Most people shell out tons of money for transportation when visiting a city. Because they’re unfamiliar with the lay of the land, they take cabs everywhere or go on guided tours. But to really get the sense of new territory, you’ve got to go where the natives go, and taking the local buses is a great place to start.
Riding the bus routes of a city allows you to see some of the same sights that those who live there see every day on their way to and from work. It’s the “real” city, the one tourists too often overlook. It’s cheap and probably the most comfortable, convenient way to travel; you can get on and off whenever you want to look around, or simply ride all day and let the city’s treasures pass by your window. These three routes are known beauties, but hit the bus station in the next city you visit—no matter where it is—and see if you can’t unearth a great find there.
Not all bus routes are created equal, of course. Some cities have better public transportation systems than others, and there are only a few routes that hit all the really gorgeous parts of town. Among these, there are a select few that inspire riders to write about them. The following three bus lines—in Paris, San Francisco, and Hawaii—have earned their top places in travel articles and guidebooks as three of the most scenic in the world.
Number 69, Paris
Most people think of the Metro when they’re in Paris. But why retreat underground in a city where there’s so much to see? Taking the bus is easy, too. You can purchase tickets at any Metro Station that double for use on either bus or train. Don’t worry about being caught short of tickets on a bus, either; simply hold up your thumb and the driver will sell you one for only slightly higher than you would have paid at the station. There are no transfers, and you pay each time you board. At each stop is a map of the route, showing each stop and how many tickets you’ll need to get where you want to go. Service is best on weekdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
By a happy accident, New York-based writer Kay Eldredge happened onto the No. 69 bus in Paris in 1988 and was inspired to write her New York Times article, “Views from the No. 69 Bus Through Paris.” “If the journey itself is to be part of the pleasure,” Eldredge writes. “If you want to discover Paris as you go, if time is not your most important consideration—and should it be, in Paris?—then take the bus.”
The No. 69 runs east-west and can carry one across the city in approximately twenty minutes, but why not stop along the way and make a day of it? Eldredge recommends boarding at Père-Lachaise Cemetery and catching major sights along the way—Place de la Bastille, Place des Vosges, Rue de Rivoli, Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, Palais-Royal, Les Tuileries, Musée d’Orsay, Les Invalides—before hitting the end of the line, the Eiffel Tower. Get off, grab a cornet de glace, and let it all soak in.
Number 37, San Francisco
San Francisco is known for its cable cars but the truth is you’re better off taking the bus, or MUNI. Wherever you are, there’s a 90 percent chance that there’s a stop within two blocks. You can pay in cash on board or purchase a pass. Information on passes and bus lines is available on the MUNI Web site.
The 37 isn’t necessarily one of the busier San Francisco routes, but it’s a great one for visitors because it hits parts of the city you wouldn’t normally see as a tourist. It’s not a major bus line, so you’ll be able to find a quiet seat to enjoy your ride. Pick it up at Masonic and Haight for a peek of the Haight-Ashbury Victorians, then head through Cole Valley, a quaint neighborhood which is often described by locals as a “small town in a big city.” Next is Buena Vista Heights, with views of San Francisco Bay, downtown, and everything south of the city. The route cruises down through the Castro, the world’s best-known gay neighborhood where Milk is set. You’ll end up in Twin Peaks with even more views of the bay from this second-highest point in the city.
Number 52, Oahu
To take the bus in Hawaii, or TheBus, as it’s known locally, find the bus stop nearest you at www.thebus.org and pay the driver in exact change once you board. It’s that easy.
The 52 Wahiawa-Circle Isle runs from Ala Moana to the North Shore, heading through downtown and then hopping on the H-1 (Hawaiian highway). After passing Pearl Harbor from afar, the 52 will bring you to Mililani, where you can see the fields of sugar cane that are cultivated in Hawaii’s tropical climate. Thereafter, you’ll reach Turtle Bay Resort. The trip takes approximately 2-1/2 hours, depending on highway traffic. You can get off anywhere along the route and pick up other scenic buses, like the 52 and 55. In Hawaii, it seems, you can’t help but take the scenic route.