The post “Drive or fly: SF to LA?” on SFGate struck a chord with me. As a former student who traveled often between the SF Bay Area and Los Angeles, I constantly thought about this question during the holidays. My student days were like those of a business traveler: time was of the essence, since I only had a few days of for vacation. Plus, during peak travel, I found it easier to travel by plane than drive. This was especially true during the winter when there just might be snow on the Grapevine (I-5). In that case, it would be hard to get in or out of Los Angeles.
If I was on vacation or a leisurely trip, I’d have to chart out my itinerary to determine if I wanted to drive. My feeling about Los Angeles (and the rest of Southern California) is that a car makes it much easier to get around. Sure, traffic can be messy, but (in my experience) it’s difficult to get places without a car. Southern California was built with the vehicle in mind, so it’s nice to have a car. I especially like to have my own car in LA.
Depending on the area of San Francisco, it may be possible to have a vacation without having a car. Public transportation is really good in the SF Bay Area. I would recommend planning ahead and having an itinerary. There is more than one transit system for the whole, each with its own pricing and ticketing method, even though there are ways to connect between them. However, if the vacation only involves one part of the SF Bay Area (ie just SF, just the Berkeley, etc.), one transit system might work well.
The transit system in any part of California cannot compare with the subway system that is the New York MTA. I was definitely impressed with all the places it connects. No wonder it isn’t necessary to have a car in New York.