Getting Around San Francisco

Tips for Transit, Parking, Cable Cars, & Ferries

Getting around San Francisco is easy with our wonderful public transportation options. You can use the bus, ferry, cable car, street car or light rail train to quickly get from one district to the next.

My transit guide also includes the best options to get to popular neighborhoods and attractions.

In addition, I've provided some tips for those that plan to drive, need some help selecting the right airport or how to get to places in the Bay Area and beyond.

Getting Around San Francisco: Cable Cars, Ferries, and More

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San Francisco Public Transportation

One of the best ways for getting around San Francisco is by bus or light rail train. They are the most efficient ways to get from one attraction to the next. The public transit here is really easy to use. Most locals prefer this option, so they don't have to deal with the pains of San Francisco parking. Read on for details on the system and a few tips for you if you decide to use SF's public transportation system.

>> Public Transportation

Cable Cars

Even if you don't need this for getting around San Francisco, you must ride on one of our historic cable cars. There are three lines still in operations and two run between Fisherman's Wharf and Union Square. Make sure to check out my tips on how to avoid the long queue for each one.

>> Cable Cars in SF

Street Cars

The city of San Francisco is one of the few cities in the world with working street cars. The F & E lines are home to dozens of vintage street cars from around the world. Here you will discover street car pictures, a little on their history and what to expect when you ride one. I've also included what to find at some of the most popular stops such as Alcatraz, the Exploratorium, and AT&T Park. You will also learn about the SF Railway Museum.

>> SF Street Cars

Muni Passes

One of the easiest ways to use our public transportation system for getting around San Francisco is by getting a Muni passport. They offer you unlimited usage for a set number of days. You can buy them for one, three and seven days.

You can either buy them separately or as part of the City Pass card, which is a discount card that offers admission to top SF attractions.

>> Learn more about the City Pass card on their site

>> Visit the SF Muni site to learn more about the Muni passport

Walking

If you really love to explore, then getting around San Francisco by walking is the best. SF is small, and you can easily get to many destinations on foot. It might take a little longer but will allow you to stop along the way to check out our colorful murals and admire some of our hidden gems.

I've created some itineraries to help you plan out your visit and see as much as possible. This will allow you to do some exploring on foot and also with transportation options.

>> Find some great walking tours around SF

Biking

You can also rent bikes and see even more. Many people use this option for getting around San Francisco including rides over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito.

You will find several places to rent bikes in Fisherman's Wharf. You can either book in advance or walk in to check them out before you rent. I find that most of the companies along the waterfront are similar in price and quality.

You can also rent e-bikes if you prefer the bike to pick up some of the hard work around SF's steep hills!

>> Check out this deal on Groupon to save on your bike rentals

Ferries

Ferries in SF's Fisherman's Wharf

With so much water around the city, sometimes taking a ferry will save you some time. And - it's so much fun! Click through to find out more about the different ferry options including schedules, prices and other tips for riding the SF ferries.

Sausalito Ferry | Tiburon Ferry | Angel Island Ferry

Not sure which one is right for you? Check out all the SF ferry options.

Hop On Hop Off Buses

If you prefer to get directly from one attraction to the next, you will find that getting around San Francisco on a Hop On Hop Off bus is quite easy. You simply hop on the bus at one of its stops. You can then hop off and on again at any stop on the route.

You can stop at the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, and several locations in between. All buses pick up and drop off at the same location, so you know exactly where to wait for the next bus to arrive.

You can buy these for 24, 48 and 72 hours. The entire route runs about 2 to 2.5 hours, but with all the stops you will want to make, it will most likely take you a day or two.

>> Get up to $5 off when you book online in advance with City Sightseeing

>> Find more details on our Hop On Hop Off Buses

Taxis, Uber & Lyft

Taking a taxi is the most popular option for getting around San Francisco. It's fast and easy. However, it's a little more expensive.

The new alternative is to download the Uber or Lyft apps and use them when you need to get around. You will find they are very competitive and, in some cases, even less expensive than a tax.

My San Francisco taxi guide also includes some prices between popular destinations as well as a few tips on getting a cab at SFO.

>> Tips for taxis in SF

Pedicab

Have you seen the small cabs being pulled around SF and other cities by bike? Those are pedicabs and they are another great way for getting around San Francisco.

Most offer rides between the Ferry Building and Fisherman's Wharf. You can also request that they take you to AT&T Park. Their routes are limited to ensure they don't slow down traffic on busy streets, but they are a fun way to travel.

>> Read more about my experience with Golden Gate Pedicab

Rental Cars

Renting a car is expensive and not necessary for getting around San Francisco. However, if you plan to visit areas around the SF Bay or beyond such as Muir Woods, Napa or Yosemite, you will find several places for rentals.

You can either pick up your vehicle at SFO when you arrive or pick one up for a few days right within SF. The second option is best if you only need the car for a day or two.

My guide offers tips on where to find rental car companies in key districts as well as a few things to think about before you rent.

