On the Bus in San Francisco: 38 Geary

The 38 Geary runs a beast of a route. Starting in downtown San Francisco, it runs all the way from the Bay to the Breakers, running through several diverse neighborhoods and giving you a real glimpse at City denizens. Starting downtown and going outbound is the best way to experience the true grit of this particular line.

Set aside a day for this unique ride. If you can, start at the beginning of the line at the bus station at Fremont and Mission Streets. Starting there will take you through the Financial District (or FiDi, as we like to call it), where, on a work day, you’ll see lots of corporate and creative types, along with lots of bike messengers, cruising Market Street. If you’re hankering for a little candy, disembark at the Market/Sansome stop and go to the See’s Candy shop. See’s is made right in South San Francisco, and is a favorite of most locals (my family events are not the same without a box or two of soft centers…I recommend the truffles, too). You can buy a piece or two, and they’ll even give you a free sample.

Once you get back on the bus, you’ll be headed towards Union Square. On this particular trip, I don’t recommend stopping there. 1. You’ll see it at some other point in your stay here, and 2. getting back on the 38 at the Union Square stops can be a nightmare. At this point, be glad you have a seat…otherwise be faced with the crush of crowds boarding the bus.

Soon after the Powell Street stop, look to the left and you’ll see the start of the small theater district in San Francisco. There’s the Curran and the A.C.T., and then a little further up, to the left, there are several smaller theaters. You are now in the Tenderloin, a newly minted historical district. This area is a a bit gritty, and if you were to get off the bus here, you may be greeted with some not so great smells and some down-on-their-luck citizens. Unless there is something in particular you’re looking for in this area, seeing it from the bus is probably all you need. If you do walk through, make sure to do it in the light of day; it gets a bit dangerous at night (not bad, but you don’t want to wander down the wrong alley).

Before you know it, you’ll be at Van Ness Street. If you’re hungry, make a stop at Tommy’s Joynt, a local institution and great place to stop for a cheap eat. Tommy’s is located across the Van Ness from the bus stop. You can also try Mel’s Diner, right there on the corner, a malt shop/greasy spoon.

Continue on, and disembark at either Laguna Street or Webster Street. You are now in Japantown, a neighborhood very near and dear to me. You’ll immediately see a 1970’s looking mall; don’t be put off by this. Inside is a treasure chest of Japanese goodness. One of my favorite stores is Ichiban Kan. Ichiban Kan is full of goodies (inexpensive ones, at that) that you never knew you needed! But need you do. You can find bento boxes, household supplies, Japanese pottery and sweets all for a super economical price. It is really awesome! A walk through Peace Plaza will transport you to another place. When the cherry blossom trees are in bloom, it feels like you are not in America anymore. If you like noodles and Japanese cuisine, you have a ton to choose from. You can also get a taste of the Islands at Honu’s, located in the Buchanan Street pedestrian walkway. They also have live music a few days a week, and great happy hours!

Once you are through with Japantown, head over to Fillmore Street. After exploring for a bit, you can jump right back onto the 38 and head on your merry way!

After a short ride, you will be in the Inner Richmond, or the Avenues. Get off on 2nd or 3rd Avenue, and walk one block up to Clement Street. This area is often referred to as “Little Chinatown,” and is full of interesting shops and eateries. One of the favorites is B-Star, a Burmese restaurant. It is an offshoot of Burma Superstar, and a place for inexpensive and delicious eats. Take a pop into one of the little bakeries and grab a bite, or, if you are craving pizza, try Giorgio’s. Those are just a few of the many options you have on Clement Street!

As you cross Park Presidio, to the right you’ll see “House of Bagels.” This is supposedly the only place to get truly authentic New York style bagels; I have never been there but have only heard raves! If you hop off the bus at this point, you can continue down Geary for a bit and find yourself in the largely Russian portion of the Richmond. If you’ve had a chance to notice, throughout your trip you’ve probably been hearing tons of different languages that are not English; this area is no exception! And, if you keep walking, you’ll also find Tommy’s Mexican, a restaurant infamous for its selection of tequilas! Yum…

For the last time, get back on the bus and take it all the way to Fort Miley. Here, you’ll have a few choices! You can go right and take a nice, leisurely hike/stroll on the Land’s End Trail. It is moderate for a short while, but then gets steep, so you may want to turn around. The view from that trail is amazing! Or, you can stroll down the hill from the bus stop and explore the Sutro Baths. Make a stop inside of Louie’s to grab a soda and perhaps a bite to eat, and admire the views. They also should have some pictures of what the Sutro Baths used to be, which is quite an amazing contrast to how they look now. Walk a little further and you’ll hit the newly rebuilt Cliff House. This restaurant has a storied history, and is worth a stop just to check it all out!

If you are craving a little beach time, go further down the hill to Ocean Beach, and catch the last of the waves.

You’ve now gone through some of the most urban, and suburban, parts of San Francisco. To get back home, you can either catch the 38 Geary again, or, if you’re down by Ocean Beach, you may want to grab the 5 Fulton and take it all the way back downtown; then you can avoid walking back up the hill!

Bus ride will cost you 1.50$ with a two-hour transfer.