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Public Transportation in the "City by the Bay"

Public Transportation in the "City by the Bay"

avatar   Stacy
Trip Date 08/24/2017
Posted On 06/12/2018 18:29:41

Destinations | Train | California | San Francisco Public Transit | Muni | BART | Caltrain | SFMTA | SFO | SJC

Although I wasn't meant to live in a big city, I sure do like the public transportation available when I travel to cities like San Francisco. I lived in a suburb of San Francisco while in middle school and high school and I've have had opportunities to return through the years - both for pleasure as well as business. Beginning in the summer of 2014, Scott and I have made annual trips to visit his son Matt who had two summer internships in the area prior to relocating to San Francisco in early 2016 for a high tech job.

If you are planning a visit to San Francisco and aren't sure how you will get from the airport to your place of lodging, read on for an overview of our recent experience . . . plus some tips for rookies using the area's public transportation.

Muni, BART, Caltrain - So Many Options

While Matt has become a pro at Bay Area public transit, Scott and I have become comfortable with Muni. We downloaded the app on our cell phones last year and used it almost exclusively to get around. We flew into SFO for our last few visits so we also got quite comfortable with taking BART to and from the airport.

Today's flight from Hawaii, however, arrived at SJC (a first for us) so we had the opportunity to experience Caltrain. As we were scheduled to land at 9:30 PM, we were a little nervous about our transportation since the last Caltrain into the city departed the Santa Clara station at 10:35 PM. Needless to say, we didn't have a whole lot of time to spare as we needed time to collect our baggage and take a bus to the train station. If our flight was delayed for any reason, getting into the city tonight would probably have been hopeless (our backup plan was a hotel for the night - certainly not our preference).

From SJC to the Santa Clara Caltrain Station

We arrived at the San Jose International Airport a little earlier than expected and immediately walked to baggage claim. After snagging our luggage from the conveyor belt, we walked outside of our arrival terminal (B) in search of the shuttle stop. We quickly figured out that all buses stopped on the island between the airport and the parking lot, so once we safely got across, we were in search of Bus 10. Almost immediately, we spotted a Bus 10 however it was pulling away and we couldn't get to the stop before it was gone. We assumed that it was the 9:20 PM bus, and the next one was scheduled for 9:51 PM - but the schedule said "Note: All times are approximate due to varying traffic conditions". At least we knew where the stop was, but we had no idea how long we would have to wait for the next bus. We walked the short distance to the actual bus stop (which was very well marked) and fortunately the next bus appeared almost immediately upon our arrival. Maybe the second bus was the 9:20 PM bus arriving a little late? Who cares - with our luggage in tow (one medium sized rolling suitcase and one backpack each), we boarded the free bus which took us to the Santa Clara Caltrain in just under ten minutes.

Our Caltrain Experience

Matt had texted us to let us know that, if we were quick, we might be able to catch an earlier train that would get us into the city by 11:20 PM (45 minutes earlier than we thought we'd get there ... thank you Alaska Airlines for the early landing). After departing the bus, we searched for a ticket machine - we really wanted to make that 9:50 PM train! We were part way down the ramp which would eventually have led us to the tracks for the north bound service when we spotted a ticket machine back on the level that we started on. We quickly turned back around, ran to the machine and bought our two four-zone ($9.75 each) tickets. Then, it was back up the ramp and then down another ramp which finally took us to the tracks where our train was expected to depart in just over five minutes. (At least our bodies thought it was three hours earlier since we had gotten accustomed to the Hawaii-Aleutian time zone!)

Arrival of the Caltrain

Arrival of the Caltrain

Just as expected, the train arrived and after quickly boarding, we were off. The car that we entered was equipped with bars to which passengers could lock their bicycles for the ride. Since there was an empty bar, we thought it would be a great place for our luggage - and there was an open seat in the same car - perfect!

Don't Make the Mistake of using the Bicycle Bars for Luggage!

Don't Make the Mistake of using the Bicycle Bars for Luggage!

What we didn't know at the time was that we were in a bicycle car and there was also a dedicated luggage car. (I guess the people that followed our lead didn't know either.) From a distance, we overheard a "trainer/manager" tell a Caltrain employee who must have been in training that "luggage should not be in a bicycle car". Oh well - we learned a lesson for our next ride!

Although we were in a very noisy seat on the train, we stayed seated where we could keep an eye on our improperly stored luggage for the 1 1/2 hour ride.

Seated for our First Caltrain Journey

Seated for our First Caltrain Journey

We arrived right on time at the end of the line (San Francisco) where Matt met us. On our way out of the station, we requested an Uber for the short ride to Matt's apartment near Haight-Ashbury. The timing for our travels today could not have been more perfect - it just doesn't get better than that!

Tips for Visitors Using San Francisco Public Transportation

While we tend to do a lot of walking, San Francisco is too spread out to get everywhere on foot. Although quite plentiful, taxis can be costly, so if you want to travel like many of the locals (and save a bit of money), here are some tips to help you prepare:
  • Before leaving your home city, do a little research for the best public transportation options (and how to pay for your ride) between your place of lodging and your planned sightseeing destinations. SFMTA Visitors is a great place to start as it includes links which will answer many of your questions such as how to ride, how to pay, available ticket options plus so much more.
  • Download all apps that you might potentially want to use before leaving home:
      The Muni App includes a trip planner plus the ability to purchase, save and use tickets for Muni bus, rail, cable car and Paratransit/SF Access.
      Transit is a one stop app which recommends the best route for travel to a selected destination - including combinations of public transit, biking, car sharing and walking.
      Google Maps also offers route planning for travel by foot, car, bicycle or public transportation.
      Uber and Lyft are ridesharing apps that match customers with nearby drivers for transportation to their chosen destination.
  • Before leaving each day, check both the operating schedules for any tourist sights that you plan to visit as well as transportation schedules. Make sure you know the time of the last train, bus, etc. which will get you back to your final destination.
  • Ensure that you have a backup plan - Uber and Lyft are our typical "go to" back-up modes of transportation.

Dining in San Francisco

Although there are too many dining options to count, our post titled "Bay Area Dining" might give you a starting point for planning your meals during a visit to the city by the bay.

Public Transportation

Thinking about all of your personal and business travel experiences, in which city did you find the best public transportation options - and what made the public transportation so good?

Total Health App steps today: 6,372
Weather:63F Clear

Public Transportation in the "City by the Bay"


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