Monday, September 15, 2014

Getting from Sacramento to San Francisco

This post is about the various options for transportation from the greater Sacramento area to the San Francisco area.  As you can see, there are several options, but none of them are really great.  Different options work better depending on where one is trying to get to and whether the trip is a day trip or longer.  I have only tried the ones marked with an asterisk.

Car*:  The obvious downsides to this option are the cost (miles on the car + gas + tolls + parking in SF/SFO) and the time taken.  Depending on the time of the day and the day of the week (Friday afternoons returning from the SF area tend to be worst), it can take anywhere between 2-5 hours.  A consideration is whether or not carpool lanes can be used.  Many of the carpool lanes require 3 or more passengers.  For payment of tolls, FasTrak is a great option since the FasTrak lanes move a lot quicker.  Assuming one doesn't get stuck in bad traffic, it is the quickest option, since all of the other options involve some additional planning and/or detours to a station and/or parking at the station.

One way rental car*: This has many of the disadvantages of the prior option, but if one is flying out of SFO, this may be worthwhile since you don't have to pay for parking once to get to SFO.  I have done this only once and that is because I needed to stay the night at a friend's place before flying out the next morning.

Amtrak*: The Capitol Corridor has service between Auburn and the South Bay.  It is quite pricey and if you can't get a ride to or from the station then you need to worry about getting there by car and parking or taking a cab to the station.  The trains are sometimes late and very occasionally they can be cancelled.  They have WiFi on some trains.  For getting into the city, they have Amtrak buses that one would connect to at the Emeryville station.

Amtrak+BART: Depending on where you're trying to get in the SF area (e.g. if you need to get to SFO, Amtrak won't get you there), another worthwhile option may be taking the Amtrak and then transferring to BART.  The recommended station for making the transfer is Richmond.  This option may not be suitable if one has a lot of luggage, though.

Car+BART*: Some folks like to avoid the bad traffic getting into San Francisco and also avoid paying expensive parking in the city.  They end up driving to a BART station. El Cerrito del Norte is supposed to be one of the better stations; it's easy to access from the highway, in a relatively safe area, and has cheap parking.  When I ended up using this method, I went to El Cerrito Plaza (different than El Cerrito del Norte, even though that's where I thought I was going!).  Parking at BART stations is free on weekends and holidays, round-trip fare is < $10 to most places in SF, and total trip time (driving from Rocklin to El Cerrito Plaza, buying a ticket, getting on the train, getting to the destination) was about 2 hours and 15 minutes.  This is really the best option for a trip that is only to the city (rather than to the Peninsula or South Bay).  BART stations also have long term parking for up to 30 days so one can park and go to SFO, but it apparently fills up (I have no experience with that).  It is possible to make a reservation for a parking spot, but you have to get there before 10 am on the day of the reservation in order to guarantee availability.

Door to door shuttle*: If SFO is the destination, Davis Airporter offers a door-to-door shuttle service.  It is a reasonable option for one passenger but it can get pricey for a family.  They charge extras if one has many pieces of baggage and detours to pick up and drop off passengers means budgeting extra time for the trip to the airport.  But it's perhaps the most convenient if one has a lot of luggage.  Their shuttle vans use natural gas.

Bus: Greyhound and Megabus also offer bus service to San Francisco.  Megabus is priced quite reasonably.  The downside is that bus rides aren't typically the most comfortable (at least that's the case for me) and the pickup and drop-off locations are very limited, compared to say Amtrak or BART.

Car+Ferry: There is a ferry service from Vallejo to the city.  One would need to drive to the ferry terminal and park there.

Amtrak+Ferry: You can start the trip by Amtrak and connect to the above-mentioned ferry service at Oakland Jack London Square to get to destinations such as Angel Island that are not served by Amtrak.

Airplane*: United offers service between SMF and SFO.  I have used this option when connecting to flights in SFO.  It is one of the worst options as the flights are often delayed and sometimes even cancelled resulting in missed connections.
If you have a favorite way of getting to San Francisco from Sacramento that is not listed here, let me know.  I'll update this post as and when I find out about others options.

South Bay

Getting to the South Bay by public transport is a challenge because one typically needs to have a car once one is there.  But if one is being picked up by friends, then the options are Amtrak (leaves from Sacramento), and ACE (much more affordable than Amtrak, but leaves from places that are halfway between Sacramento and South Bay, like Stockton.