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Young Ophthalmologists
An Insider’s Guide to San Francisco Neighborhoods and Mass Transit

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Like any major city, San Francisco relies on mass transit to ferry many of its citizens and visitors around. Though the most famous part of the system is the city’s iconic cable cars, the region’s transit comprises a network of interconnected agencies.

This month’s final insider’s guide gives you the scoop on San Francisco’s urban geography, and explains what takes you where. Plus, you’ll also get a personal introduction to some of the neighborhoods nearest Joint Meeting Central (a.k.a., the Moscone Center).

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Mass Transit
The main transit agencies inside the city are BART and MUNI. BART is the mostly underground train you’d take to and from the Oakland and San Francisco airports. It stops at a string of stations mostly along the mid-southern belt of the city. The nearest stop to the Moscone Center is the Powell Street station, roughly half a mile north on Market Street.

While BART fares are calculated based on mileage, most rides within the city will cost you $1.75 one way. Fares to and from Powell Street Station to San Francisco’s airport (SFO) are $8.10 each way, and just $3.80 to the Oakland airport (though you have to ride AirBART between the station and the airport, which costs an additional $3 each way).

Other train basics:

  • BART doesn’t run much after midnight, so keep an eye on the time if you’re out in the evening. Trains also run up to 20 minutes apart in the evening.
  • On weekends, the earliest train from SFO leaves at 6:04 a.m. Saturdays/8:04 a.m. Sundays; the earliest train to SFO reaches the airport at 7:04 a.m. Saturdays/9:04 a.m. Sundays. If you have an early arrival or departure on one of those days, consider other transit options.
  • As long as you’re on the right platform, you can take any train within San Francisco to reach your destination. All trains bound for the East Bay make the same stops within the city – just make sure to disembark at or before the Embarcadero stop if you don’t want a trip beneath the bay!
  • Insider tip: If you’re transferring from BART to MUNI, you can save $.25 on the MUNI fare by grabbing a transfer from one of the machines inside the BART station toll gate.

Since all BART lines run along one main corridor through the city, your best bet for getting to other parts of town is MUNI, which comprises buses, the cable car lines, the F-line trolleys on Market Street and the Embarcadero, and a handful of trains that share some stations with BART.

Bus lines are identified by numbers, while train and trolley car lines are identified by a letter. The F-line runs along Market Street up the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf (just blocks away from the Academy’s Beach Street headquarters!) and provides a cheap alternative to the cable car, though it tends to be packed with tourists in certain sections.

A ride on a MUNI train costs $2 and includes a transfer good between 90 minutes and two hours from the time of issue and good on all forms of transit within the system, except cable cars. Cable rides are $5 each way. Unlike BART, MUNI does offer unlimited-use passes, which include cable car rides. Short-term passes, known as passports, cost $18 for a three-day pass and $24 for a seven-day pass. Passports do not include BART.

Things to keep in mind when riding MUNI:

  • Always ask for a transfer, even if you don’t plan to use it. Transfers are your only proof of payment, and the system has stepped up periodic inspections for fare-dodgers.
  • Although some routes run 24 hours, most lines stop running around midnight, while the remaining lines run with reduced frequency later in the evening. 
  • Most bus stations have a city map showing your present location and routes throughout the city – a great way to find your bearings, whether or not you’re planning to board MUNI.
  • Insider tip: The nearest cable car station to the Moscone Center is the turnaround at Powell and Market, but lines can be pretty long. To cut down your wait time, walk a few blocks uphill along Powell (toward Geary) and wait at the next stop up the line (indicated with a brown sign on the sidewalk).
  • If you’re transferring from MUNI to BART, you can save $.25 on the trip to and from BART. Grab a transfer from one of the machines inside the BART station toll gate. Each transfer has two parts: one good for the MUNI trip from BART, one good for the presumed MUNI return trip to BART.

The easiest way to calculate fares, routes and trip times is to visit the Bay Area's transit site, 511.org, which allows you to plan trips that combine multiple transit networks (e.g., BART and MUNI) or to selectively restrict routes. The site also has information on traffic, in case you're planning to rent a car.

