San Francisco Bay Area city guide
Stunningly picturesque, vibrant and diverse, San Francisco and the Bay Area as a whole occupy spots near the top of many travelers’ wish lists for good reason. For the sports traveler, it shouldn’t be any different — with every major pro sports league represented, plus college sports and recreational activities aplenty, there’s something for the sports fan to enjoy in the Bay Area throughout the year.
While most tourists head straight for San Francisco, there’s only one pro sports venue (soon to be two) within the city limits. The rest are in different parts of the Bay Area, which can be tricky to navigate for the uninitiated.
Here’s a starter guide for making the most of a sports trip to NorCal.
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The Bay Area — because of that huge bay in the middle — is a big place, and its sports venues are spread throughout the region. Because of that, a car is advisable if you’re planning a multi-game trip. But there are ways to get around that, as there are plenty of public transportation options for most of the venues listed below.
If you’re unfamiliar with the geography of the Bay Area, consider the map above and think of the three major cities, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, as points on a triangle. San Jose is about 45 minutes from both San Francisco and Oakland, while the latter two are separated by a 5-10 minute crossing of the Bay.
The region’s sports landscape is changing, and will continue to change over the next few years. The 49ers vacated wind-swept Candlestick Park (and San Francisco proper) in favor of the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, a 45-minute drive away; the Earthquakes of MLS opened a new, soccer-only venue in 2015; and the Warriors are leaving Oakland for “the City” and the sparkling new Chase Center in 2019. Meanwhile, the A’s have a new proposal on the table for building a new ballpark in Oakland, and the Raiders are on their way out completely, with a move to Las Vegas scheduled to be completed by 2020.
• Avaya Stadium: Home of the Earthquakes. Located at 1123 Coleman Avenue in San Jose.
• Levi’s Stadium: Home of the 49ers. Located at 4900 Marie P. Bartolo Way in Santa Clara.
• Oakland Coliseum: Home of the A’s and Raiders. Located at 7000 Coliseum Way in Oakland.
• Oracle Arena: Home of the Warriors. Located at 7000 Coliseum Way in Oakland.
• Oracle Park: Home of the Giants. Located at 24 Willie Mays Plaza in the SoMa (South of Market) section of San Francisco.
• SAP Center: Home of the Sharks. Located at 525 W. Santa Clara St. in San Jose.
All three major Bay Area cities have their own airport. San Francisco International (SFO) is the primary international gateway and a United Airlines hub, while Mineta San Jose (SJC) and Oakland (OAK) are served by major airlines and discount carriers alike. Each is worth considering when searching for fares, depending on which venues and sites you plan to visit during your trip.
By train, Amtrak serves both San Jose and Oakland, with continuing bus service to San Francisco. And bus services such as Greyhound and Megabus serve the region. Both options are best for travelers arriving from points within California.
The main highways into the region are Interstate 80 from the east, leading to the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, and U.S. 101 from the north and south, which runs up the peninsula side of the Bay and connects San Francisco and Marin County via the Golden Gate Bridge.
Where to stay
San Francisco has the highest concentration of hotels in the region, particularly in the tourist-friendly areas around Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. Not surprisingly, those lodging options are typically the most expensive as well. The downtown and airport areas of San Jose and Oakland also have clusters of hotels that are convenient to venues, public transportation or both. If a car is at your disposal, consider the East Bay suburbs between Oakland and San Jose, or the college communities of Berkeley, Santa Clara and Palo Alto for more hotel and motel options.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is the region’s most well-known public transit authority, with a rail network that serves downtown San Francisco and Oakland and most of the East Bay. BART has a direct stop at the Oakland Coliseum and Oracle Arena (the same stop, Coliseum/Airport, offers a shuttle to Oakland Airport about a mile away) and runs along Market Street in San Francisco, about a mile’s walk to Oracle Park from either the Powell Street or Montgomery Street stations.
CalTrain is a commuter rail service that runs between San Francisco and San Jose. The line’s northern terminus is a block away from Oracle Park; get off at Palo Alto for Stanford University and San Jose Diridon for SAP Center.
Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) is another commuter rail option servicing the South Bay and can be used to access SAP Center (via San Jose Diridon station) and Levi’s Stadium (via Great America station).
Oakland Coliseum, Great America and San Jose Diridon are also all stops on Amtrak’s Capital Corridor line that runs from San Jose to Sacramento.
To varying degrees, each venue has its ample share of parking. There’s more available in the vast lots surrounding the Oakland Coliseum and Oracle Arena than in the dense neighborhood in which Oracle Park is located, but options typically are plentiful. Expect to pay somewhere between $25 and $50 for most venues depending on how close you are.
Be a tourist
It’s OK, go visit all the things that make San Francisco famous. Especially if it’s your first time visiting, you might want to reserve an entire day just for that. Head to Fisherman’s Wharf and eat clam chowder out of a sourdough bread bowl; take a cruise and go underneath the Golden Gate Bridge; visit Alcatraz Island and its notorious former prison; take a tour of the city’s hilly streets made famous by so many ’60s action movies, particularly the “World’s Crookedest Street” section of Lombard Street; and ride a cable car up and down said hills.
Sample local cuisine
There’s a seemingly endless array of unique-to-the-Bay-Area dining options in the region. Here’s just a tiny sampling of places to try (San Francisco locations are listed, but several of these spots have restaurants around the Bay as well):
• Anchor Brewing Company (1705 Mariposa Street, S.F.): Maker of beloved local beer Anchor Steam, this brewery in the Potrero Hill section offers tours that include flights of beers to sample.
• Bi-Rite Creamery (3692 18th Street and 550 Divisadero Street, S.F.): One of the most popular ice cream shops in a city that has its fair share of good ones.
• Boudin Bakery (160 Jefferson Street, S.F.; many other locations in the region): Perhaps the most well-known purveyor of San Francisco sourdough bread.
• Ghirardelli Chocolate (900 North Point St., S.F.): The chocolatier’s original factory is based at this location in Ghirardelli Square, not far from Fisherman’s Wharf.
• Ike’s Place (3489 16th St., S.F.; many other locations): Expect long lines at these sandwich shops that have a cult following among Bay denizens for their filling selections, many of which have names derived from local culture and sports.
• Sears Fine Food (439 Powell St., S.F.): A popular breakfast stop near Union Square known for its “silver dollar” pancakes.
• Taqueria La Cumbre (515 Valencia St., S.F.): Located in the heart of the Mission District, this eatery claims to have invented the Mission-style (aka huge and stuffed with ingredients) burrito.
Go off the beaten path
A favorite activity of visitors to the Bay Area is to head to wine country, about an hour’s drive away from San Francisco. Both Napa and Sonoma counties boast vast wine regions and numerous wineries that are happy to host visitors in their tasting rooms. (As a bonus for sports fans, the Raiders currently hold their preseason training camp in Napa.)
Major college sports in the Bay Area focuses mainly on Stanford, in Palo Alto, and Cal, in Berkeley; the two schools are rivals in everything, and sports is no exception, of course. The two face each other each fall in the football “Big Game,” best known for unleashing “The Play” into sports lore in 1982. Those schools aren’t alone, though; USF, San Jose State and Santa Clara are among the other universities in the region with strong athletic programs.
Minor-league baseball can be found in San Jose, home to the Class-A San Jose Giants of the California League.
If the Warriors don’t give you enough of an NBA fix, head 90 minutes east on Interstate 80 to Sacramento and watch the Kings play at Golden 1 Center.