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DAC Season and Public Transit SFO Style

Vendor emails about the 2014 Design Automation Conference are slowly starting to trickle in like Christmas cards, putting me in the mood for DAC season!  I’ve been preparing my travel plans, and a significant part of my daily routine revolves around public transit in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area.  Unlike other other major metropolitan areas, (ahem, Austin, ahem), where waiting on the next bus/train/trolley to arrive can be tiresome, and well… schedule wrecking, public transit in the SFO is delightful!  As an aside,having a rental car in San Francisco is nightmarish.  Wait til you get there.  There’s nowhere, but nowhere to park the thing.  You’ll see.

There are three major systems you should be aware of.  They are Caltrain, BART, and SFMTA, (also known as MUNI to those of us who don’t know any better).

BART is going to get you from SFO, (the airport), into town.   There’s a BART station stop on the airport’s Airtrain, just hop on there and head out.  BART trains arrive every fifteen minutes, and take you to downtown San Francisco in just 30 minutes or so.  Stop at the Powell St. station.  From here, if you take the Halidie Plaza exit, (it may be labelled Powell St. exit), and go up the escalators, you should be looking straight at a cable car turnaround.  Right by the turn around there will be a small booth selling SFMTA tickets.  SFMTA is the transit system that runs the cable cars and busses in town.  By the way, do not get onto the cable cars here!  Walk up the line several stops and you’ll usually have a much easier time than waiting in line at this, the terminus station.

View Larger Map

SFMTA offers a seven day pass for $29.00.  At $6.00 a piece, cable car rides will quickly pile up to cover this and more.  You’ll think you might not use this until the fourth time you try to go over the giant hill in the middle of town to eat dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf.  I’ve never lost money on it so far.  Also, don’t discount the busses.  They’re a bit slower, and have a slightly rowdier clientele, but the cover far more ground than the cable car system.  Make sure to download the system map to your smart device before you go and keep it with you.  Once again, keep in mind that lots of people, (including the web admin for the system map page), still call SFMTA, the MUNI system.

Finding affordable hotels in San Francisco is almost as hard as finding parking.  Fortunately, Caltrain opens up the entirety of Silicon Valley for your hotel search.  If you stay near station stops between San Jose and San Francisco, you can make it downtown to the Moscone Center in about an hour.  Also, keep Caltrain in mind for your future travel plans to your company’s headquarters in the valley.  Reversing the route and staying in San Francisco while working in the valley always worked well for me.  Being the person that got to see a Giants game for a few bucks and then had to walk a mile or two into the office the next morning beats the heck out of quaffing beers at the Blue Monkey in downtown San Jose, (at least in my book).

The Black Town Cars and also Taxis
As a final transit note,don’t forget the black Town Car brigade.  All over town, you’ll see black Lincoln Town Cars parked in front of venues waiting for their appointed riders to re-emerge.  Frequently, if you offer the driver ten dollars, or ten dollars per person, or whatever you feel is fair, they’ll hop you over the hill to your hotel or any other nearby location.  They seem to have a feel for when their main patrons will be back and don’t seem to mind picking up a little extra cash on the side.  Finally, if you’re burned out at the end of a long day and if you can find one, the taxis are reasonable, and can shuttle you over the hill for around $10.


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