Last transit tip: whether walking or driving, keep an eye out for bicyclists. Notwithstanding all the hills, San Francisco's a big town for biking.

  • Howard and Folsom Streets (both near the Moscone Center) have designated bike lanes.
  • Market Street has a bike path, sometimes compared to a roller derby.
  • Fifth Street is a designated bike route, which means bikes and cars can share the lane.
Planning to bring your bike to the city or rent one? Get more information – including maps and a guide to taking bikes on transit – from the San Francisco Bike Coalition.

If You’re in the Neighborhood…
Most hotels are near the Moscone Center and all official meeting hotels include free shuttle service, so chances are you’ll mainly be using mass transit to get from the airport or to venture out in the evening. Should you decide to do so, here’s a run-down of the neighborhoods near the convention center.

North Beach

  • Known for: Telegraph Hill (of parrot fame), Coit Tower, Washington Square Park, Beach Blanket Babylon, lots of Italian restaurants and a bustling local artist scene, rich in history (see: the Beat Museum on Broadway). Also somewhat infamous for the establishments at the intersection of Columbus and Broadway, which hearken back to the city’s history of saloons and bordellos
  • Best route there: From Howard and Third Street, take the 30 bus to Stockton and Columbus (the north end of Chinatown) or the 9X to any stop on Columbus. To walk there, head up Market to Montgomery St., turn left and walk to the intersection with Columbus, continuing up the hill. North Beach starts around Broadway, just over a mile’s walk from the Moscone
  • Main artery: Columbus Avenue.
  • Local picks: The bars 15 Romolo, Vesuvio and Saloon, the coffee shop Caffe Trieste and the pizza shop Golden Boy.

Chinatown

  • Known for: Produce stands and other shops, architecture such as the picturesque Chinese Telephone Exchange at 743 Washington Street, and of course the restaurants.
  • Best route there: Take the 30 bus or walk up Third Street toward Market, continuing on Kearny Street to Bush, then turn left and walk one block to Grant Street (about half a mile north of Moscone).
  • Main artery: Grant Avenue.
  • Local picks: The restaurant R&G Lounge and the Red Blossom Tea Shop.

Mission District

  • Known for: Restaurants, boutiques and nightlife. The Mission is often compared to Brooklyn for its bustling, eclectic scene chockablock with thrift stores, taquerias, intimate restaurants and coffee shops and independent clothing stores.
  • Best route there: Take BART from the Powell Street station (due north of Moscone) to the 16th and Mission or 24th Street and Mission stops.
  • Main arteries: Mission and Vallejo Streets.
  • Local picks: The bar Medjool, the restaurants Weird Fish and Dosa (though, really, you won’t find many bad meals there, just longer waits for some establishments).

Union Square

  • Known for: Shopping, galleries, bars and hotels – and did we say shopping? The square itself is a nice place to grab lunch outdoors, with a choice between views of the giant Macy’s that straddles the block between Geary and O’Farrell, or the hotels on the north side of the square.
  • Best route there: Your feet (it’s not far north of Moscone), the cable car lines on Powell Street or the buses running up Third Street.
  • Main artery: Geary Street, between Powell and Kearny Streets.
  • Local picks: The bars Lefty O’Douls and Jimmy Foley’s Irish House and the club Vessel.

SOMA

  • Known for: Restaurants, clubs and the ball park, as well as the Yerba Buena Gardens and museums, including MOMA.
  • Best route there: Most of the southbound buses that stop on Fourth Street or your feet.
  • Main artery: Third Street, especially between Mission and Harrison Streets.
  • Local picks: Heavens Dog, Maya, Eddie Rickenbacker’s, Thirsty Bear and Oola.

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About the author: Christi A. Foist is the managing editor for YO Info and the Web and Member Communications Editor for the Academy’s Web site. Her favorite form of transit, these days, is her folding bike, though she’ll be leaving it at home for the meeting.