The Valley isn't your average city and getting around isn't that easy.
Well, this is the USA, so if you think you’ll get very far by walking, you’re most definitely mistaken. From what I’ve found out so far, there are five main ways of transportation around here:
In my opinion, the CalTrain is what gets you the furthest in terms of public transport. It goes all the way from SF down to Gilroy and beyond. It connects all important towns that together create the famous Silicon Valley, like Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Palo Alto and Mountain View to name just a few. The ride from Palo Alto to SF is 6,75 USD and takes about an hour, but if you make it, there are “bullet trains” going like twice a day which pass only at the important stops and get you to the city in under half an hour.
The MUNI is SF’s public transport system. It includes the closest SF has to an underground or metro, which is, compared to London and even Vienna, a bit of a joke. It only has like three dozen stations or so which could probably fit inside Zone 1 (of 6) of London underground. Nevertheless, its what gets you around in SF.
Muni operates approximately 80 routes throughout San Francisco with stops within 2 blocks of 90% of all residences in the city. Operating Historic streetcars, modern light rail vehicles, diesel buses, alternative fuel vehicles, electric trolley coaches, and the world famous cable cars, Muni’s fleet is among the most diverse in the world.
I can only tell you so much about the “Bay Area Rapid Transport” that it got me from SFO airport to downtown SF. Its a quite funny train like system and it connects SF with the eastern areas like Oakland etc.
Well, as you might have already imagined, cars are by far American main form of transportation. Fuel is cheap – about half of what I’m used to from Europe. Parking in SF is fairly expensive, about the same as back home.
If you should find yourself looking for a parking spot in SF, keep in mind that they have very specific rules about the direction you have to point your front tires when you park. This has to with the fact that the streets just go up and down like crazy and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. If you fail or forget to do this, you risk being towed away or ending up with a large fine.
I have done my best to get by without one (as explained in more detail below in the bicycle section) but if you find yourself looking to rent a car, keep in mind that it will cost you about twice as much to do this from inside one of the car rental retail stores. The cheapest way is to actually rent your car online through a European branch and more or less send the funds to the leasing company in Germany or Austria.
This is the most important one and my main form of transportation. It is tough and sometimes a bit of a challenge because most of the roads have yet to add bicycle lains, but in defense of California I have to admit that there are apparently more and more bike lanes being set up and bicycling as a form of transportation is in it self seemingly gaining more and more fans and participants.
The trains all have special bike wagons and you will find both bike shops and places to securely lock and leave your bike in most of the places here. Finding a bicycle however is an entirely different matter, and one with that I can not really help you as I was just incredibly lucky in finding a great roommate who would not only lend me his car when necessary but also gradually allow me to use his bike on a daily basis.
From what I’ve seen so far, it really depends on where you are living and how you want to get by. For me, the decision of trying to get by with a bicycle was based on the fact that I was trying to spend as little money as possible – and renting a car will definitely add an additional expense of at least 25 to 60 USD per day.
Quite a lot of money, if you ask me.
Not to mention that it is one of the few things where I am able to have a bit of workout, as most of us spend the entire day behind a computer or in coffee shops, bars or restaurants meeting people. I understand that a lot of people don’t really have the choice and have to rely on their cars, but if anyway possible, try to rent a place that is close enough to your office to cycle there.
Always remember: “Your car runs on money and makes you fat, by bike runs on fat and saves me money.”