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San Francisco - car hire essential?

(33 Posts)
SwiftAnchor Sat 20-May-17 16:59:41

Heading to San Francisco this summer for 8 days, staying near fisherman's wharf area.

The plan was to hire a car one day to head down the coast to Santa Cruz/Carmel area. I'm now wondering if it would be worth having a car for the full trip or if getting around is fairly straightforward on public transport etc?

I'm a fairly new driver and never driven an automatic or in another country before if this makes a difference but I would hire a small budget range car. I thought I could hire/drop off from the airport (slightly worried about being really tired from the flight but I would try to get a bit of a sleep) and my hotel has parking.

Any advice from anyone who has been would be much appreciated.

babymouse Sat 20-May-17 17:04:50

You don't need a car in the city at all, but you'll need it if you want to go anywhere else. SF drivers are fairly well behaved and the freeways around the city aren't that bad compared to other parts of California (LA anyone?)

allthosewhowanderarenotlost Sat 20-May-17 17:08:15

You do not need a car in San Francisco and parking is quite restricted. Also, there are specific rules on how to park due to the steepness of the hills etc. If I were you I would hire a car on leaving San Francisco. HTH

MrsMontgomerySmythe Sat 20-May-17 17:09:59

Check out Incredible Adventures they do day tours and may go there.
We used them last year in SF and they were great. Much more relaxing than driving especially as you are fairly inexperienced.

OnlyRose Sat 20-May-17 17:11:53

We stayed in San Fransisco for a week and got around fine using buses and cable cars. We walked quite a lot too, as the city is on a grid system it is easy to navigate on foot if you don't mind the hills!

CustardLover Sat 20-May-17 17:13:16

We used uber all the time in SF - fast and frequent and cheap. Plus, walking.

Fauchelevent Sat 20-May-17 17:14:37

Watching with interest. I plan to greyhound my way around CA!

unavita Sat 20-May-17 17:14:58

Lyft seems cheaper and quicker than uber.

hopsalong Sat 20-May-17 17:18:15

You won't want a car in SF. The public transport is pretty good (and amazing views from the MUNI -- e.g. coming through Dolores Park), lots is walkable distances, and you can Uber the rest (/up big hills).

If you're a member of Zipcar in the U.K. you could rent one there for the day and might be cheaper/ closer to your accommodation than renting one from a car company or at the airport? Renting one for the whole time would be a lot of money and it will cost you a fortune to park it.

hopsalong Sat 20-May-17 17:23:37

PS if you're a fairly new driver and only want to make one day trip, I would recommend going over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County rather than south to Santa Cruz -- closer and a much more scenic drive from the start. Muir Beach is a nice destination with good hiking / amazing views, and you could have lunch at the Pelican Inn. Or else you could go a bit further and into Napa? Lots of tour companies offer trips there from the city if you want to forget the car altogether...

Crispbutty Sat 20-May-17 17:26:24

If you are a fairly new driver and have never driven a left hand drive car in a foreign country before I absolutely would not recommend you drive in the USA. SF particularly is really busy, very narrow in comparison to the rest of California and i think you would find it quite a challenge.

SwiftAnchor Sat 20-May-17 19:11:15

Thanks everyone, seems unanimous then! grin

I assume an uber or similar would be fine to get from the airport to the hotel. I've used uber both at home and in the US before so that's good.

I'll check out the tour company mentioned, thanks, but I haven't yet seen any way of getting to Santa Cruz without driving and we really want to do a day trip there.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 20-May-17 19:35:14

Would not suggest you drive there at all. You have no good reason to do so.

There are companies that will gladly take you down to Carmel and or the 17 mile drive area for the day.

Parking costs are high in SF and there are very few places in which to park. The hotel will likely have you incur daily parking charges and these can be steep.

Would suggest you use taxis or Uber instead to get you to and from the airport to the hotel.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 20-May-17 19:37:53

There is a train service that runs from 4th and King St station in SF to Santa Cruz.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 20-May-17 19:40:53

You would get off the train at San Jose Diridon station then walk 2 minutes to catch the number 17 bus towards Santa Cruz.

Teds77 Sat 20-May-17 20:33:26

We got the BART with four tired kids and lots of luggage after we landed but was actually fine. More interesting for them than hanging around for a hire car and easier for tired grown ups too.

Depending on when you land, the journey kept us up so that after a quick snack at the hotel we were a decent time for going straight to bed.

We picked up a car from near Union Sq on the day we headed out of city. Loads of car hire places have a downtown location.

