, Hard Rock --- and the burgers are just great.
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