Driving in San Francisco can be a challenge because of the one-way streets, snarly traffic, and steep hills. The first two elements can be frustrating enough, but those hills are tough for unfamiliar drivers.
Be sure to leave plenty of room between your car and other vehicles when on a steep slope. This is especially important when you've braked at a stop sign on a steep incline. Whether with a stick shift or an automatic transmission, every car rolls backward for a moment once the brake is released. So don't pull too close to the car ahead of you. When it's time to pull forward, keep your foot on the brake while tapping lightly on the accelerator. Once the gears are engaged, let up on the brake and head uphill.
Remember to curb your wheels when parking on hills—turn wheels away from the curb when facing uphill, toward the curb when facing downhill. You can get a ticket if you don't do this.
Market Street runs southwest from the Ferry Building, then becomes Portola Drive as it rounds Twin Peaks (which lie just south of the giant radio-antennae structure Sutro Tower). It can be difficult to drive across Market. The major east–west streets north of Market are Geary Boulevard (it's called Geary Street east of Van Ness Avenue), which runs to the Pacific Ocean; Fulton Street, which begins at the back of the Opera House and continues along the north side of Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach; Oak Street, which runs east from Golden Gate Park toward downtown, then flows into northbound Franklin Street; and Fell Street, the left two lanes of which cut through Golden Gate Park and empty into Lincoln Way, which continues to the ocean.
Among the major north–south streets are Divisadero, which heading south becomes Castro Street at Waller Street and continues just past César Chávez Street; Van Ness Avenue, which heading south becomes South Van Ness Avenue after it crosses Market Street; and Park Presidio Boulevard, which heading south from the Richmond District becomes Crossover Drive within Golden Gate Park and empties into 19th Avenue.
Gas stations are hard to find in San Francisco; look for the national franchises on major thoroughfares, such as Market Street, Geary Boulevard, Mission Street, or California Street.
San Francisco is a terrible city for parking. In the Financial District and Civic Center neighborhoods, parking is forbidden on most streets between 3 or 4 pm and 6 or 7 pm. Check street signs carefully to confirm because illegally parked cars are towed immediately. Downtown parking lots are often full, and most are expensive. The city-owned Sutter-Stockton, Ellis-O'Farrell, and 5th-and-Mission garages have the most reasonable rates in the downtown area. Large hotels often have parking available, but it doesn't come cheap; many charge in excess of $40 a day for the privilege.
Although rush "hours" are 6–10 am and 3–7 pm, you can hit gridlock on any day at any time, especially over the Bay Bridge and leaving and/or entering the city from the south. Sunday-afternoon traffic can be heavy as well, in particular over the bridges.
The most comprehensive and immediate traffic updates are available through the city's 511 service, which can be accessed online (www.511.org), where real-time data shows you the traffic on your selected route, or by calling 511. On the radio, tune in to an all-news radio station, such as KQED 88.5 FM or KCBS 740 AM/106.9 FM.
Be especially wary of nonindicated lane changes.
San Francisco is the only major American city uncut by freeways. To get from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge, you'll have to take surface streets, specifically Van Ness Avenue, which doubles as U.S. 101 through the city.
Rules of the Road
The speed limit on city streets is 25 mph unless otherwise posted. A right turn on a red light after stopping is legal unless posted otherwise, as is a left on red at the intersection of two one-way streets.