WHEN TO GO
The San Francisco climate varies little over the course of a year, with average temperatures in the high 50s. Heavy rain can blight November through January; during the months of June and July, days can be foggy and chilly, and evenings can be downright cold. (Remember Mark Twain's quote, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco"? He wasn't kidding.) Dress in layers, and bring a jacket. To enjoy the best weather, visit in April and May or September and October.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you're flying to San Francisco, you'll land at either San Francisco International Airport (SFO) or Oakland International Airport (OAK). If you're not renting a car (and it's best to avoid driving in San Francisco if you can), you have three options to get into town from the airport: taxi, door-to-door shuttle, or BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train. Taxi fares for the ride downtown average $37 from SFO and $50 from OAK. If you're alone, a door-to-door shuttle shared with other passengers is a cheaper option, provided you don't mind multiple stops (approx. $15 from SFO, $25 from OAK). BART is cheap and efficient (bart.gov). From SFO, the ride (about $5) takes about 30 minutes; from OAK, first take the AirBART ($2) to connect to the Coliseum/Oakland Airport BART station (from there, the ride costs around $3).
Since trains are slow and infrequent, the only reason to travel to San Francisco by rail is the scenery. The California Zephyr, running from Chicago via the Rockies and Sierra Nevadas, follows a particularly beautiful route, as does the Coast Starlight, which heads to Los Angeles from Seattle. Amtrak stops in Oakland, with a free shuttle bus to the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco.
It's best to avoid driving in San Francisco if possible, due to scarce parking and dense traffic. Fortunately, since the city is so compact, you can walk to many places, and public transportation is reasonably efficient. Rent a car only to visit wine country or for other day trips.
If you do choose to get behind the wheel, be sure to park safely on San Francisco's steep slopes—you can be fined for not doing so. Here's the rule: If your car points downhill, always turn your wheels into the curb; if your car points uphill, turn them away from it. And if you're entering the city via the Golden Gate Bridge or Bay Bridge, make sure you have change for the toll ($5 and $3 respectively).
MUNI is the main public transportation system and includes buses, underground trains, streetcars, and cable cars. You can get MUNI maps at www.sfmuni.com (free), at cable-car ticket booths at Powell/Market and Hyde/Beach, and at some bookstores ($3). A limited night timetable runs from 12:30 am to 5 am. Take a transfer in order to get two additional rides within a 90-minute period (not accepted on cable cars); the fare is $1.25 (exact change only).
BART provides wider train coverage of the Bay Area. Maps and schedules are available online (www.bart.org) and at stations.
Taxi: Call Yellow Cab (415-626-2345) or Luxor (415-282-4141). On busy weekend nights, you may find it easier to hail a cab on the street than to get one to pick you up at your door.
Visitor Information Center
900 Market Street at Powell Street
Tel: 415 391 2000
Open Mondays through Fridays 9 am to 5 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 9 am to 3 pm.