>> More on renting a car in SF

San Francisco Parking & Garages

If you decide to brave the parking scene, there are a a few options in the city. Parking on the street is the cheapest option, but it is tough to find. It's also hard to find a spot that isn't limited to only those with parking permits.

The best option is to find a parking garage. There are a number of garages in Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf. You can also park at your hotel, but all of these options can be expensive.

Garages in Union Square will run around $20 to around $60 a day. Garages in Fisherman's Wharf are also pricey and will run you around $20 to $45 a day. Most hotels will charge anywhere from $20 to $50 a day, but these spots are more secure than a standard parking garage.

>> Find parking tips and the best garages in top districts

SFO Shuttles

Another cost-effective way to get into the city or surrounding communities from SFO is by taking a shuttle. Several companies run these shuttles. Click through to learn more about my experiences, the pros & cons and recommendations for top shuttle companies.

>> SFO Shuttles to San Francisco

Flights to SFO

Three airports service San Francisco and the Bay Area. Each one is a good fit for a specific list of cities. Read on to learn more about each airport.

San Francisco International (SFO) | Oakland (OAK)| San Jose (SJC)

Getting Around San Francisco: Attractions

Top Attractions in SF

Here are a few tips for getting around San Francisco to key attractions.

Alcatraz: The F street car will take you directly to Pier 33. You can pick it up in Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf.

Angel Island: The only way to get to Angel Island is by ferry. They leave from both the Ferry Building and Fisherman's Wharf. The best way to get to these ferry terminals is on the F street car.

AT&T Park: The E street car and both the N & K/T light rail lines drop off right in front of AT&T Park. This is where the SF Giants play.

Baker Beach: The easiest way to get to Baker Beach is by picking up the PresidiGo in downtown SF. This will take you to the Presidio Transit Center where you can then hop on a shuttle to get to Baker Beach. You can also take the 1 or 38 bus from Union Square and downtown SF, transfer to the 29 (get off at Lincoln Boulevard and Bowley Street) and walk about a half mile to the beach.

I will also sometimes grab the 1 and then walk from the stop at 25th Avenue & Geary over to Baker Beach. It's just under a mile and will save you some time vs waiting for the bus to take you that half mile to the beach.

Golden Gate Bridge: You have two options for getting around San Francisco and over to the Golden Gate Bridge. Muni, SF's transit, offers a bus that will take you right to the Visitor's Center on the southern side. It's the 28 and you will need to transfer over to this bus if you are coming from Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf. This is the slower, but less expensive option.

You can also get on any Golden Gate Transit bus from downtown SF. All of them stop at the Golden Gate Bridge. It's easier as you don't have to transfer, but it will cost about twice as much per person. Also, the bus drivers might discourage you from taking this bus but tell them you are okay with the added fee as it's a more direct route.

Golden Gate Park: To get to Golden Gate Park, you can take the N Judah or the 5 Fulton. The N Judah runs on the southern end of the park and the 5 Fulton runs along the northern edge of the park. From there, you can walk to your destination inside Golden Gate Park.

Pier 39: This is another top destination. You will find several options to get to Pier 39. You can take the Powell Mason cable car from Union Square, the F street car or the 47 bus.

Twin Peaks: If you want to climb to the top of Twin Peaks for amazing views around SF, then head over to the Castro Street Station first (F street car or the K/T, L + M light rail trains). From here, transfer over to the 37 and get off on Crestline Drive. This is where you will find a set of stairs that will take you first to the main road and then you can climb one or both of the peaks.

Getting Around San Francisco: Districts

Here are a few tips for getting around San Francisco to some of our top districts.

Castro: There are a variety of options that will take you to the Castro District. The F street car is slow, but a fun ride. You can also take the faster light rail trains. The K/T, L + M all stop at the Castro Street Station. The J will stop in the Castro also.

Chinatown: You can either walk, take the bus or ride a cable car to Chinatown. Buses that run through this district are the 30 and the 45. All three cable cars get within a few blocks of Chinatown.

Civic Center: The Civic Center District also offers a variety of SF transit options. You can also take the F Street car or the K/T, L, M, N & J light rail trains. This is where you can visit the Asian Art Museum, City Hall, and performing arts options such as the symphony, ballet, theater, or opera.

Fisherman's Wharf: You can get to Fisherman's Wharf on the F or E street cars. You can also get here on two of the three cable car lines (Powell/Hyde & Powell/Mason). All of these options are a great way for getting around San Francisco and to popular destinations in this district.

Haight-Ashbury District: The Haight-Asbury District is another top neighborhood to visit during your stay. Two of the best buses for this district are the 6 and the 7. Both will take you right along the main commercial area on Haight Street.

Mission: You can get to the Mission on the 14, 22 or 49 buses. You can also take BART from Union Square or the Civic Center district.

Nob Hill: Reach the top of Nob Hill on the California cable car. Other options include walking up its steep hills or taking the 1-California bus.

