light-saber players in front of the Ferry Building,
Embarcadero, San Francisco.
drive to San Francisco and pay $35 or more per day to
park. Don’t fly and then spend steadily on a
ride-sharing service or taxicabs. Don’t imagine those
storied but slow cable cars will get you everywhere you
want to be.
after that flight to San Francisco or Oakland, followed by
the BART ride into the heart of the city, place your faith
in those quaint old streetcars that rattle along the
waterfront and Market Street.
what I did in March. For three days, I counted on that
many-hued streetcar fleet to move me along the waterfront
and up Market to the Castro District on the route known as
about the cars themselves: As many as 20 reconditioned
vintage cars roll at any one time, most dating from the
1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Their color schemes pay tribute to
streetcar systems from around the world, most abandoned
streetcars are supposed to run every six to 15 minutes,
and for me they did, except on one afternoon when the wait
was 20 to 25 minutes. A single ride costs $2.75, so it’s
a better bargain to buy a Muni pass (one day for $21,
three days for $32, a week for $42; for where to purchase
go to lat.ms/SFMTA), which lets you ride streetcars, cable
cars and Muni buses.
here’s some of what you’ll find on the way:
if you’ve been to San Francisco a dozen times,
well-trafficked Fisherman’s Wharf and environs are
likely to figure in your plans. The streetcar turns around
at Jones and Jefferson streets, where you can hop off.
a place to stay? Walk three minutes west (by Google’s
reckoning) from the turn-around and you will arrive at the
Argonaut Hotel (495 Jefferson St.; (800) 790-1415,
www.argonauthotel.com), a well-placed but high-priced
family lodging with an entertaining nautical theme. Rates
typically start at about $440 a night.
east through the Fisherman’s Wharf area, and you can
play vintage arcade games and mechanical musical
instruments in the Musee Mecanique (Pier 45; (415)
346-2000, www.museemecaniquesf.com) about three minutes
east of Jones Street. Or tear into a hunk of fresh
sourdough bread at the Boudin Bakery and Cafe (160
Jefferson St.; (415) 928-1849, lat.ms/boudinatwharf). At
Pier 39, a 10-minute walk east of Jones and along the
streetcar route, you can browse dozens more shops and
off the streetcar at Greenwich Street and you have two
strong options. One is to grab some grub and a beer by the
water and (if it’s night) listen to jazz at snug,
welcoming Pier 23 Cafe (Embarcadero; (415) 362-5125,
pier23cafe.com) just across the street.
you could walk three minutes west to the base of the
Filbert Steps and start climbing. Those steps will take
you up Telegraph Hill to Pioneer Park, where Coit Tower (1
Telegraph Hill Blvd.; (415) 249-0995, lat.ms/coittower)
detour is worth some time because the fascinating ’30s
murals at the base of the tower were made much brighter
and bolder by a 2014 cleanup. That same upgrade improved
the top of the tower, where views of the city and bay are
as wide as can be — a full 360 degrees. The tower
admission charge is $8 for adult out-of-towners, $6 for
next stop as your streetcar continues along the
Embarcadero is Green Street. If you have some interest in
how the physical world works, or your kids do, it’s just
a few steps to the Exploratorium (Pier 15, (415) 528-4444,
www.exploratorium.edu. $29.95 for adults, $19.95 to $24.95
for children and students ages 4 to 17).
people like to walk or bike the Embarcadero between Pier
15 and the Ferry Building — it’s an eight-minute
journey past a formerly industrial waterfront now dotted
with restaurants. Whether you walk that distance or exit
the streetcar at the Ferry Building stop, the ferry
complex (www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com) has plenty to
keep you busy.
may want to sit down to a casual Mexican lunch at Mijita
(Ferry Building Marketplace No. 44; (415) 399-0814,
www.mijitasf.com) or an upscale Vietnamese modern dinner
at the Slanted Door (Ferry Building Marketplace No. 3;
(415) 861-8032, slanteddoor.com).
way, give yourself a few minutes to marvel at the
merchandise that lines the long, airy 1898 building:
mushrooms; pig parts; artisan bread, cheese and desserts;
travel books; fancy ceramic dishes; premium ice cream …
that, the nuts and bolts of streetcar history might seem
like old news indeed. But these are the machines that are
carrying you, and their history is an absorbing tale, told
in the San Francisco Railway Museum and Gift Shop (77
Steuart St.; (415) 974-1948, www.streetcar.org/museum), a
few steps from the F-Line’s Steuart Street stop.
if nothing else in the snug space grabs your attention,
you’ll be spellbound by a 12-minute documentary snippet
shot on a ride along Market Street just before the 1906
the same block, about a minute’s walk from the Steuart
Street streetcar stop, is a sleek place to stay better
suited to an anniversary weekend than a family jaunt: the
boutique Hotel Vitale (8 Mission St.; (888) 890-8688,
lat.ms/hotelvitale), which has a spa, restaurant and
terraces with great views of the bay. Fall rates begin at
about $400 a night.
has been a gritty thoroughfare for a long time, but
gentrification is changing things.
the streetcar’s 3rd and Kearny streets stop, get off and
head south four short blocks on 3rd, about five minutes.
There you’ll find SFMOMA (151 3rd St.; (415) 357-4000,
www.sfmoma.org; $25 per adult; closed Wednesdays), one of
the west’s premier contemporary art museums. It reopened
last year after a massive expan-sion.
you get off the streetcar at its 5th and Powell stop, you’ll
be in the heart of the San Francisco tourism hurricane, a
few steps from the Powell and Market cable car
turn-around, about eight minutes (three blocks) south of
the nearly infinite shopping options of Union Square.
halfway from the Powell streetcar stop to Union Square
stands the Hotel Stratford (242 Powell St.; (415)
397-7080, www.hotelstratford.com), a plain budget hotel
where I’ve stayed twice. It can be loud, but rates
sometimes start at less than $200.
the 9th and Larkin streetcar stop, you have a good eating
opportunity. The Market (1355 Market St.; (415) 767-5130,
www.visitthemarket.com) is a food hall with an industrial
flair, and it takes up most of the block between 9th and
you may wonder, are all these young, prosperous, busy
answer: Twitter headquarters is upstairs.
here, it’s a quick ride to the end of the line at Castro
Street and, just like that, you’re at the gateway to one
of America’s most famously gay neighborhoods.
decorate the sidewalks and flagpoles. The Twin Peaks
Tavern (401 Castro St.; (415) 864-9470;
www.twinpeakstavern.com) has been an icon for years. A
couple of doors down (and less than three minutes from the
streetcar stop), the Castro Theater (429 Castro St.; (415)
621-6120, www.castrotheatre.com) has made movie sing-alongs
a more or less weekly thing.