Post Auto is a guide to exploring the greater Bay Area and Northern California without a car. Being unable to drive, or choosing not to drive, does not mean that you are confined to the city, and prevented from visiting California's beautiful parks and resorts, I've found. A road trip doesn't have to be a car trip.
This post serves as an introduction to the posts on specific topics and destinations.
Abbreviations and Symbols
[C] This symbol notes that a bus, ferry, or train line accepts the Clipper transit cards used by Oakland and San Francisco area commuters.
Clipper users should be aware that their cards (or mobile phone wallets) allow access to transit networks extending up to 100 miles from the central bay area. But, Clipper users should also be aware that different transit services have different "tag" rules (ie, tag card on entry, vs tag on both entry and exit), which they will be punished for failing to anticipate. CalTrain, Golden Gate Regional, and some of the ferries are especially likely to fine you for not tagging off. Check here, and ask, and keep asking, if your driver and fellow passengers seem unaware that the rules are not always the same.
Other than that, Clipper is better than home cooking, in my view.
WOAK: The assumed reader of Post Auto lives in the metropolitan San Francisco Bay Area and uses the BART commuter train in lieu of driving. As a starting point, every trip I describe begins in the center of the BART system, the West Oakland station (WOAK). All estimated travel times are based on a departure from West Oakland.
Via the nearby 12th Street BART station, west and downtown Oakland is also linked to the ferry and AMTRAK lines, at Jack London Square. Need I say that Jack London was all over the place without a car?
Google: Google Maps has become an excellent tool for piecing together public transit routes which are not always evident or signposted from the street view. Setting the arrival and departure times lets you see exactly when buses and trains are linking without having to hold a different timetable in each hand. That is tremendous. Bear in mind, though, that Google's reply is artificially constrained by the beginning and end points you gave it. If it seems that the bus takes a long loop from the subway station to the museum, ask about leaving from the next nearest subway station, instead -- it may be a shorter, more direct journey from there. A slightly stronger caution is required for Google's bike and pedestrian options, which sometimes project routes through what turn out to be private, unmarked, or otherwise unsuitable places. Nonetheless, it's a great resource most of the time.
Bicycles: Post Auto does not assume that the reader intends to take a long trip on a bicycle. There are other sites and services that cater to bicycle touring; one place to start, for local trips and general information, is the SF Bike Coalition.
However, it is true that many trips can be greatly enhanced by bringing a bicycle for greater mobility at the destination. If you have a bike, consider taking it with you on public transit. Unless noted otherwise, every public transit route I describe allows you to bring a bike. Be advised that, on most buses, that means a bike rack with two slots; you may have to wait for another bus if the bike slots are already filled, which is most likely to happen when during work and school rush hours. One should be prepared to wait for the next bus -- I've never had to, though, as a solo bike traveler.
Buses, Trains, and Ferries: Most of the travel described by Post Auto uses the public transit system.
County bus or ferry lines, which are more frequent and extensive than many people realize, are your best resource. Most counties provide a long-distance bus that links to other counties' networks at transit centers. With experience, you can piece together a long journey on inter-county bus lines.
Amtrak is also underappreciated by many travelers. The commuter lines San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor connect the Bay Area to the central valley and the Sierras; where they overlap, you'll find that the San Joaquin is often cheaper. Both lines have onboard bike racks at no extra charge.
Amtrak also operates a "thruway" bus network all over California. Most of these buses will let you carry an intact bike in the cargo space, but on longer and more crowded lines that connect big cities, be prepared to box your bike as luggage.
Megabus does not carry bikes unless they are boxed up into a small space, and its freeway journeys are not very scenic, and it is often crowded. But it does offer a cheap and reliable trip between major cities.
Greyhound is overpriced and unprofessional, in my experience. You can almost always substitute a county bus, AMTRAK, or Megabus for Greyhound.
Slow and Nasty: The most frequent objection to traveling by public transit is, I don't have all day. Since Post Auto is a guide to recreational travel, not commuting, it assumes that, in this case, you do have all day. And even so, you won't need all day -- most of the routes I recommend are no more than an hour longer than a car trip.
That hour is often spent on old, scenic routes between towns; on a tour of the hills, delta, or coast -- not on the freeway. In the towns, you'll see where people live and work, rather than watching an endless cycle of car-based franchises. Detours like Yountville's Veteran's Home, or Old Sacramento, are part of the ride.
Your companions will be students, workers who cannot afford to drive or don't yet have a license, and retirees. There are great people in every town who are left behind by the assumption of universal automotive "independence." And if you meet a drunk or a jerk -- rare, in my experience -- at least he or she isn't hurtling toward you at 80 MPH. Relax and read a book, because you're not getting hurt on the bus.
Food and Lodging: Post Auto is not a hospitality review site. Because scenic destination towns can be pricey, I will sometimes point out bargains, or establishments that offer unusual services (like vegan or GF food), but this should not be seen as an endorsement of these businesses over their rivals. Adding online bookers like Air B&B to the mix means there are far too many hospitality options for this site to critique in a responsible way.