Navigating SF Beer Week Without Driving
San Francisco Beer Week offers the best imaginable way to feel absolutely confused and frustrated while having as much fun as can be had with a beer glass in your hand. No matter what event you go to, you will be missing out on twenty others. There is even a chance that you’ll arrive for an event and find it sold out or too crowded, and you’ll have to pull out your print-out or your SF Beer Week phone app and re-boot. Nobody can fix that for you, but there are ways to make getting around to the places you choose as painless as possible.
If you somehow lined up an angelic friend as your non-drinking driver to happily shuttle you anywhere, you may not be thinking about trains, busses and cabs. However, in certain areas, such as many San Francisco and Berkeley neighborhoods, driving is almost never the best option. Sometimes taking the BART train under the Bay is faster than creeping along the bridge. Parking can be notoriously difficult. Old driving and parking strategies may not work this year. For example, SF parking meters now run on Sundays. A $62 parking ticket is a bad way to spend what could be your extra beer event and random kindness tipping funds.
The regional transportation system includes the BART train line, spanning the central Bay Area and offering easy access to a significant number of beer destinations, along with connecting regional busses, trains and ferries. Most bus and train lines run more frequently during weekday commute hours, and only some run after midnight, but many will be convenient for listed SF Beer Week events. While people use these transportation options for the first time every day, there is an advantage to being prepared, so you can relax and keep your mind on the cities, the scenery and all the amazing beers.
Here are our top ten transit tips. You’ll fare all right without them, but why not be prepared?
10. As you select your favorite events from the SF Beer Week website, copy them each into a simple Google Map that has full navigation and routing features. The SF Beer Week site is wonderful for seeing how events are clustered, but the regular Google Maps are pretty well integrated with transit in this part of the world, so just plug in your starting point and destination, select the little bus icon, and preview some realistic transit options to make your plans work out when the day arrives. This is how you make the no-driving magic happen.
9. Consider getting a Clipper Card if you don’t have one. These reloadable fare cards can be used on BART, AC Transit (East Bay buses), Golden Gate Transit (buses and ferries from SF to and within the North Bay counties), SF MUNI (buses, metro light rail, historic street cars and cable cars), Caltrain (peninsula commuter rail), SanTrans (commuter buses from SF to and within the northern peninsula) and VTA (South Bay buses and light rail). If you already have a Clipper Card, consider setting up autopayment so you don’t have to reload your fare card at some moment when your train is about to arrive and five people are queued up ahead of you trying to figure out a ticket machine.
8. Events that formed the original framework for SF Beer Week, before the week was officially designated five years ago, can each be reached by transit. Strong Beer Month festivities at Magnolia and 21st Amendment, and the even older Toronado Barleywine Festival are each on SF MUNI lines. The original Bistro Double IPA Festival is walking distance from the Hayward BART Station and the Celebrator Beer News 25th Anniversary Festival is at 12th Street BART in Oakland. The SFBW Opening Gala is on the MUNI bus line that runs from Civic Center BART down 8th Street, and is also walkable from the Caltrain depot, heading up 4th and along Brannan Street.
7. If you don’t want to bother with a Clipper Card, carry some cash in crisp one dollar bills and quarters for use in ticket machines and on most busses when you board. Sometimes you will be able to use a credit card, but sometimes you can’t, and you won’t want to take time to find an ATM once you are out for the day. Beer Week is too short for that.
6. Smart phone users, take advantage of one of the great free mobile apps that let you see when busses and trains are coming. Two of the many useful options are the free NextBus app and 511 Transit, which both have useful websites, too. As we mentioned before, Google Maps also integrates this information very nicely.
5. Dumb phone? The reason we already mentioned the granddaddy of them all, the free NextBus service, is that the service is noteworthy for working on both smart and “dumb” phones. You can also text it with bus route queries and get arrival information. This texting technique takes a little more preparation, but look at their website and give it a try. You can also go voice and call the local 511 Transit information service, which offers extensive up to date voice menu information by just dialing 511 in our area, and navigating a menu for live transit information. These services predict arrival based on where buses actually are. Now and then a vehicle breaks down or is pulled out of service, but most predictions are pretty accurate. 511 offers info on BART and on other services NextBus doesn’t include
4. Sonoma County can be reached by Golden Gate Transit bus from the central Bay Area, but the schedules are set up for commuters, so you may want to stay overnight there if you have an event you want to attend. Santa Cruz and outlying parts of other counties can pose a similar challenge. Find a cool little local hotel or B&B and stay over in one of the wonderful corners of the region. Or just look for beers from those areas in a tap takeover event closer to your home base. Brewers are sending their best stuff all around the Bay.
3. Don’t forget the ferries. Building in a round trip across the Bay adds an authentic non-touristy version of one of the best tourist treats. You may need your own map and reading material to be able to provide self-narration when you pass by Alcatraz, San Quentin and the bridges, but your vantage point will be excellent. If you bundle up you can usually ride outside. The beer selection on the ferries is limited, so take the chance to sip some water or a hot beverage as a little break from all the beery wonder.
2. Taxis can be a bargain when traveling with a group. They are almost always faster than buses within the same city. Usually a bartender knows the best cab company to call. Yellow Cab has branches in multiple cities in the area, or you can look up reviews and details to choose the higher-rated companies town by town. Put a few numbers in your phone, or consider using a taxi-hailing app like Flywheel. Cabs to get to your train are just a wise expenditure. There are also some limo and car service companies around, including unregulated mobile-app based Uber, and the smaller Lyft and Sidecar services. Poke around ahead of time to see how those work if a taxi won’t solve your puzzle.
1. BART starts to close around midnight. Arrg! The last trains start at the end of the line at about that time or in some cases a little before midnight, and then all meet in the middle of the system in Oakland before continuing to the end of all the lines. Check the posted schedule before you leave the station. There are hourly buses that run along the BART system after the stations close, but they are less convenient, and should only be an emergency alternative. If you want one final late night beer, treat yourself to an awesome bottle near or inside your home or hotel room. Think of what beer you could set up for yourself, waiting in that fridge.
Go have fun, but first plan a little so you can leave your car behind.
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About the Authors
Steve Shapiro and Gail Ann Williams set up the BeerByBART.com website seven years ago to help tourists and locals easily find the best venues to enjoy and learn about craft beer in the Bay Area without driving. They blog, FB and Tweet about their beer explorations. You can find their regular articles about the San Francisco beer scene in the Celebrator Beer News. Their photos of beer events and people can be found on Flickr, including some from past SF Beer Weeks.