Whether you're flying across the country to SFO or just driving across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County, you'll find out that you can't avoid the traffic congestion that comes with Thanksgiving travel. San Francisco is known as one of the worst places for Thanksgiving traffic in the United States. With people heading out for last-minute meal shopping and those getting out of town, it's hard to avoid the congestion—but you may be successful if you plan ahead and know the busiest times on the road.
If you're flying across the country, you'll already have your travel booked because last-minute flight reservations aren't easy to come by. But for those traveling by car, it's really easy to leave your driving plans until the last minute. And that's when you can get stuck in a traffic nightmare.
Waze, an app that helps drivers avoid traffic, reviewed recent data and reported that the worst times to be on the road are on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, at 5 p.m. The worst times to return home are on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m, the following Monday at 7 a.m., and around 5 p.m. as these times coincide with commute hours.
In San Francisco, it was found that people go shopping the night before Thanksgiving and on Thanksgiving morning until about 11 a.m. For those traveling locally, the day before Thanksgiving is the peak of traffic congestion starting at 2:30 p.m. and going until well after dinnertime.
So you need a plan. To deal with all this anticipated congestion, take some time to review your potential routes on an app that shows traffic back-ups like Google Maps. Or check ways to avoid traffic via the app Waze. By taking a route to SFO or crowded destinations that isn't quite as direct as you might usually take, you run less risk of being stuck in bumper-to-bumper mayhem.
Time It Right
There's going to be congestion at any hour, but you can avoid the peaks. As mentioned above, it all starts the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving with Wednesday being the worst because of those traveling locally. It'll take you longer to get where you're going the closer you are to Thanksgiving day whether it's over to the East Bay or driving south to LA than it will if you leave early Tuesday or wait until Thanksgiving Day itself.
Make a Survival Kit
Nothing is worse than being in stuck in the car without your creature comforts. Pour yourself a nice cup of herbal tea, tune in to a Bay Area radio station, or pick out a good podcast or playlist that you won't have to tinker with while on the road. Then take a deep breath and plan to take your time. Stress levels will shoot through the roof if you are racing out the gates. But if you settle in as you would for a long road trip, you're less likely to get stressed.
If You Drink, Get a Ride
Some people get tipsier than others on this holiday, and after enduring the Bay Area traffic, you're probably inclined to take that scotch. If you can't stay where you are or haven't designated a driver (that's rule #1, people!), there's a holiday towing service courtesy of AAA. Their Tipsy Tow Program provides rides and tows to members and non-members alike. But this too takes some foresight. Check the website to see if your area is covered. And you know, there are always ride-shares like Uber to get you home.
Brace for Black Friday
If you're into the mega-sales, try taking public transportation like BART or Muni. Traffic will be the worst in the mid-afternoon, but it's going to be terrible all day long.
A nice alternative, now popular with the #optoutside movement, would be a hike. In the East Bay, Tilden Regional Park has great trails and a farm for the kids to get acquainted with animals.
In Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Botanical Gardens is a place where you can stroll through 55 acres of open and landscaped spaces boasting plants from all over the world. The gardens are open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and offer free admission. While you pay admission on Black Friday, it's a worthwhile outing.
Climb Mt. Tam if you're in Marin, or opt for a hike like the one along the Tamales Point Trail in Point Reyes. Whatever you do, avoid the congested highways, find a trail near where you are celebrating the holiday, and stretch your legs on the trails. You'll have done plenty of sitting in the car at some point this weekend.