Getting around in San Francisco
How to get around San Francisco.
Although hanging from a San Francisco cable car is undeniably charming, most visitors rely on alternative public transportation and car-for-hire services to travel into and across the city. With a city-wide circuit of buses and light rail trains, San Francisco makes it easy to see the city in a manner that caters to your style.
Muni works well for getting around inside the city, whereas BART takes passengers to surrounding areas like Berkeley, Oakland, and South San Francisco. Muni costs $2.00 and BART varies based on the distance you travel. Biking is an extremely popular mode of transit, and you can plan your route online to avoid major hills. Caltrain takes commuters south to Silicon Valley. If you’re short on time, taxis are always an option. Depending on your destination, riding the ferry may prove your favorite way to cross the bay.
Muni: Also called the Municipal Transportation Agency, Muni provides bus, light rail, and streetcar services within San Francisco.
Purchase a ticket for $2 (you must have exact change) on board a Muni bus, light rail, or streetcar. If you're leaving from an underground station downtown, purchase a ticket from the vending machines before heading down to the platform below. You can also use a Clipper card instead of buying an individual ticket.
Tickets remain valid for 90 minutes. Make sure to hold on to your ticket so you can use it for any other Muni vehicle within the 90 minute time period. Clipper cards can also be used for transfers instead of a paper ticket.
Buses are the only Muni vehicle to allow bikes. Each bus has a front-loading bike rack which holds two bikes. When you get to your stop, kindly tell the bus driver that you'll need to grab your bike.
To exit from the back doors of a Muni bus, you must step down onto the stairs in order for the doors to open.
BART: An acronym for Bay Area Rapid Transit, BART connects the SF peninsula with the East Bay (Berkeley, Oakland, and Fremont).
Operating hours: Weekdays (4:00 am - midnight), Saturday (6:00 am - midnight), and Sunday (8:00 am - midnight).
Purchase a ticket at any BART station. The cost of each trip is based on the distance traveled. Hold on to your ticket because you will be required to insert it at your arrival station's exit turnstiles. You can use a Clipper card instead of purchasing an individual ticket.
Many visitors begin their trip in San Francisco by taking BART from the airport. BART trains mainly deliver passengers downtown or across the bay. Although there are several neighborhoods BART does not directly service, many BART lines connect to additional forms of transportation (like Muni) that will take riders to their final destinations.
Traveling with a bike is allowed, but can be very cumbersome during rush hours.
San Francisco Cable Car: Rumbling icons of the city, San Francisco's cable cars comprise the world's last manually operated cable car system. Of the 23 lines established between 1873 and 1890, three remain: two routes from downtown near Union Square to Fisherman's Wharf, and a third route along California Street. While some commuters use cable cars, the vast majority of passengers are tourists.
Purchase a ticket for $6 on board. Drivers can make change for up to $20.
Tip: Avoid the cable car’s long lines and take a ride on Muni’s historic F-Market for a third of the price.
Driving: Traffic, steep hills, lack of street parking, expensive garage parking, and a fleet of parking control officers who enforce parking laws with zeal all contribute to the challenges of driving in SF.
“Curb your wheels” or get a ticket. When facing downhill: Turn your steering wheel to the far right (clockwise). When facing uphill: turn your steering wheel far left (counter-clockwise).
Double check (actually, triple check) street signs for zoning permittances, time limitations, and street sweeping notices before parking.
When driving, keep an eye out for pedestrians and cyclists. San Franciscan walkers and bikers often assert their right-of-way with confidence.
Car rentals: If you plan on checking out the city and its all-natural companions to the north, south, and east, consider renting a car. Big trees, big hills, and big sky surround San Francisco, so a day or weekend trip is well worth the mileage. Besides typical car rental agencies, consider car share programs such as City CarShare, Getaround, and Zipcar.
Taxis: Taxi services are typical in SF. Hail a taxi from the sidewalk or call to arrange pick-up. A lighted sign indicates the taxi is available for hire.
First 1/5 mile: $3.50 and each additional 1/5th mile: $0.55. Each minute of waiting, or traffic time delay: $0.55.
When in San Francisco proper, expect to pay $40-$60 when going to, or coming from, SFO Airport.
Tipping your driver 15-20% is common courtesy.
Biking: Ride a bike and see San Francisco like many of its locals do. Biking in the city is not to be taken lightly. Please pay attention, follow road rules, and wear a helmet. San Francisco offers a mix of dedicated bike lanes and shared lanes, marked by symbols painted onto the road. Suggested bike routes like the Wiggle (a zig-zagging bike route from Market Street to Golden Gate Park that minimizes hilly inclines) are marked by signs.
To avoid getting struck by a car door, make sure to ride at least 3 feet away from parked cars.
Stay alert for cars that cross over the bike lane while making a right hand turn.
Bike over streetcar and cable car tracks at a 90° angle to avoid getting your wheels stuck.
Bike theft is extremely common. Lock your bike and any detachable parts as securely as possible with a strong lock. When possible, bring your bike inside with you.
Bay Area BikeShare: Best for short bike trips under an hour. To use the system, you must join as member. Pay for an annual ($88), 3-Day ($22), or 24-hour ($9) membership. The first 30 minutes are free, after which you’ll be charged $4 from minutes 31 to 60. After the first hour, every half hour costs $7. You can rack up daily total of $150.
Walking: Though San Francisco’s slopes may seem daunting, walking connects the city’s neighborhoods in a way that may be overlooked by bus or car. If you can stand the hills, exploring SF’s 7x7 miles by foot proves a fantastic and grounding experience.
Depending on your location and agenda, your stay in San Francisco may revolve around all, few, or none of these modes of transport. When exploring, take a map (digital or analogue) and an open mind. San Francisco's scenery, both natural and built, rewards every long trek and steep climb. Without the city's hills, its breathtaking views and dynamic neighborhoods would fall flat.