SwiftAnchor Sun 21-May-17 18:19:48

Brilliant thanks for the info. I'll look into the train/bus option to Santa Cruz or maybe just hire a car for the day.

We land at 6pm ish so will also look into the Bart into the city too.

Thanks everyone smile

ladydoer Sun 21-May-17 20:12:16

If you are a new driver - driving outside SF will be OK, but inside might be hectic, would not recommend.
Learning to drive an automated car is not such an issue, way easier than learning to drive on manual transmission. I remember renting an automated car in the US myself and feeling panicked about the departure, but it's really, really easy. Just read on the internet how to drive an automated car (there are 2-3 things in general, I had opened those on my phone), spend 10-15 minutes practicing in a peaceful area close to the car rental and you are done.
Santa Cruz is great for beginner surfing, I myself took my first surfing lessons there!

kath6144 Mon 22-May-17 09:42:44

Not wanting to hijack thread - but interested to hear Teds used BART from airport even with 4 kids. Ours are older teens, but after 11hr flight and immigration I wondered about advantages of taxi rather then BART.

What sort of time does it take to get through immigration? Someone on another thread mentioned 2hrs at a different US airport! Eek

And do we have to go through individually or can we go through as a family?

singme Mon 22-May-17 09:55:48

Didn't think SF was as bad for driving as locals made out (our hotel had a joke leaflet about it) but parking was difficult and/or expensive. We had a hire car to drive around the state but in SF we parked in a long stay car park and just left the car.

Accidentally drove over the Bay Bridge on arrival because we missed our exit and it was a right pain to turn around! Lots of one ways.

Oh maybe it was a pain! Don't do it!

Immigration was quick (20 mins ish) for an 8pm arrival and we usually get a few more questions that most. This was just before all the recent upheaval though.

Crispbutty Mon 22-May-17 10:31:13

We were through immigration in no time at SF. Picked up hire car and drove to motel about ten mins from airport. We had landed about 5pm and were asleep by 10pm as the flight is so tiring. Awake at 4am so set off to Yosemite then. It helped that there was virtually no traffic at that that and it meant we were driving into Yosemite national park as the sun was coming up which was amazing.

Teds77 Mon 22-May-17 18:01:24

Kath - we had a 6 year old, two four year olds and a three year old so without our own car seats we avoided taxis. We then hired car seats with our cars - I wouldn't recommend that but that's another thread!

BART was fine and we were staying at the Parc 55 hotel near Union Sq so we were literally on top of the BART stop the other end.

reetgood Mon 22-May-17 18:21:17

We spent a few days in San Francisco last year as part of a three week west coast road trip. We left the car parked up the whole time at our air bnb and used public transport. We got the citypass which includes cable cars and muni because we were doing all the touristy things, I think it was worth it. If you're being a bit cooler than us/ not so interested in museums then maybe not so much. You can get discount off Alcatraz if you jump through some hoops

Least fun driving of the whole trip was around/ into the big cities e.g. San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles. Freeways are 5 lanes and it's totally acceptable to under or overtake. Rush hour traffic apparently does not understand the concept of merging. Some people had apparently never used their indicators :D also it takes about as long as the drive to Santa Cruz to switch your brain round, too. I was happy to have driven mostly highways before we tackled the very busy freeways. I loved road tripping but more on the highways (driving across Death Valley in 50 degree heat was interesting!). For a day trip I'd take the train/ bus.

If you do drive, the greatest tip we picked up was saying 'big left/ little right' at crossroads as you may find yourself trying to head into oncoming traffic otherwise...

iseenodust Wed 24-May-17 20:54:00

You need to check out the drive to Carmel. Highway 1 has just reopened after mudslides took out parts of the road & a bridge near Big Sur this winter. However saw online today another mudslide...

I agree no need for a car in the city. If you are adults only we did a lovely day out to Napa wineries (tastings & lunch) through Greyhound but it was a luxury coach only a quarter full.

bojorojo Wed 24-May-17 23:31:23

I tend to think Fishermans Wharf, being at a terminus of the trolley buses, is a bit of a dead end. You may have to queue to get onto them. SF is a very interesting city. Carmel is great and you can easily get coach trips to Napa and Marin County. Santa Cruz is ok but other places are better in my view. Driving is not necessary as others have said and driving around the airport needs quite a lot of concentration. Ok once you get onto Highway 1 going south but driving in SF wouldn't be anywhere near as much fun as the trolley buses.

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