North Beach: North Beach is a fun place to visit and home to the Beat Generation of the 1950s and 1960s. You can reach it on the 30 and 45 buses. You can also reach it on the Powell/Mason cable car line. If you love walking, it's also a nice walk from both Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf.

Union Square: Union Square is in the heart of the city and where you will find dozens of public transportation options. You can get here by light rail, bus, and all three cable car lines. You can also use BART or the F & E street car lines.

Getting Around the Bay Area and Beyond

Getting Beyond SF

There are three great ways for getting around the SF Bay Area on public transportation. This section provides some tips and information on these three options. You will also find some more information on getting around San Francisco plus tips to get to and from popular Bay Area destinations and beyond.

BART

BART is the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. This train system services most of the Bay Area. This is a great public transportation San Francisco option for those traveling in from SFO or the East Bay.

BART runs from the East Bay, through San Francisco and south to one of the main airports. BART also travels to and from the city to Berkley, Oakland, Walnut Creek and other east bay locations. You can also easily get from San Francisco to the Oakland Airport on BART.

It runs mainly underground in the city along Market Street. You can also use BART to get to and from Union Square to the Civic Center District and on to the Mission.  

The BART map below is the official map from their web site. It shows all of the routes and many of the main stops along the way. You can also plan your trip by visiting the official BART web site.

bart san francisco

The prices for BART vary from the location you board the train to the location you get off. You are automatically charge a set amount based on where you enter and leave. Fares range from around $2 to $13 per person.

Caltrain

Caltrain is another train system with two stops in San Francisco. It’s mainly used for those traveling to and from the peninsula and all the way down to San Jose.

It’s a great option for those coming to and from AT&T Park for games. It’s also used by those commuting in from San Jose or from SF down to San Jose.

The train station in the city is located in the South of Market area at 4th and King Streets. The trains run about once an hour both north bound and south bound on the weekend. They run a little more frequently during the week, specifically around the morning and late afternoon commute times.

Caltrain charges rates by zones and each station is listed in a specific zone. If you take the train from Zone 1 to Zone 6, the cost is around $15 per person one way. If you stay within one zone, the cost is only around $3.75 per person one way.

You are also required to buy your ticket before you board. Caltrain does not sell tickets on board and someone always comes around to check tickets to ensure people have paid before boarding. There are usually one or two kiosks in each station where you can purchase your ticket by cash or credit card.

Golden Gate Transit

Another option for getting into and out of the city is the Golden Gate transit system. This public transportation San Francisco option focuses on people wanting to get to and from Marin County, north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Transit runs several buses to and from Marin County. They also have their fares set up in zones, so it makes it easy to see what it will cost you to get around. Golden Gate transit also services a couple of stops in Sonoma County.

To get from the city to the furthest station in Sonoma, the cost is around $13. To get from stops in Sausalito or Tiburon, the cost is $6 one way, per person.

Here are a few details on getting around San Francisco to popular destinations in the SF Bay and Beyond. I've included times to get there as well as the best public transportation where available.

SF to/from Muir Woods: There are three ways to get to Muir Woods from San Francisco. You can drive (parking reservations are now required), take a shuttle from Sausalito, or go on a guided tour. Muir Woods is about 45 minutes north of San Francisco by car.

SF to/from Oakland: The best way to get over to Oakland from San Francisco is BART. There are several stops for downtown. You can also get to Oracle for a Warriors game, the Oakland Coliseum for an A's baseball game or the Oakland International Airport.

SF to/from San Jose: You can either take Caltrain or drive to San Jose. Both the train and driving will take about an hour and a half.

SF to/from Berkeley: BART is also your best option to get to and from Berkeley. There are three stops with access to Berkeley. Ashby will get you to the southern side of town, downtown will put you right in the heart, and North Berkeley will get you to the northern end. You can also drive to Berkeley, but parking can be challenging here.

SF to/from Marin: Marin is just to the north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. You can access a fair amount of Marin by ferry or bus. You can also drive if you are heading to a location that is not near a public transit stop.

SF to/from Napa Valley: The best way to get to Napa is to either drive or take a guided tour. While you can take public transit to get there, it will take more than 3.5 hours in total with transfers. If you drive on your own, it will take just over an hour to reach the southern end and about an hour and 45 minutes to reach Calistoga on the northern end.

SF to/from Santa Rosa: You can also easily access Santa Rosa by bus or car. Golden Gate Transit offers a stop in Santa Rosa on their 101 bus. This takes about 2 and a half hours and runs every hour. You can also get here in just over an hour by car.

SF to/from Half Moon Bay: Half Moon Bay is about a 45 minute drive south of San Francisco. Driving is easy. However, if you want to take public transportation, that is also an option. It will take about an hour and half with two to three transfers.

Monterey Transportation

Many people love to visit Monterey during their stay in San Francisco. Here are some tips on how to get there and how to get around once you arrive. You will also find tips to select the right airport based on how long you are staying near Monterey.

Learn More: Transit To & Around Monterey

What additional help do you need for getting around San Francisco?

Add your questions or comments below!

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